Kit Guide: Why won't my iPhone sync with iTunes?

There are a lot of reasons why you might have trouble getting your iPhone to talk to iTunes, and it can be very frustrating when it happens. In this guide, we'll go through the most common causes, and how to get it sorted.

These fixes also work if you're having problems with an iPad, or iPod touch.

Syncing data

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First, you should check if your phone's syncing any data with iCloud, as it stops it syncing that data with iTunes. Go to Settings your name > iCloud and check if they're turned on:

 

  • Photos
  • Contacts
  • Calendars

If any of them are turned on, then they're being synced with iCloud, and you won't be able to sync that type of thing with iTunes, since it can only sync to one place at a time. If you want to sync these things with iTunes, you'll have to turn the switches off and stop them syncing with iCloud.

Is your iPhone being detected?

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One problem that often comes up is that iTunes just doesn't see that your phone is plugged in. There can be a few different reasons for it, and we'll go through them.

Checking the connection to the computer

  • Check the charging connector port on your iPhone for any dust or lint that might be blocking it. When you plug the cable in, it just snaps in securely, and shouldn't feel loose. You can clean it carefully by spraying inside the port with some compressed air, which should get rid of any little bits.
  • Plug the phone into a different USB port on your computer. On some computers, the front USB ports might not be powerful enough to connect, so try one round the back. When you plug it in, check that the connector is going in all the way.
  • Try using a different cable, as charging cables can break over time.
  • Close iTunes down, and then open it again.
  • Restart your phone by holding the power and volume down buttons for 10 seconds, until you see an Apple logo. For models before the iPhone 7, hold the power and home buttons instead.
  • Unplug the phone, and restart your computer. Once it comes back on, try plugging in again and seeing if it shows.
 
 
 
 
Check your iPhone's connection ports

If none of those work, and your iPhone still isn't showing, try the next fix.

Reinstall the drivers (Windows computers only)

'Drivers' are needed so that iTunes can talk to your iPhone, and these can sometimes stop working properly. Go through the steps to get them reinstalled.

1.

Press the Windows key + R keys on your keyboard, which'll open the 'Run' box.

2.

Type devmgmt.msc into the box, and click OK.

3.

If you get a 'UAC' pop-up, click Yes.

4.

The 'Device Manager' will open. When it does, look for the 'Portable Devices' section, and click the little arrow to open that section.

5.

Right-click on Apple iPhone, then click Update driver software.

6.

Click Browse my computer.

7.

Click the Browse button, then go to 'C:\Program Files\Common Files\Apple\Mobile Device Support'. Click once on the folder called Drivers, then click OK.

This'll reinstall the drivers for your iPhone. Once it has, try syncing it again. If it's still not working, try the next fix.

Updating iTunes and your iPhone

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If iTunes or the iOS software on your phone is not up to date, it might not be able to sync. Follow the steps below to get them updated.

iTunes will normally check for updates whenever it opens, but here's how you can check manually and get it updated.

 
 
 
 
Updating iTunes

Updating iTunes (Windows)

1.

With iTunes open, click Help on the menu bar at the top (if you can't see it, press Ctrl+B on your keyboard to show it).

2.

Click Check for Updates.

3.

If any are available, install them.

4.

Once the update has installed, restart your PC.

Updating iTunes (Mac)

1.

With iTunes open, click iTunes in the top-left corner on the menu bar.

2.

Click Check for Updates.

3.

If there's any available, install them.

Updating your iOS software

You can update your iPhone in the Settings menu. Make sure you've got at least 50% battery before starting, and ideally are connected to a Wi-Fi network - the updates can be pretty big.

1.

Open Settings from your Home screen.

2.

Tap General.

3.

Tap Software Update.

4.

If there's one ready, tap Download and install.

Once iTunes and your iPhone are up to date, try syncing them again. If you're still having problems, try the next fix.

Checking your Apple ID

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If you're having problems syncing anything you've bought from the iTunes store, you might need to check that all your kit it signed into the right account.

 
 
 
 
Checking your Apple ID
1.

Open iTunes on your computer.

2.

Click Account on the menu bar at the top. If you can't see it, click Ctrl + B on your keyboard to show the menu bar.

3.

On the Account menu, check for the email address you use for your Apple account. If you can see it, go to Step 5.

4.

If your email address isn't there, click Sign in, and log in with your Apple ID.

5.

Once you're signed in, click Account > Authorizations > Authorise this computer. You might be asked for your password again - type it and click Authorize.

Your computer will be authorised to download anything you've bought from iTunes. You can only authorise 5 computers at any time, and if you reach the limit, you'll have to deauthorise them all to reset it. If you get a message saying you've reached the limit, follow the steps here to reset them.

Once your computer is authorised, try syncing again.

Fixing 'Error -54'

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You might see the error 'The iPhone cannot be synced. An unknown error occurred (-54) ' when you try and sync, and it normally stops things from working properly.

You'll normally get this error if you've got your music and other files stored in different folders on your computer. The best way to fix it is to get all your files into one folder. iTunes calls this 'Consolidation', and Apple have a full guide here.

Once you've got everything in one place, try syncing again.

