Backup an iPhone is a smart move because it can protect you if you lose your iPhone or if it crashes at some point. Although Apple’s own iCloud backup service – and we have a guide on how to back up your iPhone to iCloud – means putting all your data under Apple’s control (see our iCloud review).
If that doesn’t sound appealing, or you’re running out of iCloud storage space, you’ll want to learn how to save an iPhone to an external hard drive. This includes moving your hidden iPhone backup files from your Windows PC or Mac to an external hard drive.
You’ll need an external hard drive with enough storage to be able to do the job, so consider investing in one of the best external hard drive options before thinking about backing up your iPhone files.
How to Save iPhone to Hard Drive External
It’s been a while since I needed to back up your iPhone using your PC or Mac. Thanks to the magic of iCloud, you can backup your iPhone data without needing any other equipment.
This has its advantages, not the least of which makes standard backups without installing your iPhone. The biggest problem with this method, however, is storage. Backing up to iCloud uses your limited iCloud storage. If the backup files are large, there is little space for important things, including photos of your camera, or you may want to move your photo collection to the best online photo storage instead (read our guide on how to save photos on Mac).
That’s why backing up an external hard drive might be a better option. It is very involved and requires you to go back to the old school iPhone backups using iTunes or, if you are using MacOS Catalina, you can use Finder instead.
If you backed up your iPhone using your PC or Mac, you can move files to an external drive.
How to Save iPhone to Hard Drive External on Windows
To start backing up an iPhone to an external hard drive on Windows, you’ll need to install iTunes. Connect your iPhone to your PC and open iTunes once installed.
Once your iPhone is connected to your PC, turn on your iPhone and press “trust” on it to allow your PC to connect. After that your iPhone should appear under the “Devices” tab in the left menu of iTunes.
Click the iPhone icon at the top left of the iTunes screen. This is found next to the drop down media menu (e.g. “Music”). This displays the device information menu for your iPhone.
To manually back up your iPhone to your PC, click “Backup now” under “Manually backup and restore” section.
Your iPhone will take some time to complete backing up your PC. Once completed, you will need to manually copy the backup files to your external drive.
The location of the iPhone files is C: \ Users \ username \ AppData \ Roaming \ Apple Computer \ MobileSync \ Backup, instead of “username” with your Windows username. You can also type “% appdata% \ Apple Computer \ MobileSync \ Backup” in Windows File Explorer to take you directly to a folder.
Using the “modified date” column, get the latest backup of your device. Right-click on a folder and press “copy.” You can then paste your external hard drive, open it in File Explorer, right-click and “paste” the backup folder to the appropriate location. You will need to do this every time you make a backup of your iPhone on your PC.
How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Windows
- Open iTunes and connect your iPhone.
- Click the device icon in the top left, then click “back up now.”
- Once the process is complete, go to the iTunes backup folder (“%appdata%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup”).
- Locate the latest backup folder, right-click, press “copy” and then paste it to your external hard drive.
How to Save iPhone to Hard Drive External on Mac
The process of backing up an iPhone to an external hard drive on a Mac is almost the same as for users with MacOS Mojave or older systems that use iTunes for iPhone backups. When using a Mac with MacOS Catalina, the process is different, using Finder.
If you have MacOS Mojave or higher, connect your iPhone and open iTunes. Click the iPhone device icon at the top left. If your Mac device is using MacOS Catalina, open Finder from the app dock at the bottom of your screen instead.
Click “Backup now” in the “Manual backup section and restore” to your info menu. For Catalina users, the “Backup Now” button is listed under the “Backups” section.
This process will take some time to complete, especially if this is the first time your device has been backed up. Once you have them, you can start copying your files to an external drive.
Whether you use iTunes or Finder, the most common location for your iPhone backup files is “~ / Library / Application Support / MobileSync” – which will not appear in Finder. Click the search icon at the top right of your Mac screen and type in your backup location. Find the latest backup folder, right-click and click “copy.”
Go to your external drive listed under “locations” in your left Finder menu and paste your backup folder there.
Like Windows, you’ll need to do this whenever you back up your iPhone to a Mac.
How to Backup an iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Mac
- Connect your iPhone to your Mac. Macs running macOS Mojave or older should open iTunes. Macs with macOS Catalina should open Finder.
- Click the iPhone in the top left (iTunes) or your device name under “locations” (Finder), then click “back up now” to begin a manual backup.
- Click the search icon in the top right of your Mac screen, locate “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync” and double-click on the folder to open it in Finder.
- Right-click the most recent update folder, click “copy,” then paste it to your external hard drive.
While not a straightforward process, backing up an iPhone to an external hard drive can enable you to backup your iPhone backups. It may also help you to get iCloud storage or move your iPhone backups to a cloud storage service like Carbonite over time (see our Carbonite review).
Depending on the size of your iPhone storage, custom backups will require a large enough external drive. The 1TB storage device is the minimum size we would recommend, so be sure to check out our very short list of 1TB external drive options.
If you’re worried about Mac support, check out our review of external Mac hard drive. We also have guidelines on how to save the Mac to an external hard drive and how to save the iTunes library.
If you would like to use it to backup online, check out our list of the best iPhone backup providers.
Do you prefer to manually backup your iPhone? Share your iPhone tips and tricks in the comments below, and in case you need it, we also have a guide on how to back up your Mac. Thanks for reading.