iTunes won't sync iPhone anymore

I’m pretty sure iTunes is to blame for this. This setup synced fine for years until Apple had to screw with iTunes when they quick and dirty yanked out the apps part. Now that I write this, I realize around the same time iOS 12 came out, so I’d say it has to be either iTunes or iOS 12. Either way I expect Apple to fix this. And I’m not happy about having to wait forever for them to get off their butts. Suggesting BS like “try factory resetting your iPhone” is completely unacceptable. Maybe that works for a toy, but not for something you work on or trust half your digital life to.

The disk is fine, it passes bitwise inspections without a hitch. Maybe the iPhone’s file system has an issue, but that would again be Apple giving no hint to the issue let alone offering a utility for a fix. Bottom line here is they are promising a functionality they do not deliver. Considering the implications this has, it’s quite a blunder. I wonder how many people would be stunned to learn that if they drop their iPhones in a storm drain, they’ll be SOL despite backups and syncing etc.

Sounds unpleasant. Get well soon, buddy.

Lots of people are seeing this issue. Both on macOS and Windows. I notice that a lot of them have an SE and iOS 12. This is just one of the more recent threads.

Since she just purchased a brand new iPhone SE (technically it was manufactured 2017 and has only lately been released from the shelf via the clearance store) we had Apple support available. Decided to give those guys a call to see where we’re at. They had us replicate the whole thing. Backing up, syncing (and failing), setting up the new iPhone from backup, failing to sync, setting it up as brand new and then trying to sync (and failing). They had us turn on iCloud backups/sync, but no change there. At that point they declared we should try another Mac. So we scheduled an appointment with the local Apple store on Tue to try out that. One interesting comment the tech did make was that their engineering team is aware of the issue, that it is indepedent of hardware, but that it does have to do with iOS 12. Apparently they haven’t figured out what’s causing it yet so they’re eager to have people report issues and come in so they can gather data points. Glad to be of service. :wink:

I’ll report back Tue night. Even if they can’t fix it immediately, I would appreciate knowing that eventually they’ll release an iOS update that will make this baloney go way.

I understand they prefer people sync to iCloud, but as long as you only get 5GB there and a typical iPhone these days holds ~50-100 GB of user data (for which iPhone buyers pay top $$$), that’s not an option for many — not to mention those that don’t want all their private data on Apple’s servers knowing that Apple too has a key (obviously for restore purposes when people forget their credentials). Personally, I’d be ok if Apple indeed put their foot down and said “this is how we see the future, come along or stay behind forever” and in that spirit removed backing up to a local Mac. I wouldn’t like it, but I’d get their reasoning. But when they do something like that they need to provide a migration path. Leaving the feature in iTunes, but broken, is IMHO not a viable option. I hope that’s clear to Apple as well. After hearing what the tech had to say about their engineering team’s awareness and the ongoing search for a fix, I would tend to believe they do intend to do the right thing.

As far as I’m aware, in today’s modern world, you can call Apple for support for free at any time, regardless of whether you have AppleCare or a recently purchased device.

Thanks, Adam. I wasn’t aware they do free phone support for out-of-warranty kit. Great to know.


The short version: The backup was corrupt. New backups remained corrupt regardless of backup to Mac or to iCloud. That’s what prevented syncing. It also explains why syncing on the new device was broken (as long as that device was set up via restore from backup). Solution: new iPhone had to be set up w/o restore from backup. Tons of stuff was lost and had to be reinstalled and reset by hand. Despite biting the bullet of iCloud syncing. A real PITA. But now she has a new 128 GB iPhone SE that has most of her stuff, runs well, and syncs. :slight_smile:

Lessons to learn: if you do anything outside of the strict Apple sphere, i.e, you don’t want to pay monthly fees for extra iCloud storage (after having already paid hundreds of $ for that storage in your iDevice) and you prefer buying your music wherever instead of renting through some Apple all-you-can-eat gig for $100/year, if you are that person, and you do not have both syncing and backing up 100% secured (it’s a good idea to take an older iDevice and see if you can actually fully restore from the backups you think you have), then YOUR DATA IS NOT SAFE. Do not assume a backup will allow you to back up to a new device. Do not assume being able to sync means you will be able to recover to a new device. And don’t think using iCloud instead of Mac is buying you any added safety.

