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How to delete old iOS software update files and get back even more hard drive space

I recently posted details on how to recover gigabytes of lost storage back from iTunes by deleting local copies of apps you can download from the App Store if you need to. Lots of you let me know how many dozens of GB you got back, which is great to hear. Now I have some another tip for you if you're looking for more ways to compress your iTunes library.

Delete unnecessary software updates

iTunes has a habit of spawning copies of firmware files for your iOS devices, which is helpful in the moment if you have to do a restore of your device. But once you've updated to the latest revision, having backups of previous firm updates is unnecessary, since the file is useless — Apple's firmware updates are "signed" with the servers to make sure that you can't downgrade your device.

The net result is that you may have gigabytes of wasted space on your hard drive for firmware files you'll never be able to use again. What's more, iTunes doesn't give you a way to manage these files - you have to go plumbing the old fashioned way, from the Finder. To check for these files, and to delete them:

  1. Go to the Finder and hold down the Option key on your keyboard.
  2. Select the Go menu and click on Library. (Library is ordinarily invisible to you from the Go menu unless you hold down the Option key)
  3. Find the iTunes folder.
  4. Look for the following folders: iPad Software Updates, iPhone Software Updates, and iPod Software Updates.
  5. If you find a file with a name that ends in "Restore.ipsw," drag it into the Trash.

It's safe to do this - if you need to restore your iOS device again, iTunes will go out to Apple's servers and download the latest firmware update necessary for your device.

What to do with your iOS device once you've cleaned up iTunes

Deleting apps from your iTunes library is fine, and you can get back sizable amounts of hard disk space that way - but what happens when you reconnect your iOS device to your Mac to back up?

You'll get a message that looks like this:

In short, iTunes is telling you that it's found software on your iPad that it can't reconcile with the contents of your iTunes library.

At this point, unless you have apps that have been pulled from the iTunes Store, it's safe to just click on the Don't Back Up Apps button. That way your Mac won't waste space backing up stuff you can just download again from the App Store if you need to.

Did this help you save any more space from iTunes? Let me know in the comments.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 20 comments. Add yours.

richie11@mindspring.com says:

Wow! You've helped me free up close to 50 gigs! You're my new hero! Thanks so much!

MikeNNN says:

Can I do the same with 335 MB restore file in the AppleTV Software Updates folder?

yashendra2797 says:

Another thing you should let people know is that (at least on windows) when you download updates to apps, the previous version is sent to the recycle bin, and is not deleted. This is seriously irritating if you update apps like Real Racing 3 (1.3 GB+)...
Ps- this is only true if you download apps on your computer via iTunes to transfer to your iDevice.

sangs says:

My question is this - if you delete the apps from iTunes on your computer and something happens that requires a restore of your iPhone, aren't you starting from scratch if you don't have the data from those apps backed up?

I cleared every app from iTunes and recovered a tremendous amount of space (thank you). However, when I synced my iPhone I chose to back up the apps that were currently on it, which put about 80 apps back in iTunes. (Still WAY down from what was there previous to clearing them out.) I figured better safe than sorry to have those apps I actually use backed up in iTunes.

williamsbh76 says:

If the apps in question back their data up to iCloud, your good. By backing apps back up to iTunes from your phone you just took back the space you cleared up. Everyone's situation is different but in my case if I need to restore my iPhone or iPad I just redownload the apps. If your WiFi data is limited, you might have issues with that.

Peter Cohen says:

The data is separate from the apps, so even if you don't back up the apps, the data will be safe.

iCloud backup offers another layer of protection, too. iCloud backup backs up the data on your phone but not the apps. Restoring from an iCloud backup simply causes the device to reinstall fresh copies of the apps, plus the data you've stored, so you can get back to what you were doing right away.

Jonabe says:

Great tip, i got back 8 GB from old iPd Touch backups i didn't own anymore.

93Aero says:

Wow! Again with these great tips thanks so much you have no idea I am a stickler on reclaiming hd space.
I always thought those icon were virtual representations, and when needed clicking on them on the mac would then pull the data/info from the Web.
Thanks so much.

Sent from my iPhone using iMore Forums Mobile App!

williamsbh76 says:

Thanks for the tip, Peter! Got back about 8 GB from this and about 40 GB from the previous tip!

mattack1 says:

Someone should write up a bug at bugreport.apple.com. (I don't have any of them in my itunes folder, or I would.)

gordol says:

That saved me almost 3GB. But I also had to guess as to where to look because I'm using Windows, not Mac. For Windows users, they're in C:\Users\YOUR_NAME\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\iTunes

Becjr says:

I've been using CleanMyMac for a while now and it offers a cleaning feature that deletes the files you were talking about Peter. Now I know where CMM has been deleting those files from.
Thank you. :D

Sent from the iMore App

macyourday says:

While huge amounts of space can be saved by deleting apps, I've actually been saving old versions (from the trash after syncs) as I've been disappointed and/or frustrated by new versions that are worse in some way than the previous version. For example, when they decide to stick ads on pay versions, lost functions or even complete failure to function after "updates". Remember the disastrous Twitter and Faceplant "improvements"? I don't bother keeping all versions or apps, just ones that are important to me. After CCC backups, I then delete stuff I don't need rapid access to on the system drive.
Does anyone know if there's a way to reduce the multi gig backup files in mobilesync?

michaelq says:

Hi @macyourday.

One thing I have been doing that Peter didn't mention is moving the MobileSync backups off the main drive and onto my external drive. Between about 4-5 iOS devices this saved about 35 Gb of backups from my SSD drive which was huge.

Actually it lead me to making backups of my Apps again. One, it's a lot faster to do a recovery if you need too (and I have recently, both with new devices and a bit of a disaster on another).

Plus you never know when a shiny app like Poster is going to get taken off the iTunes store.

I used the method here:

I would post a link - but it gets marked as spam. Search for "move mobilesync backups to external drive" - the site digidna dot net had a great article.

macyourday says:

Thanks Michael. Have you had to use the backups for a restore at any time and if so, I assume it was the option-restore where you locate the backup? I haven't tried that search yet.

michaelq says:

Yep I did do a restore just to check - worked as normal. No need for searching,

Once you run the terminal command, iTunes just treats your external drive as the normal spot for backups.

Share and enjoy.

aravind joshi says:

Nice post and really useful information for ios users

FknPrecious says:

Hi, i want to know if i have to delete some stuff like pictures or videos before an update to the latest version on my iPhone?