ClockworkMod on Galaxy Nexus

I get this question a lot: If my Galaxy Nexus is unrooted and running the stock ROM, how do I back up it via a custom recovery?

It's pretty easy, actually, and it goes back to our method of manually applying a stock update. You're going to need a few things (and chances are you've got them already):

So here's what you do:

  1. Download the custom recovery into the same folder as your fastboot file. (I like to rename mine just to keep things short.)
  2. Reboot your phone into the bootloader, either by turning it off and holding vol-up/vol-down+power, or reboot from the command line (adb reboot bootloader).
  3. Plug your phone into your computer if it's not already. (Type fastboot devices to make sure your computer sees it)
  4. In the command line, type fastboot boot xxxxxxx.img (where xxxxxxx is the name of the custom recovery you saved).

And that's it. You'll have booted into the custom recovery, and from there you can do a full backup, or restore a backup, or wipe the phone. All without rewriting anything. If you need a little more hand-holding, there's some video after the break. 

Youtube link for mobile viewing

Reader comments

How I back up my stock, unrooted Galaxy Nexus


If you do not have the bootloader already unlocked, please back up your internal flash storage first. Unlocking the bootloader erases everything (including the internal flash storage).

There is nothing but internal flash storage on my Gnex. If you want to keep something, use dropbox or file transfers.

Sure but that is not how it is made to appear to users. They see /sdcard in file managers, even though it's just a symlink to /data/media. Also, if you do a 'wipe data/factory reset' in CWM it leaves /sdcard (/data/media) untouched so there really are mixed messages given to users.

I do not see the point to not having root access if you open up the bootloader and have a custom recovery. Your files are still easily accessible to the wrong person as they can enable root without erasing the phones contents and be able to access them with proper use of command lines. Even if its locked using a pin or pattern these are possible. Superuser is your friend and will let you decide what apps are allowed to access root privileges, just be cautious.

Or you could just root your device and use Titanium Backup.

If you are nervous about having a rooted device for some reason then use SuperSU. It is similar to superuser except it can also enable and disable root easily.

Phils method works but you better have your calls forwarding so you dont miss something important or do this at an inconvenient hour.

Yes, exactly. My phone shipped in this state - stock obviously but with the bootloader unlocked - and that was from a carrier (in Australia).

Phil, you might have mentioned the Galaxy Nexus Toolkit (from XDA) in this article which makes this process a lot easier, ie. it already has the drivers, fastboot binary and correct version of CWM included. There's a one-click option for booting into CWM once the drivers are installed.

So to do this backup I have to unlock the bootloader, which WIPE my data?! How about a way to backup my phone BEFORE I unlock the bootloader?

I was doing this regularly when I was stock, unrooted gnex. I just plain missed nandroids. I used the gnex toolkit at XDA, which provides this as a script. Although stock wore off quickly and I longed for the days of my N1 and had a relapse of compulsive ROM flashing disorder.

The method Phil describes is best for people on stock roms (rooted or unrooted) that don't want to permanently flash CWM. This is so that you can still install OTA's as you need the stock recovery for that.

I always nandroid before flashing anything, even nightlies.

why would you unlock the bootloader, install a custom recovery... and then not go the extra step to gain root access to the phone?

sure - you like to have a stock ROM. but with a custom recovery, you've blocked any OTA from verizon pushing to your phone so what's the point?

this method does not permanently flash CWM, if you rebooted and went back into recovery mode you'd be back in stock recovery. The only downside is you must be at a computer to boot into CWM.

you can tell by the fastboot command, you are not flashing CWM, just booting into it temporarily

Why don't you try it and report back? There's no risk in attempting to make a backup using this method as nothing is flashed to your phone. There's an option to boot into CWM in the Galaxy Nexus Toolkit on XDA which makes this one-click once the drivers are installed. I don't know if 'fastboot boot' commands are available with a locked bootloader.

I can guarantee you that you won't be able to do a full restore using this method with a locked bootloader though. However, you *may* be able to perform an advanced restore and only restore data (clear cache too). That may work OK if you haven't accepted an OTA since the backup was made but obviously there is some risk of data loss because you will be writing to the data partition (if it works). I can't test as my phone shipped unlocked but maybe someone else has tried this part?

If I had the Galaxy Nexus I would do it. But I don't.
That's why I asked someone to please do it and report it back.

Is is possible to do this same method for my wifi Xoom? I unlocked the bootloader right when i bought it but did not root it or flash a custom recovery.

So you can use the boot command in fastboot to boot an img that is not flashed to your phone? Am I understanding this right?

Thanks Phil, for providing this useful procedure. It solves a problem I have, wanting to use ClockWorkMod for Backups, but not wanting to eliminate the potential of future OTA updates.

The video was also quite helpful, but if you will allow a little construction criticism, I would have preferred that you had gone through the process a bit more slowly in a few detailed sections. All that aside, I really appreciate the guidance.

The first time I finished the recovery boot, the response to the keys on the GN wasn't as expected. The toggling up and down on the Volume buttons was very rapid, and it was almost impossible to toggle one line at a time. Once I was able to home in on the Backup line, pressing the Power button just caused the icon to change, with the circled area showing bright yellow. Another tap of the power button brought up a message that the back key was disabled. I finally gave up and exited.

On the second try, everything went normally. I don't have a clue what that was about, or if it is just peculiar to my individual phone, but at least I now know that I can just try again to get the activities I want.

Besides connecting my Nexus to my PC and transfering files back and forth, is there an easier way to back up the SD card partition prior to unlocking the bootloader??

Thanks Phil, I just unlocked my bootloader and backed up everything with with the nandroid, but one thing was weird. I didn't loose any information in my phone. With that said DID I DO IT WRONG?
Thanks again!

Well, since you said it's not rooted, i guess the easiest option would be to use a backup app that does just that such as iCloud but for Android, and I've been looking for quite sometime for a solution and found this App a couple of months ago called G Cloud Backup that requires no rooting and simply does what it says so I'd definitely recommend it! Cheers mate!

Dude! This is not correct. I have (had) a stock galaxy nexus. Today, I received the OTA update for 4.1.1.
I have windows 7 pro, and had to install PDANET in order to get the USB drivers working. (adb devices works, but after doing the reboot bootloader, fastboot devices didn't give me anything until I installed PDANET).

Anyway, the real issue is that you can't do a fastboot boot recovery.img (where recovery.img is the name of the clockwork touch img I got for my verizon nexus).
It complained that the bootloader was not unlocked and it needed to be. So, I had to do the unlock first. That was the whole point of going this route and it doesn't work without the unlock first.
So, your pants are, with all due respect and appreciation for posting the help, on fire.

I was wondering why the bootloader have not back up on a phone, in case of incorrect flash? The same question hold for BIOS on PC.

Is this simply a question of reducing the manufacturing cost at the expense of the security and stability of the board ?

Many thanks for your insight

Works like a charm, thanks.
Some questions that came up:
- where are the backup files kept? Are they kept on the device and deleted if I wipe it?
- If I later root my device and restore it, will restoring it will remove the root access?

I think that since you describe your method as a 'pretty easy' process to back up a stock unrooted Nexus you may well be appealing to people (possibly other than just myself) who aren't particularly confident with carrying out more advanced maintenance on their phone. In which case might I suggest that you make it absolutely clear in your piece that unlocking the bootloader will wipe the phone? ...just in case someone gets carried away with the the promise of a 'pretty easy' process and manages not to see the warning on their phone just before they unlock the bootloader...