Many of us have text messages on our phones going back a decade. And some of these will be precious: messages from long-lost friends or loved ones who've passed away, or important information we're likely to need again. It's comforting to know they are there and accessible via a quick search on our iPhones.
However, let's suppose that you have to delete some files on your iPhone to make space. Messages tends to be a bulky app - hardly surprising, as people often send photos, videos and audio messages - and having a clear-out might seem like a good idea. (There's even an option in Messages to automatically delete messages after a certain amount of time.)
What 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 are covered in detail below. Read on to find out more about the methods we've found.
Recover deleted texts from an iCloud backup
If you've got an iCloud backup of your iPhone from before the time you deleted the text messages, you may be able to recover them.
Open the Settings app, tap on your name/avatar image at the top, then tap 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 it isn't there, your messages haven't been backed up here - so skip this slide...)
3. If it is there, 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). I know this sounds counterintuitive but stay with me, people.
6. You'll see a popup. Select: 'Keep on My iPhone'.
7. Now turn text messages back on.
8. Tap 'Merge', and 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 with the backups, your next port of call is 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, right?
Retrieve deleted texts using a third-party app
If none of the options above has worked, it's time to go nuclear and employ a third-party software tool. Bear in mind that it may cost you a couple of quid, and there is no guarantee it will work.
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. Even after you 'delete' messages they remain on your handset until overwritten, so you should be able to recover deleted messages using these utilities (and others) - but there are no guarantees.
The best advice if you're using one of these apps is to do so as quickly as possible after you realise you need to recover your deleted text messages. The longer you leave it the more likely it is that you will have written over the relevant section of the memory.