How to back up and restore your Windows Phone data

If only backing up was this easy

Continuing on with our series of Windows Phone how tos for those who are new to the platform, today we'll be looking at how to backup and restore our smartphones. Backing up is a chore than many have to undertake on their PC, whether it be apps, documents or photos from a memorable vacation - it's always best to have more than one copy of everything. The same goes for contents on your smartphone.

Should anything happen to your Windows Phone, or if you’d like to revert to an earlier snapshot, you’ll need a backup at hand to get everything working in perfect order. Unfortunately Microsoft doesn’t currently offer an official facility to manually backup a Windows Phone (not even in Zune), but luckily there are alternatives thanks to an active developing community.

For this how to we’ll be using the WP7 Easy Backup Tool, by MarcHoover. This suite is a handy piece of software that does exactly what it says on the tin. The good news is we don’t need developer-unlocked Windows Phones, nor any hacking / coding skills to carry out the backup. The WP7 Easy Backup Tool is well presented and a breeze to use.

So what’s backed up from the device?

  • Messages
  • Apps (app data, game saves, etc.)
  • Registry and user settings
  • Windows Phone OS (including applied firmware updates)

The only downside is no Zune media is included. All music, video, etc. will be skipped. But with the tool taking care of the above, it’s no biggie – especially if you use playlists for synchronising music, for example.

Backing it all up

Before we get cracking on with backing up our Windows Phones, there are a few requirements that need to be fulfilled before we can continue:-

Step 1 - We first need to install required software. The WP7 Easy Backup Tool doesn't need to be installed and can be executed once the downloaded archive has been decompressed. Firing up the tool will reveal the above interface, which provides us with a number of options. We're going to want to select 'Backup' to have our Windows Phone data safely stored locally. Zune (and the Mac Connector) does this when applying updates, so we're essentially forcing it.

Step 2 - Before we get excited and head through the process, we'll need to copy any previous backups Zune may have made to a safe location as this tool will overwrite them. The location of said backups (and where WP7 Easy Backup Tool saves its own versions) is '%localappdata%\Microsoft\Windows Phone Update' - copy and paste into Explorer location bar. Simply copy these folders to a safe location (they may be fairly large).

Step 3 - The WP7 Easy Backup Tool will then provide some details about the process itself, namely we should ignore an error message that pops up, and should it appear as though the backup has halted we'll need to reboot the device (replacing the battery). Hitting 'Backup' will take us to the next step which is actually extracting everything from our Windows Phone. Ensure that it's plugged in before proceeding and that Zune is not running.

Step 4 - The process will kick off once 'Backup' is again selected. All that's left to do is to make a cup of tea and sit back until the backup is complete. Now you're done! Your Windows Phone is successfully backed up and data secured in case the unthinkable happens. Please note that Windows Phone Central cannot take any responsibility for damage caused by the WP7 Easy Backup Tool, which is currently in beta.

To restore a backup to your Windows Phone, simply plug the device into the PC, run WP7 Easy Backup and hit 'Restore' from the main screen. This will then apply the most recent backup saved locally for that device. There you have it folks - a simple and convenient way to backup your Windows Phone and keep contents safely stored.

UPDATE: Backing up on Macs

Agent-P mentioned in the comments such backup functionality was present in the Windows Phone Connector for Mac, without the requirement for third-party tools. We completely missed this facility and will be doing a follow-up article tomorrow highlighting this for those unaware just as we were. Check the below screenshot to see where the backup and restore options are in the Mac Windows Phone suite.

Hopefully we'll see similar user friendliness in the Windows 8 suite for Windows Phone when it comes to backing up devices.

Thanks, Ciprian, for the heads up on the backup tool and process!

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.