The long version (for those with lots of patience or those who like gawping). :wink: We were too busy to make the Tue appointment and rescheduled for Sat. Arrived at the Apple Store at 4pm. Left after 8pm. We went through a half dozen geniuses, incl. getting advice from more experienced techs from back of the house. They were able to recreate the issue. They were able to confirm both iPhones were affected. They also tested USB vs. wifi and different ports. But they were able to confirm it was not the Mac or iTunes since they were able to backup and sync one of their iPhones just fine. At this point they believed it was either her Apple ID or DRM. DRM was ruled out because they recreated the same issue despite temporarily getting rid of all music and using just a few tracks of a freshly ripped CD (was amazed my wife’s built-in DVD drive still worked, she hadn’t used it in probably 6 years). Apple ID was ruled out after checking everything was fine there. At this point five geniuses went into a huddle and started going over everything they’ve tried and trying to figure out what the one common denominator was. That’s when it became clear it was the backup itself. That was the only thing that linked both her iPhones and was not involved when backing up and syncing to their support iPhone. Unfortunately, further testing showed you cannot just delete all backups, do a fresh backup, and that one will then not be tainted. The suspicion was that there was something on her old iPhone corrupting the backup which then led to a loss of sync. Unfortunately, whatever this was prevailed through both iCloud and Mac backups so there was no way she was going to be able to use backing up. At that point she realized she could either stick to her old iPhone which had all her stuff, but would not sync (and hence would offer no data safety in case that device ever died or got lost/destroyed) or she could move to the new device without backing up which meant using iCloud against her wishes to sync a ton of material and then aving to redownload all her apps and set up each and every system and app setting from scratch as far as possible. Of course some she will not regain at all (for example wifi passwords of networks she won’t see again until months from now). At that point the store was closing and we decided to leave. She needed time to think and we all needed a break. We went for Mexican food, I had too many beers to get myself over this colossal Apple CF, and then we calmed down and decided what the plan was going to be. She decided to bite the bullet and turn on iCloud syncing to get at least some of her stuff transferred. She set up the new iPhone as a brand new device from scratch. She got Contacts and Calendars through iCloud syncing (she couldn’t have gotten those off her Mac since what was on her Mac was way outdated because her old iPhone had no longer synced back to her Mac). That’s how she also got her Camera Roll pics. She started downloading all her 3rd party apps again. And then painstakingly started setting up all prefs by hand. There’s a gazillion in Settings, but also each 3rd party app needed to be set up from scratch. A day later and she’s still not done. Her next phone will probably not be from Apple. The new device will now sync with her Mac so it spent several hours downloading all her music and her old photos from her Mac. Books, movies, TV shows, and audiobooks came onto the phone the very same way. There’s a ton of stuff that went missing. Things like her Notes (iPhone account). There was no way she was going to use iCloud to sync her encrypted notes. Fortunately, AirDrop helped with some of that. The rest was typing off one screen and onto another iPhone by hand. For hours. She has a lot of work apps that need to be set up from scratch, but once set up will sync over their own clouds and that stuff worked. It was just a pain because most don’t just need user/pass, they want 2FA via some quirky thing like either an additional app, or a fob (requiring her security card) or some other shenanigans that makes you wonder how hard can it be to get single sign-on these days. :wink: Mail was cool once she set up her new accounts thanks to IMAP. There was tons of small stuff I never would have thought about like all your alarms, with their melodies and other settings. Bottom line, a few more days and she’ll have it all. Then she’ll be able to shut off the old iPhone and she’ll have migrated for good. At that point she will stop iCloud syncing of various apps and she’ll be syncing exclusively to her Mac again. Backups are already now exclusively Mac, iCloud backup is off and iCloud backups have all been deleted. She asked me what means we have of checking if that stuff was actually really removed from 3rd-party servers. She knew the answer. Her new iPhone now syncs fine and backups appear ok. If we had yet another iPhone lying around it would probably be a good idea to periodically check if she can back up to a new device from the sync/backup data stored on her Mac.

