How to Move the iPhone & iPad iTunes Backup folder to an External Hard Drive

Mar 5, 2011 - 78 Comments

move-itunes-iphone-ipad-backup-location-to-external-drive

If you have a Mac with an SSD or otherwise limited disk space (like the MacBook Air 11″ with a 64GB drive), you might consider moving your iPhone backup folder to another drive to save some of that precious SSD space.

Before proceeding you might want to determine if this is necessary for you. Do this by checking the size of the iTunes “Backup” folder that we reference below, just click on it and select “Get Info” to calculate it’s size. In my case, the Backup folder is 6GB, so with the small MacBook Air SSD I could immediately save 10% of disk space by relocating the backup elsewhere. With this in mind, here’s how to move the often large iTunes backup to an external drive.

How to move the iPhone/iPod/iPad iTunes Backup Folder to an External Drive

Note: Moving the iTunes iPhone/iPad/iPod backup folder to another drive requires that external drive to be connected in order to backup or sync future iOS devices properly.

  • 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/

  • From this folder, copy the “Backup” folder to a new location on the external hard drive, for the sake of this guide we’ll choose a folder called iOSBackup on a drive named “External”
  • Before trashing the origin folder, rename the existing Backup folder to something else for backup reasons, like Backup2
  • 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

(That command needs to be on a single line, formatting may look otherwise.)

Verify Symbolic Links

To double-check that the symbolic link has been created, open ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/ in the Finder and look for the Backup folder, it should now have an arrow on the corner representing the symbolic link (think Aliases in terms of Mac OS X Finder), like the picture below:

link-itunes-backup-to-external-drive

Prevent Automatic Syncing of iOS Hardware

Next you’ll want to disable automatic syncing of your iOS devices, because there are probably times when you’ll be plugging iOS hardware into your Mac without the external drive connected. Doing this is easy, just open iTunes > iTunes Preferences > click on “Devices” and then select the checkbox next to “Prevent iPods, iPhones, iPads from syncing automatically”

prevent-itunes-from-auto-sync

Test a Backup & Remove Backup2

Finally, before removing the “Backup2″ folder and saving the disk space, you’ll want to complete a backup and sync of your iOS device to verify that everything is working as intended. There shouldn’t be any problems, but if there are, retrace the steps to make sure everything was done correctly. If the backup is fine, go ahead and remove the Backup2 folder and you can rely on the link to the external drive when it is connected.

That’s it!

Can I undo this? How do I move the iTunes Backup back to its default location?
Yes of course! If you ever want to undo this, simply remove the “Backup” symbolic link (the one with the little arrow icon) from ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/ by deleting it, and then moving your iOSBackup directory from the External Drive back to its original location. It’s that simple.

Will this work for all iOS devices?
Yes it should work fine with any iOS device including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. If you use multiple iOS devices, they’re all stored in the Backup folder, which could make this tip even more useful since more backups = more space taken up locally.

What else can I do to save iTunes related disk space?
In the comments, Dan suggests moving the iTunes media library to an external drive to save even more space. This is a great suggestion to combine with the above tip.

I can’t this working, what am I doing wrong?

Some users are having trouble getting the external volume to work properly due to incorrectly identifying the folder path. Users running into this problem may want try the advice left by reader Howard or Joe from the comments, repeated below:

The problem is getting the path exact.

If you see the Backup “alias” in the MobileSync folder, then the problem is the first half of the command – typing the correct path so the “alias” points correctly at the target location.

The trick to do this is:

1. Delete the Backup “alias” that doesn’t work, (if you’ve already made one.)

2. Now, type the beginning of the command in terminal “ln -s ” (don’t forget the space after).

3. THEN go to the finder and drag the target “Backup” folder onto the terminal window. It will insert the exact path – no need to type it.

