Backup and View Your iPhone SMS Messages For Free

Update: this does not work for iOS 4 and up, due to iTunes encrypting the backed up files. There is an easy fix for all of those with jailbroken devices, however. Stay tuned for that update!

Lately I wanted to backup some of my text messages from my iPhone 3GS onto my desktop, but couldn’t figure out how to do that. After some quick research and some poking around, I was able to figure out how to view them quickly and easily.

Disclaimer

I am not responsible if you screw something up on your computer. It’s not my problem if something breaks. Do this at your own risk (which should be pretty low, unless you’re one of those people that shouldn’t be allowed near a computer).

What you’ll need

Let’s Get Started

In a nutshell, the SMS system on the iPhone is just a carefully hidden SQLite database. All we have to do is find the file and open it up in the SQLite Browser.

  1. First, we need to locate the file that contains the SMS messages, which will be either:
    • 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28.mdbackup
    • 3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28.mddata

    This will be in one of the following locations:

    • Windows Vista/7: C:\Users\[Your User Name]\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\[iPhone ID]\
    • Windows XP or lower: C:\Documents and Settings\[Your User Name\Application Data\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\[iPhone ID]\
    • Mac OS X: User > Library > Application Support > MobileSync > Backup >[iPhone ID]
  2. Copy this file to a new location to protect the file in case you accidentally screw something up (your Desktop, for example).
  3. Open up the new copy of the file in SQlite Browser, then select the “Browse Data” tab. Finally, select the “message” table from the “Table:” dropdown box

And that’s all it takes! From here, you can export this as a CSV via File -> Export -> Table as CSV so you can import it into Excel, or manipulate it however else you wish. If I get the time, I’m going to write a quick tool to nicely export the messages to PDF so that they look good instead of being in a table. But, it’s a nice fix for wanting to go through them on a computer, or do fulltext searches with the content.

FUBAR

For the past two years, I have been running a small personal server out of my house. Well, I guess “small” is a relative term. To be more specific, it was a Fedora 8 server with 2 terabytes of storage for my backups, music, and Subversion repositories. Along with my desktop, it was my pride and joy; everything was custom-built, the distro was actively maintained, and all of the configuration was done by a two-factor encrypted console.

Notice the use of the past tense. Was. On Monday I noticed that I was getting read errors on my drives, although I wasn’t sure which one (I had 4 drives). Although I went to bed with a (mostly) working server, I woke up to a system that wouldn’t boot up because the partition information. After fumbling with different recovery methods to try and get my data off, I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t going to get the data off; it was gone, possibly because of my recovery actions.

Needless to say, I was more than a little devastated. Although I can rerip my music, I can’t get back the Subversion repositories; those are all gone, along with all of the revisions I’ve made on projects.

Despite my demotivation, I took this as one huge learning experience. Although I had made backups of some of my work, it was still on the same drive and partition, and I should have considered them just as vulnerable as the originals. When you can’t make consistent backups on a different system, RAID your drives.

I’ve since reinstalled my server as a 1TB RAID10. Alrhough this means I have half the space to work with, it also means that I have 100% redundancy. So, if one of my drives fails like what happened to me, all I have to do is pull out the drive, put a replacement in, and the system will copy all of the data over to the new drive. The best part about all of this is that this all happens on-the-fly; no downtime, no rebooting, and no manual work except for adding the drive to the RAID configuration.

In short, if you take one thing away from this, remember to back up your stuff frequently, even if it’s just on a flash drive or external hard drive. When your original fails, you’ll thank yourself for that backup.