The Complete Guide to Backing Up iPod & iTunes Music (2005) | iLounge Article


The Complete Guide to Backing Up iPod & iTunes Music (2005)

One of the most common questions we receive at Ask iLounge is a variant on this theme: “my computer crashed and I lost all my music files; how can I copy my music back from my iPod to my computer?” While we’ve provided answers to that question, you’ll be much better off if you never need to resort to that good but imperfect option. The better solution: create a true backup of your iTunes music library, copied from your hard drive.

Even the best computer can fall victim to hard drive problems. While you can’t avoid losing something, you can protect almost everything by backing up your files regularly. We won’t go into the specifics of backing up your entire computer or your documents, but we’ll look closely at how to back up your iTunes music collection, your playlists, ratings and other information for your iTunes library.

The Files and Folders iTunes Needs

Unless you’ve specified otherwise, your computer has an iTunes folder that’s located in your My Documents > My Music folders if you are running Windows, or your Music folder (inside your home folder) if you use Mac OS X. The iTunes folder contains three items: two files, one called iTunes 4 Music Library and another called iTunes Music Library.xml (though you may not see this extension), and another folder called iTunes Music.


The iTunes folder on Windows XP.

Let’s start with the files. It may seem strange that there are two files with such similar names, but these files contain different information. The iTunes 4 Music Library file contains the database of all the songs in your iTunes library. It also contains your playlists, your ratings, your play counts, last played dates and more. The iTunes Music Library.xml file contains some of this same information, but is used to provide access to your music to other programs. You need both of these files to use iTunes; however, if they get deleted, iTunes creates new empty files, and only adds to them when you import music. (In other words, if these files are deleted, especially the iTunes 4 Music Library file, your iTunes library will appear empty the next time you open iTunes.)

Your iTunes Music folder contains the music files in your iTunes library, unless you have chosen not to store them there. By default, iTunes copies all of your music files to this folder when you add them to your library. If this is not the case, you probably have turned off this option in the iTunes preferences.



If the Copy Files to iTunes Music Folder when Adding to Library option is checked, iTunes copies all your music files to your iTunes Music folder.

It is best to leave this option checked unless you have a lot of music and use external hard disks to store it. With this option active, you always know where your music files are, and you can back them up more easily.

Why You Should Back Up Your Music

One of the key reasons iLoungers want to retrieve the music from their iPod is computer crashes; especially with Windows, the most common “solution” to problems is to erase your hard disk and re-install the operating system. Assuming you can even access any of the files on your hard disk before you wipe it, you may remember to copy off your documents, but forget about your music files.

While you can get the music files back from your iPod, that’s not a perfect process - especially if something goes wrong in the transfer process. Files you purchased from the iTunes Music Store may be lost for good; you can’t re-download your files to your computer unless you pay again. While you can always rip your CDs a second time, the labor and hours you’ll spend will be crushing. Finally, you’ll lose all of the playlists that you’ve worked so hard to set up, as well as play counts and last played dates. A simple backup once in a while can spare you all of this grief.

How to Back Up Your iTunes Music Files

There are several ways you can back up your iTunes music files, but the simplest is to simply make a copy of your entire iTunes folder (the one in Windows’ My Music or in your Mac’s Music folder). You can copy this to an external hard disk, if you have one - if not, we strongly recommend purchasing an external hard disk if you have a lot of music. At under $100, they are relatively inexpensive these days, and you can use one to back up both your music and the rest of your personal files, ensuring that if your computer fails you’ll be protected. If you have an external hard disk, simply drag your iTunes folder to the hard disk to copy all its contents. If your music is stored in another location, drag the folder containing your music files to your external hard disk as well.

If you don’t have and don’t want an external hard disk, the alternative is to burn CDs or DVDs with your music files. You can either do this directly from the Windows Explorer or the Mac OS X Finder, or you can use iTunes to do it for you. Here’s how to do so with iTunes.

First, go to iTunes’ Preferences menu (Edit > Preferences on Windows, iTunes > Preferences on Mac OS X) and click the Burning tab. Check Data CD. A data CD burns exact copies of your music files; it doesn’t create audio CDs, nor does it convert the files in any way. (If you later want to burn audio CDs, make sure to change this setting after your backup.)



Check Data CD in the iTunes Burning preferences to burn a data disk containing copies of your files.

For your first backup, start by making a note of the date; you’ll understand why later. Then click the Library icon in the iTunes Source list, select all your music (Control-A on Windows; Command-A on Mac), and select File > New Playlist from Selection. This creates a playlist with all your music. Select this playlist, then click the Burn Disc button to start burning your music.



