How to Backup iPhone to External Hard Drive on a MAC

Created by On July 24, 2023 |  Last Updated On April 8, 2024

Regardless of the operating system, it’s essential to safeguard your smartphone’s data through regular backups. Losing essential photos, contacts, and messages to theft, damage, or software issues is disastrous. Relying solely on iCloud or iTunes may require more backup Control and additional paid storage, as iCloud offers only a tiny amount of free storage.

How to backup your iPhone to a hard disk

Redirecting iPhone backups to an external hard drive is a sensible alternative, offering better storage, faster transfers, and enhanced security. If you do not know how to backup iPhone to external hard drive with different methods, then let’s start exploring.

Where Are Your Current Backups on MAC?

First, if you want to backup iPhone to external drive, you need to know where the current backups on your MAC are.

1. Select Finder from the Dock on your Mac. 

2. Under the ‘Location’ section, click on your iPhone

3. Click ‘Manage Backups’ and hold the control key

4. Click the backup you want and choose ‘Show in Finder’ from the dropdown. 

How to Change Backup Path on Mac Using Symlink

You know how to backup iPhone on Mac. However, you can also transfer your backup data to external storage for iPhone using the Terminal by creating a symlink. A symlink is a file that the operating system uses as a path to another file or folder. 

Symlink allows you to change your default location to store backups. You can create a symlink as follows.

1. Launch your Terminal.

2. Paste the command: ln -s/Volumes/name-of-your-external-drive/ios_backup/~/Library/Application Support /MobileSync/Backup/name-of-your-backup-folder

3. Hit enter.

The ‘ln -s’ argument is to create a symlink. The ‘ios_backup’ is the folder on your external hard drive (you can change the name), and ~ is to return to the root directory. The words are case sensitive, and if the command does not work, put a backslash between names with more words like ‘Application\ Support’.

Why Use External Storage for Backups?

Before we see how to transfer photos from iPhone to hard drive or shift the whole backup to an external hard drive, let’s discuss why we should use one.

iCloud offers a limited storage plan: 5 GB for free. However, you may need more than 5GB and must pay charges to increase the storage capacity.

On the other hand, with iTunes, you can create a backup of your whole iPhone and store it locally. Then why transfer iPhone photos to external hard drive or move the whole backup there? What if your Mac’s hard drive crashes or becomes dysfunctional? That is why you should have a decent external hard drive for iPhone.

How Do I Backup My iPhone to External Hard Drive Using Mac?

To Backup iPhone to External hard drive on your Mac, you need to follow these steps:

Step 1 – Create an iPhone Backup on Your Mac Device

  1. Open the Finder through the Mac dock or by pressing Option+Cmd+Space (ensure you have connected your iPhone and external hard drive to your Mac computer).
  2. On the Finder, select your iPhone storage in the Locations subsection.
  3. Click on Trust; you will get the same trust prompt on your iPhone device; tap Trust again.
  4. Go to the General tab and click on Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this Mac.
  5. Click on Apply

Doing this will successfully create a backup of your iPhone on your Mac. To Backup iPhone to external hard drive, continue reading:

Step 2 – Move the Backup File to Your External Hard Drive

To backup your iPhone storage to an external hard drive through your Mac, do the following:

  1. On the Finder menu, go to your iPhone storage’s name, click on Manage Backups
  2. Press control and click on the backup you have made. Once you have done so, click on Show In Finder.
  3. Long-press control, click on the backup folder; click on Copy after that.
  4. Select your external hard drive on the left pane and click on Paste.

This will successfully transfer your backup to your external hard drive. Now it is easier for you to retrieve data if your iPhone experiences a failure or you upgrade to a newer model.

How Do I Backup My iPhone to External Hard Drive Using iTunes?

iTunes creates and stores iPhone data locally on the Mac. Let’s explore if you do not know how to do iPhone backup with iTunes.

  1. On your Mac computer, open iTunes (also connect your iPhone to your external hard drive via USB)
  2. Click on your iPhone storage in the bottom left corner of the Devices section.
  3. On the backups section, tick Back up all of the data on your iPhone to this Mac
  4. Click on Back Up Now
  5. After the Backup is Finished, go to iTunes > Preferences
  6. Click on Devices and find your backup
  7. Long press control and click on your backup, click on Show In Finder
  8. Copy your backup
  9. Go to your external hard drive and paste the backup folder there.

How Do I Backup My iPhone to External Hard Drive Using Windows?

Thinking about how do I back up my iPhone to an external hard drive using a Windows-based system? Not everyone owns a Mac. Luckily, there is also an option to achieve the target on a Windows-based system. 

For photos and videos only

  1. Attach your external hard drive.
  2. Connect your iPhone to your system using the charging cable.
  3. Your iPhone will ask whether you can trust the PC or not. Grant the permission.
  4. Using the File Explorer, open the storage area of your iPhone. You will see various folders sorted by date. They contain photos and videos sorted by date. Choose the ones you need to transfer.
  5. Open your external hard drive in a new window.
  6. Paste the files in that folder. 

For Transferring Data on Your External Hard Drive using iTunes

  1. Connect your iPhone and external hard drive to your PC
  2. Open iTunes
  3. Click on the Device icon on the top of iTunes
  4. Under Automatically Back Up, select This computer.
  5. Click on Back Up Now
  6. Type %appdata%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup on the File Explorer to quickly find your backup.
  7. Locate your backup and copy it
  8. Go to your external hard drive folder and paste your copied folder there.
Above is another method to Backup iPhone to external hard drive using Windows.

How Do I Change My iPhone Backup Location in Windows?

Previously, we saw how to create a symlink on Mac. Let’s learn how to make a symlink on a Windows-based system. Carefully follow the steps below:

  1. Open your iPhone backup folder using Windows File Explorer by typing %appdata%\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup.
  2. To change the location of the backup folder, you will have to delete, either rename or move the current backup folder; once you have done any of these, proceed.
  3. On the MobileSync folder, hold shift and right-click; you will either see the Open command window or the Open PowerShell window.
  4. Once you have clicked that, type the command “mklink /d Backup “[desired-new-backup-path]“.
  5. Press Enter. Your iPhone will create a symlink and change the backup folder location.

Verifying Successful iPhone Backups to External Drive on MAC

Now you know the methods to backup to external hard drive, but how can you be sure that the backup was successful? After you backup iPhone to MAC, it is essential to verify the operation.

If you use the Symlink method, a folder named ‘ios_backup’ will be created. Check the modified date. It must match the date of your recent activity for backups to be successful.


Creating a backup of your iPhone onto an external hard drive is the best approach for safeguarding your data and optimising your device’s storage capacity. You can also store your backup on iCloud, but you must pay for extra storage capacity for large backup sizes.

With iTunes, you can back up your iPhone on the Mac locally. However, there are risks of hard drive failure and theft of your Mac. The best way to secure your iPhone backup is to store it on an external hard drive. You can follow the methods above according to your situation to ensure the ultimate security of your data.

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