However I want to make paragraph 4 clearer:

4. Go to MobileSync folder and make sure there is no folder in there marked “Backup”

5. THEN make sure there’s a single space, go to the finder and drag the MobileSync folder onto the Terminal window (This half of the command should be the same for everyone.)(make sure there’s no double spaces anywhere);

6 THEN append “/Backup” so that path is ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup. Why did I do this? Remember the MobileSync folder should not have a “Backup” folder in there for me to drag into terminal.

7. THEN hit RETURN

It worked for me at first attempt.

Let us know in the comments what has worked for you.

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Posted by: William Pearson in iPad, iPhone, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

78 Comments

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  1. Dan says:

    Awesome walkthrough!

    I have the MBA 64 so this hits the nail on the head for me. I already moved my iTunes media folder to an external drive and this is a great next step.

    Thanks a bunch!

  2. Murphy says:

    Great tip. I just deleted a bunch of iOS backups but would have been happier doing this. Thanks.

  3. Woodgie says:

    That truly is a fantastic idea! I already have my iTunes Library on an external disk and this will free up another 30GB. I do love the tips and tricks I pick up here. Thank you very much

  4. trogmosis says:

    i don’t use many apps so my itunes backup is only about 400mb though so it’s not necessary for me, great idea though

  5. Pablo says:

    it’s is a contraction for ‘it is.” The possessive form of its has no apostrophe. Another elementary school lesson.

  6. CJ says:

    Just remember, if you move your iTunes library to an external drive, it may not be automatically backed up by Time Machine! Best to ensure that it is on your backup schedule.

  7. Dave says:

    Great tip, but there is one problem with the symbolic link command, it will give an error if you just copy and paste into terminal. It’s an easy fix though, just add a backslash before the space in “Application Support”. The line should look like this:

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

  8. umzhan28 says:

    Thanks for the great tip! May I ask if similar can be done on Win OS (e.g. Win 7)?

  9. tm513 says:

    Thank you Dave – the ‘\’ is the key. I couldn’t get the command to work without that crucial piece.

  10. Nik says:

    i have an older Macbook with only an 80gb hard drive, after 4 years, and with a 40gb itunes folder, i dont have much space left, my new iPhone is eating everylast bit of space, so i need to move it to my external hard drive… but im running into problems with this technique.

    my backup folder in applications support says i only have 50 mb in it… do iPhone apps also get backed up to this folder? or are they separate? i have about 3gb worth of apps.

    and also, i cant get the symbolic link to work, the command goes through on Terminal, but i dont get the icon with the arrow… im not sure what im doing wrong

    sorry if these questions are stupid, im pretty new to the iphone game, any help would be appreciated.

  11. MegaMouse says:

    I’ve been wondering about this for a long time. My backup is less than 3GB, but now that I’ve switched to SSD, I’d prefer to avoid unnecessary writes to that drive. Thanks for the procedure.

    One question: this procedure should break anytime in the foreseeable future, should it? I suppose if Apple changes the backup folder location in a future version of iTunes, we might have a problem and the procedure would have to be updated.

  12. Ash says:

    Wonder why this is not working for me. I am getting a: /Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup: No such file or directory.

    This is after adding a ‘\’ after Application.

  13. Me says:

    Same here..not functioning in either format.

  14. Me says:

    Got it to work..Just changed the name of my external drive to External instead of what it was named prior and ensure that your iOSBackup folder does not have another backup folder within, but rather the individual folders you copied for the original backup folder i.e. NOT iOSBackup/Backup

  15. Ash says:

    Thanks… it works now. Removed the Backup folder from under the iOsBackup folder and renamed the external drive to External. Wonder why it does not take any other name.

    • fortsound says:

      had the same problem but jus figured that the backlash that needs to be in between Application Support must count for all folder or drive names that contain spaces…just put a backlash for every space and it works with other names as well!

  16. B Michael says:

    I get an error (after correcting with the forward slash) that says “File exists” Can anyone please help?

  17. cmilo says:

    I had some problems but solved it by adding the backslash as stated above, and also making sure my drive was named “External” as well as adding a folder to that drive called “iOSBackup” Now it works.

