How to Back Up an iPhone to an External Hard Drive

iPhone and macbook

From pictures and videos to contacts and apps, your iPhone holds a ton of important data that you don’t want to lose. While iCloud and iTunes provide simple backup solutions, having an extra physical copy on an external hard drive adds another layer of security. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you back up your iPhone to an external hard drive.

Why Regular Backups Matter

Before we dive into the “how,” let’s talk about the “why.” Regular backups protect against data loss due to mishaps like accidental deletions, hardware failures, or even stolen devices. Using an external hard drive offers benefits such as larger storage capacity and faster transfer speeds, making it an excellent option for iPhone users and tech enthusiasts alike.

Choosing the Right External Hard Drive

Not all external hard drives are created equal. When selecting one for your iPhone backups, consider these factors:

  • Storage Capacity: Choose a drive with enough space to store multiple backups. A minimum of 256GB is recommended.
  • Portability: A compact, lightweight drive is easier to carry around.
  • Speed: Look for drives with fast read/write speeds, particularly if you have a lot of data to back up.
  • Compatibility: Ensure the drive is compatible with your Mac or PC.

For a range of reliable options, check out these portable drives.

Preparing Your iPhone

Before beginning the backup process, ensure your iPhone is ready:

  1. Update iOS: Navigate to Settings > General > Software Update to ensure your iPhone runs the latest iOS version.
  2. Charge Your Device: Make sure your iPhone is sufficiently charged or connected to a power source.
  3. Free Up Space: Delete unnecessary files to make the backup process smoother.

Backing Up Your iPhone to an External Hard Drive

Using Finder on macOS Catalina and Later

  1. Connect Your External Hard Drive:

Plug your external hard drive into your Mac.

  1. Connect Your iPhone:

Use a USB cable to connect your iPhone to your Mac.

  1. Open Finder:

Open a Finder window and select your iPhone from the left sidebar under “Locations.”

  1. Back Up:

Select the “General” tab and click “Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this Mac.”

  1. Change Backup Location:

To save the backup to your external hard drive, follow these steps:

  • Locate the backup folder by navigating to `~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/`.
  • Move this folder to your external hard drive.
  • Create a symbolic link (symlink) to this new location. Open Terminal and type:


ln -s /Volumes/[YourExternalDrive]/Backup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup


Using iTunes on macOS Mojave and Earlier

  1. Connect Your External Hard Drive:

Plug your external hard drive into your Mac or PC.

  1. Connect Your iPhone:

Use a USB cable to connect your iPhone to your Mac or PC.

  1. Open iTunes:

Launch iTunes and select your iPhone icon from the top left of the window.

  1. Back Up:

Under “Summary,” select “This computer” and click “Back Up Now.”

  1. Change Backup Location:

Similar to Finder, change the backup location by moving the backup folder to your external hard drive and creating a symlink. Find the backup folder in `~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/` and use Terminal to create the symlink.

Verifying Your Backup

After completing the backup, it’s essential to confirm everything went smoothly.

  1. Locate Backup Files:

Navigate to the backup folder on your external hard drive to ensure the files are there.

  1. Check Backup Integrity:

Open iTunes or Finder, go to “Preferences” > “Devices,” and check the list of backups. You should see your latest backup listed.

  1. Test Data Access:

Try accessing a few files from the backup to ensure they’re not corrupted.


Regular backups are a critical part of maintaining your iPhone’s data integrity. By backing up to an external hard drive, you add an extra layer of protection, ensuring your valuable data remains safe and accessible. Secure your data today by following these steps and enjoy peace of mind knowing your information is well-protected.


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