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Restoring your app purchases after a Windows Phone hard reset

So you are new to Windows Phone, loaded a ton of apps and games on to your phone and now face a hard reset that will wipe out everything. Or even better, you bought a new Windows Phone. The good news is that all the apps and games you’ve purchased won’t have to be re-purchased, as those licenses are linked to your Microsoft Account. The better news is that you can backup your app listings to make re-installing things a lot easier.

While many of the seasoned Windows Phone users already know this, we have a few discussions going on in the Windows Phone Central Forums asking about re-installing apps and games after a hard reset. WPCentral reader WaseemAkram poses that very question in this forums discussion and several readers quickly stepped up to offer reassurances that he would not have to re-purchase all his apps and games.

In the same discussion, we are reminded of the backup feature that is available in our Windows Phone settings. If you go to Settings, scroll down a bit and you will find a Backup section. Here you can create a backup file for your app list and settings, backup your text messages and turn on/off the SkyDrive auto-upload feature for your photos.

Everything from your theme color, Internet Explorer favorites and a list of all your apps/games will be backed up making restoring everything after a hard reset or transitioning to a new Windows Phone a lot easier.

The one downside to the backup is that it won’t save your Start Screen configuration. You’ll still need to configure that by hand after you get all your apps and games re-installed.

Backups and restores getting better

Windows Phone 8 Update 3 (build 10517 and later) makes things a bit easier by allowing you to choose your Wi-Fi connection before the account sync and restore process. This ensures that the downloading of apps and the restore go more quickly when you first boot up your new phone (previously, you connected to Wi-Fi after your restore, which was much more tedious).

Early reports also suggest that Windows Phone 8.1 will go much further with this backup/restore function, similar to how Windows 8.1 on the PC works now.

If you’ve had any experiences or additional tips on restoring your apps and games to a Windows Phone, feel free to jump into the discussion:

George is the Reviews Editor at Windows Central, concentrating on Windows 10 PC and Mobile apps. He's been a supporter of the platform since the days of Windows CE and uses his current Windows 10 Mobile phone daily to keep up with life and enjoy a game during down time.

