Transferring your iTunes Library | iLounge Article


Transferring your iTunes Library

For most users, iTunes does a great job of handling all of the details of managing your media library for you, allowing you to manage your content through iTunes itself and not having to worry too much about the underlying files and folders that make up your iTunes library.

Unfortunately, this user-friendly approach has one serious limitation: When it comes time to move your iTunes library, it can often be a bit of a challenge to figure out exactly what pieces you need to move and how to go about doing this. Many iTunes users start out with a basic iTunes library and use the default settings to store all of their media content on their primary internal hard drive. However, as you add new content over time, particularly with the additional video content now supported by iTunes, you may soon find that your library threatens to take over your computer.

Another common scenario many users find themselves in is what to do when they upgrade to a new computer. Your iTunes library has been working just fine on your old computer, but you’re left with the question of how to get it over to the new machine so that everything works the way it’s supposed to.

Neither of these situations are at all uncommon, and fortunately it’s really not all that difficult to relocate your iTunes library to another hard drive or move it to a whole new computer once you understand the basics of how iTunes manages your media content and the options available to you.

This tutorial is intended for both the average and slightly advanced iTunes user and will provide the necessary information that you need to know about transferring your iTunes library onto an external hard drive, a secondary internal hard drive, or a whole new computer.

How iTunes Manages Media Content

Before we delve into the steps of actually moving your media content, it’s important to explain in some detail exactly how iTunes handles the management of your media files under the hood, what your options are for relocating these files, and the various pitfalls that you might encounter in this process.

The first and most important point is that iTunes is designed to handle all of the details of the underlying file system for you. By design, the user manages their content through iTunes, and ideally you never need to even look at the underlying file system, much less worry about moving files around. In this scenario, iTunes can even handle the relocation of your media content for you, making the entire process quite seamless.

This may not match every user’s style of media management, but it’s very important to understand how this affects the process of moving your media files to a new location.

The most important point to keep in mind is that once a media file is listed in the iTunes library, it is referenced from iTunes by the specific location (i.e. full pathname) of where this file is located. Therefore, if you move a file, iTunes will almost certainly lose track of that file, and the result will be a broken link in your iTunes library.

This means that you cannot simply move your files manually to a new location and expect iTunes to find them after you’ve moved them, as it will still expect to find those files in their original locations. This one point alone has caused many users a great deal of grief, since repairing this situation can often be a tedious process of either manually adjusting the paths to hundreds of files or manually putting those files back into their original locations so that iTunes can find them again.

Fortunately, if you understand this and use iTunes and its related tools the way they were designed, you can ensure a smooth migration of your iTunes library to an external hard drive or even a completely new computer with minimal problems.

iTunes: The Database versus the Content

Another important point to understand: There are really two components that we are concerned about in this process, and these are somewhat distinct from each other in terms of where and how they are stored.

The iTunes Library Database contains the actual index of your media content. This database itself is a file named “iTunes Library.itl” with several other supporting files stored alongside it. By default this is stored under a sub-folder named “iTunes” in your personal “Music” folder (this is named “My Music” on Windows XP and simply “Music” on Windows Vista/7 and Mac OS X). This path cannot be changed in your iTunes preferences, and in fact could not be easily changed at all prior to iTunes 7. How to change this path is discussed a bit later in this article.

The iTunes Media Folder contains your actual media content. By default this is a sub-folder under the iTunes Library Database folder, but can be changed to any location you prefer via your iTunes Advanced Preferences. Note that prior to iTunes 9, this folder was called the “iTunes Music” folder although despite the name it still just about every other type of media content managed by iTunes as well. In iTunes 9 this was renamed “iTunes Media” to acknowledge that more than just music gets stored here and the subfolder structure was also reorganized accordingly, with Music placed in a subfolder alongside other content types such as Movies, TV Shows and Podcasts. Note that if you’ve upgraded an existing library from a version of iTunes prior to iTunes 9 this folder will still be called “iTunes Music” and organized the original way unless you’ve specifically asked iTunes to convert it to the new iTunes Media organization.

Prior to iTunes 9, click-wheel iPod Games and iOS applications were a special case. These were stored in sub-folders relative to the iTunes database location, specifically in folders named “iPod Games” and “Mobile Applications,” respectively. Relocating your iTunes Music folder did not change the location of these items. In iTunes 9 and later, these folders are now stored in the iTunes Media folder along with your other media content.

Generally, when trying to optimize disk usage, the iTunes Media Folder is what most users will want to move, as it contains the bulk of your library. By comparison, the iTunes Library Database is much smaller and is usually best left in its default location.

Standby to Prepare to Move: Checking your Preferences

Now that you’re armed with a basic understanding of how iTunes stores its media content, and knowing that you cannot simply move files around and expect your iTunes library to be able to find these files, it’s important to look at how your library is currently setup in order to understand what your options are.

The first step to this process is to review your storage settings under your iTunes Advanced preferences, which can be found by selecting Preferences from the Edit menu (Windows) or iTunes menu (Mac), and then selecting the Advanced tab:


The first option, “iTunes Media folder location” indicates where your iTunes media content is stored by default. Remember that this only includes the media content and not the library database itself. Whether all of your content is located in this folder is going to depend upon the next two settings found on this screen:

Keep iTunes Media folder organized determines whether tracks in your iTunes Media folder are automatically organized based on the track information found within each file. With this option enabled, iTunes will move and rename files within the iTunes Media folder as necessary into sub-folders by media type, with music organized in an ARTIST\ALBUM subfolder structure and each file named by its track name from the iTunes library. If this option is disabled, then files within the iTunes Media folder will be left with whatever name and sub-folder they were placed in when you first imported them, regardless of changes to the tag information within iTunes itself.

Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library determines whether files that you add to your library are automatically copied into the music folder, or left in their original location. When you import new content with this option disabled, iTunes simply “references” the file from wherever you’re importing it, rather than making a copy of it in your iTunes Media folder.

