Are you having problems sending or receiving messages using your iPhone, iPad or Mac? In this feature we look at causes of iMessage failure and offer straightforward troubleshooting tips to help you fix it when the service stops working.
iMessage - accessed via the Messages app in iOS or macOS - enables users to send messages to other people using iPhones, iPads and Macs for free. iMessages are indicated by a blue bubble, while normal text messages (which you might have to pay to send depending on the terms of your phone contract) are green.
There are any number of reasons why iMessage can stop working: it could be an issue with the server, a problem with the software, or your settings could need adjusting. We will run through all the most common problems and the likely causes, together with some simple fixes.
Basic troubleshooting steps
Before we move on to specific difficulties, let's work through nine simple troubleshooting steps that will solve the most common issues with iMessage.
Check to see if Apple's iMessage server is down
The first possibility is that the server that iMessage is run from is down - which could mean that iMessage isn't working for anyone. This is rare, but it does happen occasionally. The system went down on 15 February 2017, for example.
You can check if any of Apple's online services are experiencing outages by checking the System Status page.
On this web page Apple gives you a heads-up about any services with planned maintenance work, along with a report of any recently resolved issues in any of its services. However, if your issue has only just appeared, bear in mind that the website's update frequency tends to be measured in minutes, not seconds - perhaps as many as 30 on occasion - so the problem may not have been spotted yet.
Even if Apple's System Status site suggests all is well, the outage could be localised. As an alternative to Apple's page, you could try Down Detector, which provides a graph detailing outage reports from the past 24 hours, and even an outage map to see whether you're in an affected area.
You could also search for the word iMessage and related terms on Twitter; if lots of people are talking about the problem then it's clearly not just you.
If iMessage is down then you should still be able to communicate with your friends via normal texts; you'll automatically be pushed into green-bubble texts instead of blue-bubble iMessages.
Make sure you've got a connection (and enough data)
iMessage needs a data connection to work, so you need to make sure you've got 3G or 4G available, or a good WiFi signal. Without WiFi or a cellular data connection your iMessage won't send.
Check you can access the web by performing a quick search in Safari. If you see no results you've identified the root of your problem.
If you don't have a good 3G or 4G connection you could try turning Airplane Mode on and off to see if you can improve your reception. Swipe up from the bottom of your iPhone or iPad screen, and select and deselect Airplane Mode - the plane icon.
Even if the cellular connection is great, you might not have enough data. Is there a chance you've used up all your data for the month? Are you even sure that data is included in your contract? Contact your network provider to check. (Read about how to save data on your iPhone here.)
Alternatively you could try and get on a nearby WiFi network, go to Settings > Wi-Fi and have a look to see if there is a free Wi-Fi network nearby.
If your WiFi connection seems to be at fault then turn off WiFi and use 3G/4G.
If none of those tips work you may need to reset your network settings. Tap Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings and see if this fixes the problem.
If you still don't get a data connection, and there is no WiFi available, you should be able to press and hold on the undelivered message and choose to 'Send as text message' from the options that come up. A text message should get through even over a GPRS connection.
That last tip will only work with an iPhone, though. For more information on how to do this read: How to send a text when your friend isn't getting your iMessages.
Make sure iMessage is on and set up correctly
Check you're set to send and receive iMessages by going to Settings > Messages and checking that iMessage is turned on.
Also check that your phone is set up correctly to receive iMessages: go to Settings > Messages again and check the addresses and mobile number you have listed in Send & Receive.
You could troubleshoot by turning off your mobile number or email address in the list of places where you can Send & Receive from. We suggest trying a process of elimination to see if iMessage works with just your mobile number or just an email address.
Also check there is a tick beside your phone number in the Start New Conversations From section if you're using an iPhone.
Turn it off and on again and restart Messages
As in all good troubleshooting articles one essential piece of advice is to turn it off and on again. You could start off by double-pressing the Home button and swiping up on the Messages app, before relaunching it. If the app was hanging this may well fix the problem.
If things still aren't working you could reboot iMessage by going to Settings > Messages and turning off iMessage, then turn off your iPhone by pressing and holding the on/off switch, slide to power off, and then wait for your iPhone to start up again. Once you've rebooted, return to Settings > Messages and turn iMessages back on.