125 Comments
  • Thanks for the tip :)
  • Just the tip?
  • Yes George's tip makes me feel special.
  • Just wish app/game data was also saved. Rrrrrrr
  • Yeah, I've got 65GB of SkyDrive storage (without even touching the 200GB I got with my SP2), so it'd be nice if I could that luxurious amount of storage to backup app + game data (especially for games, I don't want to lose all my progress when I migrate in the future!).
  • Hoping that for Windows Phone 8.1 so bad
  • Windows 8.1 still doesn't do it so I doubt WP8.1 will.
  • Well, it is not a feature of the OS, true, but it is easy to do.  You can just grab the data yourself, or run a script like this one http://www.thewindowsclub.com/backup-restore-app-data-windows-8 to do it.  The fact is that there is no way to do it on Windows Phone, and that is a core problem of the OS.  What MS needs to do is not so much add user-facing features, but open up the platform APIs so that third parties can fill in the missing pieces. The ability to back stuff up is an essential part of computing.  To not have it available is therefore to be missing something essential.  In other words, Windows Phone is broken without this feature, as far as I am concerned.
  • Not sure what you are talking about opening up an API to the devs so they can do it...they ALREADY can backup your data to the cloud.  Kingdoms and Lords does it (Xbox LIVE game even) and so does Taptitude.  I know Taptitude added the functionality so they could move people from WP7 to WP8 and not lose anything. The options are there!  The game makers just don't use it. All the MS games (Minesweeper, Mahjong, ect) do this also.
  • Sure, developers can put their data wherever they want, SkyDrive, their own servers, whatever.  But as a user, I should be able to back up my own data.  And for that matter, the whole app along with the data.   Backup is a fundamental part of computing, and Windows Phone is almost completely broken in this respect.  From all the way back in my PalmOS Treo days, I could sync my whole phone back on if I reset it or bought a new one.  That was more than a decade ago.  How come MS can't keep up with my Treo?
  • Yeah agreed, iPhone 1 had this. Only backup to iTunes on PC, but at least it made sense. It's much harder to work out what's going to be backed up and what's not with WP.
  • Yeah, iOS does this...
  • SOOO agreed. Facebook games help that, but if (and ONLY if) you're okay with sharing that data with them. Oi vey...
  • Same here, I wish there was a way to save app settings...Including games. My games are my big deal...
  • The problem is that windows phone does not allow redownloading of apps that have been delisted. This is idiotic; even apple allows you to. Not to mention you can not share your app with other people by allowing them to log in to your MS account.
  • First one, yes. Second one, no. It's called file sharing, a.k.a, pirating. Not cool dude.
  • Here here Jack, i did try to explain it a bit more tactful but you hit the nail on the head!
  • No, there can be a limit on how many devices you can share. Even windows 8.1 allows this and on 81 devices. So this is just incompetence and inconsistency on MS' policy.
  • WP allows you to share between 8 devices
  • But only if you use the same MS accounts for all the phones involved. Now, I'd rather use different accounts on my phone, my wife and my children's phones; otherwise all text messages and emails would be sync. On W8.1, you can log out of your primary account in App Store and log in the account you have your apps purchased.
  • So you want to purchase an app once and want to install it on the phones of your wife, kids, aunts, uncles and what not... Don't you think that is unfair to the developer who has spend time and money on creating the app? He will get paid once, but multiple people will use it. This is like buying one license of windows and wanting to install it on 10 different PCs, even though you bought only one license. Crib all you want, but you are just been unreasonable...
  • I'm a developer myself for windows phone and I'd rather have my app bought once and shared within a family than not being bought at all.
  • What makes you think that if an app can't be shared within family, it won't be bought? Anyways if you are open to that idea, why don't you push your app by making it super cheap? Let other developers earn per user. BTW, what is the name of your app?
  • see my avatar.
  • VBA8!
  • You mean pirate your app...
  • There can be a limit on how many devices you can share. Even windows 8.1 allows this and on 81 devices. So this is just incompetence and inconsistency on MS' policy.
  • You can install an app on more than one phone, as long as you use the same Microsoft account as the main id on the phone.
  • That's not practical because I'd rather use different accounts on my phone, my wife and my children's phones; otherwise all text messages and emails would be synced. On W8.1, you can log out of your primary account in App Store and log in the account you have your apps purchased.
  • Text messages are tied to your number, not your Microsoft account. Unpin the primary email, and pin as many secondary email accounts as you want. They can still access your email though, but they'd have to want to do so.
