Backing up and restoring personal data in Windows Phone 8

Backing up personal data, including SMS conversations, has always been absent from Windows Phone. We’ve previously looked at how the Windows Phone Connector for Mac enables such functionality to a degree as well as a Homebrew Windows backup manager, but it’s always best to have such a feature built into Windows Phone.

In Windows Phone 8 Microsoft has implemented a backup facility that automatically stores SMS conversations and app list (including settings) information, as well as options to control how Windows Phone deals with uploading photos and videos captured using the handset. Using Microsoft’s cloud services, conversations and app settings are all automatically stored.

Signing into a Microsoft Account (required for backups to be stored) will enable the functionality. Should something happen to your Windows Phone, or if you purchase a new one (or swap regularly) it’s useful for backups to be used to restore said devices to a state that resembles a previous experience.

Windows Phone 8 Backup

It’s super easy to manage how Windows Phone backs up your data (if you want it to do so at all). By default, the following is automatically backed up:

  • Internet Explorer Favourites
  • List of installed apps
  • Theme and accent configuration
  • Call history
  • App settings (where applicable - email and accounts, lock screen and more )
  • Test messages (SMS conversations)
  • Photos (good quality - uses data allowance)

Heading to Settings > System > Backup, one can manipulate backup settings for apps, SMS and media. We’ll dive into each category below to see what each header covers.


Apps + Settings

With a list of installed apps, Internet Explorer favourites, app settings (including email accounts, photos, locations and more), theme settings and call history all backed up, setting up a new phone is a breeze.

While everything listed above is backed up and ready to be restored when required, app data (and individual apps themselves) is not saved. Fortunately the app list is and apps can be installed by clicking on each app that’s included in the restored backup. The start screen will also reset to its default configuration (makes sense as no apps will technically be installed).

Windows Phone 8 Backup

Going into the settings for this backup can be achieved by selecting “App list + settings” in the backup control panel within system settings. For apps and saved options, there’s only an on / off toggle. Hitting “advanced” will display the option for all stored content to be deleted and backups rendered unavailable.

Text Messages

A much requested feature in Windows Phone has been to backup SMS and MMS messages to the cloud. For now users are having to start fresh when switching to a new phone. Should you be upgrading to Windows Phone 8 from a previous generation device, you’ll experience this reset when moving across.

In Windows Phone 8, the system automatically backs up all conversations and messages. Said content will be available for restoration on a new handset should the user wish to make use of the saved data. Unlike the app settings above, this backup has a few more options to govern control on exactly how the backup runs.

Windows Phone 8 Backup

In the backup control panel, users can manipulate SMS backup settings by hitting “Text Messages”. This will present an array of options that can be toggled on and off. Deleting messages will remove them from the backup, therefore there’s no “delete message backup” feature within the settings. This provides consistent management of text conversations. Note that chats are not backed up.

Photos + Videos

Automatic photo uploading is currently present in Windows Phone 7.x, but in Windows Phone 8 there’s further control on how media (video included) is securely stored in the cloud and moves everything to one location. SkyDrive is used to backup photos and video captured using a Windows Phone, which can be accessed by heading over to

This backup option is enabled by default and the uploading of photos may use data, which can incur charges if not pre-paid by contract or other means so be sure to check with your carrier for more information. Selecting “Photos + Videos” from the backup control panel will present a number of options.

Windows Phone 8 Backup

Choosing ‘don’t upload’ is pretty self-explanatory, but ‘good quality’ and ‘best quality’ both enable the automatic uploading of photos when the camera app is used to take shots. Good quality will use data connection when possible (and WiFi when available), while the best quality option will only backup photos when connected to a WiFi network.

The same goes for videos with ‘don’t upload’ disabling the backup, but both good and best quality settings only use WiFi. We don’t want massive video files being sent over the mobile network now, do we?

Restoring Backups

Restoring a saved backup is a simple process when setting up a new Windows Phone. Should settings be configured correctly and personal data has been automatically stored in the cloud, then it’s easy to restore everything to how things were before changing handsets. To begin one will need to sign into the Microsoft Account used on the previous Windows Phone.

