How to Sync iPhone to a Computer

Transfer or back up music, media, contacts, calendar, files, and more

What to Know

  • macOS Catalina or later: Go to Finder > iPhone, choose the content type, select Sync [content type] onto iPhone, and select Apply.
  • iTunes: Select iPhone icon. Select the content type from the sidebar, and then select Sync [content type]. Choose options and follow instructions.

Syncing is an excellent way to back up your iPhone. Although Apple encourages you to use iCloud, it's not the only way to sync songs, playlists, albums, movies, TV shows, audiobooks, books, and podcasts. Learn how to sync your iPhone using a Mac running macOS Catalina or later, as well as any computer with iTunes.

How to Sync an iPhone to a Computer (macOS Catalina and later)

The first step to syncing your iPhone to your computer is to plug the cable that came with the iPhone into a USB port on your computer; plug the other end into the Lightning port on the bottom of the iPhone.

You can also sync over Wi-Fi if you prefer.

  1. Open a Finder window.

  2. Select iPhone or the iOS device you're using from the sidebar.

    sync iPhone to computer select iPhone
  3. Select the type of content you'd like to sync, such as Music or Books.

    You may need to "trust" the computer before continuing. If so, select Trust.

    sync iPhone to computer select content
  4. Select Sync [content type] onto iPhone. You may be asked if you'd like to remove existing content on your device to sync with the computer. Select Remove & Sync to proceed.

    sync iPhone to computer sync content onto iPhone
  5. Repeat for other content types and choose Apply.

Connect an iPhone to a Computer With iTunes

If you're running a PC or macOS Mojave or earlier, the sync process is done via iTunes.

The Summary Screen

Launch iTunes and select the iPhone icon in the upper-left corner of the window to open the Summary screen. This screen offers a basic overview and option information about your iPhone. The information is presented in three sections: iPhone, Backups, and Options.

Sync iPhone to computer, step 1

iPhone Section

The first section of the Summary screen lists your iPhone's total storage capacity, phone number, serial number, and the version of the iOS the phone is running. The first Summary section contains two buttons:

  • Check for Update verifies you have the latest version of the iOS. If not, you can update it here.
  • Restore iPhone lets you return your iPhone to factory settings. This procedure erases your data from the iPhone and is good practice before selling or giving away your phone. Restoring the iPhone is also an advanced troubleshooting option for solving problems with your device.

Backups Section

This section controls your backup preferences.

In the Automatically Back Up section, choose where your iPhone will back up its contents: iCloud or your computer. You can back up to both, but not at the same time.

  • iCloud: Check this box to use iCloud to back up your data.
  • This computer: Check this box to make a full backup of your data on your computer.
  • Encrypt iPhone backup: This option password-protects the backups on your computer. This feature is optional but recommended if you share your computer.

This section contains two buttons: Back Up Now and Restore Backup:

  • Back Up Now: This tool backs up your iPhone to your chosen location immediately.
  • Restore Backup: Use this tool to replace what's on your iPhone with a saved backup.

Options Section

The options section contains a list of configuration settings. The first three are more important to most users than others on the list.

  • Automatically sync when this iPhone is connected: Ensures that iTunes launches and syncs the phone whenever you connect it to the computer. Consider unchecking this if you connect your iPhone to more than one computer.
  • Sync with this iPhone over Wi-Fi: When this item is enabled, and your iPhone is on the same Wi-Fi network as your computer, it syncs automatically—no more cables!
  • Sync only checked songs and videos: Useful if your iTunes library is more extensive than your iPhone's capacity.
  • Prefer standard definition videos: Designed to conserve storage space. This option ensures that, if you have both HD and standard-definition versions of a video, it syncs the smaller, standard-definition version.
  • Convert higher bit rate songs to 128 kbps AAC: Converts songs to the AAC format during syncing. This option helps conserve space if your songs are encoded in other formats or at higher bit rates, which results in larger files.
  • Manually manage music and videos: Disables automated syncing. Instead, you must manually add and remove all content on your iPhone. We don't recommend doing this unless you have a specific reason.
  • Reset Warnings: If you previously dismissed alerts or warnings on your iPhone, see them again by clicking this button.
  • Configure Accessibility: Turns on accessibility options for people with hearing or visual impairments.

At the bottom of the Summary screen is a bar that displays your phone's capacity and how much space each type of data takes on your iPhone. Hover over a section of the bar to see additional information about each category.

If you make changes to the Summary screen, click Apply at the bottom of the screen. Click Sync to update your iPhone based on the new settings.

Want to change the name of your iPhone? You can do that from the Summary screen, too. Find out how in How to Change the Name of Your iPhone.

How to Sync an iPhone to a Computer Using iTunes

Navigate to the content type in question for detailed instructions on how to sync that content between your iPhone and computer.

Sync Music to iPhone Using iTunes

Select the Music tab in the left panel of iTunes. Click Sync Music at the top of the iTunes screen to sync music to your iPhone (If you use iCloud Music Library with Apple Music, this feature will not be available).

Sync iPhone to computer, music
  • Click the button next to Entire Music Library to sync your iTunes music to your iPhone. This procedure only works if your phone's storage is bigger than your library. If it isn't, you'll get some of your music but not all of it.
  • Click the button next to Selected playlists, artists, albums, and genres to specify which music downloads to your iPhone. Sync playlists by checking the boxes in the Playlist section or all music by a given artist by checking the boxes in the Artists section. Sync all music in a particular genre or from a given album by clicking the boxes in the Genres and Albums sections.

