Signal backup and restore woes

As a firm believer in online privacy I refuse to use Skype, Google Hangouts or whatever non end-to-end encrypted service “normal people” are using for their online communication. As a consequence, friends who wants to message me are “encouraged” to install and use Signal. Recently this backfired as one friend insisted it was my responsibility to backup and restore messages on his new Android phone.

Signal - Enable backup
The “Enable local backups” screen on a Signal installation.

Feeling confident I decided to perform this little magic trick while we’re watching the FIFA World Cup and having a few drinks. Backing up and exporting the data from the old Android device went according to plan and I even managed to write down the 30-digit passphrase.

However, after copying the backup folder to the new phone and installing Signal, the application went straight to the “verify your mobile phone” screen on the initial setup without prompting me to restore the backup. Feverishly, I tried re-installing Signal several times while my friend explained (in great detail) the importance of having his message history safely preserved for future generations.

Anyhow, I couldĀ not for the life of me figure out why it wasn’t working so I resorted to the online Signal FAQ found at this address. While examining the “Restoring messages on Android” section I eventually noticed the following piece of advice:

Some users may need to temporarily dismount or remove the external SD card on their phone.

After dismounting the SD card and re-installing Signal one last time the import screen popped up and I was able to restore the backup. Sometimes it can be useful to remember your own favorite goto line: RTFM!

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