  • I'm not sure about that. I have a prepaid lumia 520 with no sim and never activated, yet all text messages sent to my main phone appears on it after 5-10 minutes. Even if i'm wrong, having your emails available to your wife and your kids are kinda worrying, isn't it?
  • It could be worrisome, I suppose. My wife and I have each other's emails on each other's phones. We don't link the accounts so things stay seperste and we don't pin the other's account. We do that so we can see both calendars. We don't sync contacts or emails, but there have been times when I've opened her email on my phone to get to a document she received. As far as the kids having your email, idk. Now that I think about it, I don't think there is a way to not show the main accounts contacts. That might be bothersome for some, I guess.
  • That limit is 1. This is also the same policy on iOS and Android when you purchase from App store and Google Play. The limit is tied to your account. You may have it on another device if that entire device is set up using your account, but not when it's someone elses (say, your son's account).  This is consistent with Windows apps, where you are allowed on 81 devices UNDER YOUR MS ACCOUNT. Meaning, if you log in 81 computers all using your account you will be able to do that. But you will not be able to log into Mary's account, and somehow tell the Store that for now it's you who's using it, and allow you to download and use the app under Mary. Perhaps reading the agreements before making purchases on your device next time, whatever platform you choose. 
  • False. In windows 8/8.1 app store, you can log out of your primary account on your device and log in to the account you have your app purchased. Tell me if you can do it on WP.
  • You are absolutely correct. I have my Microsoft account on my Surface Pro 2 and also have my wife's Surface Pro linked in the store, along with my 3 daughters Surface RTs. If I purchace an app any of the othe 4 can then download them for free.
  • I agree about the pulled app thing. The sharing your account part I lost you on that one.
  • MS allows you to do it on Windows 8 store so why should it be different on WP Store?
  • I gotta agree with you on both. I understand we technically are paying for licenses, but the other platforms allow this. I wonder though if you download the cap and its been delisted can you reinstall. If that's the case then Microsoft needs to just allow cap installation from internal memory. Sharing apps is another annoyance, because for families this can be an issue. Buy a game for one child and the other wants it on their device, so you have to shell out more money for that or make the kids share a device? I'm sorry if you're trying to sell your platforms with families, this won't fly. Family room and rooms are awesome, so are kids room, but not,being able to install an app you pay for on multiple devices isn't great for larger families. Again, other platforms do this, even Windows 8 and 8.1, but WP can't.
  • glad that we share the same opinion. If the app has been delisted, there is no way you can reinstall the app even if you have the .xap on SD card.
  • Indeed it seems annoying to buy a game for each kid but think of that, when games was in physical medium for example cartridges for game boy, you were buying one cartridge for one device, if you wanted all your kids to play at the same time you had to buy multiple cartridges for each one. Seems like the same situation to me.
    What is unfair is that the games are connected with one account, so if me and my brother had two game boys but one game we could play it on both devices, now we are limited to one personal device (phone) only.
  • Care to give an example of an app on the Apple Store that you can download once it's yanked? From my experience, no app store allows this. For example, I can't re-download the Siri app anymore (yes the original one before Apple bought it). It's in my library, but if I were to ever delete it from my library altogether there is no way of getting it back.
  • Sure, here is an article on downloading Flappy Bird after it has been delisted: http://www.businessinsider.com/download-flappy-bird-2014-2 Siri is bought by Apple a long long time ago so maybe they deliberately made it unavailable after a while. edit 2: on windows phone, even if you have the .xap on sd card, you cannot even reinstall the app. Apple allows you to transfer the app to your phone as long as you have it in your library.    
  • I did a hard reset to my Lumia 520
    instead of the app name
    it showed 'Downloading Application'
    why?
    can you help me with that?
  • not sure what you mean. can you send a screenshot to store.support@outlook.com?
  • Thanks and that's very very useful.damn i love wpcentral.
  • Applist didn't work for me when I moved to 1520 from 925. Everything else migrated like a champ...minus what'sapp. Also, the Transfer My Data app doesn't work well from WP7.8-> WP8 :-(
  • Applist has NEVER worked for me.
  • About half my apps come over, and the other half show up with errors in the store download list. Manually redownloading them works fine though. It does the same thing on my wife's phone.
