What happens when you restore iPhone in recovery mode?

Restoring an iPhone in recovery mode is a process that erases the device and installs the latest iOS software version. It can help resolve major software issues and bugs when the normal restart process is unsuccessful. Here’s a quick look at what happens step-by-step when you restore an iPhone in recovery mode:

1. The iPhone enters recovery mode

Recovery mode is a special diagnostics and troubleshooting state an iPhone can enter. You can manually put an iPhone into recovery mode by connecting it to a computer, then pressing and holding the Home button while the device starts up. The screen will be blank except for the Connect to iTunes logo or Connect to Mac logo.

2. A full software restore begins

Once the iPhone is in recovery mode and connected to a computer, iTunes or Finder will detect it needs a restore. Clicking Restore will begin downloading the latest iOS version your device supports. All user data, settings and content will be wiped from the device during this process.

3. The iOS installation files are downloaded

iTunes or Finder will automatically begin downloading the appropriate iOS IPSW file for your iPhone model and version. This iOS software package contains everything needed to perform a clean install and refresh.

4. The iPhone storage is formatted

Before installing the new iOS version, the iPhone’s storage is completely formatted to a blank state. This helps resolve any underlying file system issues or conflicts left over from the previous iOS instance.

5. iOS installs on the blanked iPhone

Once the iPhone has been wiped to a factory-fresh state, the latest version of iOS will be installed on the blanked device. This process may take some time depending on your iPhone model and Internet connection speed.

6. The iPhone restarts back to setup

After iOS has been installed, your iPhone will reboot and you’ll be greeted with the familiar setup assistant screens. You’ll need to proceed through the setup process to start using your iPhone again.

7. iCloud and iTunes restores can retrieve data

If you had an iCloud backup, you can use the setup assistant screens to restore your data and settings wirelessly from iCloud. Otherwise, you can restore a backup from iTunes if you have a saved local backup available.

Key things that happen during an iPhone recovery mode restore

To summarize, here are some of the key things that happen when you restore an iPhone in recovery mode:

  • The iPhone enters recovery mode and wipes all content and settings
  • The latest iOS software version is downloaded and installed
  • iPhone storage is formatted to a clean state
  • iOS is installed on the blank iPhone
  • The device restarts to setup screens
  • iCloud or iTunes can restore data if backups are available

Reasons to restore an iPhone in recovery mode

Here are some of the main reasons you may need to restore an iPhone in recovery mode:

  • You can’t get past the Apple logo on startup
  • The device gets stuck in a reboot loop
  • Persistent lag, bugs or app crashes you can’t resolve
  • Fixing software update installation failures
  • Wiping and selling or giving away your device
  • Removing jailbreak or bypassing activation lock

Recovery mode restore is an advanced troubleshooting step when basic resets and updates fail. It completely reverts the device and software back to factory defaults.

What is lost when restoring iPhone in recovery mode?

Restoring an iPhone in recovery mode results in a completely blanked device. Here are the types of data and content that will be deleted from the device:

  • Apps and games downloaded from the App Store
  • App data that is not synced to iCloud or iTunes
  • Contacts, calendars, reminders, notes, messages
  • Photos, videos and other media files
  • Music, ebooks or other purchased content
  • Home screen and app layout customizations
  • Device settings and preferences
  • Keychain passwords and WiFi network information

Basically anything that is not backed up remotely or stored in iCloud will be erased. So it’s critical to have a current backup before restoring in recovery mode.

How to back up your iPhone before recovery mode restore

To avoid losing your personal data and settings, you’ll want to fully back up your iPhone before doing a restore in recovery mode. Here are the options for backing up:

  • iCloud backup: Enable iCloud backups in Settings > [Your Name] > iCloud > iCloud Backup. Be sure you’re connected to WiFi so backups occur automatically.
  • iTunes backup: Connect your iPhone to your computer and make a backup in iTunes. Select your device and then choose Back Up Now.

Having an iCloud or iTunes backup will allow you to restore your data after the recovery mode process is complete. Without one, everything on your device will be permanently deleted.

How to restore iPhone from recovery mode backup

Once your iPhone has been restored in recovery mode, you can choose to set it up as a new device or restore from a backup during the setup assistant screens. Here are the steps for restore from an iCloud or iTunes backup:

Restore from iCloud backup

  1. Select your language and country.
  2. On the Data & Privacy screen, tap Restore from iCloud Backup.
  3. Sign in with your Apple ID and password.
  4. Choose the desired backup and wait for restore to complete.

Restore from iTunes backup

  1. Select your language and country.
  2. On the Apps & Data screen, select Restore from iTunes Backup.
  3. Plug in your device to the computer with the backup.
  4. Choose the desired backup in iTunes and click Restore.

As long as you have a recent backup, you’ll be able to put your data and settings back on your iPhone after the recovery mode restore process.

Should you set up as new iPhone after recovery restore?

You’ll have the option to “Set Up as New iPhone” instead of restoring a backup after the recovery mode process finishes. Here are some reasons you may want to set up as new:

  • You want to start completely fresh and redownload apps
  • Issues with your backup are causing problems
  • Switching to a new Apple ID account
  • Passing your device to someone else

Setting up as new means taking extra time to reconfigure settings, customize the home screen, redownload apps and sign in to accounts. But it may help fix software issues.

Recovery mode restore FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about restoring an iPhone in recovery mode:

Does recovery mode restore update my iOS version?

Yes, recovery mode will install the latest compatible iOS update for your iPhone model. So you may end up on a newer iOS version than you were on before.

Will I lose data if I haven’t backed up?

Unfortunately any data that is not saved remotely in iCloud or on a computer backup will be permanently deleted during a recovery mode restore.

Can I choose a backup while in recovery?

No, you can’t pick a backup within recovery mode itself. You’ll need to wait until the setup process after restoring completes, then choose a backup.

Does recovery mode reset iPhone to factory settings?

Yes, recovery mode effectively resets your iPhone back to its original factory default settings and erases all content in the process.

Will I keep the same iOS version after restoring?

You’ll typically get upgraded to the newest iOS version that your iPhone can support after restoring in recovery mode.


Restoring an iPhone in recovery mode can help resolve major system issues and bugs when standard troubleshooting fails. But the process completely wipes the device, so make sure to have an iCloud or iTunes backup to avoid losing your data. After restoring, you can then use these backups to return your content and settings back to your iPhone.

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