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How to sync your iMessage history and attachments to a new Mac

Apple's Messages is a great app for communicating with pretty much everyone, since it handles both iMessages between Apple devices and even SMS text messages for non-iPhone users. However, since its inception, there have been many syncing issues that marred the reputation of Messages, such as erased threads only disappearing from one device, conversations showing up out-of-order, and more.

Apple added Messages in iCloud in iOS 11.4 and macOS 10.13.4 last year, and it is a big improvement on keeping all of your Messages activity (yes, including text messages) in sync across multiple devices. Here's how to set it up!

How to turn on Messages in iCloud

  1. Make sure that you are logged in to the same Apple ID across all of the devices that you want to access your Messages in iCloud on.
  2. On your iPhone, launch Settings.
  3. Tap on your iCloud and Apple ID settings (your name and image at the top).
  4. Select iCloud.

  1. Toggle Messages to ON (green).

Once this is done, ensure that your iPhone is connected to a Wi-Fi network so that your entire Messages history can be uploaded for the initial sync. Apple doesn't want to drain your battery or cellular data plan doing this, so that's why you must be on Wi-Fi for the first sync.

After the syncing process (time depends on how much history you have, and larger files may need more time), that's it! All of your Messages history from your iPhone is saved in iCloud with tight end-to-end encryption, and can be accessed on any other device with your Apple ID as long as it's running iOS 11.4 or later.

But to get this working on your Mac, you'll need to do the following:

  1. First, check and make sure that you're logged in to the correct Apple ID as your phone, otherwise, you'll find nothing.
  2. Launch Messages on your Mac.
  3. Open the Preferences for Messages (⌘ and , or just click Messages and select Preferences on the menu bar).
  4. Go to the iMessage tab in the preferences settings.
  5. Check off the box for Enable Messages in iCloud.

  1. Your message history should synchronize after that box is checked. If not, click on the Sync Now button to force a sync.

Again, depending on your Message history, it may take a while for everything to download onto your Mac. Naturally, you'll want to be on a good, stable Wi-Fi connection when doing this, just to make sure there are no hiccups in the process.

After the initial syncing, from this point forward, everything should theoretically remain in sync with each other. This means when you get messages and reply, they should show up on all linked devices in the correct order, including images, videos, and other files. Anything you delete from one device should be deleted from the rest as well.

How exactly does Messages in iCloud work?

it's pretty easy, but here's how Messages in iCloud works:

  • All of your messages, whether they're iMessage or SMS, are stored in iCloud using your Apple ID or iCloud account.
  • Apple has end-to-end encryption on all of your messages while it's stored in iCloud, so your data is safe and secure as they get uploaded and downloaded on each device to keep everything synchronized.
  • Photos, video, older messages, and other file attachments are stored in iCloud, so local storage on your device is spared.
  • For users who backup their devices with iCloud, this means smaller backups, as Messages are no longer included in the backup due to the implementation of Messages in iCloud.
  • When you get a new iPhone, iPad, or Mac, just enable Messages in iCloud on it with your Apple ID, and you'll get all of your Message history on it, rather than just new messages.

What to do if Messages in iCloud isn't working for you

Of course, even with Apple's tagline of "it just works," sometimes it really doesn't. Here's what to you should try if you're encountering some issues:

  1. Give it time! Again, if you have a lot of Messages history, it will take time to upload and download all of that on other devices. Just be patient, and if it's not running smoothly after a while, then you can try these other steps.
  2. Try cutting down on the number of files. To do this, navigate over to iPhone Settings, then General, select iPhone Storage, and then scroll down a bit to find Messages. Choose the type of media you want to get rid of, tap on Edit to pick files, and then delete them.
  3. This may sound dumb, but make sure that you are logged in to the correct Apple ID on all of your devices. Some of us have more than one, so it's always a good idea to double check!
  4. Try rebooting the devices involved. If that doesn't work, try turning Messages in iCloud off and back on again.
  5. Check your Wi-Fi or cellular connections. Nothing can upload or download if the data connection is having issues. You can try toggling the Wi-Fi off and back on, or disconnect it completely and reconnect.

  1. If none of those worked, then you may want to Reset Network Settings. On your iPhone, go to Settings, then General, scroll down to the bottom for Reset, and then choose Reset Network Settings. This wipes your saved Wi-Fi networks and passwords, and these settings go back to factory default. So you'll need to enter those Wi-Fi passwords all over again, but all of your other data remains where it is.

Alternatives to Messages in iCloud

Even though Apple is fairly good about protecting the privacy of their customers, it's understandable that some people may not feel comfortable with all of their Messages history being stored up in "the cloud." Fortunately, there is a way to view and manually move your iMessage history and attachments over to a new Mac.

How to find your iMessage archive

  1. On your Mac, go to Messages and then open the Preferences.
  2. Under General, make sure that you check off the box for "Save history when conversations are closed.
  3. Launch your Finder, click on Go in the menu bar, and click on Go to folder.

  1. Type in ** /Library/Messages**.
  2. There may be three things you see in the folder: Archive, Attachments, and a file named "chat.db".

Archive contains all of your past messages that you have already closed or saved. Attachments is fairly self-explanatory, but it contains photos and videos you've sent and received. The chat.db file contains history of all currently active conversations.

How to transfer your Message history to a new Mac

  1. Turn on both your old and new Macs.
  2. Open an Airdrop window on both Macs. Or you could also use File Sharing.
  3. Open up the ** /Library/Messages** folder (using the above method) on both the old and new Mac.
  4. Drag that folder on your old Mac over to Airdrop.

  1. On your new Mac, if you've been using Messages, make a copy of the folder and move it to the Desktop. Delete the original data from the folder of the new Mac.
  2. Drag the Messages folder that you copied from the old Mac over to the now-empty Messages folder of your new Mac.
  3. Restart the new Mac.

If you need a more in-depth dive into this process, make sure to check out our original how-to guide on viewing and moving your iMessage data to a new Mac.

Any questions?

Apple's Messages in iCloud has made life so much simpler, but nothing is ever perfect. And if you aren't sure about storing sensitive data like your entire Messages history in the cloud, then there are still alternatives.

Have any questions regarding Messages in iCloud? Leave them here and we'll do our best to answer them!

Christine Chan
Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently the iMore lead on all things iPhone, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.

When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.

  • The syncing was not working, so per your advice, on my iMac (High Sierra)
    I tried toggling Messages in iCloud off and on.
    Clicked it off, now cannot turn it back on -- the option is greyed out.
    Suggestions ?
  • I imagine you already do, but make sure you have a reasonable amount of space left in iCloud. I can't remember if Messages in iCloud counts towards the storage, but best to do it just in case. Secondly, wait around 10 minutes and then check it again, I think when you toggle the option a lot of things happen behind the scenes, which greys out the option until it's finished.