How to Sync an iPhone to a New Computer Without Losing Data

Feb 29, 2012 - 74 Comments

Sync iPhone to New Computer

By far the easiest way to sync an iPhone to a new Mac or Windows PC is to transfer all iPhone files and backups from the old computer to the new one. The necessary data is stored in several different locations, and we’ll cover what files and where they go for both Mac OS X and Windows.

A few quick notes:

  • If you only want to sync and not worry about content, the /MobileSync/Backup/ directory is all you need to copy over
  • If you want to painlessly sync music and video, you will need to transfer over the potentially large iTunes folder
  • Using a local network is the generally quickest way to move the necessary files over, but copying them to a USB drive, DVD, hard drive, etc, is fine too

This guide is aimed for iPhone users, but this would work with an iPad or iPod touch too.

Syncing an iPhone with a New Mac by Copying Sync Data

  1. Quit iTunes on both Macs and disconnect the iPhone from both Macs
  2. Open the Home folder and copy the iTunes directory from the old computer to the new one, located at:
  3. ~/Music/iTunes

  4. Now open the user library directory and copy the backups from the old computer to the new one, located at:
  5. ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/

  6. To be certain everything is in order, copy over iTunes Preferences files as well:
  7. ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.iTunes.plist

  8. Now connect the iPhone to the new Mac, launch iTunes, confirm that everything is in order, and authorize the new computer

Sync iPhone to a new Mac

You should be able to even sync from an old PC or a Mac to a new PC/Mac if you use sharing between Mac and Windows to copy the iTunes and Backup folders and put them in their appropriate places.

Syncing an iPhone with a New Windows PC

The instructions are basically the same as above, but the files and folders you are looking to copy are in different locations. For Windows 7 users, you’ll want to copy the following directories and their contents from the old PC to the new PC:

C:\Users\USERNAME\Music\iTunes
C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\
C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\Preferences\

Replace “USERNAME” with the users account name, obviously. Older versions of Windows have iPhone backups located at the following location instead:

C:\Documents and Settings\USER\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup

Now launch iTunes and connect the iPhone and it should sync as normal. Go ahead and authorize iTunes with the new computer as well.

Why is this process necessary before syncing iOS to a new computer?

To put it simply, because data is meant to go from the computer to the iPhone, not from the iPhone to a computer with iTunes. All of this is made a bit better for iCloud users, but you will still need these directories copied over before you can use Wi-Fi sync and sync flawlessly to a new machine without losing data.

As mentioned before, if you just want to quickly sync a new iPhone, all you need to do is copy the backup, but in order to preserve all other iTunes content, music, and preferences, you’ll want to copy everything over.

Enjoy this tip? Subscribe to the OSXDaily newsletter to get more of our great Apple tips, tricks, and important news delivered to your inbox! Enter your email address below:

Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, iTunes, Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

74 Comments

» Comments RSS Feed

  1. Petra Gia says:

    With iCloud you don’t need to do this for apps or anything bought from iTunes, unfortunately if you didn’t buy everything (music mostly) from iTunes it’s necessary.

  2. Tryg says:

    Or use homes sharing to transfer music over and other media over, prevent iTunes from syncing automatically, plug in iPhone create backup, transfer purchases then sync.

  3. Jonathan says:

    Great info, but good grief this needs to be changed. The average user can’t possibly be expected to dig around and copy those files on their own just so they can maintain the same stuff on their iPhone while syncing to a new Mac/PC. This is something iCloud should do entirely.

    • Mr J says:

      Absolutely right – I had a ghastly time swapping from 3GS to 4S as it also included a new MacBook Pro in the deal too.

      Aargh… it’s still not quite right, even after an AppleStore visit.

      Should be “press one button” for the likes of me.

    • JP says:

      See, this is why I use Windows 7.

    • Maurice says:

      Still good info though. I want to format and reinstall Windows 7, and if I were to lose my girlfriends iPhone sync data should would be quite unhappy. Apple could make this much easier, but they either can’t do it right or have the process set up this way for a reason. (Encourages iCloud paid subscriptions, discourages non-iTunes content on iOS, etc.)