    Thanks for the tip!!!

  18. Josh says:

    Oh My goodness! I was getting so frustrated because it was NOT working for me. I fixed it by renaming my external drive to “External” and I created a folder in there called “iOSBackup.” Then I just followed his instructions and BAM it is working like a charm! Thank you so much for this GREAt info!!!

    ***one more thing, make sure you put a “\ ” in between Application support***

    Thanks again!

  19. J says:

    Finally got it to work. I had to:

    1. Rename my Seagate to ‘External’.
    2. add the ‘\’ in ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup (yes, I put a space after the ‘\’before ‘Support’)
    3. Make sure my /Volumes/External/iOSBackup folder is empty.

    If you are getting the “File Exists” response in Terminal, it’s because the backup folder in your ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync directory is still named “Backup”. Change it to Backup2 or whatever. Terminal doesn’t want to let you link to a file of that name on your external drive because there is one of the same name in the same directory you are trying to put the link in. :)

    That’s all I know. Hope it helps.

  20. cindy in indy says:

    Hi everyone,

    I had this working great on my External drive until that drive failed. :(

    I replaced the drive with another drive that I also named External.

    I deleted the symbolic in my user’s mobilesync folder, created a Backup folder there, backed up my phone just fine and then went through all the above steps again.

    But now it get a message from itunes saying it can’t backup because the backup is corrupt or incompatible.

    Any suggestions?

    • KFed says:

      Why hasn’t anyone responded to this yet? I am getting the same message after doing the above instructions. Does anyone know why? Please help us!

      • MFrank says:

        Any fix for this? I get this message just by following the instructions from the top. No change of drives or anything. This external drive method simply won’t work for me.

  21. Art says:

    Thanks for the great tip. My iPad and family iPod (s) backups were taking up too much space. I could not get it to work through Airport Extreme, however, using Dave’s modification to the terminal command, renaming the partition to external, and plugging directly into the harddrive, it worked for me. I did try modifying the terminal command to reflect the name I had on that partition but it did not work until I renamed the partition external. Which seems strange but it works now.

  22. Duds says:

    Thanks for this.

    I only now have a work MacBook pro and don’t want any of the data on my iPhone backing up to that machine. I’ve successfully moved my iTunes folder to my external HDD and will attempt this approach to move the MobileSync folder.

    Do any of you know what else I need to move? Calender, Contacts… I found a list in this blog post. Is it exhaustive?
    http://rubayathasan.com/iphone/iphone-backup-sms-notes-pictures-video-mxtube/

    Thanks,
    D

  23. Joe says:

    This was working fine for me, until I got an Airport Extreme and moved my external hard drive across the room and I’m using it through the Airport Extreme as a networked drive.

    But now every time I try and sync, I get a general “iTunes could not Backup iPhone because an error occurred.”

    I can’t seem to fix it.

  24. Lee says:

    Excellent tip! You can change ‘External’ and ‘iOSBackup’ to whatever names you want in the Terminal command depending on the name of your drive and preferred backup location.
    Mine says ln -s /Volumes/BackupDrive2/iPad_backup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup

  25. Dan says:

    I have another question. I used an Apple Time Capsule disk to redirect the iPad/iPhone backup to this external disk and free up space on my local drive.

    After I copied old backups and made that symbolic link, when I connect my iPad I cannot sync/backup because it appears encrypted – even though I never activated encryption before.

    Any advice?

    Many thanks

  26. Ethan says:

    So my command is saying “ln” is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.
    Is there a fix to this(i’m on windows 7)

  27. Ethan says:

    I fixed that but could you PLEASE make this for windows 7!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

  28. Daniel says:

    The instruction could not be clearer. However, I can not get this to work after trying a million ways.

    I am working in Lion and as someone else wrote before I want to change the backup location from my SSD to my other internal hard drive which I have named “External” for the simplicity. I keep getting the answer in terminal “No such file or directory”. I get the same answer when I type only “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup”, so the problem seems to be here (?).