Click Burn Disc button to start burning discs to backup your music files.

iTunes will ask you to insert a disc; if you have a CD burner, insert a blank CD. If you have a DVD burner, insert a blank CD or DVD. (Remember, DVDs hold about the equivalent of 6 CDs, so it is much quicker to back up your files to DVD, if this is possible.) When iTunes has filled up the CD or DVD, it will eject the disc and ask you for another disc. It will continue until it has burned everything in the playlist.

After this has finished, make a new smart playlist (File > New Smart Playlist), and select Date Added Is After [the date you recorded earlier]. The next time you’ve added a fair amount of music to your iTunes library, enough to fill up a CD for example, select this playlist and burn it to disc. This will add all the files that you didn’t back up the first time.



A smart playlist that will display files you’ve added to your iTunes library since your last backup.

After you’ve completed this backup, select the playlist, then select File > Edit Smart Playlist. Change the date to the new date on which you just backed up your more recent files. Each time you want to back up more files, use this playlist, then update its date. You’ll always have a playlist containing files you’ve added to your iTunes library since the last backup.

All that remains is to back up those two iTunes Library files somewhere as well; iTunes doesn’t copy them when you back up your music files. Find a safe place where you can copy them - another CD, for example - and burn them there.

Now, even if your computer crashes and you lose everything, you’ll be able to restore your iTunes library easily. After installing iTunes, drop those two files into the iTunes folder (again, the one located in your My Documents > My Music folders if you are running Windows, or your Music folder (inside your home folder) if you use Mac OS X), and then use your CDs or DVDs to copy all of your music back into the iTunes Music folder.

picKirk McElhearn is the author of several books including iPod & iTunes Garage. His blog, Kirkville features articles about the iPod, iTunes, Mac OS X and much more.

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Does burning through itunes add the library files to the cd/dvd? I was under the impression it did not. I keep the music files out of the ‘my music’ folder and only leave the library files there. would this make a difference?


Posted by t i m on May 24, 2005 at 6:34 AM (CDT)


A friend of mine purchased an Ipod and dosen’t know how to use the computer software. I plugged her Ipod to my computer and uploaded 1525 songs….My question is, when I show her how to use her software, can she IMPORT the songs I put in her Ipod to her computer?

Posted by brooklynrican on May 27, 2005 at 2:43 PM (CDT)


Now on my Mac G4 running 10.2.8:
Users > Me > Music > iTUNES folder > iTunes 4 Music Library (db file), iTunes Music Library (xml file).
Now on my External Drive:
“iTunes Music” folder containing aprox 11gb of ALL my 3500 mp3’s.

QUESTION: I want to erase my G4 completely. Then install Tiger on the G4. What do I need to save/do iTunes-wise on the G4 drive? What do I need to save/do on the External?

THANK YOU ALL!!!!!!!!!

Posted by NormalUp on May 28, 2005 at 4:01 PM (CDT)


How do I transfer songs from my Ipod to my Computer?

Posted by JesusPod on June 11, 2005 at 5:01 PM (CDT)


Is there anyway to keep songs on your ipod that are no longer on your computer? I thought I knew how to do this, but it looks like I was wrong. Please help if you can.

Posted by Nuerosis on June 27, 2005 at 3:47 PM (CDT)


I want to restore my itunes library from my iPod, how can I do this?

Posted by inelson on July 7, 2005 at 4:25 PM (CDT)


All my music is stored on an external hard drive (Lacie).  The local Apple store recently installed Tiger for me (G4 Powerbook), but in the process did not back-up/archive so I lost all my files.  However, I can see that all my music is still in the external but can’t figure out how to access it from a currently blank iTunes.


Posted by Ku in New York on July 21, 2005 at 1:57 AM (CDT)


I followed all the instructions but what I end up with is CD ROMS—not DVD’s. I am using an external burner and it has Roxio included. Please advise.

Posted by soeclectic on July 25, 2005 at 10:01 PM (CDT)


So embarassed. In the confusion of setting up the DVD burner and installing Roxio, I got CD’s mixed in with my DVD’s and therefore I was burning onto CD’s! Duhh!