Tracks copied into the iTunes Media Folder effectively become “Managed” files; iTunes will manage the location and naming of these files (subject to the “Keep organized” setting above). On the other hand, files that are not copied into the iTunes Media folder are “Referenced” files; iTunes stores a full path to the file, but does not take any further action with those files in terms of organizing, renaming or moving them. In fact, iTunes will not even offer to delete an underlying “referenced” media file when you remove it from your iTunes library. Basically if a file is not in the iTunes Media folder then iTunes considers that file to be outside of its control and does nothing more than point to it.

Note that content purchased from the iTunes Store or ripped from CD is always stored in the iTunes Media folder—iTunes is actually creating new files in this case so it has to have somewhere to put them by default. Therefore, this setting only affects existing files from your computer that are added to the iTunes library using the File, Add to Library option or by dragging-and-dropping them into iTunes from another folder.

So why is all of this important? How you have configured these options is going to determine how much flexibility you have when moving your iTunes media content elsewhere. In a default configuration where all of your media files live within the iTunes Media folder location (“Managed” files), and have been organized by iTunes, the process of moving your library may be considerably smoother than for a user who has a bunch of “referenced” tracks living in various locations and possibly even on different drives.

While iTunes can move your files to a new location in either scenario, the only way to move a library that consists of referenced files is to actually convert them to an entirely managed library in the process. Users who have built their own file-system organization for their media content and want to preserve that layout will find the process of moving their content to be much more challenging without creating a whole new iTunes library and reimporting it.

The New iTunes Media Organization

With iTunes 9, Apple made some changes to how media files are actually organized within iTunes. When iTunes was first released several years ago, music content was pretty much all it supported, and iTunes was designed with this in mind when it came to organizing your content. The top-level set of folders in your iTunes Music folder represented artist names from your music collection, with albums listed beneath each artist, and a few other special folders for things like Compilations.

This was fine back when it was only about the music, but over time new media types gradually appeared in iTunes, including audiobooks, podcasts, movies, TV shows, and now even iOS applications. Despite this, iTunes stubbornly held on to its old style of organization, pigeonholing things like Movies and TV Shows into their own separate folders alongside the artist names for your music. Further, items such as iOS apps and Click Wheel iPod Games were left out of this folder entirely, stored instead within the main iTunes folder, rather than the iTunes Music folder.

As of iTunes 9 non-music content is no longer treated as a second-class citizen in your iTunes library, and media content is now organized in a more balanced fashion. The old terminology of “iTunes Music folder” has been more appropriately replaced with “iTunes Media folder” and when you start a new library iTunes 9 will organize your media content into appropriate top-level folders by media type. Further, the Mobile Applications folder for iOS applications and the iPod Games folder for Click Wheel iPod Games now form part of the iTunes Media folder as well, instead of being stored separately with the iTunes library database.


If you’re starting a brand new library with iTunes 9 or later, this will simply be the folder layout that iTunes uses from the start. However, if you’re coming from a previous version of iTunes, the old music folder style of organization will be left in place. This is done primarily to preserve backward compatibility, since you may have third-party applications that read your iTunes Music folder and expect to find your tracks organized in a certain way.

Fortunately, you can easily update to the new iTunes 9 Media Folder layout right from within iTunes itself. To do this, simply select File, Library, Organize Library from the iTunes menu, and you’ll be presented with a dialog box with the option to either consolidate your files or reorganize your files.



We’ll be discussing the “Consolidate Files” option later, but for now you can just upgrade to the media folder organization by simply checking the second option and clicking OK. iTunes will quickly go through your library and move all of your existing files around into the new layout. Note that only managed files that were originally stored in the iTunes Music folder will be moved—anything referenced from outside of the iTunes Music folder will be left where it is. If your “iTunes Music” folder was in the default location under your main iTunes folder, then it will also be renamed to “iTunes Media” in the process. On the other hand, if you had previously set your “iTunes Music” folder to another location the name will remain the same as it was before.

Note: After you upgrade to the new organizational structure, you may find that you still have Artist folders located at the top folder level. These are most likely files that were in your iTunes music folder but not actually listed in your iTunes database, often as a result of deleting tracks from iTunes but not deleting the actual files. iTunes can only reorganize the files that it knows about, so any stray files left lying around will be left exactly where they originally were. It’s obviously a good idea to double-check these files with your iTunes library, but once you’ve confirmed that they are in fact orphans, it’s perfectly safe to delete these folders.

We definitely recommend upgrading to the new iTunes Media folder organization unless you have a very specific reason not to. The new layout will be much easier to work with, and most importantly your Mobile Applications and iPod Games will also be stored in the Media folder, making it even simpler to move and backup these items along with the rest of your iTunes media.

Moving your Content to a New Computer

If you’re simply looking to move your iTunes library to an entirely new computer, the process is actually quite a bit simpler than relocating the content, provided certain conditions are met:

  1. You are moving your iTunes library between two computers using the same operating system and iTunes version; and
  2. You plan to store the iTunes library database and content in the same relative locations on the new computer

If this is the case, then transferring your iTunes library to a new computer is quite simple: Just copy the entire iTunes folder and all sub-folders from your Music folder on your old computer to the corresponding folder on the new computer.

If you have changed your iTunes Media Folder location from the default, simply make sure you copy that to the corresponding location on the new computer as well. In other words, if you have your iTunes Media folder set to D:\Music then you must copy it to D:\Music on the new computer—remember that iTunes stores the full path to each music file in your library, so your music files must be in the same place on the new computer in order for iTunes to find them.

Note that if you’re using referenced files—those stored outside of your iTunes Media folder—you can copy these to the new computer as well; simply ensure that they are copied to the same relative locations on the new computer as they were stored in on the old one so that iTunes will be able to find them.

