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How Do I Back Up iPhone to an External Hard Drive on Mac & Windows

Lucas Seltzer Updated on Apr 15, 2022 4:15 PM

What to do when I want to backup my iPhone to an external hard drive via iTunes 10, since my MacBook Pro hard drive doesn't have enough space. I've moved the backup folder to that external drive and need to know how to default iPhone backups to the external drive in the future.

You've been out backed up your iPhone to a MacBook or other Mac's drive, in case your device is malfunctional, lost or the data (photos, messages & attachments, etc.) is deleted. But the iOS backups take up too much space on internal HD, what's next?

Besides the obvious option of backing up and syncing the files with iCloud to save space on Mac, you could also back up iPhone to external hard drive via iTunes (or Finder), a solution that involves locating and copying the backup to the external drive, and creating a symlink to point to that drive in future. There's also a chance to revert the process to store the backup to Mac.

Our tips will help you change iPhone backup location to external hard drive, as well as back up an iPhone to an external hard drive directly. Before this, we'll cover how to delete iCloud backup on Mac to get rid of the low storage problem.

Locate and Delete iPhone Backup in iCloud

If you've backed up the iPhone to iCloud - though the size of the backup may be overwhelming for the 5GB of free storage, then delete the backup on the Mac:

  • Go to Apple menu > System Preferences > Apple ID, then click iCloud.
  • Click Manage, and select Backups
  • Select one of the backups of your device, then click Delete.

This should stop clogging up your Mac's internal drive. If there's still not enough storage on the computer or you just want to move iPhone backups to the external hard drive, continue reading.

Back Up iPhone to External Hard Drive via iTunes or Finder

Try these steps, which require the technical knowledge of the command line in terminal and directory structures. If you're using a computer with Windows 10, turn to the part "How can I make a backup of iPhone on an External HD in Windows" at end of the article. The process for Windows is similar to that on a Mac.

1. Locate backups of your iPhone

  • Click the magnifier icon (Spotlight Search) on the menu bar.
  • Type or copy and paste this command: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
  • Press Enter.

You'll see the 'Backup' folder containing a list of iOS backups. We're going to transferring all of backups to the external hard drive.

2. Copy the backup (the entire folder) to the external hard drive

Get an external hard drive with larger amount of storage in place, and follow these steps to move entire backup folder ('Backup') from the internal drive to it.

  • Connect your external hard drive to your Mac.
  • Open the drive, and create a folder named 'iOSBackup'
  • Drag the 'Backup' folder to the 'iOSBackup' folder on the external drive.
  • Enter your administrator password if asked.
  • Wait until the copying process to complete.

3. Tell iTunes (Finder) to back up to the external drive from now on

Now your iPhone backup is saved in the external hard drive as expected. The next step is to create a symlink (also called symbolic link) to tell iTunes or Finder where to find that backup. It's simply a process of changing the backup location for iTunes to back up from internal drive to an attached external drive. To achieve this, you need to type the following command in Terminal:

  • Open Terminal.
  • Type a command and it should look like this: ln -s /Volumes/ExternalHDD/iOSBackup/Backup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup
  • Note: ExternalHDD should be repalce with your name of external drive, and iOSBackup should be the folder you've created in the external.

  • Hit Return and quit Terminal.

A key note of the Terminal Command: Replace the External HDD with your name of external hard drive. iOSBackup is the folder you've created in the external drive.

When done, go back to MobileSync folder and you will find the backup folder with an arrow appear on the external hard drive peacefully.

4. Check whether iTunes or Finder is backing up to external drive

After this little maneuver of changing the pointer in iTunes or Finder to point to the external drive, then this ought to work: whenever you trigger an iPhone backup, it will go to the iTunes library on that external location instead of the main hard drive. You can run a test to confirm that it worked before deleting the 'Backup' folder in ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/ on Mac's internal storage:

  • Open iTunes or Finder on your computer.
  • Locate your device.
  • Click Back Up Now.
  • Once done, open the 'iOSBackup' folder on your external drive.
  • Check whether the backup appears on your external drive by the last backup date and time.