  • Killer. Next request for the dev: make a "Windows Phone Easy Transfer Utility" to move only non-device specific data from one WP to another, similar to Microsoft's utilities for Windows. This will be especially useful going from WP 7.x to WP8! The dev could make money on this.
  • yeah, that's what we really need.  device neutral backups.  Hell you can't even restore same device backups to a new replacement device!
  • 100% agree. 2 things I hate more than anything after a hard reset or upgrading to a new WP:
    1) Losing all my game saves and data
    2) Having to reconfigure all the settings and re-downloading apps and games.
    If there was an upgrade solution to transfer over settings, game save data and other information this would make my day.
  • So why can't game saves upload to the cloud again??
  • I wish I had my saves somewhere not on the phone. I had to hard reset my phone and I loss all my progress from the games I played. And with that all my momentum went with it. I don't feel like playing any of them now. SkyDrive would be a mice place. And it wouldn't take up much room. Like they do for Xbox live games.
  • Flying mice up in the SkyDrive?
  • What I don't understand is why they don't simply store our saves in our Xbox Live GPD like they do with a lot of XBLA saves.  It could save us all a lot of trouble.
  • Great tool... And kudos to the developer. Shame on you Microsoft.
  • When you said it backs up messages does that mean text messages? I've been looking for something like that for a long time.
  • This process does a complete backup besides media (Music, Videos, etc), so EVERYTHING IS BACKED Up
  • Wow, agreed. So glad to see someone step in in a spot where MS clearly dropped the ball.
    I second the previous poster's notion too... if they can manage to release a tool where you could migrate app data / save game data from my WP7.5 device to any WP8 device, I'd gladly pay for it purely based on the amount of time I would save.
  • This is what I have been looking for! This is great. Very much needed and MSFT should make this a standard in WP8.
  • Thanks for providing the guide.  I'm also curious about the messages backed up.  I assume it's text/messenger messages.  Is that correct?  Also, is there any information about how the data is backed up?  Is it a single backup file?  Can we access content in the backup (e.g., the text messages) straight through the file?
  • There is no access to the data in the backup file, it's encrypted
  • I am definitely going to try this out. It's weird that Zune will create restore points but we can't do it ourselves.
  • Thanks! I've been wanting a way to backup my Focus so I could install an SD card, but it seemed like a chore to do so. This helps a bunch!
  • The backup file will not restore to your focus if you add or remove the sd card. The backup software reads the focus with the different storage spaces as unique devices and will not apply the backup
  • Ouch. Thanks for the heads up. I wonder if 7.8 will allow for the expansion like 8 will. If not, guess I'll have to wait for an 8 device next year :-P
  • Next year meaning when I'm eligible for an upgrade.
  • This backup can only be applied to the same exact device. It will not restore your data to another phone. Also, the backed up data can not be read or accessed in the backup file format. The saved text messages can only read read if the backup is restored to the original device they were backed up from.
  • I need to restore the same basic configuration to a lot of phone. Someone know how can I do?
  • I'm confused as to how this is different than using the backup option in the Windows Phone Mac Connector. Can someone explain to be the benefits of this over the Mac Connector? (I also have a Windows laptop, so I can use this if it is better)
  • Heh, completely missed that option in the Connector. I believe it's essentially the same functionality. Will update the post to reflect this on OS X. Thanks :-)
  • No worries. :) Glad I happened upon this article.
  • Can i use this if i format my phone for making the switch to the new account? In short is this restore method account bound?
  • I would also like to know if this is tied to a specific account or if it's just the same device. If so, I would like to migrate my hotmail to and then restore my phone under the new domain.
    Anyone done this?
  • I'd like to know the same thing...
  • The backup "stores" the present state of the phone. So if you're phone is registered to when you back it up, it will be registered to when you restore to that file. Also, it can only be restored onto the exact same device that it was created from.
  • It's complete BS that Microsoft doesn't provide this functionality.
