How to retrieve deleted text messages on an iPhone

Text messages may not last forever, but they are harder to dispose of than you might think. Yes, they can vanish by any number of means, including mistaken deletion, a faulty iOS upgrade, a jailbreak failure, or another unfortunate circumstance. Regardless of how they were lost, though, you can restore missing text messages to your iPhone — at least sometimes.

How? 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 in the background without you having to control it.

When you delete a message, the new space gets transformed from allocated to unallocated, while the message data remains intact. Eventually, it will be overwritten by new messages flowing in over time. Before new data overwrites the old data, though, you have an opportunity to 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 on and to your computer — there are various methods you can use to recover lost texts, even after a factory 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. This should work on all handsets that support the latest iOS.

Restoring texts from an iCloud backup

If you already 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 Phone rescue

PhoneRescue can recover messages and many other file types, like contacts, call history, message attachments, voicemail, calendar, reminders, notes, and more. It allows you to recover data from your iCloud account as well as the Finder and device backups. The app also has a number of repair tools that let you recover data from your device if it crashes. A one-year subscription costs $50.

iMobie

Wondershare Dr.Fone

Dr.Fone

This recovery tool is compatible with the latest iOS devices, and you can install the program on both Mac and Windows computers. The software facilitates the recovery of lost text messages, as well as photos, videos, and even data from third-party apps such as WhatsApp. Licenses are available for $70 per user per year.

Wondershare

Tenorshare Ultdata

Tenorshare

Tenorshare recovers both messages and media covering dozens of file types, including WhatsApp, SMS, contacts, and photos. With three recovery modes, you can preview everything that’s restored, ahead of time. It supports the newest phone models and the latest iOS version. A one-year license costs $60.

Tenorshare

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