How to change the iTunes Backup folder to release disk space [MAC/WIN]

iTunes default data backup folder takes up much of your disk space? Guided to some tips. You can release the system drive space in Windows or iOS system.

If you have a Mac with an SSD or otherwise limited disk space (like the MacBook Air 11″ with a 64GB drive), you might consider moving your iPhone backup folder to another drive to save some of that precious SSD space.

Before proceeding you might want to determine if this is necessary for you. Do this by checking the size of the iTunes “Backup” folder that we reference below, just click on it and select “Get Info” to calculate it’s size. In my case, the Backup folder is 6GB, so with the small MacBook Air SSD I could immediately save 10% of disk space by relocating the backup elsewhere. With this in mind, here’s how to move the often large iTunes backup to an external drive.

How to change the iTunes Backup folder to release disk space

Note: Moving the iTunes iPhone/iPad/iPod backup folder to another drive requires that external drive to be connected in order to backup or sync future iOS devices properly.

  • From the Mac OS X Finder, hit Command+Shift+G to bring up the “Go To” window, type the following directory in:

~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/

  • From this folder, copy the “Backup” folder to a new location on the external harddrive, for the sake of this guide we’ll choose a folder called iOSBackup on a drive named “External”
  • Before trashing the origin folder, rename the existing Backup folder to something else for backup reasons, like Backup2
  • Now we need to create a symbolic link between where the original Backup folder was, and the new location on the external drive. Launch Terminal and type the following command, referencing your new backup location:

ln -s /Volumes/External/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

(That command needs to be on a single line, formatting may look otherwise.)

Verify Symbolic Links
To double-check that the symbolic link has been created, open ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/ in the Finder and look for the Backup folder, it should now have an arrow on the corner representing the symbolic link (think Aliases in terms of Mac OS X Finder), like the picture below:

Prevent Automatic Syncing of iOS Hardware
Next you’ll want to disable automatic syncing of your iOS devices, because there are probably times when you’ll be plugging iOS hardware into your Mac without the external drive connected. Doing this is easy, just open iTunes > iTunes Preferences > click on “Devices” and then select the checkbox next to “Prevent iPods, iPhones, iPads from syncing automatically”

Test a Backup & Remove Backup2
Finally, before removing the “Backup2″ folder and saving the disk space, you’ll want to complete a backup and sync of your iOS device to verify that everything is working as intended. There shouldn’t be any problems, but if there are, retrace the steps to make sure everything was done correctly. If the backup is fine, go ahead and remove the Backup2 folder and you can rely on the link to the external drive when it is connected.

That’s it!

Can I undo this? How do I move the iTunes Backup back to its default location?
Yes of course! If you ever want to undo this, simply remove the “Backup” symbolic link (the one with the little arrow icon) from ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/ by deleting it, and then moving your iOSBackup directory from the External Drive back to its original location. It’s that simple.

Will this work for all iOS devices?
Yes it should work fine with any iOS device including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. If you use multiple iOS devices, they’re all stored in the Backup folder, which could make this tip even more useful since more backups = more space taken up locally.

What else can I do to save iTunes related disk space?
In the comments, Dan suggests moving the iTunes media library to an external drive to save even more space. This is a great suggestion to combine with the above tip.

Change the Default Location of iTunes Database in Windows

Low disk space on C: drive causes me to look for a remedy to get back important free space on my windows drive. Further analysis reveals that it is iTunes database which acquired most of the space. Default location of iTunes database in Microsoft windows 7 and windows Vista is “My Music” directory under the users ( C:UsersMy MusiciTunes ) however in Microsoft windows XP the default location of iTunes database is C:Documents and SettingsMy DocumentsMy MusiciTunes.

Till now there is no specific way to change the location of iTunes database, but here is quick and easy tutorial which will let you change the default location of iTunes database in Windows and move it to new location:

1. Close iTunes
2. Now copy paste the above mentioned default directory to a new location (Other drive).

3. Once done, press and hold the SHIFT key and click iTunes icon.
4. This should launch iTunes with the option to either create a new library or choose an existing library.
5. Click “Choose Library”.
6. Locate the new location for the iTunes database and click and choose the file “iTunes Library” and open.

7. Done.

  • fab

    Wonderful post! Thanks.
    But you missed something which costs me almost an hour to solve (I’m too bad at Unix commands).

