iMessages are text messages sent between Apple devices like iPhones, iPads, and Macs over Wi-Fi or cellular data rather than your phone carrier’s regular text messaging network. iMessages offer several advantages over regular SMS text messages, including being able to see when the other person is typing, read receipts to see when a message has been read, higher-quality attachments like photos and videos, and end-to-end encryption for enhanced privacy and security.
If you’ve owned your Apple devices for a while, chances are you’ve built up years’ worth of iMessage history that you might want to access. Unfortunately, unlike regular SMS text messages which get stored by your carrier, iMessages exist only on your devices. If you get a new phone or delete a conversation, that history could potentially be lost forever if you don’t have a backup.
Check your iMessage history on your devices
The simplest way to access your old iMessages is to check if they still exist on any of your current or old Apple devices:
- iPhone or iPad – Open the Messages app and check your message history with each contact. Keep scrolling up to load older messages.
- Mac – Open the Messages app and click a contact to view your history with them. Click the conversation info button to load more messages.
If you still have the old device the messages were sent from, they may still have the full history there too.
Restore from an iCloud backup
If you have iCloud backups enabled, your iMessage history is included in those backups. You can restore it by:
- On your iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > [your name] > iCloud.
- Tap Manage Storage > Backups.
- Tap on your device backup to choose Restore.
This will erase your current device and restore everything from the iCloud backup, including iMessages. Just be aware that it will restore other data like your photos and app layout too.
Use iTunes or Finder backups
If you’ve synced your iPhone or iPad locally to iTunes on a PC or Mac, or to Finder on a newer Mac, those backups also contain your iMessage history. To restore it:
- Connect your device to your computer.
- Open iTunes or Finder and find your device.
- Click Restore Backup and choose the backup you want.
This process is similar to an iCloud restore but will retrieve the backup from your computer instead of the cloud.
Extract iMessage database files
For advanced users, you can directly access the iMessage database files stored on your device or in a backup using special software:
- On your iPhone or iPad, the messages are stored in a file called chat.db
- In an unencrypted iTunes backup, it’s in BackupFolder/3d/3d0d7e5fb2ce288813306e4d4636395e047a3d28
- In an encrypted iTunes backup, it’s encrypted but can be decrypted
You’ll then need an app that can read these database files and display the messages, like iBackup Viewer or iMazing. This method gives you raw access to the databases but requires more technical expertise.
Use a third-party iMessage recovery app
Rather than restoring your entire phone from a backup, apps like Dr.Fone and EaseUS MobiSaver can selectively scan your device or a backup for iMessage history and recover just your messages.
The advantage of these tools is you can get back just iMessages without affecting the rest of your phone. But quality varies across apps so read reviews carefully.
Retrieve deleted iMessages from your carrier
If an iMessage fails to send as an iMessage for any reason, it will revert to sending as a regular text message over your carrier’s network instead. Your carrier may retain those SMS messages even after you’ve deleted the iMessage from your device.
To attempt recovering these messages:
- Contact your carrier.
- Request they search for deleted SMS text messages from the relevant dates.
- Note they may only retain these for a short window like 30-90 days.
Factory reset your device
If none of the above methods are able to recover your lost iMessages, one last resort is to perform a factory reset on the device. This will wipe the device back to default settings.
On an iPhone or iPad, go to Settings > General > Reset and choose Erase All Content and Settings. This will remove your data and settings but could reset the Messages app and restore conversations that got deleted or lost.
However, there is no guarantee this method will work – only attempt it if you’re willing to take the risk of losing everything on your device.
Prevent iMessage loss in the future
Once you’ve recovered your iMessages, follow these tips to keep them safe in future:
- Back up regularly – Set your device to back up to iCloud or iTunes so you always have a copy.
- Export conversations – Manually export important message threads via email or PDF on a periodic basis.
- Stick to SMS – For critical messages, toggle your settings to send via regular SMS which gets stored by carriers.
- Think before deleting – Be very cautious before deleting message history in case you ever do need to retrieve it.
Recovering lost iMessages is difficult but possible if you act quickly while that history still resides somewhere – whether it’s on an old device, in a backup, or retained briefly by your carrier. Just don’t wait too long. Your best bet is having solid, frequent backups of your Apple devices so you never have to rely on trying to recover deleted data.