  • I noted this in a different comment below, but it seems that backups of newer WP8 OS versions won't restore to older OS versions, so update the OS version first, then hard-reset (won't affect OS version) and restore again (you may have to choose the second-to-newest because it likely performed a newer backup in the interim state) and boom, you should see all your still-available apps (because old apps that are no longer available won't re-download).
  • I'm guessing there's still no way to save your angry birds progress?
  • What are those stone next to the phone? :) What are they relevant to the topic?
  • It's just a picture of a Windows Phone, with something else added to give it atmosphere. Photographers like to be creative that way.
  • I know, :) it was only a joke dude
  • oh my god , are you serious ?
  • Ohh my god, what has that table got to do with anything about windows phone lol
  • That's a good one :)
  • "What are those stone next to the phone? :) What are they relevant to the topic?" They mean Windows Phone rocks.
  • LOL
  • Apart from all of this.I think we cannot see what are the apps that we previously installed . Like there's no record or listing of it.i hope it shows all the current and previously installed apps.
  • There is a purchase history section on http://www.windowsphone.com.
  • You can see your purchase history at www.windowsphone.com. Just login and click the drop down menu in the upper right.
  • Go to windowsphone.com and sign into you account. You will see all the apps that you have downloaded.
  • If you log into windowsphone.com I'll guess you'll find something... ;)
  • Download app reinstaller.
  • But if for example a game has no Xbox cloud save, the save isn't transferred to a new phone, isn't it? Because I want to replace my htc 8x with a Lumia 925 but then the problem is that I have to start all over again with many games unfortunately ...
  • Yes, you're right. And that's a huge bummer for some of the longer games. I will say that UNO and friends cloud saves your progress.
  • That Windows Phone is missing such basic functionality years after its release is proof positive that this OS is essentially broken, in its current state.   MS needs to get their butt in gear and fix this POS ASAP.
  • So agree with this. Having moved from Blackberry where I was able to do a FULL backup of my phone to the BB desktop app it is incredibly frustrating. Full backup is a basic requirement and we should have the option to backup locally instead of this constant fixation with the cloud.
  • How does this work, when you have 2 phones with the same live account? My wife and I share the account to not buy expensive apps twice like Navigon etc. (Remember you are allowed to install on 5+ devices at the same time without paying again) However our phones share only a few apps.  
  • It actually keeps profiles for the different phones - I have a L520 and L920, both have a separate "backup".   To expand on that - when you get the option to restore a backup after a factory reset, it will list all device backups and you can load any of them onto the phone - or choose none.
  • Is there a way to save Groups in the people hub? They don't sink with Outlook or Windows 8.1 People. I use multiple groups and rebuilding them is a massive headache. Any suggestions?
  • Hopefully, 8.1 will allow users to backup their progress in games. That's the only thing I was upset about when I moved from my 822 to my 928. Everything else was restored perfectly.
  • I wish that when you logged onto the windows phone store you could sort your previously installed apps by free ones and ones that you actually purchased. They ALL say purchased.
  • I vaguely remember when I uninstalled an app I buyed, I had to buy it again to install... is this still the case?
  • That happened once with mytube (it was a bug), but usually you can install the games you've already bought without having to repurchase.
  • A tip for start screen restoration... take screen shots of the screens as you scroll down. Then backup to OneDrive and you have static images of your start screen layout. Less hassle than writing all the apps down IMO.
  • Hopefully this won't be an issue after 8.1
  • Yep - ridiculous that it isn't backup up by default, but that's definitely the best way to go about it right now.
  • Lots of net needed. But its ok.
    I thought i would get an app that would create a backup in .xap format. So that i have only to reinstall it without wasting my mobile network's mb's.
  • You could just use wifi...
  • Yup.. That's y its ok.
  • We want a backup/restore process like the iPhone. Until now, is the best.
  • Yeah, nontransferable app data and lack of high-end microsd support are only problems I have left with windows phone.
  • Already knew this but I remember a frustrating time when I didn't. Thank you for throwing this article out there. It would be nice to see more like it.
  • Worked well for me. It did rename my new 1520 "Lumia 920" though which I couldn't rename using the handset. This can be sorted by connecting it to a pc though.
  • I use easy ringtone&music for my tunes but that's where all my music is stored. I can't remember how many times I had to re-download all music again. There is no upload area for like SkyDrive of that nature. I tries emailing for any help but none as of yet.
