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How to back up an iPhone

iPhone backup
(Image credit: Neirfy/Shutterstock)

Your iPhone contains all your most precious data. From cherished photos to website passwords, it stores your entire digital world. Losing the information on your iPhone would be aggravating at best and devastating at worst. Fortunately, it’s easy to make a backup of an iPhone’s data and even set backups to be performed automatically.

iPhone backups are also useful for when you update your phone. Instead of starting again from scratch, you can use an iPhone backup from your old phone to set up the new one with all your apps, preferences, passwords, and bookmarks.

There are a few ways to back up an iPhone, the easiest of which is to use the built-in iCloud backup solution from Apple. In this article, we take you through the steps of how to back up an iPhone using this method, and we also discuss a few of the best cloud storage solutions for backing up photos and documents from your iPhone if you’d prefer to use an alternative.

iPhone backup

The iPhone 11 (Image credit: Apple)

How to back up an iPhone: Preparation

With a cloud backup solution like iCloud, a copy of your iPhone’s data is uploaded to Apple’s servers. Even if your iPhone is destroyed, your data is safe. 

If it’s been a long time since you performed a backup or you’ve taken many photos and videos, your next backup could be gigabytes in size. Your backup will go faster if you’re connected to a solid Wi-Fi network with a fast internet connection.

iPhone backup

You can use Google to test the speed of your internet connection (Image credit: Google)

Step 1: Open the iCloud settings on your iPhone

To turn on iCloud backups on your iPhone, first navigate to the iCloud settings menu. You do this by bringing up the Settings app. Tap on your name at the top of the main Settings page. This brings you to the Apple ID settings menu. From here, choose iCloud.

iPhone backup

The iCloud menu is found in the Apple ID section of the Settings app (Image credit: Apple)

Step 2: Ensure that you have enough iCloud space

Depending on how much data you have on your iPhone, you may need to update your iCloud space. Photos and videos, in particular, take up a large amount of space. You get 5 GB of iCloud storage for free, and there are three different paid plans you can choose from. The price for these plans varies by country, but in the US, it costs $0.99/month for 50 GB of storage, $2.99/month for 200 GB of storage, and $9.99/month for 2 TB of storage. The two larger plans can be shared with family members. 

To check or change your iCloud storage subscription plan, hit Manage Storage, and then choose Change Storage Plan. You’ll see a page that shows your current plan and the pricing for upgraded plans. If you want to upgrade, choose the relevant plan and press Buy.

iPhone backup

Apple offers three iCloud storage plans (Image credit: Apple)

Step 3: Enable automatic iCloud backups

Return to the iCloud settings page by pressing on the back button twice. Scroll down until you find iCloud Backup. This will be Off or On. If it’s Off, press on the button. On the next page, switch iCloud Backup to On. A pop-up will appear, asking if you’re sure you want to switch on iCloud backups. Press OK.

iPhone backup

You switch on iCloud backups in the Backup menu (Image credit: Apple)

Step 4: Start iCloud backup manually

Your iPhone is now set up to make periodic backups to iCloud. You can force a manual update by choosing Back Up Now. Your iPhone will make a full backup to the cloud, which usually takes a few minutes to perform. You can exit the iCloud Settings page, and the backup will continue in the background. When complete, the Backup tool will show the time and date of the last successful backup.

iPhone backup

You can manually back up your iPhone if you want a backup to be made immediately (Image credit: Apple)

Step 5: Choose what to back up

iCloud storage can get expensive, so it pays to only back up the data that you need to. You have a great deal of choice in what is stored in your iPhone backups. From the iCloud Storage page, choose Backups.

You’re presented with a list of backups taken from your iPhone. Choose the one that you want to edit. You can now choose the different types of data that you want to back up. If you have an alternative backup solution for your photos and videos, for example, you can disable backups of the Photo Library, saving space in your iCloud storage.

iPhone backup

Disabling backups of the Photo Library saves space, but you’ll need an alternative backup solution (Image credit: Apple)

Alternatives to iCloud for iPhone backups

Many users find that they quickly fill up their free 5 GB of iCloud storage. Paying $0.99/month for 50 GB of cloud storage is quite reasonable, but as you move up the pricing tiers for iCloud storage, it becomes less competitive. What other options are there?

You can reduce the amount of space used on iCloud by saving your photos and videos to your computer instead. Granted, you could lose your photos and videos if you suffer a hard drive failure, but you can make multiple backups on different drives, burn copies to Blu-ray, or upload to another cloud storage service. 

With a Mac running macOS 10.15 or newer, you’ll find this facility in Finder when you connect your iPhone to the computer. If you’re running an older version of macOS or a PC, you’ll need to open iTunes.

You’ll usually be asked to Trust This Computer on your iPhone screen, so press Trust to do so. Locate the iPhone device on the computer. In the General tab, choose Back up all of your data on your iPhone. You can then set a password if you want. Finally, click Sync and backup will be performed.

iPhone backup

Making a backup of an iPhone’s data on a Mac (Image credit: Apple)

Many competing cloud storage solutions support mobile devices. For example, IDrive recently topped our list of the best cloud storage providers, and it has a free mobile app for iOS. It can back up your device’s photos, videos, contacts, and calendar events. While iCloud is Apple-specific, IDrive works on PCs, Macs, iPhones, and Android devices, making it easier to back up files from multiple devices into one place.

IDrive, like Apple iCloud, is free for the first 5 GB. But where Apple charges $9.99 for 2 TB of storage, you can get a whopping 10 TB of storage from IDrive for just $6.21/month (if you pay for two years in advance).  

Another interesting alternative is the 2-TB plan from pCloud. You pay $350 once and the storage is yours forever. If you plan on using your online storage for over 35 months, it’s cheaper than Apple iCloud. pCloud also has a free iOS app.

These alternative solutions often have additional features that you don’t get with Apple iCloud, such as a streaming video player, easy sharing of documents, and file versioning. On the other hand, iCloud’s backups are much more straightforward to use when you upgrade your iPhone.

iPhone backup

IDrive offers competitively priced cloud storage plans with support for iOS (Image credit: iDrive)

Summary

Your iPhone is filled with important data that you can’t risk losing. Therefore, it’s sensible to keep a backup of your iPhone data, preferably using a tool that works in the background and automatically updates whenever your iPhone data changes.

Backing up an iPhone can be done in several ways, the easiest being through the use of iCloud backups. It’s simple to set your iPhone to save a backup automatically to the cloud by switching on a few settings in the menu.

You can also back up an iPhone by connecting it to a computer running iTunes. This is certainly cheaper, but you risk losing everything if both your PC and iPhone are stolen or irreparably damaged. A cloud backup solution is preferable because your data is stored in multiple locations. If you find iCloud too expensive because you take many photos and videos, there are alternative cloud backup solutions that can automatically make backups of your photos, videos, and documents and store them online.