iPhone text Messages Remain Long After “REMOVING”

Posted on December 06, 2010

[Original Post]
The other day I installed MobileFinder.app, a third-party, native iPhone application that allows browsing of the iPhone’s file system. While I was poking around the iPhone file system today I noticed a file called sms.db under the ~/Library/SMS directory. I opened the file in MobileTextEdit.app and saw that it was a SQLLite database file; no surprise there.

But what did surprise me was that every text message I had ever sent or received since I bought my iPhone on June 26 was stored in sms.db, despite the fact that I “deleted” these text messages via the iPhone SMS app user interface long ago.

It seems the iPhone SMS delete function is a soft delete. Perhaps Apple should implement a hard delete function similar to the Safari “Clear History” function, which incidentally now has me questioning whether “Clear History/Cache/Cookies” really deletes them.

I figured I’d post this as a follow-up to my previous post a few years back mainly because I regularly get questioned on the topic of how to retrieve deleted text messages. Furthermore, I wanted to post a method which didn’t require JailBreaking a phone or that was overly technical. So here you go, a pretty straighforward method for accessing text messages from your iPhone which may have been deleted but might still be available in the iPhone’s SMS database.

ASSUMPTIONS: I assume you are running Windows of some flavor and have synched/backed up your iPhone using iTunes on said machine.

1. Download and install TextPad
2. Open TextPad.
3. Select Search > Find in Files…
4. Complete the “Find in Files” dialog as you see in the following screenshot. Make sure you’ve checked the Search subfolders checkbox or else this won’t work. Note: this was taken from a Windows 7 machine. The path value for the “In Folder” field should be the same for Windows Vista (of course, your username will appear instead of “mike” in the path. For pre-Windows Vista your path will be under c:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\

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If you want to try retrieving deleted text messages from your iPhone check out the free Windows utility I wrote here.


[Original Post]
The other day I installed MobileFinder.app, a third-party, native iPhone application that allows browsing of the iPhone’s file system. While I was poking around the iPhone file system today I noticed a file called sms.db under the ~/Library/SMS directory. I opened the file in MobileTextEdit.app and saw that it was a SQLLite database file; no surprise there.

But what did surprise me was that every text message I had ever sent or received since I bought my iPhone on June 26 was stored in sms.db, despite the fact that I “deleted” these text messages via the iPhone SMS app user interface long ago.

It seems the iPhone SMS delete function is a soft delete. Perhaps Apple should implement a hard delete function similar to the Safari “Clear History” function, which incidentally now has me questioning whether “Clear History/Cache/Cookies” really deletes them.


I figured I’d post this as a follow-up to my previous post a few years back mainly because I regularly get questioned on the topic of how to retrieve deleted text messages. Furthermore, I wanted to post a method which didn’t require JailBreaking a phone or that was overly technical. So here you go, a pretty straighforward method for accessing text messages from your iPhone which may have been deleted but might still be available in the iPhone’s SMS database.

ASSUMPTIONS: I assume you are running Windows of some flavor and have synched/backed up your iPhone using iTunes on said machine.

1. Download and install TextPad
2. Open TextPad.
3. Select Search > Find in Files…
4. Complete the “Find in Files” dialog as you see in the following screenshot. Make sure you’ve checked the Search subfolders checkbox or else this won’t work. Note: this was taken from a Windows 7 machine. The path value for the “In Folder” field should be the same for Windows Vista (of course, your username will appear instead of “mike” in the path. For pre-Windows Vista your path will be under c:\Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Apple Computer\MobileSync\Backup\
capture

5. Click Find.
6. In the TextPad search results pane you should see at least one search result found (even though multiple results may have been returned, they all will point to the same SMS DB file per backup folder). Below is a screenshot of what might appear (your filename will likely be different):

7. Double-click on one of the search results and the SQLite file will open in the upper pane. Much of it will look like garbage, but there’s alot of human readable info in the file, particularly your text messages. Enjoy