  • This is a great feature but don't forget that text backup is broke!
  • This is not a proper backup. It is quite easy to reinstall app, but without proper backup, ale theitr data are lost. This is how Microsoft is promoting Sky/OneDrive.
  • please dont make backup as "good" as in w8.1! After upgrading from w8, system refresh doesn't work at all, with neighter of w8 or w8.1 discs. It was great feature but now I must completely reinstall system as in old win XP. Its ridiculous...
  • How about music? I got quiet a bit of tracks from Xbox Music... How do I back that up?
  • Question for anyone.  Since Saturday morning I've had a 80C805E2 sync error on my main Microsoft account on my phone so it hasn't been syncing.  Obviously email hasn't been coming in, but is app backup tied to this as well?  Meaning if I installed a new app today it wouldn't get backuped until this error is cleared?  I only ask because I'm facing a hard reset right now with this error.
  • I have this same exact issue, since Friday morning, and my Twitter account which is linked to my Microsoft account, will not connect or sync as well. For a while I had massive battery drain due to the nonstop syncing in the background. It seems to be a server issue affecting a small amount of people, but it needs to be fixed now.
  • Contact MS support.. From My Lumia 929
  • Same here.  My LinkedIn and Twitter stopped syncing as well since they're linked to my Microsoft account.  I've been tweeting with Windows Phone support all weekend and today, and they basically pointed me to a Microsoft Answers forum I had already found.  Per that forum and a couple from WPCentral's forum, I've tried the following: disabling SMS and chat backup, restarting multiple times, soft reset, deleting contents of junk, trash, and draft folders for the account, sat down with a Microsoft tech at one of their stores, unlinked Twitter and LinkedIn, deleted a Gmail account, changed the password, and uninstalled Skype.  In these forums, some people said the disabling SMS backup fixed it right away, others have said the issue has lasted weeks or months.  The Microsoft tech basically told me to hard reset the phone.
  • I just fixed mine, and its very simple. Make sure the junk folder is empty as well as Deleted, I did this on my laptop. Then on your phone, go to settings>backup & turn off sms/chat messaging backup. My account instantly synced and all is good. Hope this works for you.
  • Sorry man, didnt catch your post explaining that you have tried all of what I mentioned, I know its nerve racking.
  • You emptied the deleted folder on Outlook.com, not just on the phone?  I emptied all these folders but just on the phone.  I'm still tweeting with WP support and was just told to enable POP email at Outlook.com and restart the phone.  I obviously don't want it set up with POP but we'll see if that works!
  • Bit of a tweak, this article states that your purchases are linked to your Microsoft Account. This is not true, well not directly anyway. Your purchases are linked to your Xbox account, which is then merged with your Microsoft Account, but the purchases (games, music, vids, apps, all and any of it) remain linked through your Xbox account. This matters, because if you unglue your Xbox account from your Microsoft account (only possible with an Xbox, but necessary if your MS account gets screwed) this difference needs to be understood. It may be worth tweaking the article so people are better informed?
  • Would that matter if one doesn't use games or Xbox Music on Windows Phone?
  • It matters if you make ANY purchases on WP. That includes free app 'purchases' downloaded from the store as they are just considered as £0 purchases by MS. All such are attached to your Xbox account. They appear to be attached to your MS account, but that's only because your Xbox account is glued to your MS account. Separate them, and all purchases go with your Xbox account and not your MS account. This is true even if you don't own an Xbox, like me. In fact, all your Windows 8.1 apps are also linked to your Xbox account. Your phone backup does go to your MS account I think (technically part of the Skydrive system I believe), but all that saves is a record of the apps currently installed on your phone for a fast recovery. Your actual list of the apps and other stuff you 'own' (whether installed right now or not) is recorded in your Xbox account at the time of purchase, so you won't lose them even if you haven't backed up at all.
  • It would be nice if we can backup the layout of the metro tiles as well. Its a pain to do them again and again and again :-\
  • i cant believe i didnt know that, i broke my phone a month and had to restall my apps. breaking my phone is rare for me but damn, i couldve saved time. oh well i end up  installing only half of them the rest i really didnt use anymore or rarely but this is good to know.
  • First everything went well as switching between my 820, borrowed 720 and then 820 again (different from the first one). But few days ago I tried to restore my 820-backup on brand new 920 and oops - no app list restored, just my settings and accounts. Why?
