How to retrieve deleted text messages on an iPhone

Text messages can sometimes be hard to keep track of, and often vanish under mysterious circumstances, including mistaken deletion, a flawed iOS upgrade, a jailbreak fail, or another unfortunate circumstance. Regardless of how they were lost, though, you can restore missing text messages to your iPhone — most of the time.

That’s because your iPhone saves all text message, MMS, and iMessage data in an SQLite database — an open-source, back-end utility built into all mobile phones (and most computers) and bundled into many popular apps. This function operates silently, automatically in the background.

When you delete a message, the space gets transformed from allocated to unallocated, while the message data remains intact. Over time, it will be overwritten by new messages flowing in. Before new data overwrites the old data, you can still recover those messages. The first thing to do is to stop messaging until after you retrieve your lost messages.

Depending on how you back up your iPhone — with iCloud or directly to your computer — there are various methods you can use to recover lost texts, even after an iPhone reset. Third-party apps can also help under certain conditions. We’ll walk you through the various ways to recover text messages using iOS 13 and 14, which are identical.

Restoring texts from an iCloud backup

If you have iCloud Backup enabled, and your iPhone backs up on schedule, then your deleted texts should be available. The service backs up messages sent via iMessage, SMS, and MMS, but it requires the same SIM card as when you made the backup.

  • Go to Settings > Name>  iCloud > iCloud Backup.
  • Make sure iCloud Backup is enabled.
  • Erase your iPhone by going into Settings > General > Reset.
  • Choose Erase All Content and Settings.
  • You’ll be asked if you want to restore your iPhone from an iCloud Backup.
  • Choose Restore from iCloud Backup.

Once your backup is restored, you should be able to access any texts that were on your phone when you first backed up.

Restoring texts from your Mac (with MacOS 10.15 Catalina)

If you back up on your computer, you may have a series of backups already saved. To get started, first disable Find My iPhone on your handset. Tap Settings > Your Name > Find My > Find My iPhone and switch the toggle off. (Be prepared to type in your Apple ID password for it to turn off Find My iPhone.) Now, do the following.

  • Connect your phone to your computer via USB.
  • Open the Finder by double-clicking on your Hard Drive icon.
  • Under the Locations sidebar, look for your iPhone and click on it.
  • Click Manage Backups to view all the saved backups, and choose which one you want to restore your messages. The backup should predate when you deleted the messages.
  • Click Restore iPhone.

Consult your service provider

If that fails, contact your ISP’s customer service or tech support department. It’s possible — but not guaranteed — that your provider stored a backup of messages sent and received from your handset that is not yet overwritten. If so, you can likely arrange to access them.  Try your ISP before resorting to a third-party app.

Restoring texts with a third-party app

As a last resort, you can try a number of reputable third-party apps that allow you to retrieve lost text messages from your iPhone. Just plug your iPhone into your computer, launch the app, and follow the on-screen directions. These apps tend to function similarly and can recover many file types, from texts to call history. Below are a few we’ve discovered that can help you get a handle on this task.

iMobie PhoneRescue

iMobie Update

PhoneRescue is one of those reliable third-party services that can retrieve lost messages or other file types. If you need contacts, call history, message attachments, voicemail, calendar, reminders, notes, and more recovered, PhoneRescue is to the rescue. The feature utilizes your iCloud account, Finder, and device backups to recover data. It also comes with a series of repair tools that ultimately help you save lost data in case your device crashes. One single year subscription for this service costs about $50. 

iMobie

Wondershare Dr.Fone

Dr.Fone

If you’re looking for a recovery service specific to iOS devices, check out Wondershare. This tool can be installed on both Mac and Windows computers and is helpful for a wide range of people. This program helps navigate crashes and recover any missing text messages, photos, videos, or even data from other third-party apps— like WhatsApp. One license for this software costs about $60 per person annually. 

Wondershare

Tenorshare UltData

Tenorshare

Tenorshare rescues both messages and media, reaching dozens of file types across your device and third-party applications. That includes data from WhatsApp, SMS, contacts, and photos. This service comes with three separate recovery modes— and it allows users to preview items that have been restored before it’s officially restored. This software is compatible with the newest phone models and with the most recent iOS. A license for one year costs users $60. 

Tenorshare

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