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Accessing an older iCloud backup
By Jesse Hollington | 07.09.13

Q: I recently replaced my iPhone 4S as it was faulty. I thought I had backed it up but it appeared I hadn’t, so I lost all my photos and other info. However, recently my new iPhone is telling me that my iCloud backup is full. It shows two backups - one which says ‘This iPhone’ and another larger file under my name. How do I access this other backup to see if this is the data that was missing off my old iPhone?

- Simone

A: Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to simply inspect an older iCloud backup as neither iOS nor OS X provide any way to look inside an iCloud backup or do a partial restore from one.

The only option here is to restore the iCloud backup onto your iPhone or another iOS device that you may have. Note that iPhone backups can be restored onto an iPod touch or an iPad, so if you have one of those in your family you may be able to use this to check the backup rather than restoring it back onto your iPhone if that’s easier.

Regardless of which device you use, you’ll want to ensure that you’ve made a backup of that device’s current configuration first, either to iCloud, iTunes, or both. You can initiate a backup manually to iCloud by going into your iOS Settings app, choosing iCloud and then Storage & Backup and tapping the “Back Up Now” button.

You can also make a backup to iTunes by connecting your device to your computer, selecting it from the Devices drop-down list in the top-right corner of the iTunes window, and clicking “Back Up Now” in the Summary screen.

You should also make sure that all of your apps and media content is available in your iTunes library and/or in iCloud. Items purchased from the iTunes Store can normally be re-downloaded directly from iCloud, but music you’ve added from other sources would need to be synced back from your iTunes library. Since iTunes is normally required to transfer tracks onto your device in the first place, this should not be an issue unless you’ve manually deleted tracks from your library. See our Guide to Transferring your Content to a new iPhone, iPad or iPod touch for more information.

Once you’ve backed up your iPhone or other device’s existing configuration, you then need to erase your device in order to restore the other iCloud backup onto it. You can do this in the iOS Settings app under General, Reset.

This will wipe out everything on your device, but this won’t be an issue since you’ve already backed up your device’s existing configuration. Once the erasure is completed, your device will reboot and you will be taken through the iOS Setup Assistant. When prompted to set up as a new iPhone or restore from a backup, choose the Restore from iCloud Backup option and you will be prompted to sign in with your iCloud Apple ID and password.

You should then see a list of iPhone backups available in iCloud, including a date and time for each one. Choose the older one and iOS will proceed to restore that backup.

Once the initial restore has been completed, your device will reboot and begin syncing your apps and purchased media content from iCloud. Other media content not purchased from the iTunes Store will need to be synced back on from your iTunes library.

Unfortunately, this method also provides no way to merge both iCloud backups, so you will potentially lose access to any newer data on your iPhone unless you later choose to switch back to the newer backup. If you have data such as calendars, contacts, reminders, and Safari bookmarks synced via iCloud, however, this data will be ultimately restored from your iCloud copy, updating whatever is in the backup. This should also be the case for e-mail unless you’re using an older style POP3 e-mail account. Data in other applications will depend on whether these use iCloud or sync with their own cloud services.

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