Getting back to Apple, I have to say Apple’s phone support and the people at the Apple store were great. They tried really hard, they didn’t treat her like an idiot, and they never tried to get rid of us despite the problem persisting over hours. Chasing down her issue must have cost Apple way more money than they ever made off that SE. That said, ultimately though, they weren’t able to fix the issue. And I’m not at all certain this will find its way back to the right Apple engineering team even though it’s quite clear there’s something that causes corruption and there’s something that lets that corruption get into the way of syncing. At least one of those issues should be fixed by their engineers and I’m highly doubtful all this info will get back to the right people in the right form. Plus, I hestitate to believe Apple really gives fixing such bugs high priority. I’ll be happy to be proven wrong. Her old iPhone is still around. Next iOS and iTunes update, you can be sure that’s the first thing I’m testing.

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Other people have mentioned it, but BACKUP TO ICLOUD.

Having one backup chain is effectively like having no backups, as you discovered.

Also, deleting the old backups from the computer was a mistake.

(The iCloud backup for my mostly full 128GB iPhone XR is 1.5GB)

No, if you read the post you’d know that iCloud backup did nothing beyond what the Mac backup did. It’s NOT an independent chain. And if you read the thread you’d also know that the backups were only deleted on the local partition to troubleshoot iTunes. All those backups all still readily available through TM backups and clones.

If you want to act like you know it all and tell people how to manage their stuff, you should at the least have an idea of the circumstances. /hint

Fascinating story, @Simon. It just goes to show that sometimes data gets corrupted, and when that data is in the backup, there can be no way to recover.

I will say, as much as it’s a pain, setting things up from scratch every now and then isn’t a terrible thing (if you don’t actually lose user-created data). I like to do that on my Mac every 2-4 years because things just get messy behind the scenes. After I do, everything runs really smoothly for a while.

I think what makes this episode a bit more worrisome to me is that it appears it’s not just the backup that has become corrupted, but rather something in the iOS install and that is now corrupting every single backup—regardless of how it is performed.

Not knowing which bug, preference, or file (or file corruption) is behind this, I’m left to wonder if this can happen again, and if so, what can be done to prevent it. :cold_sweat: On macOS you can check the FS integrity and you could attempt to move/remove/restore individual files to find out the culprit, but on iOS there is no equivalent (not that I’m trying to advocate full FS access on an iPhone!).

I definitely hear you, @ace. :+1: I have no problem believing that ultimately, you’re right. I do have to admit I do not usually do that. In fact, I go through a lot of trouble to prevent having to do that just because it’s such a hassle. I’m very conservative with what I install, try to keep track of exactly what gets put where, which updates get done and where they go. On my personal systems, I try to run a very tight ship. Fortunately, my Macs and iOS devices have usually done quite well this way despite all the delta updating. But I imagine you’re right and ultimately, it’s a question of time until I’ll be forced to do what you describe.

I suppose you must install lots of apps and try out all kinds of stuff because of your work. I cannot imagine how much work it must be to then set up from scratch. In my case I don’t have that many Mac apps that require classic installers, but I have installed (apt-get, fink, autoconf/automake, etc.) or compiled from scratch tons of UNIX apps that go all over the place on the FS, so re-installing those could be quite painful. System prefs are probably manageable since there’s not that many, but there’s a gazillion app prefs I have set, some carefully tweaked over the years to ideally match my workflow. The idea of having to go over all of that again by hand to me sounds excruciating. Now on macOS I guess you can attempt to bring over individual pref files (if you know exactly which they are and where they reside [something that on OS X was very clear and strict back when it came out and these days has unfortunately become rather murky]) to save yourself some trouble. But when you do that you of course also risk bringing over some of what you mean to leave behind. I’d have a hard time walking the thin line between being cautious and getting back into running shape in a brief period of time and without losing too many years of my life expectancy. :exploding_head: :wink:

