What is a Factory Reset?

Cam Summerson
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A factory reset erases all user data and configuration settings on a device like a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. Unlike merely uninstalling applications or erasing a user profile, a factory reset should return a device to a known good “factory” state — the configuration the device ships in when it is sent to a customer, requiring all initial setup tasks to be performed.

A factory reset will preserve no cache, files, images, media, passwords, or other data a user may have saved or downloaded while using a device.

It’s best to think of a factory reset like a “clean slate”: All modifications and changes that have accrued as a result of user activity are swept away, but the “base layer” of the device’s software and firmware remains safely intact.

How do I factory reset?

To factory reset any smartphone, tablet, or laptop, you’ll want to look up documentation published by the device manufacturer. Otherwise, your best bet is to open the “Settings” application on your device and search for terms like “factory reset,” “wipe,” or “erase all content and settings.”

Methods and exact names for factory resetting vary by manufacturer, operating system (and OS version), and device type. It’s important to make sure you actually perform a full factory reset, and not merely an app or user setting-only wipe, which could leave sensitive data on a device.

How to factory reset Android

  • Open the Settings app
  • Go to “System”
  • Go to “Reset options”
  • Tap “Erase all data (factory reset)” and follow the prompts

How to factory reset Samsung

  • Open the Settings app
  • Go to “General Management”
  • Go to “Reset”
  • Tap “Factory data reset” and follow the prompts

How to factory reset iOS (iPhone, iPad)

  • Open the Settings app
  • Go to “General”
  • Go to “Transfer or Reset [iPhone/iPad]”
  • Tap “Erase and Content and settings” at the bottom of the screen and follow the prompts

How to factory reset MacOS

  • Open the System Settings app
  • Go to “General”
  • Go to “Transfer or Reset”
  • Click “Erase All Content and Settings…” and follow the prompts

How to factory reset Windows 10 / Windows 11

  • Open Settings
  • Go to “System”
  • Go to “Recovery”
  • Click on “Reset this PC”
  • Click “Remove Everything”

How to factory reset Chrome OS (Chromebook or Chromebox)

  • Open Settings
  • Choose “Advanced”
  • Choose “Reset Settings”
  • Click “Reset”
  • Confirm by clicking “Restart”
Device screen for a factory reset

What does factory resetting really do?

Most devices with a factory reset function follow a similar series of steps. Once a user has confirmed their desire to initiate a factory reset of a device, the device reboots into a low-level “recovery” state designed to repair a system with corrupt or misconfigured firmware or software. While in this state, the device can erase (format) all user-writeable partitions (components of the operating system).

Those partitions are overwritten with known good “factory” versions of those components. The device then begins to reboot — loading, essentially, “stubs” meant to facilitate the initial setup process as if the device was shipping new from the factory.

Does a factor reset do a disk format?

Factory resetting a device is a very different process than a blanket disk format (wipe).

Factory resetting targets specific, user-writeable partitions on a device and restores them to a “known good” state. Disk formatting completely erases all content on a given partition and does not “replace” that data with anything — the disk is simply blank, and the device will no longer start up (boot).

Disk formatting is the preferred method where data destruction is the primary desired outcome (e.g., a hard disk that is being erased because it is being recycled or transferred to another system). Factory resetting, by comparison, ends with a fully setup-ready device and operating system — just without any user data.

What is a hard reset? What’s the difference between a factory reset and hard reset?

Factory reset and hard reset describe the same process. “Hard reset” tends to be the preferred terminology when dealing with devices without rich UIs (i.e., without a touchscreen). You may say that you “hard reset” your home Wi-Fi router, while you “factory reset” your iPad. Both describe the same result: the device is returned to a known good state where it can be configured by the user. Remember: Clean slate.

Does factory reset downgrade my device?

Generally speaking, no: A factory reset will leave a device on the same operating system version the reset was performed from. There are many reasons a factory reset won’t “roll back” to older firmware; OS architecture limitations, security exploits, or software incompatibilities.

Some devices may offer the ability to “downgrade” the operating system (OS) to a previous version directly after an upgrade if something goes wrong, but this is not part of a typical factory reset.

Does a factory reset remove the operating system?

No. A factory reset is performed within the operating system and restores it “factory” setting as if it were brand new. It doesn’t roll back, downgrade, or remove the operating system.

Removing the operating system may be possible on some devices if that’s your intention, but the process will vary dramatically depending on the particular device and OS.

Can I recover data after a factory reset?

This is an extremely complex question and depends on a large number of variables. In general, though, you cannot recover erased data from a device that has been factory reset. Even if this was possible, it would require exceptionally powerful and sophisticated tools (unless a device suffers from serious security flaws).

When should I factory reset?

If you plan to sell, repurpose, or otherwise dispose of a device, you should always factory reset it. Merely erasing your apps, accounts, and photos will not erase all potentially sensitive user data. Cache folders and related assets may be preserved and user-readable.

Similarly, if you are in a large device management scenario, devices should be factory reset before they leave service or are sent from testing into production. Performing this process manually across dozens or hundreds of devices is a major chore!

What is Factory Reset Protection (FRP)?

Factory Reset Protection (FRP) is a tool in the Android operating system found on many Android smartphones and tablets. FRP prevents stolen devices from being easily activated simply because a thief was able to initiate a factory reset.

FRP is triggered when a device is factory reset outside the Android Settings app by the user, as most Android devices can be factory reset using a combination of hard buttons (physical keys) on the device to enter recovery mode. FRP is also triggered if your device is managed by an MDM with the FRP flag enabled, regardless of how the factory reset is performed.

When FRP is triggered, the Android OS will not allow a device to initiate setup until the Google Account password of the device’s last owner is entered. This renders the device all but unusable.

The key distinction is that FRP is not a mandatory feature on any Android device. The manufacturer (OEM) may choose to enable or disable FRP, though most choose to enable it.

Can I prevent users from factory resetting my devices?

With a proper device management solution, yes! You can even disable hard keys that allow a user to tamper with things like recovery settings, as well as block access to apps and settings. Not every solution is the same in this regard, and not every device requires exactly the same combination of settings to fully lock down. You’ll need to work with an experienced device management partner to get specific.

How do I factory reset multiple devices at once?

Now you’re talking! If you want to factory reset 10, 100, or even 1,000 devices at a time, you need a proper device management solution. Esper makes it easy: With our console, you can factory reset devices individually or in strictly defined groups, all with the click of a button.

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Cam Summerson
Cam Summerson

Cam is Esper's Director of Content and brings over 10 years of technology journalism experience to Esper, including nearly half-a-decade as Editor in Chief of a technology publication. He currently oversees the ideation, execution, and distribution plans for numerous types of content from blog posts to ebooks and beyond.

Cam Summerson
Learn about Esper mobile device management software for Android and iOS
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