You’ve probably read about issues with synchronizing your iPod or iOS device to a new computer. This is not a problem when you’re moving your entire library, however, since iTunes associates your device with the library database rather than the physical machine. This means that once you’ve copied your iTunes library database over to your new computer, you can continue syncing your iPod or iOS device to it in the same way as you did previously—iTunes won’t even notice the difference.

To actually copy the files between computers you can use any file transfer method you normally would for any other type of data, including an external hard drive or USB memory key, a home network between the two computers, or by burning your iTunes data to CDs or DVDs.

Note: If you have previously run iTunes on the new computer at all, even if you haven’t done anything with it, chances are that there will already be an “iTunes” folder present. Unless you’ve already started using iTunes on the new computer and adding content to it, you can safely overwrite this folder as it simply represents the empty database that iTunes initially creates.

Generally, minor differences in operating system versions will not be an impediment to moving your iTunes library directly over to a new computer, nor will moving to a later version of the same operating system (e.g. Windows XP to Windows Vista or OS X Snow Leopard to OS X Lion). Likewise, you can transfer your library to a computer with a newer version of iTunes than the one on your original computer without any problems—iTunes will simply upgrade the database when you start it up on the new computer.

Note that your iTunes preferences are machine-specific, and you will need to go through and re-configure these the first time you run iTunes after copying your library over to the new computer. You can locate the preference file itself on the original computer and copy this over, however this is not recommended as there are frequently machine-specific settings in these preference files that may not translate properly onto the new computer.

If you have any content purchased from the iTunes Store, you will need to re-authorize the new computer for your iTunes Store account. Computer authorization is machine-specific. You should also make sure you DE-authorize your old computer if you no longer plan to use it with iTunes.

If you plan on putting your iTunes Media folder in a different location on the new computer you will want to read on for the process of relocating the iTunes Media folder itself. Whether you choose to do this before transferring your library to your new computer or afterwards largely depends on your specific situation. For example, if your media folder has been stored on a drive on your original computer that does not exist on the new computer, you will need to consolidate your library before moving it to the new computer. Similarly, if you plan to keep your iTunes library on an external hard drive, it makes more sense to consolidate the media folder onto that external drive from your original computer and then just copy the iTunes library database over to the new machine and let it pick up the media from the external drive.

Moving your iTunes library to a different operating system is also possible, and we will discuss that later on this article.

Moving Your Content to a New Hard Drive: The Wrong Way

A very common mistake made by many users is to simply try and move their entire iTunes Media folder to a new location and update the iTunes Media folder path in iTunes’ preferences. In some cases this may work, but in reality you will risk iTunes losing track of some or all of your media files in the process.

The reason for this is that iTunes stores the entire full path to each music file in its library database. If you move that file somewhere else, then iTunes won’t be able to find it, and the result will be a broken link to that file, shown as an exclamation mark in iTunes immediately to the left of the track listing:


If you try to select a track with a broken link, iTunes will notify you that it cannot find the file, and provide an opportunity to locate it yourself:


Selecting “Locate” will allow you to browse for the file, and iTunes will link the current entry to that specific file. This can be a viable solution for a few broken links, but you can imagine that this could become very tedious if you had hundreds or even thousands of files in this state.

Should you find yourself in this situation, the simplest solution is usually just to move your iTunes Media folder back to its original location. iTunes still has the complete path to each file in its database, so if you put the actual files back, it should have no problem finding them again.

Users who have a completely “Managed” library configuration may be able to get away with simply moving their media folder and updating the path, however it is still not the recommended solution unless you are absolutely certain that your library is fully managed and organized in the way that iTunes expects it to be. The reason this method will work in a fully managed library is because iTunes will look for any missing tracks in their default location under the iTunes Media folder path before deciding that the links are broken. So, if your tracks are organized in the way that iTunes expects to see them, then it will be able to find them in the new location. However the problem is that it is not uncommon for users with large libraries to have a few referenced files or files with non-standard names due to changes to iTunes preference settings or even inconsistent behaviour with older versions of iTunes.

The “Consolidate Library” feature, discussed in the next section, will ensure that your library is fully managed and organized the way iTunes expects, but if you’re going to use this option anyway, you might as well let iTunes copy the files to the new location in the process and save yourself a step.

Note: Mac OS X users can get away with moving their media files around on the same drive and iTunes will still be able to find them. This is not iTunes-specific but is actually due to the fact that the Mac OS X operating system itself keeps track of files when they’re moved to new locations on the same drive, regardless of file type. This will not work, however, when moving files to a different drive, partition, or computer.

Consolidate: The Right Way

So, knowing that these pitfalls exist, what’s the best way? Remember that iTunes’ philosophy of managing your media is actually to insulate you from having to worry about the underlying file system. On the basis of this approach, it makes sense that it should provide the necessary tools itself to facilitate moving your library to a new location.

So in other words, rather than messing around copying/moving files through Finder or Windows Explorer, why not let iTunes deal with this for you? This is handled in iTunes through the Consolidate files option, found under File, Library, Organize Library in iTunes.

What the Consolidate files option actually does it to gather all of the files listed in your iTunes library into the iTunes Media folder. It does this by copying any referenced files into the iTunes Media folder, renaming them with the proper track name, and organizing them into its standard file and folder structure. This option is at least partly intended to allow you to bring “referenced” files into the iTunes Media folder from various other locations in the event that you may have added them to your library with the “Copy Files” option disabled.

However the only real distinction between a file that is “managed” and a file that is “referenced” is the actual iTunes Media folder path. Files in this folder are considered “managed” files and anything outside is a “referenced” file. So, if you change the location of the iTunes Media folder to a new path and then use the Consolidate files option, iTunes will happily copy all of these files into your new location, updating all of the file location information in the iTunes database in the process.

