Last updated: Apr. 5, 2017
The average cell phone user sends or receives 1500 text messages a month — that's a lot of data. And while some messages are reminders to pick up milk from the grocery store, others are a bit more important. Conversations with a loved one. Images sent via text. Business messages.
When you lose the messages on your phone, panic and disappointment sets in. But those messages may not be gone for good.
Here are four ways you can recover deleted text messages from an iPhone to get those conversations back.
Note: These tips will work with any iPhone, including the iPhone 4, 5, 6, 6s and latest 7. However, the iCloud recovery option is only available with iPhone using iOS 5 or later (or phones after the iPhone 3).
1. Restore text messages from an iCloud backup.
If you use iCloud to backup your iPhone, you may be in luck. If your iPhone was lost or destroyed, when you setup the new iPhone, you can choose the option to restore from an iCloud backup, which should restore those missing messages.
But, you don't need to restart your entire phone to retrieve the messages this time. Here's how to retrieve deleted text messages from iCloud.
- Step 1: In an internet browser, go to www.icloud.com and sign in with your Apple ID and password.
- Step 2: Once you log in, you'll see a dashboard of different items that have been saved in iCloud. If you don't see the text message icon, the messages were not backed up — either because of the iCloud settings you used or because the option isn't available for every iPhone with every service provider. If you do see the messages there, search through them to see if you have the ones you need.
- Step 3: To get those iCloud messages on your iPhone, go into Settings then iCloud on your iPhone. Turning off the messages in iCloud backup, then turning them back on will sync those messages you saw on the web browser back onto your iPhone. Just be sure to choose "Keep on My Phone" when you turn the feature off.
2. Restore text messages from an iTunes backup.
There's more than one way to backup your phone — if you use iTunes backups, you may be able to retrieve those lost messages still. Restoring an old backup will bring back those deleted messages. Here's how.
- First, save any new data that you have on your iPhone since the last backup — photos, new text messages, notes — when you restore the older backup, anything since that backup will be gone, so save anything that's important so you don't end up in the same scenario again.
- Plug your iPhone into the computer where you completed the backup and open iTunes.
- Click the phone icon in the upper left inside iTunes.
- Click restore backup (it's underneath the iPhone software version). A pop-up window will ask if you want to restore — click restore if you've saved any important data you've acquired since the last backup.
- Your iPhone will now return to the state it was in when you made the backup — the process will take a few minutes, so be sure to leave the phone plugged in until the process is complete. Once the backup is restored, you should find your old text messages now back on your iPhone.
Didn't make any backups? Try the next solution (and do an iCloud or iTunes backup in case you lose data again).
3. Retrieve text messages from your service provider.
Just like your service provider keeps a record of the calls you make, most keep a record of the texts you send and receive. While not every cell phone service provider can give you a record of your texts, some can — so it's certainly worth a shot.
To retrieve records of your text messages, first login to your account online and look over the history — some platforms will list your texts right in your account online, so you don't even have to ask anyone. If you don't find the texts in your account, call or stop in to a store and ask a representative if it's possible to retrieve your text messages.
4. Use a third-party app to recover deleted iPhone messages.
If you can't get your messages from your service provider or an old backup, it's not quite time to give up on those messages yet. While you can't see them, sometimes the messages are never actually deleted, but you need software to put them back together. See here for the best iPhone data recovery tools reviewed in 2017.
Third-party apps will search your phone and show you if those messages can be recovered (the software also works with photos and other data on your iPhone). Most downloads are free to see if the recovery will find the files you are looking for, then require a full purchase to actually recover those files.
While I haven't used these recovery programs personally, Stellar Data Recovery for iOS is a highly recommended recovery program that works with iPhone messages, as well as photos and other data. It has free download and only charges if you are able to recover those files, so it's worth a shot — but after you've tried the first three methods first.
Text messages can be the equivalent of a modern handwritten letter — and losing them feels like you just lost love letters or notes from a best friend. Thankfully, there are a number of different ways that you can recover lost text messages through old backups, your cell service provider or recovery software.
What method worked for your deleted messages? Share with us in the comments below!
Hillary is a technology writer and photographer based in Michigan. While her favorite tech brands are Apple and Nikon, she enjoys exploring all but the most frustrating new devices.