We all love the flash storage on our MacBook Airs and our Retina MacBook Pros – the problem comes when we can only afford so much storage (or are constrained by Apple’s offerings) and find our storage space filling up faster than we’d like. One of the big culprits here are iOS backups. While you’re likely using iCloud to backup your iPhone and iPad, it’s entirely likely that you’ve backed up your iOS device to your Mac now and then (because that’s a good thing to do) and those iOS backups can be eating up costly drive space. Consider this: backing up a 128GB iPhone 6 and a 128GB iPad Air 2 to your Mac could be taking up well over 100 GB of  storage space – hardly irrelevant when you’re dealing with a Mac that most likely has 256GB of storage in the first place.

So what’s a conscientious backuper to do? Have those iOS backups automatically stored on a spacious external hard drive with gigabytes to spare. It takes a bit of work, including a brief visit to the Terminal, but it’s totally worth it if storage space is at a premium.

Here goes…

iOS Backups

1) Let’s begin by seeing what we’re dealing with: do you currently have any iOS backups saved to your Mac?

Launch iTunes, then select Preferences from the iTunes menu. From there click on the Devices tab as highlighted above. Now you can see exactly what devices (if any) have been backed up to your Mac, as well as when the most recent backup occurred. If you’ve had your Mac for a few years, and have migrated through any number of iOS devices, it’s a safe bet there will be some outdated, and likely irrelevant backups listed. If you see these obsolete backups, feel free to delete them now, as there’s no sense using up storage on any drive for useless data.

2) Quit iTunes.

3) Prepare your external hard drive by setting up a location to store your iOS backups. For the sake of this tutorial we’ll name the external drive BACKUPDRIVE and create a folder on that drive named MobileBackups. These names of the drive and newly created folder are important to this process for what comes next, so make certain to note the names of your hard drive and folder exactly.

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Keep in mind, of course, that you can name both the hard drive and the folder that’s the new backup destination whatever you desire – you just need to remember the names precisely so you can type them in accurately below when needed.

Go to Folder

4) Now it’s time to move your existing backup folder to the external drive. The original location of the Backup folder is nested in your Library folder in a subfolder named MobileSync. The easiest way to get to that location, as seen in the above graphic, is by going to your Finder and selecting Go To Folder… from the Go menu.

When the Go To Folder window opens, copy and paste the following file path into the Go to the folder field:

Copy to Clipboard

5) After clicking on Go in the above window, you’ll see the Backup folder within the MobileSync folder. Now you can drag it the Backup folder to its new home in the folder MobileBackups on the external drive BACKUPDRIVE. Depending on the size of any existing backups, this process could take a few seconds or a few minutes to complete – accompanied by a Copy progress bar if it’s a lengthy transfer.

6) Delete the original folder “Backup” on your primary hard drive, or rename it “BackupOld” if you want to keep it.

7) Open the Terminal app (it’s located inside the Utilities folder, within the Applications folder on your HD. Alternately Spotlight to launch it.) and type (or better yet, copy and paste) the following command:

Copy to Clipboard

Note that in the above path both “BACKUPDRIVE” and “MobileBackups” should be replaced with whatever the name of your external drive is, and the name of the folder you created on your external drive where you moved your Backup folder to. Once the names have been edited, and double checked for accuracy, hit Return to execute the command in Terminal.

8) Quit Terminal.

9) Launch iTunes and run a backup of your iPhone or iPad. If the backup is successful, you did everything correctly, and are now storing your iOS backups on the external drive.

If you have any questions, or discovered an easier way to do this, please let me know in the comments below.