A handy Swiss-army-knife-like utility for manipulating Android Backup files (*.ab, *.adb) produced by adb backup, bmgr, and similar tools

git clone https://github.com/Own-Data-Privateer/abarms
git clone https://oxij.org/software/abarms

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What is abarms?

abarms is a handy Swiss-army-knife-like tool for manipulating Android Backup files (*.ab, *.adb) produced by adb backup, bmgr, and similar tools.

abarms can

Basically, this is a simpler pure Python implementation (only requires setuptools and cryptography modules) of android-backup-extractor and the parts of android-backup-toolkit and android-backup-processor that I use myself.

abarms will run on Linux and all other POSIX-compatible operating systems Python supports. The author also expects it will work fine on Windows, even though it was not tested there (do report an Issue if it does not).

Why does abarms exists?

Read the parts highlighted in bold in the following subsection.

UNIX in 1970s had better system backup tools than current Android OS

Did you know that your Android OS device already has an awesome built-in full-system phone-to-PC backup and PC-to-phone restore tool that does not require root access? adb utility of Android Platform Tools has adb backup subcommand that, in principle, can do basically everything you could possibly want there.

Internally this is implemented via Android OS setuid root binary named bu — which you can run manually via adb shell bu help — that simply backs up every app on the device one by one and streams the resulting .ab file — which is a wrapped PAX-formatted TAR file (see “EXTENDED DESCRIPTION” section in man 1 pax) — to stdout. adb backup subcommand is just a simple wrapper around it.

But then Android Platform Tools bundle gives no tools to manipulate those backup files! So, if you make a full-system backup with adb backup, and then want to restore a single app out of 100+ you have installed on your device, you need third-party tools now. This is kind of embarrassing, to be honest. A tool to manipulate backup files should have been a standard utility in Android Platform Tools since Android version 0.1 or something. (Seriously, are you not embarrassed? I’m embarrassed for the state of humanity thinking about how the most popular OS on the planet gives no widely accessible local backup and restore tools on par with what every user of 1970s-era UNIX mainframe had out of the box. I’m not asking for automatic opportunistic incremental quantum-safely encrypted full-system replication to cooperative nearby devices in a local mesh-network here!)

Well, technically speaking, Android OS also has automatic scheduled non-interactive backup service bmgr — which can be controlled via Android settings menu and adb shell bmgr help, that does per-app backups and restores. Internally, bmgr service also generates .ab files and then either uploads them to Google — which is the default and the only option available through the settings menu — or stores them locally under /data/data/com.android.localtransport/files/ — which requires root to access. On old Android versions you could ask bmgr to do a backup to an SD card directly from the settings menu, but Google removed that functionality to force users to use Cloud-based backups.

So, basically, according to Google (and Samsung, which ship with their own bmgr-like service in parallel with bmgr), to restore to a previous state of an app, or to migrate between phones you now apparently have to upload all your data to their servers in plain-text for their convenient data-mining and selling of your data to interested third parties. Google even went as far as to hide adb backup subcommand from their official Android documentation: compare the old manual for adb with the current one, Control+F for “backup”.

This resulted into every Android vendor now making their own vendor-specific phone-to-phone migration utilities, and a whole ecosystem of commercial apps that do what adb backup already does, but worse.

This also resulted in usefulness of adb backup itself being reduced because in Android version 6 Google made automatic daily file-based backups that get uploaded to Google the default when you attach your phone to your Google account. So, most apps started opting out of those backups for privacy and security reasons – which also started opting them out of being included in adb backup output, since bmgr and bu share most of the infrastructure. Some of those apps now implement their own in-app backup buttons hidden away in the settings menu somewhere, but most do not.

Yes, this is stupid, see this discussion on StackOverflow. See also old Android developer docs that explained this fairly clearly here and here.

(You can also force an app to be included in adb backup by rebuilding its APK to enable android:allowBackup attribute in the manifest and installing the result manually, see this for more info. But this will only work for newly installed apps as you will have to re-sign the resulting APK with your own private key and Android forbids app updates that change the signing key.)

But, hopefully, eventually, some alternative firmware developer will fix the above bug and allow adb backup to backup all apps regardless of android:allowBackup manifest setting, as it should.

Still, adb backup works fine for a lot of apps and, hopefully, will eventually get back to working as well as it did before Android version 6 in the future. Meanwhile, android-backup-toolkit allows you to split full-system dumps produced by adb backup into per-app backups that can then be restored with adb restore.

The problem is that, while I’m thankful that android-backup-toolkit exists, I find it really annoying to use: it is a bundle of pre-compiled Java apps, binaries, and shell scripts that manages to work somehow, but modifying anything there is basically impossible as building all of those things from sources is an adventure I failed to complete, and then you need to install the gigantic Java VM and libraries to run it all.

So, as it currently stands, to have per-app backups of your Android device you have to either:

So, one day I was looking at all of this. I couldn’t root or change the firmware on a phone I wanted to keep backed up, but I could follow the last option and get most of what I wanted with almost no effort. Except figuring out how to run android-backup-toolkit to do the very last step of this took me quite a while. And so I thought, “Hmm, this seems overly complicated, something as simple as splitting and merging TAR files with some additional headers should be doable with a simple Python program.” So I made one.

It turned out to be a bit less simple than I though it would be, mostly because Python’s tarfile module was not designed for this, so I had to make my own, and PAX-formatted TAR files are kind of ugly to parse, but it works now, so, eh.