    I have ever tried to show the library folder as I thought that could have caused the problem. No change though. Can anyone out there please help me?

    Kindly
    Daniel

  29. Jeremy says:

    I am in the same boat as Daniel. Working in Lion OS X, have followed all the directions and modifications in the comments, and I get “The folder can’t be found”

    I’d appreciate any help!

  30. Adam says:

    So I followed all the steps and got it to work like a charm. The problem I now see is that it’s backing up in both the external AND the backup folder in mobilesync. I deleted the backup folder in mobilesync but it just recreates a new backup folder and adds all my stuff in it while adding to the External.

    Is there any way to change it so when I back up my iPhone it ONLY backs up into the external drive? Thanks in advance.

  31. tastygroove says:

    These instructions suck… Best done in two steps..

    Terminal,
    Cd (then drag and drop mobilesync dir from finder)

    Ok now that you are in the dir,

    ln -s (drag and drop backup location from external drive) / Backup

    Don’t forget to add the slash at the end, don’t forget the space, don’t forget to capitalize Backup

    Don’t forget to rename or delete original backup dir.before proceeding note however it said I didn’t have permission to rename so I just deleted it after copying it.

  32. Leon says:

    It took me a while to get this going, but finally seemed to get everything under control about a month ago.

    HOWEVER.

    Today I tried to make up to date backups of my iphone and ipad, and despite having the same external drive plugged in, itunes could no longer find ANY backups at all. When I tried to do a new backup, I was told the file was corrupted and now itunes has no backups listed under preferences.

    This is clearly a MAJOR issue.

    Ideas, anybody?

  33. Howard says:

    The problem is getting the path exact.

    If you see the Backup “alias” in the MobileSync folder, then the problem is the first half of the command – typing the correct path so the “alias” points correctly at the target location.

    The trick to do this is:
    1. Delete the Backup “alias” that doesn’t work, (if you’ve already made one.)
    2. Now, type the beginning of the command in terminal “ln -s ” (don’t forget the space after).
    3. THEN go to the finder and drag the target “Backup” folder onto the terminal window. It will insert the exact path – no need to type it.
    4. THEN make sure there’s a single space, go to the finder and drag the Backup folder from MobileSync onto the Terminal window (This half of the command should be the same for everyone.)(make sure there’s no double spaces anywhere) and hit command…

    Should work. I was getting an error also, one day after it worked. It’s working again…

  34. bz says:

    I’ve had tons of problems with getting this to work. I was able to get it to work once (following the modifications “J” made on 5/19/11), and it would backup on the external drive, but when I tried to update with iOS 5, I would get an error: “An error occurred while backing up this iPhone (-50). Would you like to continue to update this iPhone?” And a threat of losing all info on the phone. So I deleted the Symbolic Link and tried to do the iOS 5 update on to my computer’s hdd. I ran out of room (the original problem that led me to this post), and wanted to try the symbolic link again, but I could not get it to work, no matter whose modifications I tried. I finally found a plugin (SymbolicLinker) at: http://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/10433/symboliclinker and was able to get the symbolic link to work again (make sure to change the folder name, deleting the “symlink” ending from the Backup folder on your mac). I tested it by only backing up my phone (not upgrading to iOS 5). As I’m typing this, I just got the “error… (-50)” again, so I am trying something different. I will make sure I have an updated copy of my mac’s Backup folder (the one in library/application support/mobilesync/Backup) on my external drive. Then, I will delete the Backup folder (the one I renamed Backup2) from my mac (saving 17 gig of space) and see if I have enough space to do this iOS 5 update. When I am all done, I will try transfer the new contents in the Backup folder on my mac to my external hdd and do the symlink again. Wish me luck. I’ll post if it works.

    • bz says:

      well, it worked. But it seems like this Backup folder only keeps temporary files. I saw the files being written as it was updating to iOS 5, but when it was done, they weren’t there anymore. Anyone else find this to be true?

