There are various reasons for backing up an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, such as having a copy of all your data stored on the iOS device so it can be transferred to a new iOS device if needed, for example. The problems begin if you have an iOS device with a high-capacity storage that you want backed up onto your Mac with limited disk space. Every backup occupies precious storage space on your machine, which all adds up in time until you wake up with a “Your startup disk is almost full” notification.
That's something every Mac user would like to avoid seeing.
That, however, doesn't mean it is only the most recent iOS device backups that are hogging all the storage. The older versions of these backups are dispensable, so if you are in need of disk space then removing these is a good start towards cleaning your Mac. In this article we will show you where you can locate your backups and how you can delete them or move them to an external hard drive.
Locate iOS Backups on Mac
It doesn't matter which version of macOS you are using, you'll find the backup files in the following location:
The (~) symbol stands for the user's home directory. But don't expect to see the MobileSync and Backup folders if you haven't backed up your iPhone to that Mac.
What you'll notice is that the file names in this folder are typically hexadecimal and random. Don't edit these files, because it would create an improper, unreliable backup and cause other problems with your iPhone.
Another way to locate your iOS device backups is by launching iTunes and then selecting “Preferences” and then “Devices”. There you'll find which devices were backed up and when.
To locate it on your computer, Control-click on the backup you want to check, then choose “Show in Finder”.
Delete iOS Backups From Your Mac
After locating the backup files, you can simply duplicate or remove them. If you need copies, you can copy the entire folder (not parts of it) to a network storage location or external hard drive. Time Machine automatically creates a copy of the Backup folder, unless you specifically instruct it not to do so.
To remove any of the backups, select the folder, and hit Command-Delete to move it to trash followed by the Empty Trash command (right-click on the Trash icon and click “Empty Trash”).
If you are locating the backup through iTunes, there is an option to choose “Delete Backup” right from the iTunes > Devices tab: then just select the backup you want to remove. If you have several devices or backups, just hover the mouse pointer over the backup and additional details such as iOS device model name, software version, etc. will appear.
But those using iCloud Backup won't find any of the aforementioned folders on iCloud.com, so here is how to locate these backups on your iOS device or Mac.
On any iOS device running iOS 10.3 or later, go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud > iCloud Storage > Manage Storage.
Those with iOS 10.2 or earlier will need to go to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage.
With iCloud, you have the option to set which iOS apps to back up, since many apps are automatically backed up after you install them. To control this and reduce backup volume, do the following:
iOS 10.3 or Later
- Go to Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > iCloud Storage > Manage Storage.
- Select the name of the iOS device linked to your account.
- Under “Choose Data to Back Up”, turn off the apps you don't want to back up.
- Select “Turn Off & Delete”.
iOS 10.2 or Earlier
- Go to Settings > iCloud > Storage > Manage Storage.
- Select the name of the iOS device.
- You'll find the apps under “Backup Options”.
- Select the apps you don't want to back up and hit “Turn Off & Delete”.
You can also delete backups and turn off iCloud Backup for your iOS device: follow steps (1) and (2), then select “Delete Backup” then “Turn Off & Delete” under iOS 10.3 or later.
Deleting iCloud backups on a Mac is also simple, but a bit hidden:
- Launch System Preferences and select “iCloud”.
- Click “Manage” and select “Backups”.
- Select one of the device backups, and hit “Delete”. To remove all backups and turn off future iCloud backups for that specific device, choose “Delete“ when a prompt appears to confirm the action.
- When you delete a backup, it also turns off the backup function of your iOS device.
Removing Old iOS Backups… the Easy Way
If you don't want to go through all the above, perhaps because of a lack of time or you just aren't confident in what you might be doing, then there are third-party apps such as CleanMyMac that make the job easier. It is a paid app, but it is well worth the price considering that it offers the convenience of stress-free cleaning. The iTunes Junk option cleans your unused iOS data from your Mac, such as old software updates and device backups, while detecting and removing broken downloads.