When iOS starts barking at you that you run out of iCloud or iPhone storage, a quick trip to your settings to see what the culprit is can show that Messages is one of the worst offenders. But if deleting message after message doesn’t free up your storage space, it’s probably because “Messages” doesn’t really mean messages.
That may sound confusing, but I’ll explain everything below, starting with, how could your messages potentially take up so much data?
Since SMS texts and text-only iMessages do not contain any media, they take up very little space as each text-based message is very small in size. Of course you may have one a lot of of text-based messages in your history, but I bet they don̵
What’s likely to steal all the storage space is all the attachments you send and receive: audios, photos, stickers, videos, GIFs, and files.
With Messages on iCloud, Apple stores your entire message history on its servers. Every iMessage and SMS, as well as all of the MMS, GIF, video, photo, and other types of media files that you can send and receive, are all in the cloud as you have available iCloud storage to fill.
Those items will stay on your iPhone too, as long as you have enough internal storage to keep them. If iOS determines that you don’t have enough space internally, it will start deleting that content from your device. Therefore, you may end up having a lot more “Messages” data in iCloud than on your actual iPhone.
Interestingly, removing these attachments works the same whether you’re using Messages on iCloud or not. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t provide a smart way to manage your messages in iCloud.
Option 1: View large attachments
To start, open Settings, then go to General -> iPhone Storage. When you see the ‘Rate large attachments’ suggestion, tap it. If not, tap Messages, then tap View Large Attachments.
From this page, Apple lists all attachments in your messages, sorted from largest to smallest. You can view them all by tapping on the thumbnail, then exit the preview by tapping or swiping out “Done”. Swipe left on the attachment to delete individual items.
To delete multiple attachments, tap ‘Edit’ and then select as many attachments as you want before tapping the trash can icon. Be careful because this button will immediately delete all selected attachments.
Deleting attachments here will delete them from your device, and syncing your messages with iCloud will delete them from the cloud as well.
Option 2: Choose from document categories
Another way to remove attachments in your messages is to sort them by category. You can find it by visiting the same place in Settings (General -> iPhone Storage -> Messages) under it Documents header. You will see it:
- Top conversations: includes posts from what iOS considers your best conversations.
- Photos: includes every photo, screenshot, etc.
- Videos: contains all movie files.
- GIFs and Stickers: contains all animated GIFs and stickers.
- Others: contains other types of attached files such as PDFs, Word documents, etc.
You can see the total amount of data each category is taking up so you know if it’s something you want to look at.
Suppose you want to delete photos. Tap “Photos” and you will find the same type of page we see in option 1; your photos sent and received in messages are sorted by file size, from largest to smallest. Delete individual items by swiping left on the attachment. Delete multiple items by tapping “Edit”, select the items you want to delete, then tap the trash can.
Deleting attachments or conversations here will delete them from your device, but syncing your messages with iCloud will also delete them from the cloud, just like option 1.
Option 3: Delete entire conversations
If you don’t care about the text-based portion of conversations in Messages, you can delete it along with everything else in the conversation. You can do that in one of the following ways from the Messages conversation list.
- Left swipe the thread, hit the trash can and tap ‘Delete’.
- Long press on the thread, click “Delete” and then “Delete” again.
- Tap the ellipsis (•••), choose “Select Posts”, select threads, press “Delete”, then click “Delete” again.
- Swipe through the conversation list with two fingers to automatically select multiple threads at once, then press “Delete” and then “Delete” again.
You can also go to the ‘Top Conversations’ list in option 2 above and then:
- Long swipe left on the thread.
- Briefly swipe left on the thread and click “Delete”.
- Tap “Edit”, select conversations and click the trash can icon.
Deleting conversations will delete them from your device, and syncing your messages with iCloud will delete them from the cloud as well.
You can also delete “Top Calls” from your iCloud storage settings in the same way. Open your Apple ID (the name at the top) on the main Settings page, tap “iCloud”, then “Manage Storage”. Select ‘Messages’ then ‘Top conversations’ and delete them using the methods above.
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