I also have always considered the fact that Macs and iOS devices can so easily do delta upgrades to be one of the great advantages of the Apple world. Obviouly, that does not always go without a hitch, but in general Apple is awesome about this. What Windows or even Linux environment can be updated for years on end by a simple small delta installer? Or the fact that we can just boot from another system’s partition, or boot from a clone made on another system? To me that is definitely part of the appeal of the Apple world. While I’m sure that doesn’t always work perfectly (hence justifying your advice), I do want Apple to continue to hold themselves to that goal and I would like to believe that is still one the key advantages to sticking to their “walled garden”. :slight_smile:

I do install a vast amount of software, and as a result, I have many home screens on my iPhone containing apps that I don’t even know what they do.

My Mac is a bit better, but my rule when I do a clean install is that I don’t reinstall any app until I discover that I need it. I’ve been keeping track, more or less, since the last reinstall, which I think was High Sierra, and I’ve installed about 75 apps since then.

Personally, after hearing what your wife was actually facing in terms of “restoring from scratch” (the depth of which was not entirely clear before now), I would’ve been testing all those backups available in Time Machine.

I would’ve dropped back 6-12 months, and if that worked, moved forward until it didn’t; dropping back as far as needed until I salvaged as much as possible as a starting point. Of course, not everyone has very old clones and deep TM archives, but if you’re facing that kind of data loss, you obviously should.

For those categories that were too incomplete to effectively rebuild from that point, turning to iCloud or Backup Extractor would’ve readily filled the gaps; e.g., Notes is something that could’ve been fully retrieved with the click of a button, quite probably even if the rest of the backup were corrupt (I can’t fully guarantee that claim since I don’t have your corrupt backup to test and Notes might well be something that is corrupted).

I can’t count the number of times we’ve had to drop back to clones that were many months old or older, in order to find an uncorrupted version of a particular file set. But we didn’t curse ourselves or Apple or Microsoft or the third party software vendor for corrupting said files in the first place; it happens. Period. It usually happens because of a disk damage or file system corruption on the source in need of repair. Disk/file corruption happens with any vendor.

Which brings us around to a critical part of any backup chain (which you’ve alluded to but not completely stressed as the bottom line here): your only valid backups are those you’ve fully tested.

IT managers get paid a lot of money because they design and build complex, testable backup strategies. In past lives managing this sort of thing, in mission critical deployments, we regularly restored working systems from the last backups, just to make sure they actually worked, and, if not, play the drop back game as described above; then do the deep dive to find the source of corruption. Validated backups are marked and preserved both on and offsite.

It’s horrifically time consuming, and nothing the average user, small or medium sized business is ever going to do.

I have mixed reactions to you and your wife cursing Apple for this event; your overall frustration is understandable, but if you really think this doesn’t and wouldn’t happen to you on Android, you’re dreaming. If anything, it’s far more likely to happen, given that most phone vendors have their own backup systems or simply rely on people using Google’s cloud services; and if your wife is so paranoid (whether or not that is justified by the degree of sensitivity of data or not) about using iCloud, good luck not using Google for many aspects of an Android experience.

Regardless, I’m truly sorry you had to go through all of this, and my empathy and sympathies to your wife in particular for having to suffer the horrible pain of rebuilding. It sounds like her phone is vastly more complex than the average user, and a higher level of mission critical care is on the agenda.

To that end, you imply, but don’t explicitly state that you will now be doing multiple backups to iTunes, preferably on different computers; but even creating a second user account on the same machine is better than not. iMazing is another option. Of course, if the iPhone is the source of corruption, all backups will (likely) be bad (from the point of corruption), but that’s when you fall back to TM and clone archives.

As an aside, as our iPhones and their respective backups get bigger, Apple is, at the same time, making Mac disk space smaller and vastly more expensive. Making multiple backups of iPhones and iPads as fat as 256GB and 512GB and more in the future gets more and more and more challenging, chewing up gobs of (hidden to the user) internal disk space.

