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Moving iTunes to an external hard drive

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Q: My laptop hard drive is nearly full. How can I add more songs to my iTunes library when my laptop hard drive is full? I have consolidated my iTunes library and backed it up to an external hard drive. Do I now have to delete my iTunes library content to create more space on my PC hard drive to allow me to add new songs? Do I then have to start a new library from scratch? When I sync my iPod will I have to manually sync it to store the new songs and new library, to keep those songs already on my iPod?

- Peter

A: The best solution in this case is to actually move your iTunes library to the external hard drive and start using it from that location. Basically, this just involves setting the iTunes Media folder path to the external hard drive and then using the “Consolidate” option to copy your iTunes media files over to the external hard drive. Your iTunes library database will remain on your laptop hard drive, but the media files will now be referenced from the external hard drive. Likewise, any new media files you import will be stored in that location on the external hard drive as well. As explained in the previous answer, the “Consolidate” option will only copy your media files to the external hard drive, so you will need to clean them up by deleting them from your laptop hard drive manually once you’re confident that everything has been updated properly on the external hard drive.

Note that the downside to this approach is that you won’t be able to access your media unless the external hard drive is connected, since all of your media files will be stored on the external hard drive. You can, however, keep a subset of your library on your internal hard drive for accessing when you’re away from your desk with your laptop. To do this, simply leave those files in your iTunes Media folder on your laptop; when the external hard drive is not connected, iTunes automatically falls back to looking for your media files in its default location, and will therefore be able to find and use any files it finds on your laptop hard drive as long as they’re in their proper locations in your iTunes Media folder.

Alternatively, you could set up a secondary iTunes library on your laptop for the content that you want to carry around with you, but this would be much more complicated to manage, as your playlists, ratings and playcounts will be handled separately and you will not be able to automatically sync your iPod to this secondary library.

You can find much more detail in our article on Transferring your iTunes Library, which covers the process step by step and discusses methods for using an external hard drive with a laptop computer.

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