What do they mean? If I sync my iPhone will anything change on it? Does my iPhone have to have the same data as my iTunes account? (Because it doesn't - by design.) If I get a new iPhone when the iPhone 5 comes out, will I be able to copy everything from my Mac to the iPhone via sync (or backup)?

Is there an Apple webpage with the definitive word on this?

Thanks, No One in Particular

3 Answers 3


Backup means copying your personal data from your phone to your computer. That includes application settings, text messages, voicemails, etc.

Sync means copying new apps, music, video, or books from iTunes to your phone, or from your phone to iTunes.

You can think of it this way: backup saves a copy of stuff you've created, and sync copies media you have downloaded via the iTunes Store.

Backup copies everything, but Sync only copies what you choose through iTunes. By default, it copies everything, but you can fine tune it all you want. You might want to stop movies from syncing to your phone if you never use it to watch movies, for example.

Unless you've changed the settings, when you connect your iPhone to your computer, iTunes always performs a backup first, then a sync.

When you connect a new iPhone to your computer, iTunes will offer to reconfigure it using the latest backup it has. So if you connect your old iPhone, let it backup/sync, then connect your new iPhone, it should transfer everything so that your new phone is just like your old one, but faster!

  • @bendazo - thanks for the info. Will sync-ing ever wipe anything from your iPhone? Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 0:46
  • In general it won't; if your settings are to sync the latest three episodes of a podcast, it might remove an earlier one that you've already watched, but even in that case it will still be on your computer. iTunes is usually pretty good about warning you before it outright deletes anything, and gives you a chance to cancel.
    – benzado
    Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 0:49
  • 1
    @no It is possible that syncing will 'lose data' but only it you let it. As per the syncing article in my answer: The first time you sync the Info tab with your iOS device, you are asked if you want to merge data, replace data on the service, or replace the data on your computer from the following applications: Address Book, Outlook Commented Aug 1, 2011 at 0:52
  • I'd say "sync" means synchronising any content, which sure is apps, music etc, but also photos taken with the iDevice camera; it's not just about what came from iTunes Store.
    – Jonny
    Commented Aug 16, 2014 at 0:53

Syncing your iOS device to iTunes

Syncing your iOS device with iTunes allows you to copy information(more detailed list below) to your iOS device from you computer and vice versa. Here is an Apple support article on backing up your iOS device which provides more details.


As per the article you can sync the following

  • Applications
  • Audio content—music, podcasts, audiobooks, and iTunes U content
  • Bookmarks
  • Books
  • Contacts
  • Calendars
  • Movies and TV shows
  • Photos
  • Notes
  • Documents (File Sharing apps only)
  • Ringtones

Backing up and Restoring your iOS device

When you connect your iOS device to your computer it will perform a backup before it will continue to sync automatically. A backup saves all the information on your iOS device to your computer so that if you get a new iOS device or in your case an iPhone 5 your computer will ask you if you would like to perform a restore which will copy all of your settings from your old device to your new device. And here is another Apple support article about syncing your iOS device.



1 - Sync

Copies new data from your iPhone (or other device) to iTunes and removes deleted data. Also does the same backwards from iTunes to your device.

So to answer your question, yes things might change here and there, but only to make the devices "match" each other in the end.

Note that SYNC also does BACKUP as one of its steps!

You should sync if you downloaded new media, apps, or updates.

2 - Backup

Simply creates a "snapshot" of your device. Can be used to "roll back" your device to this state if it acts wacky one day.

Of course you should do this only when your device is feeling awesome and shiny (or before you give it to your 2-year old niece to mess up all the apps in it).

3 - Restore

Restores your device to the state when it was feeling awesome and shiny.

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