iPad backup and restore tutorial

iPad backup/restore FAQ: How do I make an iPad backup? Also, how do I restore an iPad backup?

When it comes to making backups, the iPad is a curious device. The iPad isn't like a traditional computer where you say, "I want to backup folders X, Y, and Z." Curious about Apple's thinking, I've dug into the iPad backup and restore topic, and here's what I've found.

Make iPad backups through iTunes

The short story is that Apple wants you to make iPad backups through iTunes. And as far as I can tell, this is currently the only way to make backups.

To make an iTunes iPad backup, just follow these steps:

  1. Connect your iPad to your computer,
  2. Select your iPad device in iTunes, and then
  3. Choose the 'Sync' option to make a backup.

You can also right-click your iPad under the itunes Devices section, and select the "Make a Backup" option from the popup menu.

While that's the short story about how to make an iPad backup, there's much more to learn about making iPad backups, and the iPad restore process. Read on to learn more.

More iPad backup and sync information

Digging into this a little more, I've learned a few additional things about the iTunes iPad backup process. Here are some notes I've pulled together about the iTunes iPad backup and restore process:

  • iTunes creates a backup of your iPad when you sync, which you can then use to restore from if you need to return to a previously backed up state.
  • If you have configured your iPad to sync automatically with iTunes on a specific computer, iTunes will back up the iPad after you connect it to that computer and sync with iTunes.
  • If you do not have your iPad sync automatically when connected, iTunes will create an iPad backup when you choose to sync.
  • You can also right-click (or Control-click) the iPad in the iTunes Devices section, and choose the Back Up option.
  • If you choose to update the software (iOS), iTunes will back up the iPad automatically.
  • If you choose to restore the software to factory settings, iTunes will ask you if you want to back up the iPad.
  • iTunes keeps only one backup created during the sync process for each device.

iPad backup location - Where iPad backups are stored

As mentioned above, iTunes keeps only one iPad backup at a time, so you may want to make sure that this backup is backed-up somewhere. Your iPad backup folder will be in different locations on different computers (Mac or Windows), and I found these iPad backup folder locations on Apple's website:

Your iTunes iPad backup file is located in these folders on these computer systems:

Mac:            ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/
Windows XP:     \Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\
Windows Vista:  \Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

The "~" character on the Mac line refers to your home directory, so my iPad backup on my iMac would be located in this Mac folder:

/Users/Al/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup/

Backing up individual iPad apps

It may also be possible to backup individual iPad apps, but I haven't seen this yet. What I'm mostly thinking about here are iPad apps where you may store your data "in the cloud", such as a to-do list app. It may be that your to-do list data is kept on your iPad, and then sync'd to the cloud from time to time, but really, I'm just guessing here.

iPad restore - How to restore an iPad backup

I haven't tried restoring an iPad backup yet, but in theory the process is simple. Just right-click the iPad device in the iTunes Devices section, and choose the "Restore From Backup" option.

Warning: It's important to note that this process will clobber all your current iPad data, so you'll want to be really, really sure that you want to do this.

Also, if for some reason you decide to select the "Restore" option, this will reset your iPad back to the original factory settings. If you want to keep any of your old iPad backups, you'll want to copy or move them out of the Mac and Windows folders shown above.

In general, a "restore" operation is a dangerous thing, so be very careful.

iPad backup and restore - Summary

I hope this information on how to make iPad backups has been helpful. I'll update this article as I learn more, or as the backup process changes.