Sign out of your Apple ID and then sign in again. You can do this from Settings > Messages then tap on Send & Receive and at the top of the page tap on your Apple ID and choose Sign Out. Then sign in again and see if this has fixed the problem.
Delete some messages
If your Messages app has a lot of photos and videos it might slow down a bit.
To delete messages you can swipe from right to left on a message in the Messages list and choose delete. Or you can tap the Edit button in the top left-hand corner and delete messages that way.
There is also a new 'delete messages automatically after 30 days' option in Settings > Messages. Look for Message History and tap Keep Messages - you can select Forever, 1 year or 30 days. Before you decide to delete messages after 30 days, be sure you aren't about to lose some important messages! (For related advice, we have a feature about how to retrieve deleted text messages.)
While you're here, you can also change your settings so that you send low-res images, which take up less space. Go to Settings > Messages and toggle Low-Quality Image Mode on. (It's the last option, right at the bottom of the page.)
Check iOS is up to date
If your software isn't up to date there may be a bug stopping it from working properly. To check if an updated version of iOS is available (and download and install it if so), go to Settings > General > Software Update.
For more detail on the updating process and the issues it may entail, see How to update iOS.
Check Network settings
Make sure it's not a problem with your Network settings.
Go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. You'll have to enter your passwords again after you do this.
Try turning off Wi-Fi Assist. Wi-Fi Assist will switch to a cellular signal when it is stronger than your local WiFi network. Turning it off has worked for some people. Go to Settings > Mobile Data and scroll down to WiFi Assist and switch it off if it's on.
Check Time Zone settings
Go to Settings > General > Date & Time and make sure your time zone is set automatically. Set Automatically to ON. Doing this has fixed iMessage problems for some users.
Reset all Settings
As a last resort, you could do a general Reset… In Settings go to General > Reset.
If you are still having problems then it's probably time to get an appointment with a genius at the Apple Store, here's how.
Below we look at some specific problems with iMessages - let us know if you experience any issues with the service, or if you discover a fix of your own.
Cannot activate iMessage
When you set up iMessage you need to activate the service, and sometimes this goes wrong. We've seen first-hand that sometimes, at certain times and on certain devices, iOS simply refuses to let you get started.
Here are some of the error messages you may get when activating iMessage:
- Waiting for activation
- Activation unsuccessful
- An error occurred during activation
- Could not sign in, please check your network connection
iOS frequently advises you to try again, and warns that activation can take up to 24 hours, but we've not yet experienced a situation when simply waiting solved the problem.
Apple recommends many of the troubleshooting steps we recommend above, such as checking your WiFi/data connection, making sure your time and date are set correctly (time and date really are important for iMessage!), turning iMessage off and on, restarting the device and so on.
One thing the company doesn't mention is the point that this problem may be device- rather than account-specific; we once couldn't activate iMessage on an iPad but then successfully set it up with the same Apple ID login and password on a new iPhone. That's not hugely helpful, but it may good to know that you can still use iMessage on a different device while working through the problem with Apple support.
Friend isn't receiving your iMessages
Is your friend perhaps using an Android or Windows device? Because iMessages can only be received on Apple devices.
If you know your friend has an iPhone, iPad or Mac, they should be able to receive iMessages - but they may not have the iMessage feature activated, or not be registered for it.
Tell your friend to set up iMessage on their device by going to Settings > Messages and turning on iMessage. If they don't have an iPhone they can add an email address to be reached at. (This doesn't mean that the message will appear in their email, it's just an identifier.)
Take note, once again: Apple says it may take up to 24 hours for iMessage to register.
If you know your friend had an iPhone but has stopped receiving your iMessages then it may be that they no longer have the iPhone. When you move from an iPhone to another smartphone you need to deregister from iMessage. The next case study explains how to fix this...
Haven't got an iPhone any more
Before switching to a new smartphone you should first deactivate iMessage on your iPhone, otherwise you may end up missing messages from your iPhone-equipped friends.
Before moving to a new handset, this is the procedure you need to follow:
- Go to Settings > Messages
- Switch off iMessage using the slider
After turning off iMessage, the text messages you send on an iPhone will be green rather than blue.