Additional options include:

  • Include music videos syncs them to your iPhone if you have any.
  • Include voice memos syncs voice recordings to or from your iPhone.
  • Automatically fill free space with songs fills unused storage on your iPhone with music that you haven't already synced.

Sync Movies to iPhone Using iTunes

On the Movies tab, you control the syncing of movies and videos that aren't TV shows.

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Click the box next to Sync Movies to enable syncing of movies to your iPhone. When you activate this feature, select individual movies in the box that appears below. To sync a given movie, click its checkbox.

  • Automatically Include: Click this option if you want iTunes to sync movies automatically. The menu next to it will allow you to choose your preferences for how many films to sync.
  • Movies: If you don't choose to sync automatically, the Movies section below lists all movies available for syncing. Check the box next to any that you want to move to your iPhone.

Sync TV to iPhone Using iTunes

You can sync entire seasons of TV, or individual episodes, on the TV Shows tab.

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Click the box next to Sync TV Shows to enable syncing of TV shows to your iPhone. When you click it, all other options become available.

  • Automatically include: When checked, you'll automatically sync shows based on the following criteria: unwatched, newest, newest unwatched, and oldest unwatched. Within those groups, choose from all shows or just selected ones.
  • Shows: Lists the shows on your computer, which seasons you have, and how many episodes of each show. If there are new or unwatched episodes, a blue dot appears. Click a title to see a list of all its episodes.
  • Episodes: After you've clicked a show, the show's episodes appear on the right. Check the box next to seasons or episodes you want to sync.

Sync Podcasts to iPhone Using iTunes

Podcasts have the same syncing options as Movies and TV Shows. Click the box next to Sync Podcasts to access the options.

Sync iPhone to computer, podcasts

You can choose to sync none or all of your podcasts, just like with TV shows, as well as those fitting specific criteria. If you wish to sync some podcasts, but not others, select a podcast and then select the episodes you want to sync with your iPhone by clicking the box next to each episode.

Sync Books to iPhone Using iTunes

Use the Books screen to manage how iBooks files and PDFs sync to your iPhone. (You can also save your PDFs to your iPhone.)

Sync iPhone to computer, books

Check the box next to Sync Books to enable the syncing of books from your hard drive to your iPhone. When you check this, two options activate.

  • All books: Automatically sync all books to your iPhone.
  • Selected books: Control which books sync.

Use the drop-down menus under the Books heading to sort files by type (Books and PDF files, Only Books, Only PDF files) and by title, author, and date.

If you choose Selected books, check the box next to each book you want to sync.

Sync Audiobooks to iPhone Using iTunes

After selecting Audiobooks from the menu in the left panel, click the box next to Sync Audiobooks. Select all audiobooks or only ones you specify, just like with regular books.

Sync iPhone to computer, audiobooks

If you're not syncing all audiobooks, check the box next to each book you want to sync to your iPhone. If the audiobook comes in sections, select which you want to transfer.

You can also choose to manage your audiobooks in playlists and sync those playlists in the Include Audiobooks from Playlists section.

Sync Photos to iPhone Using iTunes

The iPhone can sync its photos with your Photos app (on the Mac; on Windows, you can use Windows Photo Gallery) library. Check the box next to Sync Photos to enable this option.

Sync iPhone to computer, photos

Choose which photo library to sync with iPhone in the Copy photos from the drop-down menu. Once you've done that, your syncing options include:

  • All folders: Select this option to sync all photos and photo albums with the iPhone.
  • Selected folders: This option gives you control over the content that syncs. Use the options that appear when selected to indicate which photos you want to sync to your iPhone.
  • Include videos: Check this item to sync videos taken by the iPhone camera to your computer and vice versa.
  • Automatically include photos from: Gives you a drop-down menu where you can select photos from a specific time—last week or one month ago, for example.

Sync Contacts and Calendar to iPhone Using iTunes

The Info tab is where you manage the sync settings for contacts and calendars.

Sync iPhone to computer, info

When you set up your iPhone, if you chose to sync your contacts and calendars with iCloud (recommended), no options are available on this screen. Instead, a message informs you that this data is syncing with iCloud. You can make changes to the settings on your iPhone.

If you choose to sync this information from your computer, you'll need to activate the sections by checking the box next to each heading and then indicating your preferences from the options that appear.

  • Sync Contacts: Choose to sync all contacts or just selected groups of contacts. 
  • Sync Calendars: Sync all the calendars on your computer to the iPhone or just selected ones. You can also choose not to sync events older than 30 days.

Sync Files to iPhone Using iTunes

If you have apps on your iPhone that can sync files back and forth with your computer—such as videos or presentations—you move them on this tab.

Sync iPhone to computer, files

In the Apps column, select the app whose files you want to sync.

In the Documents column, you'll see a list of all available files. To sync a file, single-click it, then click Save to. Select a location to save the file to on your computer.

You can also add files from your computer to the app by selecting the app and then clicking the Add button in the Documents column. Browse your hard drive to find the file you want to sync and choose it.

Have documents in the Notes app? Sync them using iCloud. Find out how in How to Sync Notes From iPhone to Mac Using iCloud.

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