If everything's worked correctly, delete the backups on your Mac to free up its space.

5. Delete symlink and store the backup on Mac

Here's the final step in case you have a need of going back to backing iPhone up locally on the hard drive and not the external drive. Just follow this guide to remove the symlink and revert back to original setup:

Type ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/ in Spotlight, choose the Symlink folder, and delete it.

Back Up iPhone to External Drive without iTunes, Finder or iCloud

There's no surprise that you got "Operation Not Permitted or Allowed" error though you pasted the Terminal Command accurately. Or perhaps iTunes or Finder can't recognize that a symlink was created to relocate iTunes library to the external drive, and the backup files still go to the main hard drive. If you're looking a way to make the backup on the external drive without using Terminal, what you need is an efficient solution, something that will ensure that you have the iPhone backed up to an external hard drive folder.

The robust software is iOS Data Backup & Restore. It can be configured to back up or transfer files from iPhone to an external hard drive directly, whether it's a removable USB stick, a flash drive, or a potable hard disk. You will also have an immediate access to the backed-up data by restoring the backup and moving the files back to the Mac - provided that the external drive is plugged in. Overall, backing up iPhone to external hard drive is a solid onsite backup strategy to keep the device clean and the data safe.

Download Now!

for Windows | for MacOS

The process doesn't take much effort, and it's possible on a Mac or Windows machine. Make sure that there's enough space on the external hard drive to save the iPhone backup. Well, make your way through the easy-to-follow guide, and you'll happily and quickly back up iPhone directly to an external hard disk, freeing you from copying backup folder using iTunes or Finder.

We'll work with a Mac to make iPhone backup to the external location. Do the same on Windows.

Step 1: Set external drive as output directory for backup

Run the software, and connect your external hard drive to the computer.

To back up iPhone onto the external drive, you need to change the location to redirect the iOS backup to your drive. Click Mac FoneLab on the menu bar, and choose Preferences. (On PC, click the Menu icon on the top right of software screen.)

A dialog window will open. Click on three dots in the "Backup Folder" field, navigate to your external drive, and click OK button to move on.

Back Up iPhone to External HD in Catalina and Finder

Step 2: Choose "iOS Data Backup & Restore" and connect iPhone

On the main window of the utility, click "More tools", and then, select "iOS Data Backup & Restore" tab.

Next, plug your device to Mac, and when it's detected, click Start button. If you'd like to encrypt your iPhone backup, make sure to check "Encrypted backup" option.

Step 3: Choose types of data and back up to external HD on Mac (or PC)

Afterwards, in the window, choose any types of files that you wish to save onto the external storage by placing the checkmarks in the boxes.

Get iPhone Backups Off Internal Drive and Keep Them on External

Now click Next button to let the process begin. Your iPhone backup is stored on the external and not internal HD.

When the backup is complete, open the external drive and see if it's a backup file generated. Done!

How Can I Make a Backup of iPhone on External HD in Windows

You can also do something similar on Windows computer by copying iPhone backup out of Backup folder and put in into the External HD folder. You simply have to create a symbolic link from the default location in Windows to the external drive.

  • Plug external drive to Windows computer. Then create a new folder, and name it "iOS-Backup" or something that's easy to remember.
  • Locate the iPhone backup made with iTunes or Finder:
  • Windows 8/ 10: C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup. [Username] here is your Windows username.

    Windows 7: C:/Users/AppData/Roaming/Apple Computer/MobileSync/Backup/

  • Copy the backup and paste it on the "iOS-Backup" on your external drive.
  • Press Windows key + R to open Run box. Type "cmd" in the field and press Enter key.
  • A Command Prompt window opens. Type the following code and press Enter key: mklink /J "C:\Users\[Username]\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup" F:\iOS-Backup (Assuming your external drive is drive F, and iOS-Backup is the name of the folder in external drive.)
  • Close the command prompt window.
  • Launch iTunes and back up iPhone to the external hard drive on windows.
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