Recovering iTunes from an External Hard Drive | iLounge Article


Recovering iTunes from an External Hard Drive

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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.

- Hugh

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.




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Is it really wise to link back to a five-year-old article?

A lot has changed since then.

Posted by Jason Orwell in Toronto on October 25, 2012 at 5:45 AM (CDT)


While admittedly that article is in need of an update, the fundamental principles remain the same. The only significant issues are the individual software applications, although even many of those are still available in updated forms.

How iTunes-based media content is stored on traditional iPod models and iOS devices has remained virtually unchanged since each of these devices were introduced. Even the new seventh-generation iPod nano still stores data and syncs with iTunes in basically the same way as a fifth-generation iPod from 2005.  Ditto for the iPhone 5 as compared to the original 2007 iPhone model.

In fact, you may be surprised how many older recovery software apps still work even with the new iPod nano—they may not get the model number or icon right, but they can generally still read the data as it’s still stored in the same way.  iOS recovery tools are a bit different as Apple has changed the USB communication protocols slightly over the years, both to improve performance and to combat jailbreaking, but this is the primary reason why these third-party utilities are regularly updated, and beyond “Transfer Purchases” there’s really no other easy way to get data off an iOS device manually anyway.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on October 25, 2012 at 8:34 AM (CDT)


yes i had a question about how to get itunes on my desk top again but i cant find it. i was updating it the other day it then i hit cancel and i cant get on it or even find it at that point im looking for a way to get it back with all my stuff and things like that.

Posted by andy in Toronto on October 25, 2012 at 7:12 PM (CDT)


Hi, I had all my music saved under my itunes music on my c drive but it got too full so i decided to put it all on my external. but silly me after i put everything on my external i deleted all my music in my itunes library not knowing i can just change the location. anyways i ended up by dragging all the music across manually and went through deleted duplicates etc and when i switch off my computer and switched it back on i had taken out my external then opened my itunes plugged in my external now all the songs are being asked to locate. i have ticked consolidate all files and i cant play anthing i have checked preferences and the music loaction is pointing to my external but it just wont work. and for me to locate each song will take forever again. and to delete and start again will just be terrible.

Please help me

Posted by Denise Fussell in Toronto on October 26, 2012 at 5:52 AM (CDT)

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