Performing the Move

To actually perform the move, start by going into your iTunes Advanced Preferences, and changing the iTunes Media folder path to whatever new location you want your iTunes media files to be stored in. This will usually be an external hard drive, but it can be any valid path, including a secondary hard drive or even a network share:


Once you have updated the iTunes Media folder location, simply select File, Library, Organize Library… (in iTunes 8, this option was “Consolidate Library” and in iTunes 7 and prior, it was located on the “Advanced” menu):


You will be presented with a dialog box with the option to consolidate files or reorganize them. Select “Consolidate files” and click OK.


iTunes will begin the process of copying the files into their proper locations and updating these locations in the iTunes library database. Note that this process copies the tracks to the new location rather than moving them. Although the original tracks still exist, the iTunes library database is updated with the new location for each track, which makes the process difficult to undo unless you have kept a backup of your library database from prior to the consolidation. Making such a backup is certainly an option, although not normally required.

The other important note is that this will reorganize your entire library file system into iTunes’ default way of laying it out (e.g. ARTIST\ALBUM\TRACK.MP3 in the case of music files). This may not be a desirable option for those who have their media file system laid out in their own organizational structure, or who use other third-party applications that expect media files to be organized a certain way. Unfortunately, if you’re in this situation, there really is no easy way to move your iTunes media content to a new location without creating a whole new iTunes library and reimporting all of your tracks into the new library from their new locations.

Note: If you’ve upgraded to the new iTunes Media organization, your Mobile Applications and iPod Games folders will be copied into the iTunes Media folder as part of this process as well.

Confirming and Cleaning Up

Once this process has completed, you should be able to confirm that the files have been copied to the new location and that iTunes is referencing them properly from there simply by selecting a track and choosing File, Get Info. The “Summary” tab for the file properties will indicate the physical location of that track, which should reflect the new iTunes Media folder path.

Since iTunes copies the media content rather than moving it, you will likely also want to delete your iTunes media files from their original locations to free up space.

Note: Keep in mind that iTunes only moves content that is actually listed in the iTunes library database, which means any stray files that were lying around the iTunes Media folder won’t be copied to the new location. This should not be a concern unless you’re storing non-iTunes media content in your iTunes Media folder.

Remember that this process only moves the iTunes content however. Your iTunes library database will still be located in its original location, likely on your primary hard drive in your Music folder, as described earlier. So while you can clean out the “iTunes Media” sub-folder from here once you’ve consolidated your library to another location, you should not touch any of the other files or folders in your main iTunes folder.

Moving the Library Database

If you’re simply interested in moving your files to a larger disk, there’s seldom any reason to worry about moving the library database, as it doesn’t normally take up a lot of storage space, and there are advantages to leaving this file on your local hard drive and simply storing the content on an external drive.

That having been said, if you do want to move the library database to another location, this is certainly possible as well as long as you’re using iTunes 7 or later. This must be done separately from the process of moving the content described above, and you’re best to move the content first and then relocate the library database once you’ve confirmed that everything is still working properly.

To do this, shut down iTunes, and copy your “iTunes” folder (under your “Music” or “My Music” folder) to the new location. Keep in mind that you may still have media content located in an “iTunes Media” sub-folder and you probably don’t want to waste time copying this content over if you’ve already consolidated it to another location, so you may want to exclude that one sub-folder.

Once you have copied the “iTunes” folder, including the “iTunes Library.itl” and all related support files and folders, simply restart iTunes while holding down the SHIFT key (Windows) or OPT key (Mac) and you will be prompted to either create a new library or choose a location for an existing library:


Simply click “Choose Library” and browse for the location where you copied the iTunes folder. iTunes will startup using that particular library database instead of the one from the original location. Once you have set this location iTunes will continue to use it unless you change it again using the same method.

Moving the iTunes library database onto an external hard drive can be useful if you plan to move the external hard drive between multiple computers. It can also be useful to store it in a common area on a local computer for access by multiple user profiles, or even on a network share.

One word of caution, however: The iTunes database is not designed for multi-user access. If you decide to place it on a network share or in a common directory on a standalone workstation, always make sure that you do not have more than one copy of iTunes running against it at a time, otherwise you will risk corrupting your iTunes database.

Moving Between Operating Systems

Although the iTunes database format is the same for both the Windows and Mac OS X versions of iTunes, moving your iTunes library from Windows to Mac OS X or vice-versa is complicated by one other issue: The file systems between these two operating systems are completely different; even though iTunes will be able to read the library database from the other operating system, it will not be able to make much sense of the paths stored there. For example, where Windows uses drive letters, Mac OS X uses drive names, so there’s no way for Mac OS X to figure out what to do with a path like “D:\Music.”

However, the good news is that since iTunes will default to looking for any missing files in its normal iTunes Media folder, you can leverage this behaviour when migrating your library to a different operating system.

To make this work, you must first ensure that iTunes has organized all of the files according to its default naming standard. This way when you move the files onto the new operating system iTunes will be able to find them in their default locations.

To do this, first visit your iTunes Advanced preferences.


If the Keep iTunes Media folder organized option is enabled, deselect it and click OK. Then, go back into your Advanced preferences and RE-select this option and again click OK.

This will tell iTunes to go through your iTunes Media folder and ensure that all music files are named according to its defaults. You will be shown a progress indicator while this is happening.


Once this has completed, perform a “Consolidate files” operation, as described earlier to bring in any referenced tracks that may exist outside of your iTunes Media folder.

Following these steps, your iTunes Media folder should be properly organized with all of your files in the default locations that iTunes expects to find them. You can then simply copy your entire iTunes folder and iTunes Media folder over to the new computer and operating system in the same way that you would transfer any other set of files. When iTunes starts, it won’t be able to find the music files by their specific location, but it will automatically and transparently “fall back” to looking in the default location where it would expect those files to be—in the iTunes Media folder. iTunes does this in the background transparently so you won’t even notice it happening—things should just work.

Note: In many cases, automatically downloaded artwork may not appear properly when moving your iTunes library from Windows to Mac OS X or vice-versa. This issue should only affect automatically downloaded artwork, and can be easily resolved simply by asking iTunes to get the artwork again.

