This past weekend my daughter was playing her favorite game of Pocket God on my iPhone. Somehow during that time the inevitable happened (when you mix kids with expensive gadgets)… system crash. The result of this was rather odd as the small home screen icons were enlarged to nearly 2″ x 2″ in size. Scrolling was minimal at best and even a reset did nothing but make unlocking the iPhone impossible. The only option left open was to do a complete restore. The problem here which I found out only afterward was that it reinstalled the same corrupted backup. The only full backup registered by iTunes before this was back in October just under a month ago. This was not looking good at all. A months worth of work down the drain and no way to recover… or so I thought. As I am prone to try out new things when I really shouldn’t and was not satisfied with just having my iPhone up and working I decided to perform a little experiment.
Now, before I go any further let me just say this. In no way do I advise anyone to try this as it has the potential to make things worse nor is this a tutoral of any kind. With that said here’s what I went through and how it worked out. While the iPhone was connected to iTunes I went to Preferences > Devices. What I noted was the list of the backups iTunes performs in order of date and time. The only one without a date should be the current backup just performed when the iPhone was docked up to the PC and iTunes started up. Using this information I then opened Explorer on my Windows PC and navigated my way to C:\Users\<user name>\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\. This is where all the iPhone backup data is stored.
What I found here is that iTunes does not store each backup into it’s own folder nor does it create one large compressed file. Instead it appears to update one folder for a period of about one month at a time before creating a new backup folder. Each time a backup is done and new files are added those files or markers are time stamped with the date and time of when the backup was performed. So, if you backup your iPhone once every day for one month straight that folder should contain the first full backup and all the partial backups performed thereafter. Pending nothing major is done or changed before that month has passed such as a software upgrade. Such a change will cause a new folder to be created again and repeat the process a new.
The folders are named with an obscure alpha-numerical combination which means absolutely nothing to the end-user. The only way to know one backup folder from another is to check the creation or modified date. From there I used the dates I previously noted from iTunes to locate what I believed to be a partial backup from the night before which contained all my work. With that belief I then proceeded to delete all the backup files from the time of the incident to that night before. Once done I then moved all previous backup folders to another location on the harddrive so iTunes would not see it.
With all that dirty work out of the way I went back to iTunes and checked the list of backups. Fortunately this forced iTunes to recognize and list the intended backup I was looking for. Doing the normal restore of the OS followed by a reinstall of the good backup file I was able to sucessfully restore my iPhone to the state it was the night before the crash. Perfectly working with all the my data intact I have not had a problem since.
Even though this worked out well, this is one of those instances I wish I had a little more control of how my iPhone gets backed up. I applaud Apple for making backups automatic but I should not have had to go through this much trouble to retrieve a specific backup file.