  35. [...] OS X dat al het vekeer naar de locatie MobileSync moet worden geredirect. Zie onderstaand artikel. How to Move the iPhone & iPad iTunes Backup folder to an External Hard Drive Zelf nooit nodig gehad, dus ik kan niet uit ervaring spreken. Staan er toevallig ook oudere [...]

  36. JC says:

    this is so awesome. thanks so much. i kept wondering where almost half of my 120gb hard drive was going and now i finally have a remedy.

  37. Deucalion says:

    Thank you.

  38. EV says:

    Hi,

    This worked for me so well when I set it up in May, thanks! But now that I’m trying to download and install OS 5.0.1 I get the following error:

    The media on this iPad cannot be backed up because there is not enough free space on this computer to hold all of the backed up files (19.11 GB required, 6.15 GB available). Would you like to continue to update this iPad?

    It says it will erase all my data if I continue. Itunes is unable to recognize that it is backing up to the external, even though it just backed up to the External when I synced it moments prior.

    If anybody has any advice on this, I would really appreciate it. Otherwise the new OS will be unusable on the ipad, using external drives.

    Thanks!

  39. MDB says:

    I have the Air 11″ 64G and I am really desperate for this solution to work…however I constantly get the follow reply:

    ln -s/Volumes/External/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup
    ln: illegal option — /
    usage: ln [-Ffhinsv] source_file [target_file]
    ln [-Ffhinsv] source_file … target_dir
    link source_file target_file

    Any suggestions of how to get around this?

  40. Joe says:

    TRIED THIS TIP AND WORKED… best instructions are Howard’s in October which I repeat:

    The problem is getting the path exact.

    If you see the Backup “alias” in the MobileSync folder, then the problem is the first half of the command – typing the correct path so the “alias” points correctly at the target location.

    The trick to do this is:
    1. Delete the Backup “alias” that doesn’t work, (if you’ve already made one.)
    2. Now, type the beginning of the command in terminal “ln -s ” (don’t forget the space after).
    3. THEN go to the finder and drag the target “Backup” folder onto the terminal window. It will insert the exact path – no need to type it.

    However I want to make para 4 clearer:

    4. Go to MobileSync folder and make sure there is no folder in there marked “Backup”

    5. THEN make sure there’s a single space, go to the finder and drag the MobileSync folder onto the Terminal window (This half of the command should be the same for everyone.)(make sure there’s no double spaces anywhere);

    6 THEN append “/Backup” so that path is ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup. Why did I do this? Remember the MobileSync folder should not have a “Backup” folder in there for me to drag into terminal.

    7. THEN hit RETURN

    It worked for me at first attempt.

    • Lech says:

      Thx a lot MAN! It worked fine now! I’ve face big troubles following Howard’s instruction. iTunes always were starting backing up to old location. After following your suggestion telling to drag MobileSync folder and then adding/writing Backup at the end, it works perfectly. THX A LOT MAN!

    • Ciarán says:

      This is great thankyou!

    • Peter says:

      This is great – thank you! having major issues with the destination of the alias. Thanks!!

    • Shadi says:

      If you follow this. IT WILL WORK!! The direction are clear and perfect! When he refers to target back (Thats where you want the folder to point to) obviously the folder you just created on your external drive.

      Thanks sooo much! I was getting frustrated till I followed your instructions!

  41. Spingerfitz says:

    command
    ln -s /Volumes/External/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/’Application Support’/MobileSync/Backup
    works too.

  42. Mark says:

    Will, do you have a networked set up for this. I am setting up a NAS and iTunes will work with a NAS drive for music, so I wanted to see of I could get the iPhone backup to do the same.

  43. Michael says:

    I keep getting an error that says that the target file exists, but I am not sure what I should do.