If you forgot to do this before getting rid of your old iPhone, you can still deactivate iMessage using a web tool. You can find it here.
Just input your mobile number there, and then enter the six-digit confirmation code that is sent via SMS (presumably not via iMessage!).
How to receive iMessages if you haven't got an iPhone
Perhaps you still want to use iMessage but you no longer have an iPhone. You can choose to continue to receive iMessages on your Mac or iPad, but beware that these messages will not appear on your non-Apple phone.
Those messages will be sent using an ID that is not your mobile number - likely your iCloud email address.
It's easy to check what ID your messages will be sent to. On a Mac, go to System Preferences > iCloud. Log in and click on the Contact tab. Check which IDs are listed (and ensure your phone number is not listed there). Make sure your friends have those details.
Check your iCloud.com settings on your iPad by going to Settings > Messages > Send & Receive.
You can read more about getting and sending text messages from your Mac here.
Visual effects aren't working
If the problem is that some of the new visual effects first made available in iOS 10 aren't being received by your recipient, try the following:
Check that your recipient has installed iOS 10. (Or iOS 11, for that matter, which offers the same effects. At time of writing this would need to be the iOS 11 beta, of course, but iOS 11 proper comes out in autumn 2017.)
Your effects won't work if they're not sent as an iMessage; if your friend doesn't have an iPhone iPad or Mac they won't see them.
Some effects also won't work if you have Reduced Motion activated on your phone (you may have changed the setting to save battery power as per the advice in this feature).
Go to General > Accessibility > Reduce Motion > Off.
Can't send a group iMessage
If you're having trouble sending messages to groups of people, one reason could be that one of your contacts no longer has an iPhone.
When you send a group message in iMessage all your contacts will show up as blue, until you add someone who doesn't have iMessage, then they will all turn green as the iMessage group will not be supported.
If you had a group iMessage and one of your contacts stopped using their iPhone this would break the group iMessage. To find out if this is the case, start a new group message rather than continuing with the old one.
Depending on your carrier, you may have the option to allow or disallow group messaging in your settings: go to Settings > Messages and check for a relevant toggle that may need to be activated. (If you're trying to send group MMS messages you'll need to make sure MMS Messaging is on as well.)
Leaving and rejoining conversations
You may also have problems with group messages because you've left the conversation.
In the Messages app, tap the group message you're trying to reply to: if you've left the conversation a message will tell you so. You can't unilaterally rejoin a conversation: you'll need to have one of the remaining participants add you again. Of course, you could just start a new conversation with all the same participants and go from there.
iMessages are lost or accidentally deleted
If you've accidentally deleted important messages, or if you've updated your iPhone and realised that some messages have disappeared, don't worry: you may be able to get them back.
There are five main ways of getting back lost or deleted iMessages:
- Retrieve from an iCloud backup
- Retrieve from the iCloud website
- Contact your phone provider
- Retrieve from an iTunes backup
- Retrieve using a third-party app
We cover all of these in a separate article: How to retrieve deleted text messages.
Messages on iPhone not appearing on Mac (or vice versa)
The matching Messages apps on iOS and Mac should allow you to easily and conveniently carry on iMessage conversations across the two platforms. But sometimes the two apps fail to sync properly, and iMessages sent from (or received on) the iPhone fail to appear on the Mac, or vice versa.
Do not worry. It's quite a common issue, but it's also easy to fix. The problem is often that you've changed your Apple ID password, or otherwise become logged out on one or other device
Go to Settings > Messages > Send & Receive. Make sure all the email addresses (not just phone numbers) that you want to associate with that iMessage account have been ticked. (You may need to tap 'Use your Apple ID for iMessage' at the top to make the addresses appear.)
Now open the Messages app on your Mac. Click Messages in the top menu bar, then Preferences. Click Accounts, then tick the appropriate email addresses once again. You may need to enter more details for some of them.
Finally, restart Messages on each device and (hopefully) you'll find that the issue is solved.
For more detail, see How to sync iMessage conversations on iPhone, iPad and Mac.
This may all become less buggy in iOS 11, incidentally, which offers a new Messages in iCloud feature that automatically synchronises your conversations across devices. Read more in our collection of iOS 11 tips.