Follow the following steps to apply the backup to the new Windows Phone:

1. Sign into the same Microsoft Account used for the backup creation.

2. When prompted to use a backup to restore the handset, select the desired backup and hit ‘next’ to continue with the process.

3. The backup will then download (duration will vary depending on speed of connection and size of backup), you can then enter passwords for restored accounts there and then or configure restored email and social accounts later. 

As stated above, the Windows Phone will still use the default setup for the start screen, WiFi networks will not be loaded and apps will need to be installed from the imported app list (simply selecting each app will start the installation). But at least Microsoft has implemented the functionality to make backing up such data possible and will make it easier for consumers to switch between Windows Phones.

Rich Edmonds
Senior Editor, PC Build

Rich Edmonds was formerly a Senior Editor of PC hardware at Windows Central, covering everything related to PC components and NAS. He's been involved in technology for more than a decade and knows a thing or two about the magic inside a PC chassis. You can follow him on Twitter at @RichEdmonds.

  • Anyone know if we are able to backup our apps locally yet? I already have had $24 worth of apps "stolen" back from me by their devs. The most alarming is the Doodle God scam.
  • I don't think so; but if Microsoft still has the app on the server, you can redownload, even though the dev took down the sell of the app. Go to the windows phone store, find purchase history and it should be there
  • What's the Doodle God scam?  I have it!?!
  • If you bought it pre Xbox, they refused to refund you and gave you no way to reload it. Your money and the app were gone. They just reissued it with the Xbox logo and achievements and left you SOL.
  • What I have found out about Windows Phone 8 after quite deep investigation:  a) you cannot backup your device locally at all. All data has to go through Microsoft's cloud, US governmnent and nobody knows who else. the only option is Cloud backup.  b) you effectively loose control over your own data. As soon as you will use Windows Phone 8 you can only backup it to cloud and restore it to another Windows Phone device. You cannot export your contacts, sms conversations, etc. to any other platform. They effectively become property of Microsoft. c) there is NO possibility to sync locally to Outlook. So this way of getting control over your own data is also closed.    
  • Does anyone know if there is a way to access files in the Back Up files under Device Backups? My win8 phone has lost it's favorites. I have the option turned on for syncing so I know they are saved in one of the older back up files I have under my account, but I can't figure out how to get to them. I contacted support and there answer was to re-add them all to my favorites by going under Recent. There's no way I can do that. The only option I can find to use the back up files is with a reset/restore of my phone, and that's not something I want to do either. So, I am curious if anyone knows a way to get into the back up files to get the IE favorites only?
  • Does anyone know how to back up app data and game saves from windows phone 7 to use on wp8?
  • I am also in interested im this - but my thinking is that there is now way to do it :(
  • Sounds lovely, no more trouble with support when officially built in for this stuff.
  • Does the app settings backup cover third party apps, ie can game progress be backed up?
  • So still no saved game data? Bummer...
  • Saved games?
    I swear I read on the "WP Suggestions" MS forum that the API allows for devs to backup/restore your savegames but it is up to them to include it in their games.
    Anyone shed some light on this?
  • Can someone explain this for me? Lets say I shoot a 1080p video and want it to upload using wifi only, which is the only option with video. I've seen that when the phone goes to sleep it loses that wifi connection. So do I have to sit there and constantly be touching the screen to keep the phone awake while the video uploads in the background? That could take a long time depending on how long the video is... Or does that dropping of wifi only happen when the phone isn't actively using the wifi connection, and in this case with the video upload it WOULD actively be using the connection, so it wouldn't drop it.
  • I've been wondering if SMS conversations are accessible from Does anyone know?
  • The connection will stay up if you have the phone plugged in to a power source. If you want to do this I'd just plug it in at night and let it upload.
  • Wifi goes to sleep when the phone is idle and no processes using the wifi is used, if its doing some task like downloading or uploading, it wont go to sleep till the process is completed.
    I have left my Lumia 900 a couple of times on wifi to download 1 plus GB maps and it has always been completed without using my data..
  • wait, seriously? Wouldn't that also kill the ability to use any sort of music streaming over wifi?
