Recovering iTunes from an External Hard Drive
Ask iLounge offers readers the opportunity to get answers to their iPod-, iPhone-, iPad-, iTunes-, or Apple TV-related questions from a member of the iLounge editorial team. We'll answer several questions here each week, and of course, you can always get help with more immediate concerns from the iLounge Discussion Forums. Submit your questions for consideration using our Ask iLounge Submit Form. We reserve the right to edit questions for grammar, spelling, and length.
Q: I have all of my music located on an external hard drive. My desktop was my main music player, but it is now heading to the recycle bin. My laptop has iTunes but it won’t find my music on my external. I tried going in to advanced and locating my library. Didn’t work. I tried shutting down iTunes, restarting and holding shift. Sure enough it asked me to find my library, which I did. Still won’t work.
Does my music library have to be in a file called “iTunes library” and does it have to be in “.itl”? Again, nothing has changed but the computer. I have been happily playing my music from my “my music” file on the external for years.
A: It sounds like the problem here is that your iTunes library database remained on your desktop PC while only your actual content was moved to the external hard drive.
By default, iTunes stores its library database (“iTunes Library.itl”) in a folder named “iTunes” under the Music folder in the current user’s home folder; this folder is named “My Music” on Windows XP, or simply “Music” on Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac OS X. The library database is what contains the location of all of your content along with information such as playlists, ratings, play counts, last played dates, iPod and iOS device sync settings and other iTunes-specific information. Generic track data such as song name, artist, album and genre are generally stored within the tracks themselves as well as in the iTunes database, as it artwork that you add to your tracks manually or via third-party artwork utilities.
The iTunes Media folder, specified under iTunes’ advanced preferences, specifies where your content is stored by default. However this setting has nothing to do with the location of the iTunes library database; your library database will remain in your home folder regardless of what you set the iTunes Media folder path to.
iTunes does not provide any way for the user to automatically move the database folder to another location, although it is possible to do this manually by shutting down iTunes, moving or copying the database files over to the new location, and then restarting iTunes while holding the SHIFT key (Windows) or OPT key (Mac) and selecting the new database folder location.
Unfortunately, this additional, manual step means that most users who are using an external hard drive with iTunes are likely only storing their content on that drive, with the iTunes library database still living on the internal system drive, but may not necessarily be aware that this is the case. As long as you’re backing up your internal hard drive this is not normally an issue, and the iTunes database folder is relatively small in comparison to most users’ media content.
The iTunes library database folder contains a number of files and folders, however the critical file is the database itself, “iTunes Library.itl.” If this file is not located anywhere on your external hard drive, then it is most likely that only your media content was on that drive, and your library database was on your desktop PC. If you still have access to the hard drive on that PC or have a backup of the data that was stored there you can easily recover your library database to the new laptop or the external hard drive. Ideally, you should restore the entire “iTunes” folder if it’s available, but failing that you’ll need at least the ITL file. Simply putting this into the corresponding location on your laptop should be enough to allow iTunes to find your library, although you should also ensure that your external hard drive is assigned the same drive letter as it had on the desktop PC, and you’ll need to check the “iTunes Media” folder path in your advanced settings to ensure that it’s pointing to the external hard drive. See our tutorial on Transferring your iTunes Library for more details about how this all fits together.
If you cannot find or recover the ITL file, then your only other option may be to simply start a new iTunes library and reimport all of your music and other media content back into it from the external hard drive. iTunes will use the identifying tag information that is already in the MP3/AAC files to populate its database, so you won’t lose things like song, artist and album names, but unfortunately you won’t get back data such as playlists, ratings and play counts and you will need to reconfigure your iPod and iOS device sync settings again.
If you have an iPod or iOS device that contained all or most of your content, you may also have some success rebuilding at least part of your iTunes library from that device. Third party utilities are available that will allow you to recover playlists stored on an iPod or iOS device as well as ratings and play information for tracks that are on your device. See our tutorial on Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer for more information.
- Will removing a credit card from Safari also remove it from Apple Pay?
- Can I mute Handoff calls coming into my Mac from my iPhone?
- How do I keep my iPhone calls from ringing on my Mac?
- Why doesn’t Traffic show up on my Today Notifications Screen?
- Why doesn’t my iPhone reconnect to Wi-Fi after I turn it on?
- Why can’t I see the iPad-style landscape view on my iPhone 6 Plus?
- Analyst claims wireless charging will be included in ‘iPhone 8,’ but rules out Energous as provider
- Apple claims EU made ‘fundamental errors’ in calculating $14B Irish tax ruling
- Analyst: ‘iPhone 8’ to feature ‘revolutionary’ front-facing camera with 3D sensors
- Apple releases third betas for iOS 10.3, tvOS 10.2, and watchOS 3.2 to developers
- Happy Presidents’ Day from iLounge
- Apple plans to begin iPhone manufacturing in India starting with the iPhone SE
- Rumor: iPhone 8 to eliminate Touch ID in favor of Facial Recognition
- Report: Apple working on 4K for next-generation Apple TV
- Apple announces WWDC 2017
- Apple patent points to possible new Smart Keyboard with dedicated ‘Share’ and ‘Emoji’ keys
- 1More Triple Driver In-Ear Headphones
- Revogi Smart Lightbulb, Smart Lightstrip, Smart Candle + Smart Meter Plug
- Audeze iSine10 In-Ear Headphones
- MOCACARE MOCACuff Connected Blood Pressure Monitor
- Apple AirPods
- Elgato Eve Motion
- Olloclip Core Lens Set for iPhone 7/7 Plus
- Logitech Pop Home Switch Starter Pack
- Elgato Eve Light Switch
- iHome iPLWBT5 Docking Clock Radio for iPhone and Apple Watch
- Top Five: The Best Products for Building a Smart Home with HomeKit
- Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of watchOS 3
- Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of tvOS 10
- Instant Expert: Secrets & Features of iOS 10
- Inside the betas: iOS 10 Photos gets Advanced Computer Vision
- Inside the betas: iOS 10 Music app delivers ‘clarity and simplicity’
- Inside the betas: iOS 10 Maps gets a major redesign
- Inside the betas: iOS 10 shakes up the user experience
- Inside the betas: watchOS 3 promises a real speed boost
- Inside the betas: A sneak peek at what’s new in tvOS 10