iTunes and Mobile Device Backups

iOS 5.0 has just been released. Despite promising myself I’d wait until a few weeks had passed I took the plunge and updated my iPad (v1). The download took a good 2 hours despite the announcement of Apple’s new data centre (you’d have thought they’d use that to help push out the update for a week or two!).
It wasn’t a complete jump into the darkness. I knew I hadn’t made a backup in a good few months. Running through the iOS installer it enforced a backup as part of the process. Of course I agreed and left it to it.
After an hour an error appeared – ‘Unable to complete backup due to lack of free space’. That’s strange, I thought, I have a 500 GB Partition just for my iTunes library. After finding well over 50% free I started digging and found out iTunes doesn’t save your iPad backups with the iTunes library folder.

Mac OS X location

On Mac OS X, iTunes saves its iOS backups in the user’s library folder, specifically:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/

If, like me, you need this moved to save space, follow these steps to create a symbolic link:
1. From the Mac OS X Finder, hit Command+Shift+G to bring up the “Go To” window, type the following directory in:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/

2.  From this folder, copy the “Backup” folder to a new location on the second hard drive, for the sake of this guide we’ll choose a folder called iOSBackup on a drive named “External”
3.  Before trashing the origin folder, rename the existing Backup folder to something else for backup reasons, like Backup2
4.  Now we need to create a symbolic link between where the original Backup folder was, and the new location on the external drive. Launch Terminal and type the following command, referencing your new backup location:

ln -s /Volumes/External/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

Note: that’s all on one line despite how the formatting may look
5.  Next we need to check if it all works as expected. Plug in an iOS device, right click it in iTunes and click ‘backup’.
6.  Once this is complete, navigate to your new iOSBackup folder and check the data modified of the folders inside.
7.  If this matches up, congratulations! The symbolic link works and feel free to remove the original backup folder.

Windows Location

As with the Mac side, Windows matches the locations fairly well, specifically:

C:Documents and Settings[username]Application DataApple ComputerMobileSyncBackup


Windows XP:

C:Users[username]AppDataRoamingApple ComputerMobileSyncBackup


Windows Vista/7:

C:Users[username]AppDataRoamingApple ComputerMobileSyncBackup

Now I’m sorry to say if you are running Windows XP it cannot create symbolic links as standard so you’ll have to look else where for a solution!

For Windows Vista and Windows 7 users follow the below guide:


  1. Create a folder where you’d like your backups would be stored
e.g. D:ExternaliOSBackup
  1. Move all the contents of C:Users[username]AppDataRoamingApple ComputerMobileSyncBackup
to D:ExternaliOSBackup
  1. Open up a command prompt with administrator privileges. Navigate to the MobileSync folder (Tab is your friend!) and type the following:
rd Backup
mklink /d Backup " D:ExternaliOSBackup

This deletes the Backup directory and creates a symbolically linked folder in its place (hence the /d option). iTunes will think the Backup directory still exists and will write the backups there, and the files will be stored in that other folder to which the symbolic link points.
Apple’s iTunes:
Apple’s “iOS: How to back up” guide: