How to restore an iPhone or iPad with Recovery Mode

When you experience problems with an iOS device, you may need to restore it in iTunes, but sometimes, things can go wrong that make it harder to restore your device in a regular fashion as you’d expect.

In this tutorial, we’ll be walking you through how to put your iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad into Recovery Mode so that you can more easily restore it to a fresh copy of the latest iOS firmware in the unlikely chance of an iOS or iTunes malfunction.

When you might need to use Recovery Mode

Those of you who have been jailbreaking your iOS devices for years are probably familiar with a similar restore function in iTunes known as DFU Mode, although because downgrades are no longer possible with the latest iOS devices, DFU Mode now has far fewer uses. It can still be used to restore a panicky device, but because you can’t downgrade Apple’s latest devices, you might as well use Recovery Mode instead until a new way to downgrade iOS firmware is discovered.

Recovery Mode is an option you may need to use if you experience any of the following problems:

  • iOS device sits on an Apple logo and doesn’t boot back up
  • iTunes can’t recognize an iOS device you’ve plugged into a Mac or PC
  • iTunes is throwing restore errors when you attempt to restore an iOS device
  • You are mid-restore and the progress bar doesn’t move for a long period of time
  • You see a ‘Connect to iTunes’ screen on your iOS device

Recovery Mode prepares your iOS device for a proper firmware restore to factory settings, and because of Apple’s security standards, it also updates your firmware to the latest version, which is why jailbreakers should stay far away from using this mode whenever possible. This will erase your content and settings, so hopefully you had a back-up of your device to restore from before you had to go as far as to enter Recovery Mode.

In events where simply plugging your iOS device into iTunes and clicking the Restore button doesn’t work, Recovery Mode may imbue you with a little bit more luck. With that in mind, let’s begin taking you through the steps to get your iOS device into recovery mode.

Putting your iPhone or iPad in Recovery Mode

The steps to get your iOS device into Recovery Mode are simple. We’ll walk you through them below:

1) Launch iTunes on the computer you wish to complete the restore process on. It can be your personal computer, a friend’s computer, or a public computer.

2) Connect your iOS device with its 30-pin or Lightning USB cable to the computer you are using for the restore.

3) Proceed with a force-restart of your iPhone. On iPhone 7 and below, you can do that by pressing and holding the Home button and power button until you see the connect to iTunes screen.

On an iPhone X, iPhone 8, or iPhone 8 Plus, press and quickly release the Volume Up button. Press and quickly release the Volume Down button. Then, press and hold the Side button until you see the connect to iTunes screen.

4) After a little while longer, your iPhone should show a ‘Connect to iTunes’ screen like this one. At this time, you can let go of the buttons.

iPhone in Recovery Mode

Congratulations, you’re now in Recovery Mode! If your iOS device’s condition was severe enough, you might even see a message like this one from iTunes, saying that your device needed to be restored because it suffered from a problem:

iTunes message - restore iphone in Recovery Mode

You should always try the Update feature first, because this option will preserve your device’s settings and keep all your files and app data as they are on the device. The only time you should click Restore is if using the Update function was unsuccessful or you just feel like restoring to a new copy of iOS.

After the restore completes, you should be able to restore from any backups you may have previously created, which will let you get some of your data back onto your device.

Other things to consider

In some cases, your device may be too damaged to use Recovery Mode for a restore. For instance, a recent issue with an iOS update actually bricked users devices if they had third-party Home buttons installed on them as replacements. Although rare, Recovery Mode will do you no good in these scenarios and you’ll have to go directly to an Apple Retail Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider to get your device up and running again.

Another thing to consider is that if the device isn’t yours, either because it belongs to a friend who lent it to you to fix or use, or you ended up stealing it (which we’d never recommend you do), the device may be locked down with Activation Lock. This means you won’t be able to restore the device with Recovery Mode without knowing the device’s passcode. So, always have the true owner in your presence if you’ll be using Recovery Mode, or you’ll hit a brick wall.

Wrapping up

Recovery Mode can be a useful tool you can use in a pinch to get your device up and running in the event of a software malfunction via iOS or iTunes. It’s just about the last thing you can do in your power before having to head straight to Apple for support.

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Have you ever needed to use Recovery Mode on an iOS device before? Share in the comments below!