Apple – I know too much about iPad recovery after iOS 8

So I now know too much about how to recover old files from iPad backups. I know this isn’t exactly my bread and butter, but I found the process fascinating, and thought it was worth documenting the process here. It all started when I upgraded my wife’s iPad 2 to iOS 8. Bad idea. Basically, it ran like rubbish and was pretty close to unusable. So I rolled it back, using the instructions here. Ok, so that’s cool, but it turns out I can’t restore the data from a backup because that was made with iOS 8 and wasn’t compatible with iOS 7.1.2. Okay, fine, it was probably time to clear out some apps, and all of the photos were saved on the desktop, so no big deal. Fast forward a few days, and we realise that all of her notes were on that device. Now for the fun bit. Note that I’m using a Mac. No idea what you need to do on a Windows machine, but I imagine it’s not too dissimilar.

Step 1. Recover the iPad backup from before the iOS upgrade using Time Machine. Note that you’ll need to be able to see hidden files in Finder, as the backup is stored under HOME/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup and Time Machine uses Finder’s settings for file visibility. I used these instructions. Basically, fire up a terminal and type:

$ defaults write AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
$ killall Finder

You’ll then see the files you need with Time Machine. When you’re finished, type:

$ defaults write AppleShowAllFiles FALSE
$ killall Finder

Step 2. Now you can browse to HOME/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup and recover your backup files. If you have more than one iDevice backed up, you might need to dig a bit through the files to recover the correct files. I used these instructions to locate the correct backup files. You’ll want to look for a file called “Info.plist”. In that file, you’ll see something like

<key>Device Name</key>
<string>My iPhone</string>

And from there you can restore the correct files. It will look something like this when recovered:


Step 3. Now you’ll want to go to the normal location of your iPad backups and rename your current backup to something else. Then copy the files that you recovered from Time Machine to this location.


Step 4. At this point, I followed these quite excellent instructions from Chris Taylor and used the pretty neat iPhone Backup Extractor to extract the files I needed. Once you’ve extracted the files, you’ll have something like this. Note the path of the files is iOS Files/Library/Notes.


Step 5. At this point, fire up MesaSQLite and open up the “notes.sqlite” file as per the instructions on Chris’s post. Fantastic, I’ve got access to the text from the notes. Except they have a bunch of html tags in them and are generally unformatted. Well, I’m pretty lazy, so I used the tool at Web 2.0 Generators to decode the html to formatted text for insertion into files. And that’s it.

Conclusion. As it happens, I’ve now set this iPad up with iCloud synchronisation. *Theoretically* I won’t need to do this again. Nor should I have had to do it in the first place. But I’ve never come across an update that was quite so ugly on particular iDevices. Thanks to Apple for the learning opportunity.