How to search, save attachments, and delete conversations in iMessage

Get the most out of Messages on your iPhone or iPad by using search to find the conversation you forgot, or save attachments like photos, links, and files to expand your on-device storage.

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Image: CNET

Apple iMessage conversations can be like a time capsule of information. With the introduction of iCloud storage of iMessages, you can even preserve years' worth of messages across multiple devices. iOS 13 doubled down on the ability to search and find old messages, which makes keeping these messages around more intriguing.

This tutorial covers how to more efficiently search through old messages and find the chat, attachment, or photo associated with the search term, how to save these attachments, and when you're done with a thread or conversation, remove it from your device or iCloud. I wrap up with a tip on how to delete old messages automatically from your devices.

SEE: Top 10 iPad tips (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How to search for messages in iMessages

Searching through iMessages allows you not only to see a message's text that was sent or received in any thread that you still have on your device, but it also lets you search through related links and photos (or attachments) that were sent in the iMessage.

To do this, tap the search bar in the Messages app, then enter a search term or phrase that you remember. The returned search results will be sorted by Conversations first, then Links, then Photos (or Attachments).

Tapping on the conversation will take you back to the message history, tapping on a link will open Safari and display that message, and tapping on a photo or attachment will open that photo or attachment in the viewer, where you can save it using the normal iOS Share Sheet option.

How to save attachments in iMessages

Saving photos or attachments from Message is fairly easy and lets you delete the attachment to save space later. You can also move file attachments to a cloud storage option or move a photo to the Photos app. You can save attachments or photos one at a time or bulk save images--let's take a look at both options.

How to save one attachment at a time in iMessages

To see all attachments, links, and photos and save them individually, go into a conversation that you'd like to save content from, tap the name at the top of the screen, and then tap the Info button (Figure A).

Figure A

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Tapping Info will go into the conversation details view.

Now scroll to the bottom where you will see a section for recent photos, links, and attachments (if they've been sent in this conversation). Tapping on See All Photos, See All Links, or See All Attachments will take you to an attachments viewer (Figure B) for that attachment type.

Figure B

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In this view you, can see all attachments, photos, or links that were sent or received in the conversation.

Tapping on an individual photo, link, or attachment will open that attachment (photos and file attachments open in a viewer, while links open in Safari). Tapping the Share button inside of the attachment viewer will let you save the file to Files or save the photo to the Photos app.

To go into multi-select mode, tap Select at the top of the screen. In this mode, you can tap multiple files, photos, or links, and then tap Delete to delete them from your device (or iCloud Message sync, if you're using it). If you're in the See All Photos section, you can save all of the selected photos at once to your Photo library by tapping Save after you select the photos.

How to remove messages in iMessages

Not only can removing old iMessages threads or entire conversations can quickly free up space, but it can also make searching through the messages .

How to manually remove messages in iMessages

There are two ways to manually remove old messages. The first option is deleting the entire conversation. To do this, go into the conversations view (i.e., the main view that appears when launching the Messages app), and swipe from right to left on the conversation you wish to remove. Tap the Delete option, and then confirm it. Now the entire conversation, along with all attachments and photos, will be removed. If you use iCloud iMessage sync, it will be removed on all devices signed into iCloud as well.

The other option is removing only a single message. Tap inside of the conversation, tap and hold on a bubble for the message you wish to remove, and then tap More--a checkbox will appear next to each message in the conversation. Tap the messages you want to remove, and then tap the Delete button in the toolbar. This will cause only the selected messages to be deleted (Figure C).

Figure C

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Select as many messages or attachments as you'd like. Then, you can select the Delete button in the toolbar to remove those messages.

How to automatically remove messages in iMessages

If you want to ensure that old messages are deleted regularly, you can let iOS handle this task automatically. Follow these steps.

  1. Open the Settings app.
  2. Navigate to Messages | Keep Messages.
  3. Select an option of 30 Days, 1 Year, or Forever (Figure D).

Figure D

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Selecting one of the options for automatic deletion will delete all of your messages older than the selected option.

Selecting 30 Days or 1 Year will keep messages for that length of time, and then remove any that are older; selecting Forever will never automatically delete any messages unless you use the manual removal method outlined above.

Also see

By Cory Bohon

Cory Bohon is an indie developer specializing in iOS and OS X development. He runs a software company called Cocoa App and is also a developer at MartianCraft. He was introduced to technology at an early age and has been writing about his favorite te...