Blog Post

Recover Older Versions of iPhone Apps After Updating

Ever since iOS 4 was announced back in April, I’ve seen an increase in the number of software updates for each of my iOS apps. In fact, more than two-thirds have been updated: several of them more than once since April 8. This is usually a good thing, but not always. Occasionally, I accept an update that I’m not too happy with, and would prefer to go back to a prior version.

Accordingly, I discovered a series of techniques to roll back the clock and get an older version of my apps back on my iOS device. It isn’t a foolproof plan, but it’s worked more than once. These techniques do come with some risks; for starters, you may lose all local data associated with the app, or even all data on the device since your last backup.

Delete From Device, Re-Install From iTunes

If you’ve updated an app directly on your device, the solution is easy. In this case, the version of the app in question on the iOS device is more current than the version stored in your Mac’s iTunes library. Before you do anything at all, convince yourself that you no longer need any of the data or files associated with the app that may be located on the device itself. Do not sync if you have Sync All Apps checked. Now simply delete the app and install it again the next time you sync in iTunes.

  1. Always update all apps using the App Store on the device first
  2. Delete the current version of any ‘bad’ apps from the device
  3. Plug in your device
  4. Install the prior version of the ‘bad’ apps via syncing

This method isn’t without its downside. If it’s been a very long time since you synced, you may find that the version of the app in your Mac’s iTunes library is either really old, or not there at all.

Recover Your App From a Time Machine Backup

For this method, you’ll need an iOS 4 device, a Mac running OS X Snow Leopard, the latest iTunes, and Time Machine enabled. Now I think you know where this is going, but there is a little sleight of mouse you need to master in order to pull this trick off. Before you do anything at all, convince yourself not only that you do not need your most current iOS backup in iTunes, but also do not need the most recent back up of your apps’ on-device data.

The assumption here is that the first technique isn’t applicable. First, sync your iOS device with iTunes. Then have Time Machine back up your iTunes library. It should go without saying that if you’ve configured Time Machine to ignore your iTunes Library, this technique won’t work. If you have any other means of backing up your iTunes Library, like saving it to a data CD/DVD, you may want to do that at this time as well.

  1. Delete the App from your device
  2. In iTunes on your Mac, option click on the app and choose Show In Finder
  3. Open Time Machine and navigate to the folder where the app is stored
  4. Go back in time and locate the older version of the file
  5. Restore the older version from Time Machine (NOTE: keep Finder open, displaying the restored file)
  6. Delete the app from your iTunes library on your Mac (NOTE: be sure to move the file to the Trash)
  7. Quit iTunes on your Mac
  8. From Finder, option click on the restored file and select Open With => iTunes (default)
  9. Reinstall the app to your device via an iTunes sync

Note that the name of the file will most likely be different as the version number of the App is also part of the file name. This technique, like the prior technique, is dependent upon frequent syncing to work. Time Machine won’t have a copy if you haven’t added an app to your iTunes library from your device.

What to Do Following the Restoration

Moving forward, in all of the above cases, the annoying reality is that you will be constantly nagged by the App Store on your device, as well as in iTunes to update the app to the most current version. Do not update the software until the developer has had a chance to resolve any issues. Check the developer’s support page and make note of which version of the app was defective. In order for me to go through all of this trouble, the app must be something I use a lot, and something which I feel I can’t live without. In all other situations, a “bad” update is treated as an invitation to shop around for a better app.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: The App Store Police Need More Muscle — Not Less

6 Responses to “Recover Older Versions of iPhone Apps After Updating”

  1. @broor25

    أخر إصدار للواتسب هو2.6.7
    وإذا حاب ترجعه للإصدار السابق فأتبع الشرح من هذا الرابط، وسأقوم بشرحه مستقبلاً.

  2. very nice!
    it worked perfectly with iTunes 10.1.1. I reinstalled an older version of tomtom navigation app. I couldnt install the version 1.61 on my iPhone- it gave me the unknown error 0xE8000004. By ctrl clicking the older version 1.41 from a time machine backup that error was solved.
    You can thereafter update tomtom directly on your iOS device.

  3. i lost my old iphone and at the same time my old hdd on my mac died, so i lost my hundreds of apps that i had paid for and got for free, just wondering if there was a way i could find out my app history or mass download my old apps.


  4. is there a way of choosing not to update an app on the iphone 4? For instance I don’t want to accept the current facebook app update as I am happy with it as is this now, but want to stop seeing it as an update I am meant to apply. Thanks.

    • There may be a way, but you will not like it at all (and I certainly would not recommend it). If you have your iPhone loaded with all of the Apps you care about, go into the general settings on the iPhone and enable restrictions. From restrictions, turn off Installing Apps. Now the next time you sync, the Apps view in iTunes will appear disabled. At this point you can remove the app from your iTunes library on your Mac/PC. Now when you search for App updates it will no longer nag you to update the App you don’t want to update. Unfortunately, you can no longer install Apps from iTunes. Not even updates from any other App. And when you do decide to install Apps from iTunes again, you must restore the older version of the file you removed from the iTunes Library. If you do not restore the file at all, the following sync (when you disable the restriction of installing apps on the iPhone) will remove the App from the iPhone. If you add the latest version of the App to the iTunes Library (by downloading it again), then you will effectively update the App on the iPhone the next time you sync. You have got to really hate the update of the App in question to be willing to endure all of this. And unfortunately, you will still be nagged to update the app from the version of the App Store installed on the iPhone (no way to get out of seeing that nag message).

  5. What about apps which are no longer in the App Store? Luckily I have around 3 of those which all work with 4.2, but I’m confused as to how they still work!?

    • For now at least, there is no requirement that Apps in the App Store must be built using the latest iOS SDK. The App Store still supports Apps build against older versions of the SDK. iOS 4 will still run these Apps, but since they were not built against the latest SDK, they cannot support the new features like multitasking. Currently iOS 4.0.2 is backward compatible and will support the execution of older iPhone SDK 3.1.3 Apps.