Managing iTunes media files on an external hard drive | iLounge Article

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Managing iTunes media files on an external hard drive

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Q: I’m looking for a third party application for use on Mac OS X (Leopard) that allows me to add songs to my iPod from an external hard drive without making copies of those songs onto the computer’s hard drive. I have over 150GB of music and a MacBook with a 120GB HD, so I have no room for storing libraries of copied MP3 files. As far as I can see iTunes always makes copies of the songs. If there’s a way of managing it so it just retains a link with the files on the external drive, that would be a solution I guess.

- Mark

A: Actually, iTunes can take care of this for you without a need for any third-party applications. Specifically, there are two different ways you can handle this, depending on how you prefer to manage your music files.

The simplest solution is just to set your “iTunes Music folder” location to the external drive within your iTunes preferences. To access this setting, simply open your iTunes preferences (select Preferences from the iTunes menu), and choose the Advanced tab:

At the top of this screen, simply click the “Change” button and browse to the new location for your iTunes Music folder—in this case on the external hard drive. Once you have updated this setting, any music files you add to your iTunes library will be copied to this location, instead of your MacBook’s internal hard drive. Note that your iTunes library database will still remain in your Music/iTunes folder on the MacBook itself (although you can also move this using a separate procedure if you so desire), but all of your actual media files will be stored in the “iTunes Music folder” location specified here. Only iPhone/iPod touch applications and Click-wheel iPod Games will remain in the MacBook’s “iTunes” folder.

Note that if the external hard drive is not available when you start iTunes, the iTunes Music folder setting will revert back to the default location on your MacBook. This is a temporary change, however, and if you connect the external hard drive and then restart iTunes, it will remember your specified iTunes Music folder location on the external hard drive and automatically switch back to it.

The second approach if you would prefer to keep your iTunes Music folder on your MacBook and simply leave the files on the external hard drive in whatever location you’ve already put them is to turn off the “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” setting found in the Advanced preferences. With this setting off, iTunes will never copy an imported file into your iTunes Music folder—instead it will simply link to the original file. If you take this approach, however, you should ensure that you have placed your files where you want them before importing them into iTunes, since iTunes will be pointing to each file in its specific location.

Keep in mind also that even if you turn off the “Copy Files” setting, any tracks you import from audio CDs or download from the iTunes Store are still placed in the iTunes Music folder, since they are created by iTunes rather than being imported from another file location.

You can find more information on using an external hard drive with iTunes in our iPod 201 article, Managing your iTunes Library on an External Hard Drive.

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