  • This can happen when trying to restore a backup from a newer WP8 OS version to an older one.  What I did to resolve this was to restore the backup (no apps downloaded yet), get the newest OS updates, then do a hard-reset (which doesn't affect OS version) and boom, choosing the right backup properly restored the apps (note that I had an even newer backup from the interim state w/o apps, so I chose the second-to-newest one). @George- it might be helpful to update the article to relfect this if it's affecting very many of us
  • Well, your explanation is absolutely true... I was restoring Lumia Black backup to Lumia Amber... However when switching from 820 to 720 it was as well from Amber to older version and it worked... Perhaps some bug in Lumia Black update?
  • .
  • Unfortunately, I have had to do a hard reset a few times recently, and ultimately upgraded devices.  A big thing for me is the Start Screen configuration.  Hopefully that gets backed up with WP8.1.  It is a pain to have to set up everything again.  Another is the app settings and data.  I would love to see app settings backed up, as well as data, especially for games.  You spend a lot of time playing a game, it sucks when you lose all of the progress.
  • Agreed. I have had several replacement phones and lost all my gaming progress. Sucks!
  • This article should be 1 sentence: "Hard reset your phone, enter your (previous) MS account and wait for the apps to download automatically". You do not need to do anyting at all. Of course if you are dumb enough to turnoff auto backup, you might have to do it manually, by going into windowsphone.com account and pick the apps from your history and click reinstall. Well you lose your data, like pins, photos, music and game progress, but I think that is actually what it is supposed to do, that is what it is HARD reset, not reinstall. Why would you need such reset if you want to get everything back?
  • Sometimes, battery requires a hard reset after an OS update. Lots of users are encountering bad battery drains and it can only be solved upon a hard reset. That's Windows Phone.
  • I disagree with the information supplied in this article. Auto install worked for me on my first 2 phone changes on WP8, but for some reason now when logging into a new Nokia lumia it will only install my profile, texts and settings. My apps will not auto install. So I need an alternative method inside my phone settings to reinstall all my free and paid for apps that were on my previous device. Why does that not exist?
  • Get app reinstaller from the app store. It's free and comes in handy. The most problematic thing is the lack of saved game files in backups. I have taken L a few times, because of that oversight.
  • I can not download windows 8.1 in India..... why ?
  • I don't have any problems with my phone, so I don't se myself having to do a hard reset, but... What if you go to your previous purchases list on Windowsphone.com and it says "This app is not available for your region" beside ALL your apps? That's recently happened to me even though I'm from the US. It's quite annoying because I've reinstalled apps from the previous purchases link plenty of times in the past. I have no idea how to fix this problem either, and I've done some searching for answers and keep coming up short. *sigh*
  • I would love to change my L720 for the 1020 but here in Argentina cost 10.000 $ (1,280,00 U$D) without a carrier..
  • Could you please post a video showing all this back up and restore process.
  • Cant get Weather Flow out of demo mode after switching phones. Purchased it....not so shure about all apps carrying over.
  • Speaking of which... I bought Angry Birds, then decided to break my phone's(L800) charger port and got it replaced luckily(L820). Found out I can get everything back via my account. But it would seem that while my phone was gone Angry Birds got a big update, now that I want to download it it fails, and I have to buy the game again it seems :/
  • it didn't work out for me. I bought new 925 last week, I made backup on my old 920 (with GDR3) and after providing my microsoft pass nothing had happen. one big nothing. I had to reinstall everything manually from the list.
  • Gotta love when you hard reset your phone and the backup doesn't restore anything. When you goto purchase history online it wont load past the first page, so you can re-install from a list, which means app re-installer doesn't work either, then spend months talking to support with the same old answer "its a known bug" :(
    Then to rub salt in the wound you finally install manually and notice apps you've bought are no longer listed in the app store.
  • Good but still we need app data to be backed up too.For that we have to wait for wp8.1.
  • I do a backup all the time.
  • Hi, I have bought FIFA 14 and If I Restore My Phone Now What Will Happen to it ........... (FIFA 14 Buying is an in app purchase)
  • i use Line Messenger and it can't save chat.. this backup can backup my chat??
  • i relly want to hard reset my phone so that i can delete my microsoft account...at the same time i want to backup my app and evrything...is there a way to backup to my google account?????