Monday, May 31, 2021 [Tweets] [Favorites]

The Difficulty of Accessing Old iMessages

Spencer Dailey (via Hacker News, Reddit):

Many iPhone owners have iMessages from years ago that they can’t access. For example, my wife and I simply want to read the first few messages that we exchanged in 2017, but we can’t.


The cumbersome way Apple lets you (theoretically) access old messages is to “scroll to the top” of your conversation, but it’s extremely time consuming and doesn’t work in practice. Yesterday I tried to scroll to the “top” of my iMessages that were from and to my wife. After just a few minutes, my computer with 16GB of RAM started “beach balling” and the app froze before I could even get to messages from 6 months ago. Meanwhile, my wife tried to access our earliest messages on her iPhone 8 Plus and it was even sadder: after over 45 minutes of scrolling, she got within a year of the conversation’s beginning and then the iMessages app crashed on her.


Every so often, I use Iexplorer (paid version) to export old messages to a PDF file. Then I set imessage to purge messages older than a year, leave it like that for a day or so, then turn it back to keep forever. This Lets me keep an archive and also not have my icloud storage be full of old chats.

If you have them archived as iChat files on a Mac (in ~/Library/Messages/Archive), you could try my Past app:

I built that for even older AIM/Jabber chat logs, but it also seems to work OK for iMessage archives.

@Helge Thanks. My EagleFiler app can handle the iChat/Messages chat transcript files, too. It’s too bad Messages no longer saves those on Big Sur.

I've been using iMazing to back up and view older iMessages. I wouldn't call it "fast," but it's a lot faster than scrolling through messages on an iDevice. I also like to export messages in various formats from time to time. Searching for the text of an old iMessage is much faster in a PDF or text file than on an iDevice.

Sure would be nice if Apple provided a copy URL UI and API for each message — and for each day for that matter. For Apple Notes too for that matter.

I upgraded my main Mac from Catalina to Big Sur (11.4) last weekend using migration assistant. Not sure if it's a bug due to my specific circumstances or intended behaviour. But I found the Archive folder (in ~/Library/Messages/Archive) completely empty after the migration. I managed to make an archive of the files from Time Machine just in case.

I'm aware that the chats.db sqlite database has been the main store for iMessage for long time already. Nevertheless It's strange why Apple devs thought the Archive folder needed to be emptied during the last migration. Maybe they were thinking about the users who bought 128GB storage base models in recent years and wanted to give them back some ssd space?

Patrick Carrington

Since family sends so many photos via Messages, all I'm interested in is capturing these for Archiving and Storing or converting to Lightroom database or whatever. Not sure where to find these in ~/Library/ or wherever. Don't want to have to go through ALL messages and capture them manually.

@Patrick The photos are not all stored as image files in the same folder in ~/Library. iMazing and other utilities can help find and extract them.

Patrick Carrington

I found these two sites for the photos and videos (Attachments) from Messages.

I thought these two locations would yield the exact same attachments (jpegs, etc) but they didn't as they were only about 90% the same in both so I did find some in one that were not in the other.
Answered my own question. Hope this helps. Others might amplify and make this even simpler for us all.

Patrick Carrington

Thank you Michael.
I used 'Find Any File' and set it for 'ending in jpg' or type was image or pdf etc. and extracted them from the two areas I noted above 'Attachments'
I'll try iMazing as well.

Stay up-to-date by subscribing to the Comments RSS Feed for this post.

Leave a Comment