Guide to Keeping iOS Projects Backed Up

Keeping your work secure and backed up is one of the most important things you can do, as a writer, second to the writing itself.

On a Mac or PC, backups are often simple to manage, thanks to advanced technology such as Time Machine, external disks and automated online upload to dedicated services. On iOS however, the problem is complicated by the fractured nature of its apps. You cannot, for instance, download an app that keeps all of your work on the device safe, because nothing is allowed to provide services to other apps' data in that fashion. You must take certain steps to keep your work safe, yourself, in each program that you use.

Fortunately you have several good options, some easy enough to make a part of your daily routine. A combination of these techniques will likely be the best choice, but any one of them will greatly increase the safety of your work.

Using a Mac or PC

Device Backups

Apple provides two methods for keeping your device backed up. Depending upon the level of security you are interested in, you can, in order of decreasing security:

  • Choose to keep encrypted backups stored locally on your Mac or PC, transferred purely by direct USB connection.
  • Enable WiFi backup for greater convenience.
  • Remove encryption for added accessibility (if you lose your password with encryption, your backups are forever lost).
  • Use iCloud backups, which stores your private data on the Internet.

Device backups provide an initial degree of protection, and are simple to routinely run. What is important to realise about them is that they are more like full-system snapshots than a traditional backup (where you can choose only bits and pieces to restore back to the system). A device backup, when used, will restore the entire device to its previous condition, not just your Scrivener projects. It is ideal for cases where the device is lost or stolen, for instance, but not so much to recover some text that was accidentally deleted week ago that you only just now discovered.

Device backups are crucial to maintain (particularly before upgrading the OS itself), but should rarely be your only source of backups.

Using File Access

On both Mac and PC, when your device is plugged in, or if you have the WiFi sync option enabled for it, you will be able to access the device's storage, and copy files to and from it directly. Which procedure to use depends on your OS version:

  • Use iTunes on Windows, and any version of macOS older than 10.15.
  • Use Finder on macOS 10.15 or greater.
  • Additionally, you may use third-party software manage your devices files, which can offer considerable advantages to the basic tools Apple provides.

After following the relevant instructions up to the point where you can find Scrivener's folder in the file management area:

  1. In Scrivener's file list, you will find all of your projects, as well as various settings files, and installed fonts.
  2. Drag any or all of the files you wish to backup, out of this list and into a folder on your computer. A good approach might be to create a dated folder for every time you do this.

In general you will never want to open these files directly. If you ever need to make use of them, you should create a copy somewhere else on your computer. Dragging one or more projects back into Scrivener's file storage on your iOS device will also create a copy, and restore the project to that point in time if you replace the copy already there. Use different names if you just want to make the older backups available for reference.

File access is a great way to protect your work done in Scrivener, in a fashion that is easily accessible should anything go wrong. The downside to the method is that it requires you to do this yourself manually. Apple provides no mechanism for automatically keeping your data backed up separately.

iOS-Only Methods

So far we have covered backup methods that require the use of a computer to connect with the device. In most cases this is fine, and having your data copied to the computer will mean it benefits from the considerable redundancy and security afforded to full computers. But if you primarily use iOS, intend to go on an extended trip without a laptop, or even do not own a computer at all, you're going to need a way to backup from the device itself.

Backing Up Individual Projects

This method will be of most use when you've been working in one project and wish to create periodic backups, as you do not even have to leave the software to do it:

  1. On the device, from Scrivener's main project screen, tap the Edit button.
  2. Select the project you wish to back up.
  3. Tap the Share icon at the bottom of the project list.

At this point a number of services are available to you, depending upon what you have installed on your device. At a basic level you'll be able to save your backup to the built-in Files tool. Other programs may also provide local storage, or even online storage if you prefer to have a copy uploaded somewhere safe. The project will be saved using Zip compression, meaning it will be conveniently packed into one single file. It will be broadly portable, and capable of attachment to most every service, including email.

It does mean you'll need to unzip the backup in order to restore it, in the future. We'll go into that, along with the second method of local backups, next.

Using Files.app for Backups

With iOS 12, Apple greatly increased the utility of their "Files.app" manager, adding two crucial ingredients: (a) the ability to create your own folders and organise files within them (b) the ability to zip and unzip compressed files. They also made it possible to load Files.app into two side-by-side splits, on an iPad, which makes backing things up more convenient.

Ultimately, backing up from your device in this fashion will be similar to using a Mac or PC. The storage area of Scrivener will be listed in Files, and you can interact with your projects directly, adding new ones to Scrivener from other storage areas, as well copying others out, as backups:

  1. Tap on the Files.app icon.
  2. Browse "On My iPad", where you will find Scrivener listed.
  3. Within this folder you will find your projects.
  4. Tap the Select button, and tick any of the projects you wish to back up.
  5. In the footer bar, select the "Copy" option (you may find it is hidden in a "More" menu).
  6. Browse to where you would like to save the backup (if you do not have a handy folder for this already, you can create one by tapping and holding in any blank area of the folder listing for "On My iPad", and select "New Folder".
  7. Tap and hold in any blank area within the folder, and select the "Paste" option.

    As noted, with an iPad you can also split the screen, where you may find drag and drop easier than copy and paste.

If you intend to use an online service, such as iCloud, Dropbox or Tresorit, then you can also save backups directly to them via Files.

Warning: depending on the service, and the quality of its Files plugin, you may find it easier (or even necessary) to use their native app instead, or to zip compress your backups before copying. Some services will struggle to upload the many files that comprise Scrivener projects, and some may only copy the master folder all by itself, empty of anything that makes it a Scrivener project. Always check the size of your project after copying, and make sure it matches the original.

To compress your projects:

  1. Tap the Select button, and tick any projects you wish to back up.
  2. In the footer bar, select the "Compress" option (you may find it is hidden in a "More" menu).

    Important: if you compress all of your projects at once, it will create one large .zip file. If you find this file is too large to be practical, it may be a better idea to compress the projects one by one.

The rest can be done as previously described, though you would want to use the "Move" function instead of copy and paste, as the .zip files will be of no use to Scrivener itself.

Restoring Projects

In most cases, your backups will be compressed into a .zip file, meaning you will need to decompress them before dragging the replacement into Scrivener's storage area. This is very easily done with Files.app, by simply tapping on the compressed project. A few moments later, the project will appear alongside the .zip, with the special Scrivener icon. It is now ready to be copied or moved into Scrivener's storage area.

After doing so, when you return to Scrivener, you may need to refresh its project list:

  1. From the main project management screen, tap the Edit button.
  2. In the footer bar, tap the Gear icon, and select, "Update from iTunes".

The Conspicuously Absent Option

You might be wondering at this point why we haven't covered Dropbox, as a potential form of iOS-only backup. The main reason for this is that any form of synchronisation makes for a very poor backup system, chiefly because it's whole premise is to update your device as seamlessly as your device updates the server. This means errors anywhere in the system will propagate immediately to all connected devices. If you accidentally delete a chapter and sync, then every copy of that project on every account you use will also delete that chapter. Technological faults may make for even more catastrophic scenarios.

In short, sync is one of the things we protect ourselves from with backups. Using sync as your backup is risky, and subjects your projects to unnecessary complexity, particularly if that is the only reason you are using the technology.

That all said, using one of the above techniques to store a zipped copy of your project on Dropbox is perfect safe to do!