Checking your sync settings

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Sometimes the problem might be that iTunes isn't set up properly to sync what you want it to. Follow these steps to check the sync settings.

 
 
 
 
Check your iTunes sync settings

1.

Open iTunes on your computer, and plug in your iPhone.

2.

When iTunes recognises your iPhone, click the small iPhone button in the top-left corner.

3.

You'll see the summary page for your iPhone, and down the left are the sync settings for each type of content, such as Music, Photos, Videos and Info.

4.

Click one of the content types, and then make sure the box is ticked. You might also be given some other options, such as which albums or songs you want to sync on the Music section.

5.

Once you've chosen the bits you want to sync, click the Apply or Sync button in the bottom-right to get it started.

One type of content which does seem to cause issues is Voice Memos, possibly because they always sync both ways between your iPhone and computer. If you're having sync issues, try turning off the sync for voice memos and see if it helps.

 
 
 
 
Syncing with iTunes

The last thing to check is the storage space on your phone, which is shown at the bottom of the page. You can use it to check that everything you want to sync will fit on the phone.

Resetting iTunes sync settings (Windows only)

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If the sync settings for iTunes gets mixed up, it can cause a lot of problems. These steps can be quite tricky, so you should only try them if you're confident using your computer.

 
 
 
 
Resetting iTunes on Windows PCs
1.

Unplug your phone from the computer, and close iTunes.

2.

Restart the computer.

3.

When the computer comes back on, open the task manager by pressing the ctrl + shift + esc keys on your keyboard.

4.

When it opens, click the tab called Processes.

5.

You need to stop the following processes from running, and can only do it one at a time. Right-click a process, and then press End Task. Repeat that for each of these:

  • Bonjour
  • SyncServices
  • iCloud
  • iTunes
  • iTunesHelper
  • MobileDeviceService
  • Any other processes that start with the word 'Apple'.
6.

Once they've been ended, you need to open your 'AppData' folder. On your keyboard, press the Windows key + R keys to open the 'Run' box.

7.

In the run box, type %appdata% and click OK.

8.

When the AppData folder opens, double-click the AppleComputer folder.

9.

Right-click the folder named 'SyncServices' and click Rename. Change the name to OldSyncServices.

10.

Close all the open windows.

Open iTunes, and try syncing with your phone again.

Reinstalling iTunes

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If something has gone very wrong with iTunes, you might need to fully reinstall it, which should reset everything back to normal. Doing it doesn't affect your music or other files, so you don't need to worry about them.

Uninstalling iTunes from Windows

On Windows 10, open Start menu Settings > Apps, or on older versions of Windows open Start menu Control Panel > Programs and Features. You'll be shown a list of everything that's installed on your computer. Uninstall the following programs in this order:

  1. iTunes
  2. Apple software update
  3. Apple mobile device support
  4. Bonjour
  5. Apple application support (if you have two of these, uninstall both)

Once you've uninstalled everything, check here to see how to reinstall iTunes.

Uninstalling iTunes from a Mac

iTunes is a 'protected app' on a Mac, so there are an extra couple of steps to do before removing it.

 
 
 
 
Uninstalling iTunes from a Mac
1.

Click Finder on the left of the dock.

2.

Click Go > Applications on the top menu bar.

3.

Right-click (or Ctrl-click) iTunes, then click Get Info.

4.

In the info box, click the padlock in the lower-right corner. Type your Mac password, and click OK.

5.

Under the 'Sharing & Permissions' section at the bottom, change the drop down next to 'everyone' to 'Read & Write'.

6.

Click the padlock again, then close the info box.

7.

Right click iTunes in the Applications folder, and click Move to Trash.

Restart your Mac, then follow the steps below to reinstall iTunes.

Reinstalling iTunes

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Once you've got iTunes removed, you'll need to reinstall it.

On a Windows PC

Go to the Apple website and download the latest version of iTunes, once it's downloaded, open the file and follow the steps to get it reinstalled.

On a Mac

Go to the Apple website and click to download iTunes. This'll ask to open the App Store. Once the App Store is open, download iTunes.

Restoring an iPhone

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If none of the steps above work, you can try 'Restoring' your iPhone, which will wipe it and reset all its settings back to how they were when you first got it. Because it wipes everything, you should try and make sure you've got a backup first.

 
 
 
 
Restoring an iPhone

If your phone is showing in iTunes, click the iPhone button, then on the 'Summary' tab, click Restore iPhone. Give it a little while to download the latest iOS version, and restore it to your phone.

If you can't see your iPhone in iTunes, you can try putting the phone into 'Recovery Mode' and restoring it.

1.

Unplug your phone from the computer.

2.

Turn off your phone.

3.

Once the phone's off, hold down the Home button, while plugging the USB cable back in.

4.

Keep holding the Home button until a message pops-up on iTunes saying 'iTunes has detected a device in recovery mode. You must restore this iPhone before it can be used with iTunes'. Let go of the Home button, and click OK.

5.

Click Restore iPhone, and let the restore go through.

Once the restore is finished, your iPhone will be just like new. Read our iPhone Setup Guide to see how to get it set back up and get your data back on it.

Hopefully that's everything you need to know, but if you need any extra help, you can get in touch with an expert from Team Knowhow here.