Dealing with a Referenced Library

Another option of course is to simply start a new iTunes library from your existing media content. In this case, you would start up iTunes with a new database and re-import everything. Of course, this will not retain any playlists, ratings, play counts or other library metadata—you will in essence be starting over from scratch. You will also need to reload the content onto any iPod, iPhone or Apple TV devices you may be syncing, since these will also see the new library and require you to perform an “Erase and Sync” operation.

Starting a whole new library will likely be your best option if you have a primarily referenced media collection scattered through folders outside of iTunes’ own music folder and you want to preserve this file system organization. In this case you can simply move your media content to the new location, and then start a new library and import it with the Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library option turned OFF, in much the same way you would have when you first imported your content to your original iTunes library.

More advanced users may be able to work around this as well by using symbolic links (OS X) or NTFS Junctions (Windows) to effectively relocate parts of the file system. This process basically involves copying the media files to a larger hard drive and then creating links in the file system to point to those new locations. iTunes continues to see the files as if they were in the same place as they have always been, while the operating system actually accesses them from the new location. Symbolic links and NTFS junctions are advanced operating system features that are beyond the scope of this article and setting this up should only be attempted by those users comfortable working in the file system with command-line tools.

Using an External Hard Drive and a Portable Computer

Once you have consolidated your library content onto an external hard drive, iTunes will continue to use that location for any newly imported or downloaded content, subject to your iTunes preference settings.

However, this creates an additional consideration for users of portable computers, since the external hard drive may not always be available. Fortunately, iTunes actually works around this quite well, so there’s no need to pack up the external hard drive when going out with your laptop.

Basically, when you start iTunes with your external drive disconnected, the iTunes Media folder path will temporarily revert to its default location on your local hard drive. This allows iTunes to run properly, although obviously you will not have access to any of the content that’s not already in that location. You will see broken links to any files that you try to access since the external hard drive is not present. No need to worry though as this will correct itself once the drive is available again.

However, this does allow you to download new content (e.g. import CDs, add files to your library, download podcast episodes, purchase content from the iTunes Store, etc). This new content will be saved in your local iTunes Media folder, and will be usable from there.

You can even sync your iPod or iOS device to your library in this state. Unavailable tracks (those with the exclamation marks beside them) will remain on the device since they are still listed in the library. You obviously won’t be able to add content to your device that isn’t already there, but you could certainly sync any new content you’ve added while disconnected since those files exist on your laptop computer. Further, even ratings and playcounts will be updated in the iTunes library during an automatic sync.

This can be a useful way to import a few tracks off a new CD when you’re away from home and get them loaded onto your iPod without having to wait until you get home or having to resort to switching your iPod to manual mode.

Once you do return back home and plug the external hard drive back in, you simply need to restart iTunes and it will detect that its proper iTunes Media folder has returned, and go back to using that. Any content you’ve downloaded or imported while you were away from your main library storage can be transferred over simply by running the Consolidate files option to copy those files over.

The way that iTunes handles this provides a very effective way to maintain a large iTunes library that is somewhat usable on the go without having to keep it all on your laptop’s internal hard drive. You can even keep a copy of your favorite tracks in your local iTunes Media folder for use while you’re away from your external hard drive; iTunes will seamlessly switch between using whichever set of media files are available.


« The Complete Guide to Backing Up your iTunes Library

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Posted by what is kamagra on January 17, 2012 at 3:16 PM (CST)


my itunes has 400 songs but only syncs 399. how do i know what song is the one that didnt go in? why does that happen?

Posted by pamela on January 23, 2012 at 9:41 PM (CST)


I have been saving my music files on my works laptop but the size of the files meant I was running out of hard disc space.
I have managed to get hold of an old iMAC (10.4.11 OS) and I want to transfer my itunes library over to this but I would like to keep play count data etc.
I have followed the tutorials to the stage where I have opened itunes with the option key down and have tried to choose the library I have transfered across.  Unfortunately it won’t import the library as it was created using a new version of itunes.
Any ideas how I can get round this? My IMac ITunes is 9.0.2 and the the Itunes on my laptop is 10.5
Any help gratefully received!

Posted by Andy Green on January 27, 2012 at 11:48 AM (CST)


“I have an iPad 1 using iTunes 10.5. My problem is that I can not see the complete song title. Is there a way to make the song title field longer so I can see more of the title?
Thank you.”

Posted by Phil on January 28, 2012 at 1:30 PM (CST)


to Phil… the name is “truncated”. you can either highlight in itunes then get info or find actual song right click and rename to a shorter. windows wont let ya show more then i think 13 characters.

as for original to move itunes .. i am getting a new pc. can i move everything to d drive (sata hdd 500gg)as posted then move drive to new pc then do the shift statr itunes and look to that drive?

Posted by Bass on January 30, 2012 at 11:32 AM (CST)


Seriously this couldnt have come at a better time for me…3 years importing music ....8000 tracks 60 some gigs…sub genera folders drop down to artist playlists…hmm after my 3 phone calls with apple tech support yesterday and years of trying to orgonize, import and more re-orgonize i was about to freak out… i just want them imported to itunes in their sub ganera playlist folders….seemed simple….as the apple tech guy stuttors and gasps and put the phone on hold to go for support…the second time on hold i was giving up….ill never have it done….then out of a sttumble in the night i come acrosss yhis shiet….if it works then u guys got some dam good timing…off to a day of re- importing hope it is end of my 3-4 years of trying to find that one track

Posted by Dtech on February 2, 2012 at 10:03 PM (CST)


Great tutorial! Clear and to the point (unusual for an iTunes “how-to”). I only wish I had found this five minutes earlier, BEFORE I re-re-located my iTunes folder BACK to the original location to try again from scratch (I’m one of those “I just moved the whole folder, and it didn’t work” people). At least I only wasted two hours, and not five or six.

