For a medium that's often dashed off in a few seconds, text messages can be weirdly precious. Some of us have texts stored on our phones that have been there for a decade or more - messages from the early stages of a now-established relationship, discussions with departed loved ones, or just funny jokes we don't want to lose. It's comforting to know these messages are still there, and easily accessible via a quick search.
But you don't want to keep all of your texts, and given how bulky the Messages app can get, it's a good idea to have the occasional clear-out to make space. There's even an option in Messages to automatically delete messages after a specified amount of time.
So what happens if you accidentally delete an important message? Well, with a little luck you can probably get it back. Here are five ways to retrieve deleted texts on iPhone:
- Recover from an iCloud backup
- Recover from the iCloud website
- Contact your phone provider
- Recover from an iTunes (or Finder) backup
- Recover using a third-party app
All of these methods are covered in detail below. Read on to find out more.
Recover deleted texts from an iCloud backup
If you've got an iCloud backup of your iPhone from before the time you deleted the texts, you may be able to recover them.
Open Settings, tap on your name or picture at the top, then select iCloud > Manage Storage > Backups. Have a look to see if there's a sufficiently old iPhone backup to include the deleted text messages. (Tap on the backup to see when it was saved.)
If there is, you'll need to completely restore your iPhone to factory settings before setting up your iPhone using the older backup. Remember you will lose any data you've added since the backup, so make sure you save copies of your photos and videos, and any other messages you don't want to lose!
To restore the iPhone to factory settings, go to General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. This step takes a few minutes. Then the phone will burst into life again, taking you through the usual setup. When you get to the option to recover your device from an old backup, make sure you choose the right one.
It worked for us, and hopefully it will for you. If you haven't got an old backup with the data you need - or you don't want to overwrite the data added to your phone since the old backup - try one of the following solutions.
Retrieve deleted texts from a backup without overwriting your iPhone
Unfortunately, iCloud doesn't back up SMS in all territories or for all phone operators. So the following may not work - you'll be able to tell by the time you get to step 2. But for many people this is the easiest way of recovering lost messages.
1. Log into iCloud.com with your Apple ID and password.
2. Click on Text Messages. (If this option isn't there, your messages haven't been backed up here - so you might as well skip to the next method.)
3. Search the messages to find the ones you need.
4. Now go to your iPhone and choose Settings > [your name] > iCloud.
5. Turn off Text Messages (or make sure it's already turned off).
6. You'll see a popup. Select the option to Keep On My iPhone.
7. Now turn text messages back on.
8. Tap Merge, then wait. After a few minutes the deleted text messages should reappear on your iPhone.
Retrieve deleted texts from an iTunes (or Finder) backup
If you haven't been backing up to iCloud but have backed up your phone to iTunes on your Mac or PC (or to Finder, if you're running macOS Catalina), you may be able to recover your text messages from there. And even if you think you didn't back up your messages, it's worth a few minutes of your time to try.
Remember this method will also overwrite the data on your phone.
- Connect your iPhone to the computer you used to sync with. iTunes should open automatically - if not, open it up manually. If you're on Catalina, open Finder.
- You should see an iPhone icon appear in the top left-hand corner. Select it. (In Catalina, select your device from the lefthand menu bar.)
- Now choose 'Restore backup'. (In Catalina, you'll find this under the General tab.)
- All the data you previously backed up will now replace the data on your phone. It will take a few minutes. As long as you haven't backed up since deleting those text messages, they should now appear in the normal messaging list on your phone.
Retrieve deleted texts by contacting your phone provider
If you've had no luck finding an old copy of the texts in your backups, the next port of call should be your phone provider. Some companies - although not all - will keep a record of your text messages, and you're entitled to access them.
It may even be as easy as logging into your account online. For some it requires you to contact customer services. The answer may be no, but it costs nothing to ask.
Retrieve deleted texts using a third-party app
If none of the options above works, it's time to go nuclear and employ a third-party software tool. Bear in mind that it may cost you a bit, and there is no guarantee it will work - but if you're desperate, this is the next step.
There are a few third-party apps that have a good online reputation (some of which we've personally used): PhoneRescue by iMobie, Enigma Recovery, WonderShare Dr.Fone for iOS and Tenorshare iPhone Data Recovery are four possibilities to explore. Even after you 'delete' messages they remain on your handset until overwritten, so you should be able to recover deleted messages using these utilities - but, as we say, there are no guarantees.
The best advice if you're using one of these apps is to do so as quickly as possible. The longer you leave it, the more likely it is that you'll have written over the relevant section of memory.
If everything has worked the way it should, you're currently in possession of several recovered text messages, and wondering what to do next.
For a broader overview of our phone advice, take a look at our iPhone tips feature, which links out to lots of in-depth tutorials. And if you're interested in getting a new handset take a look at our roundup of the best iPhone deals.