Indeed, the average user has no idea how to map a User account to an external drive, let alone how to map just the iTunes Mobile Backups folder; for those new Mac owners opting for the smallest drive per their budget, they are shooting themselves in the foot by not considering their peripheral device backup needs. Even if they are content to buy a fat spinning external disk, they need a Mac guru to actually make it useable – and in many cases, still portable.

iCloud offers a ready solution to this problem, but the lack of encryption makes it a nonstarter for a LOT of people. With the current resistance from Apple, the FBI, NSA, et al, I don’t see encrypted iCloud backups happening any time soon. I’d love to be wrong.

The post:

frederico wrote: another great post

“Validated backups are marked and preserved both on and offsite.”

And even those can fail, so multiple validated copies should be kept on different kinds of media and in different places. Gets expensive fast.

Cosmic rays were long blamed for bit-rot in jest, but in the '90s IBM did some experimenting and found that “computers typically experience about one cosmic-ray-induced error per 256 megabytes of RAM per month.” If that RAM gets written to disk, you’ve got permanent corruption of something, usually unimportant but not always. It’s much less common for cosmic rays to flip bits on magnetic tapes and disks, but over time it will happen, plus those have other degradation problems. I don’t know about SSD and flash, but they’re still generally too expensive to use for multiple long term backups.

My favorite backup explainer is still The Tao of Backup, which was written as an ad for a long defunct software product. But it’s as useful now as it was way back then–when you can get anyone to read it in the sound bite era.

"Making multiple backups of iPhones and iPads as fat as 256GB and 512GB and more in the future gets more and more and more challenging, chewing up gobs of (hidden to the user) internal disk space. "

This is one of the things I like about iMazing. You can put the backups anywhere you want. Since they’re incremental, you can keep a much longer history, and easily go back in time (barring corruption!) I have them going to a server disk that gets backed up daily with occasional offsite rotation. I also occasionally mark itunes backups as archival so they don’t get written over, but that does take lots of space.

“iCloud offers a ready solution to this problem, but the lack of encryption makes it a nonstarter for a LOT of people.”

Me. Anything in the cloud is a matter of when it leaks, not whether it will leak. Apple really needs to make end-to-end encryption an option. But I think the current situation is probably the right default; for most people the risk of data loss is more important than the risk of leaks. Unfortunately, that means we have the choice between secure cloud with no app syncing or insecure sync.

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You’re right, @frederico, that would have absolutely made sense. If only I had known. I probably didn’t make that part of the story quite clear.

My wife’s syncing apparently stopped back in October. She had her iPhone set up to do backups and syncing over wifi. That usually happened when we went to bed and she plugged her iPhone in to charge. When that type of syncing/backup fails there is (at least in her case) zero immediate feedback on either the iPhone or in iTunes that it failed. In my experience, iTunes will show when it last completed successfully. But you’ll only see if you go looking for it. It won’t throw a dialog saying, ‘hey I haven’t synced in 10 days and there’s a problem’. My wife for the longest time didn’t realize that there was no syncing or backing up over wifi and when she finally did, she just restarted iTunes on the Mac (I think she actually just rebooted the Mac), rebooted her iPhone, and thought that would take care of it. By the time she noticed it had still not started syncing again and she told me about it, we were in Dec (not long before I started this thread).

The problem with all of this is that from Oct to Mar she did a ton of stuff on her iPhone (lots of it for her work) that never synced back to her Mac. So even if you go back to using old TM backups that would probably still work, you’d be either throwing away all those changes she made or at least in the same position as we now were that you’d first have to find alternative methods to transfer data to some other safe haven (not via sync or backup), then do the backup, and finally restore back lost information from that safe haven.

I guess bottom line is that if I had known immediately when syncing stopped, we could have done exactly what you propose and we would have been fine. But three months later and that ship had sailed.

