iOS discovered to be saving deleted iMessage attachments

By , Feb 6, 2013

attachments in messages

This is kind of odd. It’s recently been discovered that iOS has been holding on to deleted SMS and iMessage attachments. The software stores all attachments in the Library/SMS/Attachments directory, and when they’re erased from Messages, they’re supposed to be erased there too.

But as many folks have pointed out, that doesn’t seem to be the case. One user in particular, on a quest to determine what the ‘Other’ category listed in his device storage consisted of, found that the directory contained thousands of sub-folders with images he was sure he had deleted…

Here’s his post in a Reddit thread from late December:

“Yet another quest to figure out what the “Other” was on my device (which again had managed to take up more space than anything else on my iPhone), I deleted everything. All apps, music, photos, etc. I cleared Safari’s cache, deleted all text messages, removed all Mail accounts, etc.

When browsing my device with iExplorer, there was nothing on it. When I browsed my Backup, one location stood out: /Library/SMS/Attachments/. (or maybe /private/var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments/ or /var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments/)

It had thousands of sub-folders and contained images that I had both sent and received, going back since my last full wipe/restore. Everything. Stuff I hadn’t seen in months. Stuff I had deleted months ago. I know I deleted the images from chat. Heck, I had long deleted the conversations. Plus, I know I had since deleted all my conversations. So why were these attachments still there?”

Before you go freaking out, iClarified is reporting that Apple may have quietly fixed the glitch in the recent iOS 6.1 update. But still, for folks with devices on older firmwares, this could be considered a significant security risk. Or at the very least, an annoyance due to the extra space it uses.

So what can you do about this? Well, jailbroken users can delete all of their attachments in the directory using either SSH or iFile. Simply navigate to /private/var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments/ on your device and delete the sub folders. Be careful though, this could cause conflicts with other apps.

Obviously, your safest bet is just to do a clean restore to iOS 6.1, since it appears to fix the problem. And that’s a good idea anyway, if you’re not already on it, because it looks like Apple is preparing to release iOS 6.1.1, which will more than likely patch the exploits used in the new evasi0n jailbreak.

Update: for those having trouble testing this out, here is a quick How-To. First, identify a folder with a recent iMessage attachment using a tool like iFunBox, and write down its path. Then go into your Messages app and delete the conversation where the attachment was. And finally, go back into iFunBox and navigate to the path you wrote down. If you’re in iOS 6.1, the folder should be gone.

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  • thecalstanley

    The issue has not been fixed, just tried it with my iMessgage on 6.1

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      Delete the conversation and the attachment will be deleted. I just tried. It works

      • thecalstanley

        Will try it now again, Thanks

  • Mr. E

    Just checked mine. There’s over 100 folders of pics. That’s where my memory was going!!! :/

  • http://twitter.com/gltch486 Matt

    I could’ve told you that. My “Other” block (as well as my messages data) is nearly 10GBs….

  • http://www.facebook.com/liamsagooch Liam Googolplex Merlyn

    I found this folder the other day. Although I’m unsure whether they were deleted or not. This was in iOS6.1

  • http://twitter.com/warrenskipper Warren Skipper

    You mentioned we should update to 6.1 since Apple is seeding 6.1.1. I was waiting to see if evasi0n would be updated with the Weather and long reboot fix before jailbreaking. However, I did noticed the updates in Cydia. Do you think that’s all the evad3rs will do?

    • Jimothy

      I never had any of these problems, so I’m of no help. I think it would be wise to just update and jailbreak.

    • http://twitter.com/nnfdcane Matthew Barry

      The weather has already been fixed. Little longer reboot? Big deal, I wouldn’t risk missing the JB over that

      • http://twitter.com/gltch486 Matt

        I blamed my boot performance on a bloated messages folder and the iPhone 4’s performance being drained running all the extra code. Never bothered me too much.

    • http://twitter.com/Cesuva Matthew

      Both of those have been fixed in the newest release of the evasi0n 6.x untether package this morning.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=539480065 Leslie Kwan

    This issue has been fixed for me on 6.1. iMessage attachments gets saved in that folder, but once the conversations are deleted, the attachments are no longer in the folder.

    • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

      I wonder if it’s “retroactive”. Would deleting a convo with attachments from a month delete those files too?

      • http://www.idownloadblog.com Sebastien

        Replying to my own question… It is retroactive. I just checked and found a photo from a recent conversation. I deleted the convo on my iPhone, went back in iFunBox and the folder/photo was gone.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=539480065 Leslie Kwan

        I also did the same with the same results. It’s good to know that it’s working properly and not acting like some hoarder.

  • http://twitter.com/nnfdcane Matthew Barry

    Worked for me. Deleted now nothing’s there

  • franco4785

    It’s not just with the iOS, it includes Mountain Lion.

    Go to Macintosh HD-> Users->”your home folder”-> Library-> Messages-> Attachments
    Voila, hundreds of pictures that should’ve deleted when you delete the thread in the Messages app.
    Oh, and it has your threads saved to, (Messages->Archive)

    • http://twitter.com/nnfdcane Matthew Barry

      Got a noob question, I know NOTHING about computers. I just got my wife a new Mac air, I set up my side and I get iMessages all day long. How do I disable iMessage?

