How to Move the iPhone & iPad iTunes Backup folder to an External Hard 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:
- 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:
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”
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.
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.