    The command has to be:

    ln -s /Volumes/External/iOSBackup/ ~/Library/”Application Support”/MobileSync/Backup

    with “Application Support” in quotation marks, otherwise nothing happens.

    • Heikki

      Thanks fab. Tried your command but that didn’t work for me either. For some reason I had to replace the ”Application Support” with ‘Application Support’. That helped. I don’t know exactly why as I’m not that familiar with either Unix or OS/X.

      Just thought someone else might have the same problem.

  • Sean

    Hi,

    I tried the above and would like to save SSD space but keep getting an error.

    Seans-Mac-Pro:~ seaninjapan$ ln -s /Volumes/Macintosh HD/Device BU/ ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup
    ln: Support/MobileSync/Backup: No such file or directory

    I used this:
    ln -s /Volumes/Macintosh HD/Device BU/ ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup

    My SSD drive is called SSD.
    My other internal drive is called Macintosh HD

    I made a folder called Device BU on the Macintosh HD

    I used the go to function and ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync does exist.

    Thanks for any advice in advance!

    • Yves

      @Sean:

      I had exactly the same problem. The cause is that your path names contain spaces (as for example in ‘/Macintosh HD/’. The solution is to wrap both your path values in quotes to indicate that the space is part of the path name and not separating parameters. So your syntax would look like this:

      ln -s “/Volumes/Macintosh HD/Device BU/” “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup”

      Cheers
      Yves

  • Radu

    Doesn’t work on XP.
    The backup files are stored somewere else to begin with. They are in c\documents and setings\user\application data\apple computer\mobileSync\backup.

    I’ve tried it your way and it just ignored the change and did the backup on c:\ . Not before long my 74gb hdd was full and got the “itunes could not backup your device blablabla”

    Thanks though.

    Do you have any other ideas about it?

  • http://www.tolgagorgun.com braininpain

    hi there,

    the problem on mac osx, is with the “spaces” in between the words of your target HD and/or the original backup. (like “Application-space-Support”, or if you have a hard disk named “My Hard Disk” refers to “My-space-Hard-space-Disk”)

    the solution seems to be putting a “\” with a space for the spaces.

    like

    ln -s /Volumes//MobileSync/Backup/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup

    my question is, how is this different than, after having copied the files, to create a shırtcut to the mobilesync folder by command+option dragging the folder by creatibg a finder shortcut?

    or is it the same? the result looks the same…

  • ikeizm

    Got a problem guys.

    I orginally wanted to backup my iphone to install a new IOS, but when my macs orignial HDD didn’t have enough space available, so i looked for ways to change the backup’s location. Everything worked fine, I was able to switch the locations well enough and itunes recognizes that the backups are on my external drive. Problem is when i try to update itunes doesn’t recognize the storage size of my external drive, it thinks its still trying to backup to the original HDD. anyone know a way I can change this? maybe a terminal location, maybe a fix?

    thanks

  • http://www.geometricarts.com Phil Webster

    This method worked for me – thanks for helping me free up many gigs on my SSD hard drive!!

    Along the way I discovered two important things:

    1) You must use the Terminal command ln -s to create the alias. Using option+command+drag in the Finder does not appear to create an alias that iTunes understands.

    2) When using quotes around an entire path argument to the above command, the ~ character is not recognized, you must explicitly name the path (“/Users/yourusername/Library/…)

    I reached these conclusions based on this sequence of events:

    – Copied the Backup folder and renamed existing one as directed
    – Being lazy :-), tried the Finder option+command+drag method to create the alias folder. Opened iTunes > Preference > Devices and saw no backups listed, which made me worry!
    – Closed iTunes, deleted the alias folder, and recreated it using the Terminal command.
    – Initially issued the Terminal command as:
    ln -s “/Volumes/External/iOS Backups” “~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup”
    and got back the message:
    ln: ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup: No such file or directory
    Changed it to:
    ln -s “/Volumes/External/iOS Backups” “Users/myusername/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup”
    and got no message
    – Went out to Finder and sure enough, alias folder now existed as expected
    – Looked again in iTunes > Preferences >Devices and now the backups appeared again. Conclusion: Terminal command does something Finder interface does not.
    – Backed up both my devices (iPhone 3GS and iPad 2) and verified that external files were the ones modified

    Hope this helps anyone else trying this method!