      • franco4785

        Open the Messages app on your Mac air
        Click Messages on the very very top, next to the apple in the top left corner
        Click Preferences
        Click Accounts in the window that just opened
        You should see it says “Enable this account”, uncheck this.

        Did it work for you?

      • http://twitter.com/nnfdcane Matthew Barry

        Yes! Thank you

      • BoardDWorld

        You’re better to set up the Air with a different ID, this separates the 2 devices notes and messages etc and also allows you to contact your wife on the Air via iMessage or have a FaceTime conversation etc. To do this on your Air you just go to System Preferences (the cogs on the doc) then select Mail, Contacts & Calendars. In there select iCloud from the list on the right then select Create Apple ID.

      • Pui lam henry

        it would be an idiot to switch it off , iMessage is the best invention ever since SMS !

    • boony

      I have 9.9gb of attachment data in the attachments folder in iFile.
      If I JUST delete the attachments through iFile, and not the threads (because I want to keep the actual text conversation data) would something go wrong?
      I am hoping that the attachments would be blank in the messaging threads…
      Anyone have insight to this?

  • http://twitter.com/Amyescence D.

    I just checked out this and tons of old pictures and thumbnails in my attachments folder appeared . I wonder if 6.1.1 will fix this – not that I’m planing to upgrade anytime soon. Thank for the article!

  • http://twitter.com/KnockOnWoodhead Chad Woodhead

    Can we delete each individual folder that contains the photo and thumbnail or do we have to delete every photo and thumbnail individually?

  • Curtis

    damnnn thats why my other was so much !

  • Jerry

    Ok so I have the iphone 5 6.1 I did a clean software restore and icloud back up restore went to the attachment folder and found 6.2gigs of old pictures & videos! my other folder was at 11gb and now down to 5.75gb. So there is obviously still a problem. Glad I know this now. Thank you!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1600159663 Glorin Chiourea

    Just whent to
    /private/var/mobile/Library/SMS/Attachments/ and found just my current attached files… nothing already deleted

  • http://twitter.com/solidsephiroth Sam Irizarry

    Is there any easy way to copy all these folders onto my computer? I have a PC by the way.

  • Jerry

    another question does bitesms have a separate attachment folder or does it access the same folder the stock messages app does.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Cannan/100000630162509 Steven Cannan

    What picture were you trying to delete from Ricky Cody? ;)

    • http://www.facebook.com/stephen.m.simon Stephen Michael Simon

      Ricky Bobby?

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Steven-Cannan/100000630162509 Steven Cannan

        Is there a joke from him I’m missing?

  • AndyDontCare

    I noticed this about 8 months ago with an application I downloaded to extract info from my iPhone backups on my PC. There were messages on there from my first iPhone 3G!

  • http://twitter.com/tciitb TheCatIsInTheBag

    This is kind of how one in each 3 posts begin…

  • Nvrhde

    With a right software you can recover data from a flash drive even after formatting.

  • Aaron Sherman

    I found this out when I was checking my girlfriend phone she would delete messages she had exchanged but the photos stayed…needless to say someone thought I couldn’t read her messages with out accessing her phone…LOL

  • http://twitter.com/_salmanarif Salman Arif

    Just freed up 3.6GB on my phone. Thanks for this!

  • Tiago Duarte

    it still does as it did before. If you go to the search screen and type some words you see some messages you already deleted a long time ago. I Don’t think Apple is doing nothing about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jared-Brunet/615181232 Jared Brunet

    iExplorer appears to be a Windows only program? I’m on the fence about downloading iFunBox. iTunes shows that my iPhone has 4.84GB of “Other” space.

  • http://twitter.com/wolfer_r Wolfer

    Be careful here!!!! Remember you can watch in your phone recovered from an old backup, all wath you have sended or received if you do not deleted too, so if you delete all inthere of attachments, you then can not go back in the messages you had of a contact and watch those attachments if you need to send them as a foward to another contact!!!!! So you better decide before erasing, erase from the phone first, make a note and then check that one only, like it says…if you erase everything withouth checking you will loose everything, the attachments you do not erased too!!!!!! And then you will not have the option to foward that attachment later lets say like a month later if your boss ask for it!!!!

  • Ian

    Thank you so much!!! I cleared 1.6 GB of other! :D

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jared-Brunet/615181232 Jared Brunet

    Question…once we find the images in iExplorer how do we delete them? Or is the only way to delete the images is buy buying a license for the program?

  • Ray V

    I can confirm that deleting your messages will delete the attachments from the mentioned directory. That being said, it didn’t fully delete all of them but the majority. iPhone 5 and iOS 6.1 here.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keith.crawford.125 Keith Crawford

    Ok so I deleted all of my attachments from that folder using ifile..but I still have “other” using about 5 gig of space..has this happened to anybody else?? I really don’t want to do a clean restore if I don’t have to

  • boony

    Wanted to ask you guys, well my “other” is 10.6gb with 9.4gb just in attachments!
    If I go into iFile and JUST delete the attachments, and not the actual SMS threads in the messages app. (I want to preserve all text messages and whatever old attachments there are would be deleted) Would anything bad happen?
    I am hoping that everything would be the same except the attachment texts would be blank..

  • Megavidsnetwork

    I can report that this problem is not fixed

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