  44. MKF says:

    I had a problem getting this working, but finally got it. Here is a more conceptual walk-through since everyone will have their own specific issues getting this working. Sorry if someone else already did this above, the thread is quite long. Didn’t read :)

    Here is what you need to type in terminal on my drive:
    ln -s /Volumes/LaCie/iTunes\ Device\ Backups/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup

    1) Put \ before every space in your directory
    2) After -s goes your new target directory. Get it by selecting your target folder and clicking command+i.
    3) After your target directory goes the original directory. Get it by selecting your target folder and clicking command+i.
    4) Note that you CANNOT have an existing ‘Backup’ folder in the MobileSync folder – remember to rename it to Backup2, as noted by the author.

    Thank you for the original! Saved me a lot of frustration with drive space.

    - mkf

  45. emmanuel says:

    I tried very hard to work on this awesome tip but…after copying the Backup file to my external drive, renaming it on my Mac, I hit the Terminal, cut/paster the command and I get this answer: ln: Support/MobileSync/Backup: No such file or directory

    no Symbolic Links has been created..

    any ideas?

    Thanks so much

  46. Tom says:

    Since upgrading to ML, iTunes gives an error saying the location does not exist, yet the drive is there and the link work testing it in finder. Any tips?

  47. KFed says:

    I get a message from itunes saying it can’t backup because the backup is corrupt or incompatible.

    Any suggestions?

  48. Sarah says:

    This is driving me crazy. I’m also getting the corrupt backup message. I’ve cleared out stuff from my internal drive and just want put the backup folder where it belongs on the internal drive. How the hell do I do that?!

  49. Symbolic Ink says:

    In order for it to put the backups in the Backup folder I had to use this:

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

  50. Mo Mo says:

    Can this be done on a PC???

  51. Crick says:

    This method seems not to work with Mavericks. The symlink is created easily enough; however, the Library folder remains hidden such that the link cannot access the folder. Is there a solution to this? Can the symlink be created with a property that allows it to access a hidden (Library) folder?

    • maxanaga says:

      mine worked with mavericks – needed use cmd sift g to get to the mobile sync folder then change the view mode and you will get to library and be able to drag the mobile sync folder

  52. LeSci says:

    Thanks for the instructions.
    The amendment at the end helped. I had to drag both the source and destination folders in order to setup the link. I think the ln -s command didn’t like the ~/Library/…, which got changed to /users//Library/… when I dragged the MobileSync folder to the Terminal.app window.

  53. Peter says:

    It worked for me on Mavericks 10.9.2 no problem at all. I was having a hard time understanding the instructions at first. Simply copy or move the “Backup” folder to the external drive, I suggest leaving it named “Backup” too, then delete the “Backup” on the computers drive and follow the users suggested method of dragging the folders into Terminal. This way there’s no mistakes trying to type your own commands or copying the “for the sake of this tutorial” weird folder renaming they did. Suggestion osxdaily, “For the sake of your non-poweruser readers” follow the KISS motto!

  54. maxanaga says:

    thank you, this was great – glad you added that explanation for when it doesn’t work, i had to use that – needed to drag the mobile synch folder and destination into terminal and got the redirection!!

    back up is now on my time capsule!!!!!

  55. Alejandro says:

    Thanks. It worked fine. Great idea !

  56. Mark says:

    Hi,

    I’m getting the below response doing this with and without the additional forward slash:

    Marks-MacBook-Pro:~ mark$ ln -s /Volumes/MY BOOK 1TB/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup
    ln: Support/MobileSync/Backup: No such file or directory
    Marks-MacBook-Pro:~ mark$ ln -s /Volumes/MY BOOK 1TB/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup
    ln: /Users/mark/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup: No such file or directory

    I don’t want to have to rename the external drive as I have programs that reply on this volume. Many thanks for any help

    Mark

    • itn says:

      It says “no such file or directory” probably because the command is not properly specifying a directory with a space in the name

      ln -s /Volumes/MY\ BOOK\ 1TB/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup

      You can also use quotation marks, or just drag and drop the directory into the terminal to have it printed out properly

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