      That really is Apple for me in a nutshell. Everything is either super easy with 1 touch and 1 way to do it, or you have to bust into command line mode and start using Unix commands from 30 years ago..

  4. iTAllNews says:

    I find the MobileSync \ not enough to help me.

  5. mike says:

    thanks

  6. emma says:

    Thanks. Wish I would have known this a couple months sooner.

  7. Dan says:

    That should make life easier

  8. Astonished says:

    You’ve got to be kidding!

    How many people are going to go through all this?

  9. Brunno says:

    This is not ilegal?

  10. root86.org says:

    just go for transfer purchases on the new mac … did work on my 3 new macs all the time … where is the problem ?

  11. EE says:

    It worked! Perfect. I’m hating apple tho. Haha.

  12. LS says:

    Worked like a charm! I spent hours trying to figure out how to do this – there are dozens of people on dozens of forums offering other ideas about how to make an old phone work with a new computer – and this is the easiest way. Thanks!

  13. Slothneck says:

    Yup it works!!
    Tried many other “solutions” from other sites but so far this is the only one that has worked for me. Thanks!

  14. Jehangir says:

    Many thanks! You’ve saved me loads of time and worry.

  15. So what about going from a Mac, to a new Windows computer?! You missed that scenario, not to mention the reverse…

  16. Victor Cardi says:

    This is so uncool!!! I downloaded that touch copy program and of course you CAN’T download music or apps unless you BUY THE F%C%ING program!!! How much money do you guys need!!! I spent a fortune for my phone and laptop…it crashed i reformatted it and all I WANT TO DO IS SYNC my i phone with my PC and not reformat my phone!!! Why can’t you guys make it simple…….PLEASE someone tell me how to do this!!!! I have a ton of pics and apps and music i don’t want to lose…. HELP HELP HELP

  17. David says:

    Thank you so much for posting this very helpful information. I found lots of info online, much of it incomplete or incorrect, but your information was spot on. I used it today to move my iTunes library from an old iMac to a new MacBook Air and it worked flawlessly. My iPhone 4 and iPad are now syncing with the MacBook Air thanks to you!

  18. Andrew says:

    Justed used the instructions in the article and they worked perfectly. Thanks! Now I don’t have to sign up for that stupid iCloud service!!

  19. Jasbrina says:

    What if i already has data in the itunes library? will it get replaced?

  20. David says:

    My laptop was stolen, so I don’t have access to the old files. Most of my music was uploaded from CDs. How can I get them from my iphone to my itunes?

    Apple store say they can’t help with this. I say this is a disgrace.

  21. esmilu says:

    This sort of worked for me when I moved from a PC to a new mac. I copied over the backup files as described in the post but for some reason iTunes wouldn’t pick them up. So, knowing I could restore my iDevices on my old PC, I tried out the following:

    1. Authorise new Mac with Apple/iTunes account
    2. Back up devices on OLD computer, and then back them up with iCloud (redundancy is good). You might have to change the settings on your devices to use iCloud backup if you don’t use it already.
    2a. Back up photos/videos by manually copying them via Windows explorer to a backup folder somewhere.
    3. Make sure all your apps are updated in NEW iTunes. *Apps > Check for updates > download updates.
    4. Plug in device to NEW computer, right click on the “Jim’s iPhone” (etc) in the left sidebar and Transfer Purchases
    5. Right click and backup on NEW computer
    6. Sync, including apps. It will give you a warning that it will delete the apps and app data from your device, but all my data from the apps is still there. I had to rearrange them all back into my app collections though.

    As for the music and video library, I just recreated them on a new external drive I had and started again by adding the whole music folder to iTunes, I didn’t have years worth of carefully-crafted playlists I wanted to keep so I didn’t really care.

  22. kyle says:

    okkk soooo i did everthing u said and…nothin happend it still comes up “erase ans sync”….what am i doing wrong

  23. Arend says:

    Such a pain in the *ss…

  24. Liz says:

    This worked ~90%. Copied Apps from MobileSync folder on G5 (Os10.4.11) to iTunesMusic/Mobile Applications on MacPro Intel (Os 10.7.4). However, 7 of my paid Apps won’t transfer. Though I authorized this computer. Error message says it is unauthorized. [Checked System Preferences] and made sure all my sign-in names are identical. Still get same 7 errors.
    Any advice to solve this last problem?