Posted by Mary on February 12, 2012 at 10:47 PM (CST)


I just moved my entire library (339GB) from a windows xp pc to my new mac using my network.  I was able to this by reading this article 5 times.  I understood and I did it.  I would have bought an external hard drive if I listened to the 2 geniuses I talked to. 

Also, I have a bootable SSID and a 2TB standard drive, with my Itinues content on the bootable and my iTunes media folder in the 2tb.  Again, without this article, I’m in trouble. 

Thank you Jesse Hollington, and some of the replies on her that also educated me.

Posted by Tom on February 13, 2012 at 9:36 AM (CST)



Thank you so much for taking the time to write out this clear and thought out guide. I knew iTunes had its way of organizing things that complicates the transfer but I’m pretty sure I was on my way to doing it the “wrong way” glad I found this first!

Posted by Natalia on February 24, 2012 at 6:31 PM (CST)


apologies if this was covered in previous forum posts, but i don’t think i can use the “Consolidate” option for getting 100+ GB of music off my old PC to my new one as 1) i did not have iTunes organize my library and 2) i’m out of hard drive space on my old PC. any advice on this scenario? greatly appreciated

Posted by jim on March 6, 2012 at 6:16 PM (CST)


I have changed my PC moving over the tunes from my hard disc and now 100 (or so) out of 2000+ tunes won’t transfer on to my iPod. A message tells the tunes are not authorised on this PC, so I follow the instruction to authorise and they still don’t appear on the iPod?

Posted by Colin Reid on March 12, 2012 at 1:29 PM (CDT)


Thanks for the tips, I switched to a new SSD drive for my main drive and your article helped me move everything over!.

Posted by Chris Codish on March 12, 2012 at 4:13 PM (CDT)


I dont know what to do after I deleted my contents and settings it says connect to itunes but when I connect the ipod and then go to itunes it doesnt do anything

Posted by demarcqueis clark on March 18, 2012 at 10:52 PM (CDT)


I am a novice with iTunes and libraries. I bought my dad an iPad for Christmas and set it up using iTunes on my office computer. Now he wants to purchase stuff from iTunes on his home computer. A notice comes up that the device is associated with a different library and all the stuff on it will be deleted. It seems to only be okay when connected to the original computer I used when setting it up.  Is there a way around this?

Posted by Mike S on March 22, 2012 at 11:19 AM (CDT)


Followed the instructions to the letter.  You lose all your playlists.  16 hours of recreating my playlists, then I find that half my music appears on Itunes but is not on the Ipod.  Broken links galore.  I’d step in front of a bus before I took this advice again.

Posted by IM on March 22, 2012 at 2:11 PM (CDT)


I’m a first time iPad buyer and was checking ahead as i’ve heard of many problems with iTunes on windows.  I have a 20GB collection organized to my liking over many years and would -NOT- want itunes to mess it up!  As of now, I don’t plan on buying any media from iTunes but that many change.  I also would like to be able to attach my new ipad to my work, home and laptop without any calamities…would a consolidation mess this up? On my home PC, I also have seperate user accounts for my wife and 3 kids (2 of whom have iPods). My kids have a iTunes acct. which I think has loaded their media into their c:\user….  Dir’s and seems to be working.
Any advise or pointers on my situation?

Are there any worthwhile iTunes replacements which work more like windows programs etc.?

Nice Post

Posted by wardl in Brooklyn on March 22, 2012 at 4:09 PM (CDT)


Hi, my old computer stopped recognizing my external HD (which contained MOST of my song files)so I have SOME files on the default C:/ itunes music file and I am unable to consolidate before moving to my new computer (which I’ve never done before btw).

So, I ripped the C:\Users\myname\Music\iTunes files (including the itunes library.itl and the itunes music file which contained the recently-added music files I couldn’t consolidate with the External Drive) and copied them in the corresponding C:\Users\myname\Music on my new computer. I was then going to plug in my ExtHD and hoping it would recognize it and then consolidate from there.

Unfortunately, I haven’t got that far so as to find out if that will work. There is no iTunes icon on my new desktop, so how do I open iTunes? There is no “run program” option when I right-click the file, so I don’t know what to do.

I am trying to help myself by reading various articles but I’m making no headway. I’m sure someone in the know will spot my mistakes in a second…could anyone be so kind as to point me in the right direction? Thanks.

Posted by Newby on April 6, 2012 at 12:04 AM (CDT)


I have move my itunes library from my old computer with xppro to win 7 pro x64 but in the process whilst I have all my playlists I seem to have a music library which is duplicated and thus double the size it needs to be - one half is in the itunes media folder the other in an itunes music folder, both of which are in the itunes folder. The itunes library files are in the itunes folder. Please can someone tell me how to eliminate the duplication in my itunes library files so i can delete the unnecessary music files and by that I need guidance if I should keep the media or music folder files.
Many thanks

Posted by wiggy97 on April 11, 2012 at 12:28 PM (CDT)


I set this up the other day starting the itunes library from scratch. I have been ripping CDS using Itunes into 320 KBp/S MP3s and making FLACs simultaneously into two separate libraries begun on a 1TB external hard drive. I have set Itunes to re direct the “Media Library” to the drive and simply boot iTunes while holding shift each time. Lion has really streamlined the ease in doing something like this.

Posted by Snobored on April 17, 2012 at 1:46 AM (CDT)


Thank you so much.  The last section of this article was what I needed.  iTunes had opened without having my external drive connected.  I was worried that I would have to remap everything, so I was very relieved when I found out that I could just plug my external drive back in (after closing iTunes)and everything was fine.  Thank you again.

Posted by NS on April 21, 2012 at 3:59 PM (CDT)


I am lost and tired! I followed the instructions here to move my iTunes media to an external hard drive. It worked at first BUT now iTunes will not reference most of the songs on the ex HD. I can do them manually one by one. I have the ext HD selected as the library, the media is all there…. I have 40Gs of music 6300 songs, and I’ve got myself turned upside down. Any thoughts would be very appreciated.

