Help! I deleted an SMS conversation on my phone and need it back! Can MSB recover it?

Recovering deleted text is a tricky business… MSB will not show deleted messages, but – they are what are known as ‘soft’ deletes.

Soft deletes means that these messages do linger in the database for a variable period of time; the space is marked as ‘available’ and will get overwritten sooner or later depending on your usage and iPhone firmware version. 

If you have accidentally deleted a message or conversation, the first thing to do is STOP USING THE PHONE and put it in ‘Airplane Mode’ so no NEW messages are received, becuase these may overwrite the deleted message(s).

If you synced your device recently BEFORE THE DELETION, most of the messages are likely to be in your backup, so DO NOT SYNC until you succesfully recover that conversation with MSB.

If you have synced AFTER THE DELETION occurred, the conversation you seek will also have been marked as deleted in the backup.

You may be able to recover some of the data following these steps. 

If you synched AFTER the deletion, skip Step 1.

  1. Find iTunes’ backup folder (MSB’s File menu has a Reveal Folder item to display the Backup folder) and make a copy of that Backup folder in a separate location so you have ‘before and after’ copies of the backup.
  2. Register for the PLUS version of MSB: you must have access to the raw SMS database file (as-is, not interpreted by MSB)
  3. Use the ‘Photos & Other Files’ item to navigate to /Library/SMS/sms.db and export the file. Again, the ability to export is only available using the Plus version of MSB.
  4. Open this raw file (sms.db) with a text editor. If those deleted messages are still in there, this would be the way to see if they exist (in whole or in part) and optionally copy the text snippets out; which is admittedly laborious.
  5. If you do see snippets of the conversation you want and this is something mission-critical (say, for legal purposes) and you really need to salvage it with timestamps (dates) and whatnot, you can have the file ‘scraped’ by someone with forensic tools to extract the data (I can do this on a time-available basis). This expertise isn’t free/cheap, so this is why I recommend you poke around on your own first.