  25. paul says:

    Has the “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/” moved on a new mac? I can’t find this anywhere?

    • Keenan Brock says:

      MobileSync is still there, but for me, it is not visible from the Finder. I had to use terminal to copy it across. There may be a “show hidden files” type option for the mac, but can’t remember how to find it.

      Also, there is the option to backup to the cloud and not the computer, which may make this folder not relevant anymore.

      Thanks for the article.

  26. Elisa says:

    I used home sharing to transfer my old itunes library, I backed up my phone on the new computer but it still wants me to erase and sync.
    If I do this will I lose all of my contacts and such as well?
    I’m afraid of losing everything by syncing it to my new computer!
    I also sent the old back up file to my new computer

  27. Gilbert says:

    If you set up a new Mac using a Time Machine archive or from a previous Mac then all of these files will already be on the new machine. Just authorise it in iTunes, check the settings are correct, ie the same as the old computer, and sync the phone.
    iTunes will make a backup of the phone first, either on the computer or iCloud depending on your settings, so you won’t lose any information.
    5 minutes, job done. It’s really not rocket science.

  28. BennyBoy says:

    Thank You
    Thank You
    Thank You

  29. Linnet says:

    THANK YOU!!! This was so easy following your directions and it worked perfectly the first time! I had read recommendations on other sites, but your instructions were straight forward, made intuitive sense and did not require downloading more software to get the job done.

  30. dwight says:

    i need to sync music to my i phone after adding music from another computer without deleting my music from my computer

  31. Joe R says:

    I will post a comment here again in case anyone has an answer. Perhaps My timing is as always bad. I tried the process yesterday and iExploerer is not free. Without
    purhasing a registration code, there is nothing I can use the product. for. Am I downloading the wrong version or did it in fact just become a retail product?

    • Timm says:

      Download the “discontinued” iExplorer 2 if you don’t want to pay. It doesn’t have the fancy interface of the new version of iExplorer, but it should more than suit your needs. It’s located at the bottom of the download page.

  32. Timm says:

    I can’t find the MobileSync folder anywhere. Am I missing something?

  33. JIm says:

    Moving above itunes files from old XP to new Windows 7. Where in new W7 do I put them?

  34. JIm says:

    File in 3 directories.
    11e9 blah blah blah
    9244 blah blah blah
    f0ec blah blah blah

  35. jobrow says:

    Great set of instructions – worked like a charm. Top chap!!
    BTW – if the new Mac hasn’t previously been sync’d, you won’t see the MobileSync folder on the new Mac. Just copy the whole folder across from the old Mac.

  36. jwize says:

    hahahahahahaha Apple great user experience for your dummies — for all those M$ haters.

  37. jwize says:

    How about call it merge and not make it so destructive.

  38. Jack says:

    This worked 100% beautifully. By far the most simplistic

  39. Jack says:

    Thank-you for posting these instructions. Don’t listen to any negative replies or other suggestions. Just follow the steps outlined. Everytime I upgrade to a new PC I have to go through this process. The last time was a real pain and I spent days researching this on the internet. Now I have booked this link into my favorites so I don’t have to search for the next time. So glad I found this in a matter of minutes. There lot’s of others out there but usually have problems associated with them. This is the one I will be recommending to everyone I know. Even the apple website doesn’t have any suggestions as clean as this one…..in fact they have alot more confusing ways to do it, wanting you to edit the registry, etc. DO NOT USE ANY of THESE would be my recommendation. Again thanks very much.

  40. Rebecca says:

    Thank you thank you thank you!!! I started on someone else’s very complicated “Home Share” suggestion. This one was EASY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  41. Deb Phillips says:

    Just had to chime in and say “Thanks!” too for this *very* helpful info. Worked like a charm!

  42. Franke Misc says:

    Hi,

    So my problem is a little tricky. My Mac book which my iPhone is synced to died a little while ago. I bought a new Mac and want to sync my iPhone to it. Problem is that if I sync the iPhone to the ‘new’ computer I will lose everything and the ‘old’ computer can’t be accessed to transfer over data to the ‘new’ computer.
    Is it possible to transfer the data from my iPhone to the ‘new’ computer directly without losing anything?