    And what are you supposed to do if you want to carry over apps and save data to a new phone?  If you set up a new phone with the same Microsoft account as your old phone, does it at least let you reinstall the apps you purchased on your old phone without having to buy them again?
  • The app purchases are linked to your "live id" and will never have to be bought again. You will need to reinstall them and you will lose app specific data, game saves, account setups, files, etc... But as long as you use the same email/live id, your purchases are remembered
  • Thanks for that info!  At least they got that right.  It sucks to lose app data, but having to re-purchase would be a dealbreaker.  If MS won't provide any way for users to back up app data, they REALLY shouldn't be trying to discourage app developers from implementing their own backup to SkyDrive functionality.  I think MS backed off on that but I'm not sure what the final outcome was.
    They'd better have some data migration "story" to go from WP7 to WP8, otherwise I can see a lot of people saying "screw this" and switching to another platform.
  • The real downside is that you can only restore to the same phone.  I can't really think of many situations where I'd need to restore to the same phone except for an update gone wrong.  The bigger problem in Windows Phone 7 is when you need a new device, whether upgrading, or a warranty replacement or something.
  • ^This. Very annoying.
  • Sadly there is no selective restore. I would like to backup only my SMS messages.
    I hope the selective backup/restore can be implemented in the near future.
  • Its unbelievable. My girlfriend's Pantech feature phone came with software to save SMS to PC, but the world's largest software company can't get it done? I like WP as much as all of you, but sometimes it's just mind-boggling that MS has left so many gaping holes in their software and then wonder why they don't sell well.
  • This would've come in handy back when everyone was changing their Hotmail accounts for the new Outlook ones.
  • It wouldn't work for that as the strings for email that you reset the device to change would be restored to the old email settings
  • Strings=settings
  • Is there any word on what backups look like with wp8 or 7.8?
  • Just another shout out for the Windows Phone connector for Mac. I've used the backup facility a few times and done restores which have all gone through just fine :D It's bizarre that M$ haven't added this to Zune but I'm almost certain in will show up in Zune's replacement!
  • The problem, in general, is that MS never intended for their backup process to be used for anything except during the update process as a safeguard for messed up updates.
  • how does Apple handle this? Can they migrate texts, app data, and games saves to their shiny new iPhones?
  • Yes, yes they can. 
  • Which is why I feel like we should have this option as well.
  • Backing up SMS's so you can view them on a PC or restore them to a different device would be damn helpful. My wife has a years worth of SMS's on her busted Dell Venue Pro and even though it's getting repaired, they will probably have to replace the motherboard, making it effectively a new device.
  • They (MS) did send out a request asking us for what features we'd like in the 7.8 release, why not use that to submit all these great ideas?... MS was created by humans after it will never be perfect.
  • Guess what guy! the donnload link of the WP7 Easy Backup Tool is dead! Anyone can he me get the tool? +1 for him or her thanks ;)
  • I used this tool and now my lumia 800 is rebooting every 5 minutes. What happend?
  • What to do in case of Lumia 800? We cannot remove the battery in case the backup fails?
  • tried this when I upgraded to WP7.8 which was on Navifirm... Restore didnt quite work out... Any advise ??
  • Same here... The restore didn't work on 7.8...
  • I have successfully backed up and restore on my Nokia Lumia 710 (WP 7.8).
  • This sounds really silly but I am getting an error trying to install the WP support tool. It says I need to install Zune before installing it when Zune is already installed. So annoying.. :(
  • how tocreat backup of contacts nd messages
  • Would the backup work even if I reset the phone?...
  • thats what i also want to know. Will the backup and restore work if I hard reset/ factory restore my lumia 800?
  • Yeah , I have restored my data after formatting Nokia Lumia 710.
  • I have done my backup but can't find it :/
    '\Microsoft\Windows Phone Update'
    where is this location - is it on the phone (if yes how can I copy this to PC) or is it on my PC drive ?
  • Where is the backup file saved???please respond fast...
  • C:\Users\NAMEUSER\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Windows Phone Update
  • After the latest Zune update, this backup program doesn't work anymore! :-(
  • Hey guys, I come from the future and want to share with you that Windows 10 will be awesome on Windows Phone!