And again, just to be entirely clear: multiple backups possibly involving multiple clients and/or different conduits (iTunes, iCloud) does NOT help in this situation. The corruption is most likely in the iOS install. Every backup then becomes tainted. The only way to get around it is to nuke the corrupted iOS install (assuming the average user does not have file-level diagnostics and control). The fact that this corruption happened (assuming it’s not cosmic rays [just google to see how many SE owners faced this issue post iOS 12] or some other more exotic theory) most likely does lie with an iOS bug (as indicated by two Apple reps — in fact they claim they are working on a fix).

That is what I personally fault them for. I agree with you 100% though @frederico that Android is neither more secure (privacy) or bug free and I know switching away from iOS would not render a better situation. But my wife’s POV is that Apple took her money and then left her stuck losing data with nothing on her side she could have done to prevent it. I think routinely checking up to see your syncing still works—although it should be unnecessary—does still fall into that camp. Her POV is that Apple is a company that prides itself on making stable stuff that works and doesn’t require that level of hands-on diagnosing and caressing. If even with Apple gear she still needs to get that involved, she might as well hand her money to somebody else next time, because bottom line, this ordeal happened to her on iOS.

I know ultimately she’s not switching, because she’s smart and she knows she’d get into easily as much trouble with Android, but I 100% get her frustration with iOS after what she just went through.

For the most part, I think we are saying almost exactly the same thing; I’m very much still out of it, so if it’s me beating the horse, my apologies.

— I still would rather start from October (or whatever is the last useable backup) rather than scratch based on the sheer volume of work you describe.

— I would seek other tools at a reasonable cost (cf. Backup Extractor, assorted duplicate resolving tools) to facilitate filling in the gaps, rather than abuse my brain and blood pressure for what you describe as literally days of effort.

— You’re right, Apple should flag and alert on backup gaps, just like they do with Time Machine.

— Sadly, the iTunes team is probably the worst division inside Apple; and if it hasn’t happened in over a decade of iOS backups, it’s not likely to ever happen.

— Apple frequently leaves holes for third parties to fill; whether this is good or bad is irrelevant; it is a fact we have to assess and respond to.

— I took a quick look at the backup info.plist and status.plist; it would be fairly simple to script a daily monitor and alert system for gaps; I can build one or hand you a starter script, as you wish.

— iMazing offers automatic incremental backups for up to one year; I can’t tell if it alerts on gaps or not, but the vendor is very responsive to feature requests.

— nothing listed above will directly address a corrupted source; only a validated backup preserved in some manner will fully protect you to that date only. (Perhaps iMazing’s incremental backup system is immune to this.)

— even the best technology fails; syncing is a particularly difficult animal to tame, and I suspect this happens far more frequently on all platforms more than we could even imagine, but the level of loss and the volume of fury is limited to Twitter and Facebook (one they wipe and restore their device from scratch).




Thanks,@frederico. Really appreciate the insight and experience you brought to this thread. :slight_smile:

yes, thanks for this discussion, I learned a lot from it, even though my syncing issues (knock on wood) have disappeared since I bought an iPhone X. I know I filed 20 or more bug reports in the various iOS betas (iOS 9-10-11, not iOS 12) with issues with syncing, who knows if it helped or not.

I should also have a copy of iMazing around just in case.

I haven’t encountered any of the problems with my 6SE iPhone files from backing up or transferring files to and from apps using my MacBook Pro or iMac. This is because I stopped updating to the latest iOS and MacOS. They are poorly coded and tend to leave out features that I use on a daily basis, (like backing up my iPhone). I haven’t read about any new features that I would ever use that would compel me to risk losing the functionality
of my Apple equipment. That is my solution to the shoddy coding in the updates.

Simon, have you received the “iTunes Device Support Update” that came out this week?I wonder if it will help you.

Haven’t installed it yet on my wife’s MBP. I did install it on my MBP and there I can still sync. But then again, I never had those issues. It was her old SE that could no longer sync with her MBP. In the meantime she’s on a new SE with a brand new setup so I’m not sure about testing her old iPhone with her iTunes after the Device Update.