Posted by Sam Fettig on April 25, 2012 at 12:59 PM (CDT)


excellent guide, thank you very much

Posted by voltik on April 26, 2012 at 3:07 AM (CDT)



I’ve been trying to use my itunes on an external hard drive mostly for my downloads (podcasts).

While installing it i selected a folder my external hard drive because it’d be where it would install the program. I also selected “keep media folder organized”.

Now I downloaded a podcast and it was saved in my internal hard drive, and I’d like it to go straight to my external HD, to the folder I created in there.

Since my mother language isn’t English maybe I missunderstood something.

Could you please help me?

Thank you very much! =)

Posted by Merry203 on April 29, 2012 at 12:42 PM (CDT)


Thank you.
That one tip - starting iTunes with the Option key depressed - solved all my problems.

Posted by Nigel on May 2, 2012 at 9:12 PM (CDT)


I have a bunch of iTunes libraries on DVD’s, mostly just copied, some as backups; and more on several hard drives as backups.

I want to have a single iTunes library with the listings, etc., on my computer, but the actual contents on an external hard drive due to limited space on my Air.

I want to have a complete iTunes library copy on yet another hard drive, complete, so that it can just be plug and go on another computer if ever necessary.

What is the most efficient way to do this?

Posted by ccllyyddee on May 21, 2012 at 4:24 PM (CDT)


My iTunes seem to have transferred properly.  Listen to music all the time and now have lots of room on my hard driver.  Problem is, iMovie doesn’t seem to recognize where to find the music files anymore.  It sees the song titles, but doesn’t have a link to the music itself.  Suggestions?

Posted by Tom Schmitt on May 23, 2012 at 2:07 AM (CDT)


There is a solution for those who want to move library to an external and don’t want Itunes to consolidate or muck up your file structure, and still maintain playlists.

After closing iTunes, make several backups of your existing xml file, just in case.  Open the xml with a text editor. Do a global find/replace to change the drive and folder info for each file to point at the new drive/folder where you have moved your music files.  Save and close.  Then open the itl file in the text editor.  Select all the text and delete it (damage the file).  Save and close.  Open iTunes and it should immediately start importing the new xml file.  This could take a while depending on the size of your library.  You’ll get an error saying the the database is damaged, just hit OK.  iTunes should then open up with all playlists intact and start reloading cover art and gap analysis.

The trick is to make sure you have all the paths perfectly correct when you find/replace in the xml, make sure to use proper characters e.g. ’ ’ instead of a space.

I’ve done this a couple times on both macs and pcs.  Hope it help someone else.

Posted by Mark on May 30, 2012 at 5:46 PM (CDT)


Hey, it’s all good, people.  Didn’t you see that he was transferring his Rush collection?  Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that! :)

Posted by Geddy JR on June 7, 2012 at 10:01 AM (CDT)


I’ve moved my itunes libary to my NAS. Installed iTunes on a new PC, but have found it has not imported all the data storted on the NAS, there are some missing albums.
The guy in the apple store said to re import the libary, but wouldn’t that create a stupidly large amount of duplications that would have to be deleted.
I do not want to start again as I’ve many playlists which I’d rather not loose.
Any ideas?

Posted by Richard on June 11, 2012 at 12:42 PM (CDT)


I have a new iPod Classic. I can transfer data from my Mac laptop to my iPod, but cannot manage the data on my iPod in iTunes, it’s “grayed out”. Any suggestions?

Posted by Bill on July 23, 2012 at 2:35 PM (CDT)


Tried following your instructions but keep getting the message “Copying files failed.  You do not have the privilege to make changes”  whenever I try to consolidate.

Can you help?

Posted by Gordon on July 29, 2012 at 8:51 AM (CDT)


iTunes sucks. You should just be able to move your music where ever you like. There is nothing on here about having a local networked HD as a iTunes folder. Try this out and let me know how that works for you…

Posted by Anthony on August 25, 2012 at 2:57 AM (CDT)



This was Very helpful. I have suffered thru this a number of times, and this is the first time I have had all the right information from top to bottom.
Many, many thanks for taking the time to offer your expertise is such a clear and complete way

Posted by Don de Belle on August 27, 2012 at 5:27 AM (CDT)


Thank you to the person who made these steps up, They were very informative and helpful. I myself followed these directions spot on and didn’t run into any problems coping my music and pod casts over to a 2tb external hard drive. we have both library’s on the external and as long as you point the current paths to each library folder you’ll have no issues.

Posted by joel on September 30, 2012 at 3:49 AM (CDT)


Wow. Excellent article. Well written. Well described and organized. Thank you! Made my process of transferring my content storage location over to my ‘documents’ drive very smooth. Thank you! I will be signing up for your newsletter.

Posted by Evan on October 12, 2012 at 11:07 AM (CDT)


Hello!  First of all, thank you for such a great article!  I believe my specific case is not mentioned there, but if I’m wrong please let me know and I’ll read the specific section.
My XP laptop died the other day.  I can’t recover anything from the hard drive.  Fortunately i had a good back up on WD encrypted Passport from just a few weeks ago.
My itunes library had tons of music on the iTunes folder plus also had paths to access a lot of music too from the Amazon folder and other separate mp3 files i had on My Music folder.  I just bought a Mac Pro and I’m planning to copy everything there, but now the paths are different and my iTunes won’t be able to find any of my Amazon purchases because the have the path: Documents and Settings/username/my documents/my music/amazon mp3.  There’s no procedure i can follow on the original iTunes because that computer died.
Is there a way of updating those paths as a whole?  If not, regardless where i put the amazon tracks on my mac, iTunes will still try to find the on ‘documents and setting’ which doesn’t exist.
Fixing the path of each song will take forever since they are thousands of songs.
I first downloaded everything to a another PC from my Passport and that’s what i’m experiencing.  I didn’t lose any playlists, cover arts created by me, albums reorganized by me, retitled, etc.  All is there.  Itunes also found all my itunes songs.  Only the paths to my amazon and other tracks are messed up. The paths remained exactly the same, but they are wrong now.  That’s why i guess the same thing will happen once i put everything on my new Mac.
Any advice would be GREATLY GREATLY apprecaited!!  Thank you!!