    Help will be greatly appreciated.

  43. Debby says:

    Hi there,
    Although these directions seem simple enough, I however am very techie illiterate.
    Here is my situation.. My old hardrive on my laptop is dying, I can still boot it up and retrieve info if I need it, but I have only 1 laptop and have to continually switch out the hard drives to do things. I don’t have the luxury of networking the drives (IF I even knew how to do that).
    I can copy over these directories onto a flash drive and put them onto the new drive (but where?)
    I would just like to be able to sync my iphone with my new hard drive with minimal fuss. I’m not worried about the music, I can add a new playlist of music. Same with my pictures, I have saved all of them anyway, so if they disappear off the phone that’s ok.
    I just don’t want to lose all of my apps, contacts and notes, etc. off the phone.
    I have all the purchased stuff and apps downloaded in itunes on my new drive and it has been authorized already.
    I just pretty much need to know where to put the files on the new drive and then hook up my phone and then what? Sync or back-up first?

    Any help would be wonderful. And in less techie terms ;)

  44. Timmy says:

    Ok this sounded easy. I found the ~/Music/iTunes folder. But I can’t find the other two folders… ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/ and ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.iTunes.plist. I’m on a Mac with OS X 10.7.5 and iTunes 10.7(21). Help!

  45. sam says:

    help ive lost my old laptop got a new one and want toset up m new iphone with my songs off my old one help

  46. jack says:

    When seeing this complexity, I took the decision to sell my iPad as soon as Samsung is proposing the equivalent. Working in the computer area since the 60’s, I’ve never seen such a stupid “closed” world

  47. Harvir says:

    Okay, found the solution for the new Mac. To find ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup – Press (Command+Shift+G) and then type in ~/Library and your in business!

  48. Nils says:

    ??? MAC to WIN7 ???

    Hey guys,
    What about the sync with a NEW WINDOWS 7 without loosing my Apps?
    Apps can’t be synced over iCloud so I need a Solution for that.
    I synced the iPhone with my Mac, but now I have to work with a WIN7 PC.
    Is it possible?
    Thx!

  49. L Aruda says:

    Thank You So MUCH!!!!!!!!! This web site and directions were SO helpful. I stuggled with getting my info from my old PC to my new PC for the longest time. We put the saved files from the external drive to music file, it worked awesome. Again Thank you! I lost no information. Music, apps etc. Yea Me!!!

  50. Arvin says:

    Does not work for me. Tried copying from the old PC to my new one and connected my iPhone5 but the sync would only get the old data. When I tryto sync the Apps, it erased them all. Good I made a backup first. Pheww

  51. kelami says:

    v useful article – thanks

  52. Stevec says:

    Does this work if you previous had a PC and have now switched to a MacBook Pro?
    I’d certainly like to be able to have my iPhone sync’d with my new computer :/

  53. uthnaa says:

    its is very simple and easy way ..thanks for this beautiful post..

  54. oscar says:

    Awful! What if there is no more “old computer”? how do you get all media tranfered from Iphone to computer?

  55. Ian says:

    Thanks for the help. The only problem I had was finding the library. I was migrating from 10.6 to Lion and OS 10.7 no longer has multiple libraries. I was a little nevous about moving the relevant files from User Library to the main/only library on Lion. It worked perfectly!!! Really pleased

  56. Anthony says:

    Hey guys,

    This worked like a charm for me, however now i have to allow iTunes to accept incoming connection on the firewall every time I open this app. I looked into it and it shows that the app is modified, and because of this, it has to ask permission every time. How do i fix it?

  57. [...] with a new computer. In such a situation you can’t just sync the device to the new computer without losing data because you won’t have the original backup folders copied over, but this method allows you to [...]

Leave a Reply

 

Shop for Apple & Mac Deals on Amazon.com

Subscribe to OSXDaily

Subscribe to RSS Subscribe to Twitter Feed Follow on Facebook Subscribe to eMail Updates