What methods are available to back up data (both system and application) from a phone which is not rooted and is running stock Android 2.3.4 Gingerbread?

  • It is my understanding that it is impossible to retrieve application data (not stored on the SD card) on an unrooted phone, except where the application itself offers export. Is this accurate?

  • Of the system settings and built-in applications, which ones have export facilities I can take advantage of? Which ones notably have no export and have significant amounts of data which I might want to manually transcribe out?

I am already using Missing Sync for Android which takes care of the contacts, calendar, photos, call log, and SMS messages. My phone is a Nexus One.

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  • @eldarerathis: Missed that one in my search, but yes. I'm asking here about what you can do, including (standard-)application-specific mechanisms, rather than the impossible full backup.
    – Kevin Reid
    Aug 15, 2011 at 1:39
  • If you are talking about the application data, it is a security design that other apps can not read this data unless the have super user permissions (root). Everything else can be backed up. Aug 16, 2011 at 19:00
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    @Seth Hikari: There is one exception: In case the app uses the sharedUserId attribute other apps from the same author can access the private files as well...
    – Robert
    Aug 17, 2011 at 18:07
  • By using cat trick to copy /data/data... the one snag is this - in a unrooted handset, ls will throw up a opendir permission failure... having said that, you can inspect what apps are installed by using pm, and then deduce the /data/data/.... directories which are - if not all, guaranteed to have databases, shared_prefs, libraries, for example, package my.app.foo, there will be /data/data/my.app.foo...
    – t0mm13b
    Aug 14, 2012 at 15:53

5 Answers 5


If a phone is not rooted that means that apps are securely sandboxed. There is no way that one app can access the data held by another app. In the underlying linux filesystem they are actually represented as different users, and do not have permission to access each others' files.

The only things that can backup the files are a) the system itself and b) the app can backup it's own files.

In Froyo (2.2) Google introduced cloud backup, which many app developers have integrated into their apps. This means than some apps will just automatically restore their data as soon as you sign into a new phone with your Google account. However, this will only work for those apps that have implemented this functionality.

You should find that all of the system apps now have full backup, or cloud sync, from Froyo onwards.

From my recent experience upgrading to a Galaxy Nexus - Cloud Sync: GMail, Calendar, Contacts; Cloud Backup: All system settings (I was surprised by some), Email settings. Not backed up: Browser bookmarks (though these are synced in ICS).

There is not default system functionality in Vanilla android that will backup all of your apps, and I'm not aware of any operator/manufacturer customisations which have implemented a system-level backup.

One thing that you can do is to install a new recovery, such as ClockworkMod. This does not require your phone to be 'rooted', however, it does need you to have an unlocked bootloader, which I suspect is what you are trying to avoid, as it is typically reflashing the bootloader where 'bricking' occurs.

You may be able to manually pull all of the files from the /data partition, using adb. You can browse them using 'adb shell', and pull them individually using 'adb pull', but you would need root to be able to restore them. This also requires a certain amount of technical understanding. edit: actually after further testing, even this requires root access.

The suggested MyBackupPro below will not backup all of your apps - only those with exposed contentResolvers (ie SMS, calendar, contacts etc). Those things are automatically backed up in Gingerbread anyway. (I can't comment or vote down)

  • Excellent answer. Can I get some confirmation from experience that all of the built-in apps (including system settings) actually do backup?
    – Kevin Reid
    Nov 28, 2011 at 23:44

Helium (previously known as Carbon) can backup apps even on non-rooted phones. For this, it requires connecting the phone to a PC via USB and running an adb command which will start some kind of proxy service that will allow Helium to backup your apps. Internally, it seems to run adb backup through that proxy service.

  • Does this actually work for Android 2.3 as requested? The Google Play page for Helium says that it requires Android 4.0.
    – jamesdlin
    Jan 31, 2015 at 21:46
  • @jamesdlin: Oops, I completely missed that! Now that explains why Helium did not work when I tried on a 2.x device. :) Feb 1, 2015 at 11:30

i understand that by loading airdroid onto an unrooted device that you can then connect via its web server from your desktop and backup all the files from the device. Presumably you can reverse the process to restore.

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    Android doesn't have a web server and you certainly can't back up everything just like that. Nov 29, 2011 at 17:33
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    @MatthewRead AirDroid includes a web server (which prof is referring to), and it allows you to backup your *.apk files to your PC. As it includes a file browser, you can copy files to the PC as well. Though I wouldn't call that a backup, either -- at best a partly file backup.
    – Izzy
    Aug 25, 2012 at 17:20

You can actually use MyBackup Pro -- works wonders on unrooted phones!

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    While it does work on unrooted phones, it only backs up a limited set of data - those things that are exposed by contentproviders. This includes Contacts, Calendar, Photos, Call log, and SMS messages - the items that the OP states are already dealt with by Missing Sync.
    – Martin
    Nov 29, 2011 at 8:20

ASTRO File Manager is great to backup apps as well as many other features that make it an overall great app itself. I have used to for backup when I have needed to wipe my phone and start again.

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    Can you explain exactly how it backs up anything of interest, given the file protections, and whether it does more than any other file manager? Stuff on the SD card is obviously copiable and not part of my question.
    – Kevin Reid
    Nov 28, 2011 at 23:29
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    Astro file manager will not backup application data on an unrooted phone.
    – Martin
    Nov 29, 2011 at 8:18

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