Posted by Carlo on October 18, 2012 at 10:36 AM (CDT)


This is a disaster.  Moved as per directions to external hard drive.  Now I don’t have Itunes on the hard drive, nor does my Itunes work on my original machine.  I am completely lost on how to transfer this to the new machine.  Help.

Posted by Scott on November 19, 2012 at 9:32 PM (CST)


OK, I have a dual Boot Windows 7 and Windows 8 with separate HDD for each OS. My iTunes Library is consolidated on another HDD seen as Drive E on either OS.
I don’t want to MOVE my Library, I just want it to be seen in Windows 8 as it appears in Windows 7. I don’t want to re-activate iTunes Computer due to ITL file change or Magic ID in registry etc.
How do I copy preferences, iPhone, iPad, iPod backups to Windows 8 and stall have Windows 8 point to my Library on drive E like Windows 7 does.
I dual boot so I won’t have simultaneous access to Library Files and I don’t mind having separate iOS device backups (But I WOULD PREFER them to be on drive E also if possible).
Any solution?

Posted by Foxnolds on December 2, 2012 at 8:23 AM (CST)


if I want reorganize my library, I go to
Organize library
and than I see :
a.Consoldate files : this link works, I can use it.
b.Reorgannize the files in the folder I Tunes Music, this link don’t
work ! How is that possible ? Now I can’t reorganize !
Can you help me with this problem ?

Posted by Floris on December 10, 2012 at 7:29 AM (CST)


I did this, and it turned all my music, over 1,000 tracks from .wav to .mp3.

Thanks for the warning.

Posted by frank on December 19, 2012 at 10:43 PM (CST)


I’m in the process of doing this.  The question I have is: once it’s done, do I still need to move all the files/folders from my old drive to my new drive?
I have some folders that have Garageband content as well iTunes files together.

Posted by xelamac on December 21, 2012 at 2:11 PM (CST)


I am in Melbourne, Australia and my daughter is in London UK. She wants me to send her entire ITunes library from our MacbookPro (Leopard) to her to install on a New Macbook she is going to buy. What is the best way to do this? Any help greatly appreciated. Cheers Ian

Posted by Ian on December 29, 2012 at 1:12 AM (CST)


I followed your tutorial which worked beautifully.  I have copied my itunes library over to an external hard drive. Checked, tested, and it works great.  Now to free storage space on my macbook pro… You say
“Since iTunes copies the media content rather than moving it, you will likely also want to delete your iTunes media files from their original locations to free up space.”
Please give me instructions to do this,I’m nota savy mac user.

Posted by Mary on January 25, 2013 at 9:12 AM (CST)


I’ve read through the document which has cleared up a lot of things for me. I still have a couple questions unanswered.

I current use Lion and iTunes 11 and have my iTunes Folder stored on an external drive (the folder contains my library database as well as my media content). I just bought a new Mac and a larger capacity external drive.
I would like to move all my Media content to the new external drive, but I would like the library database file to be stored locally on the internal drive of my new iMac (you mentioned in the article there are benefits to this file being stored locally). How do I go about doing this? I’m not too concerned about the original database file that’s on my current external drive – I don’t mind re-creating my playlists.

I was thinking it’s best to launch iTunes 11 on my new iMac so that it creates the database file locally on the internal drive. I would then delete the old library file on my old external drive, move the media folder to the new drive and go into Advance Settings in iTunes 11 and change the media folder location to the one located on the new external drive. Is this correct?

Posted by Tom on March 12, 2013 at 2:06 PM (CDT)


Urgent!! please help,
Previously, I transferred my iTunes library successfully to Drive D: and used it. Yesterday, I formatted my C: Drive and installed a new windows 7 on it. I thought that if I change the folder location on iTunes to my previous location of iTunes folder on my drive D:, the new iTunes knows all of the files on the folder, However, it doesn’t happened. At know the folder location of iTunes media folder is on my D: drive without recognizing the old files.
Because all of my books and musics and apps and everything will be missed,  Please help me

Posted by golegolab on May 19, 2013 at 1:02 PM (CDT)



First of all your article is great and is giving all the details related to iTunes media folder structure.

I have an advanced question. I have an external stroge “5Big Nas Pro”. I am planning to export my library to this external drive and create a share on it.
Is it possible for ITunes to make use the external library from my Computer1, Computer2 and Computer3 iTunes applications all pointing to the same library?Do you consider any problem using common library from all three computer?

Posted by Serhan GOKCEBAG on September 9, 2013 at 5:05 PM (CDT)


Used the Shift-start iTunes option to select the new library for my wife’s iPad after moving the library. Worked first time, didn’t realise this option was available until I read your webpage. Thanks for the help.

Posted by Peter Leeke on October 9, 2013 at 9:29 PM (CDT)


Great article! Used this to move my library over to a newly purchased Synology NAS.  Worked like a champ.

Posted by Glenn on January 14, 2014 at 2:54 PM (CST)


when i open itunes i’m receiving that ‘itunes folder is locked’ error.

due to this, i’m unable to change the directory within itunes.

is there a registry value that i can edit thats pointing to the itunes folder in ‘my documents\my music’ that i wish to change?


Posted by xwardos on February 6, 2014 at 6:29 AM (CST)


My wife had purchased 12 songs from iTunes and while she was on my computer.  Now I have those tunes on my account and can’t seem to get them over to her Ipod nano.  I spent probably 2 hours trying to get them over yesterday.  Can someone help me get those songs on her Ipod Nano?

Posted by Bob Atwood on April 14, 2014 at 9:21 AM (CDT)

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