  • No. WP only turns off WiFi if it isn't using it, so it will remain connected when the screen turns off.
  • not that i know of
  • lol no dude, it'll upload just fine
    EDIT: i'm not replying to this post, but my reply keeps coming up here... weird
  • A bit late, probably, but with GDR2 you get to tell the wifi to stay connected in the background.
  • Nice!
    I have two questions after reading the article though:
     1. is there a way to reinstall all apps by a single tap (the article says you may restore any app by clicking on it, what if you want to restore your 50 apps without having to tap each one ?)
     2. text messages are backed up and can be restored, but does it include MMS (and photos/videos sent using MMS) ?
  • When I restored my device yesterday (Lumia 920) MMS was backed up and restored. Once I went through the restore process, all my apps started downloading automatically, I didn't need to select or tap anything.
  • Is there any kind of encryption applied to the backed up data?
  • Just hope they bring this function to 7.8 update
  • +1 on that.  I usually do my research on stuff, and got caught by this one.  I might would not have purchased the phone if I hadn't assumed that there would be some type of backup.  Oh Well.
  • So no backup for game/app data and settings?
    No with cloud  and no with your local pc? There's still a long way to do....
  • Guys... so there's no way to backup your WP8 (full or differential)? It's a sad news...
  • Hi, Is there anyway to get Internet Explorer Favorites synced between WP8 and Windows 8?
  • I was hoping that this would be the case, but it doesn't seem to be.
  • How do you start the restore process? I was going to just ry it out on a couple of 920's I have buit I dont see where to start the restore.
  • - Where exactly are this data bulks being stored (except photos / videos)?
    - is the transport being encrypted??
    those are my first questions... and those terms are higher in prio that what more functunality to add.
  • I do not have the additional options under sms when I choose to use backup. it just shows me the normal SMS screen with the only option of backup and group text
  • I am having diffcultly restoring my back up because i am using straightalk and whenever you restore your back up it needs data and i cant use data unless i punch in the Apn setting after setting up the phone. Is there another way to restore it maybe through pc?
  • I am having this exact problem. Did you find a solution? I haven't found a way to manually start the restore process.
  • I am having this exact problem. Did you find a solution? I haven't found a way to manually start the restore process.
  • If I've accidentally deleted an SMS thread, can I restore it?
  • This backup/restore story is so SAD.  One only get ONE chance to restore ONE backup.  In my case, the restore failed misrably:  Many app failed to download, need attention, but retry or close does not do anything whatsoever.  Worse, for whatever the reason, "Setting", the app where one go to set things up, are GONE!
    Of course, WP8 is SO AUTOMATED that one is not given a chance to setup WIFI before ALL restore is underway...
    Compare to the App Store on Android from Amazon.  All your app, all your book are there in your account.  You, at your leasure, go get what you wanted.
    Why would MS try so hard to be smart, only to make the biggest fool of itself?
    Can it ever learn to do thing for a purpose?
    Backup is for restore, and restore can fail, so let the user have some control, Hello?
  • I haad this problem. I've seen complaints about it but this is the only info I could find that had any explanation or suggestions to solve it.
    the problem is that all apps don't get reinstalled so you get a bunch of garbage errors that won't go away.

  • While for any scnerio when you lost memory card data of SD card data you can rely n a third party tool from recover data..which can get all your data back..visit :
  • Here is a feature I would like to use: when stuff is back-upped to OneDrive, it is not DELETED when the same stuff is accidentally deleted off the phone for synchronicity sake. I want  a backup to do a backup, so that when the item goes missing or is accidentally deleted the item will be backed up, and not automatically deleted also. Screwed again by F****** MS.
  • What if I want to read backed up texts on a  PC?Is it possible after I log  into my  microsoft account  on a PC?
  • If I backup my Lumia 525 today on onedrive and then delete ALL contacts, sms, calendar entry, apps, bookmark from the phone and sell it off, can i still find the backed up file and restore them on a new lumia handset 5 days later?
  • My outlook account will not update on my Nokia Lumia 635 Windows 8.1 please help....
  • I have a nokia lumia 920 with the screen and touchscreen totally broken.with my pc i'm able to retrieve fotos and videos but i don't know how to retrive sms,whatsapp chats,contacts etc.Does somebody knows how to retrieve those data from my nokia lumia 920?!best regards