Hopefully, abarms existing will inspire more app and alternative firmware developers to support adb backup properly and so personal computing devices of late 2020s will finally reach feature parity with 1970s-era Tape ARchiving (TAR) backup technology. (You can backup any UNIX box to an external HDD with tar -cvvf /media/external/backup.tar --one-file-system /. Yes, it will actually work.)



Backup all apps from your Android device, then restore a single app, without root

Prepare your PC and phone

Before you make a full backup of your Android phone (or other device) you need to

Additionally, depending your device, you might also need to enable “Stay awake” in “Developer Options”, otherwise long enough backups might get interrupted in the middle by your device going to sleep. Personally, I find having it enabled kind of annoying, so I recommend trying to do everything below with it disabled first, and enable it only if your backups get truncated.

Do a full backup

To do the backup, you need to

Now you need to wait awhile for adb to finish. The result will be saved in backup.ab file.

If you want to backup to an explicitly named file, e.g. to note the date of the backup, run

adb backup -f backup_20240101.ab -apk -obb -all -system -keyvalue

If adb backup does not work, you can invoke bu via adb shell instead:

adb shell 'bu backup -apk -obb -all -system -keyvalue' > backup_20240101.ab

Split it into pieces

You can view contents of the backup via

abarms ls backup_20240101.ab

and split it into per-app backups via

abarms split backup_20240101.ab

which will produce a bunch of files named abarms_split_<filename>_<num>_<appname>.ab (e.g. abarms_split_backup_20240101_020_org.fdroid.fdroid.ab).

Restore a single app

A single per-app file can be fed back to adb restore to restore that singe app, e.g.

adb restore abarms_split_backup_20240101_020_org.fdroid.fdroid.ab

Or, alternatively, if adb restore does not work, invoke bu via adb shell:

adb shell 'bu restore' < abarms_split_backup_20240101_020_org.fdroid.fdroid.ab

Rebuild full backup from parts

You can also rebuild the original full-backup from parts via

abarms merge abarms_split_backup_20240101_*.ab backup_20240101.rebuilt.ab

to check that it produces exactly the same backup file

# strip encryption and compression from the original
abarms strip backup_20240101.ab backup_20240101.stripped.ab

# compare to the stipped original and the rebuilt file
diff backup_20240101.stripped.ab backup_20240101.rebuilt.ab || echo differ


android-backup-toolkit and friends


If you have root on your device

Assuming you have root on your Android phone, you can do

# check if bmgr is enabled
adb shell bmgr enabled

# list bmgr transports
adb shell bmgr list transports
# localtransport should be there, enable it
adb shell bmgr transport com.android.localtransport/.LocalTransport

# enable bmgr
adb shell bmgr enable true

# do a full backup now
adb shell bmgr fullbackup

and then take per-app backup files from /data/data/com.android.localtransport/files/.


GPLv3+, small library parts are MIT.



A handy Swiss-army-knife-like utility for manipulating Android Backup files (*.ab, *.adb) produced by adb backup, bmgr, and similar tools.

Android Backup file consists of a metadata header followed by a PAX-formatted TAR file (optionally) compressed with zlib (the only compressing Android Backup file format supports) and then (optionally) encrypted with AES-256 (the only encryption Android Backup file format supports).

Below, all input decryption options apply to all subcommands taking Android Backup files as input(s) and all output encryption options apply to all subcommands producing Android Backup files as output(s).

abarms ls

List contents of an Android Backup file similar to how tar -tvf would do, but this will also show Android Backup file version, compression, and encryption parameters.

abarms rewrap

Convert a given Android Backup file into another Android Backup file with encyption and/or compression applied or stripped away.

Versioning parameters and the TAR file stored inside the input file are copied into the output file verbatim.

For instance, with this subcommand you can convert an encrypted and compressed Android Backup file into a simple unencrypted and uncompressed version of the same, or vice versa. The former of which is useful if your Android firmware forces you to encrypt your backups but you store your backups on an encrypted media anyway and don’t want to remember more passphrases than strictly necessary. Or if you want to strip encryption and compression and re-compress using something better than zlib.

abarms split

Split a full-system Android Backup file into a bunch of per-app Android Backup files.

Resulting per-app files can be given to adb restore to restore selected apps.

Also, if you do backups regularly, then splitting large Android Backup files like this and deduplicating per-app files between backups could save a lot of disk space.

abarms merge

Merge many smaller Android Backup files into a single larger one. A reverse operation to split.

This exists mostly for checking that split is not buggy.

abarms unwrap

Convert Android Backup file into a TAR file by stripping Android Backup header, decrypting and decompressing as necessary.

The TAR file stored inside the input file gets copied into the output file verbatim.

abarms wrap

Convert a TAR file into an Android Backup file by prepending Android Backup header, compressing and encrypting as requested.

The input TAR file gets copied into the output file verbatim.

Note that unwrapping a .ab file, unpacking the resulting .tar, editing the resulting files, packing them back with GNU tar utility, running abarms wrap, and then running adb restore on the resulting file will probably crash your Android device (phone or whatever) because the Android-side code restoring from the backup expects the data in the packed TAR to be in a certain order and have certain PAX headers, which GNU tar will not produce.

So you should only use this on files previously produced by abarms unwrap or if you know what it is you are doing.

Usage notes

Giving an encrypted INPUT_AB_FILE as input, not specifying --passphrase or --passfile, and not having a file named {INPUT_AB_FILE with ".ab" or ".adb" extension replaced with ".passphrase.txt"} in the same directory will case the passphrase to be read interactively from the tty.