Posted by soeclectic on July 26, 2005 at 12:08 PM (CDT)


My hard drive crashed…but I was backed up. About 4gb of my music is inaccessible-where before it was. Am getting message that song could not be played because original file could not be located. I know exactly where the 4 gb folder is-can I paste it to My Music in itunes ? I can open each file individually, but it is tedious-Tx-jn

Posted by clancy on August 16, 2005 at 11:24 PM (CDT)


Juast wanted to post a thanks to iLounge and this article. My brand new Dell XPS raid array packed it in and I lost my entire Lib and all iTunes purchased music. After pouring over the Apple and iTunes site I couldn’t find a thing to help.

A freind refered me to the site and sure enough this article saved my a$$.

Thanks iLounge !

Posted by nUMBA9 on August 26, 2005 at 12:13 AM (CDT)


i just got a new computer and am wondering how to transfer my itunes library to my new computer from my old one. if you are able to aid me in that i would be most appreciative.

Posted by panichard on January 3, 2006 at 10:58 PM (CST)


is there a way for me to “Consolidate Library” while deleting the existing files?  I’ve only got about 13 free gigs on my internal hard drive, and I want to consolidate my (currently spread-out) library before backing up onto an external hard drive .  A considerable amount of the files, however, are outside of the iTunes folder, and I’ll certainly run out of disk space while consolidating :/  is there any way around this?  Perhaps a way to consolidate the library onto the external drive, while still keeping everything the same on the internal drive?  Thanks to anyone that can help me out.

Posted by superdigg on January 9, 2006 at 5:29 AM (CST)


how do i transfer my songs on my ipod to my computer that crashed and lost all of the songs?

Posted by swimmnbadboy on March 22, 2006 at 12:07 PM (CST)


I have lost access to most of the music in my ipod through setting my podcast folder to automatically update. Can I regain access to the rest of the music stored in the ipod?

Posted by lebski on April 16, 2006 at 7:17 PM (CDT)


how do you copy the music from your ipod to your computer

Posted by spencerbr on August 20, 2006 at 2:22 AM (CDT)


My iTunes doesn’t show a “burning” option under preferences, why is this?  I’m trying to burn discs, and it’s telling me to adjust the burning speed on that tab, but it isn’t there, and it’s driving me mad.

Posted by Luce28 on September 14, 2006 at 2:11 PM (CDT)


how do i get my songs that are on my ipod on a new computer with a new itunes installed. i lost the music once by trying to get them on the new itunes and they all ereased i got them back from my old computer but had to travel to get them back on the ipod.

Posted by brokendown19 on September 28, 2006 at 11:15 PM (CDT)


For those who want to copy songs from iPod to computer, I had to do this when I went from a laptop to my home desktop.  I tried backing up my files to external hard drive then copying to the new PC but all I got was a blank iTunes.  I had to use a program called copyPod that actually imports the songs from your iPod to your computer.

Posted by jrohr on December 6, 2006 at 3:36 PM (CST)



Thanks jrohr,

I used copypod b/c of your post here and it worked! Saved me a lot of misery.



Posted by coconutlimegirl on December 26, 2006 at 3:51 PM (CST)


Here is my problem:
I run itunes on a Mac laptop PB G4. I entered 150 cd’s into the itunes and successfully transferred them to my ipod.

I put an itunes app onto an external lacie hard drive then copied/backed up the 150 cd’s to the lacie hard drive.

Backed up. I thought.

In order to free up space I then deleted the 150 CD’s from my Mac laptop PB G4.

Yesterday I bought 3 new cd’s and loaded them into the laptop and ipod. I then copied/backed up the 3 cd’s to the itunes lacie hard drive.

when I checked the lacie hard drive however
all the previously 150 backed up Cd’s were gone.

All that remained were THE 3 NEW CD’S THAT I HAD JUST BACKED UP!

What did I do wrong? Is there anyway to retrieve the previously backed up 150 cd’s from the lacie external? (Besides getting third party ipod to itunes software?)

Have any other people experienced this problem?

I can’t leave all my new music on my laptop-it just eats up too much space.

However I don’t know what else to do if backing up to an external drive simply over rides what had been previously backed up.

Any help or comments greatly appreciated.


Posted by aspat on January 28, 2007 at 11:14 PM (CST)


Why does this fine article not have a Printer-Friendly version?  This is the kind of thing you need to print out and have handy while you’re performing the steps;  but 10 pages????  No, it should be available in printer-friendly version of about two or three pages.

Posted by BigMutt on August 16, 2007 at 7:43 PM (CDT)


Unfortunately I didn’t have the “Copy files to iTunes music folder (data) when adding to library” checked off, so none of the songs are in there. I am trying to back up my library and wanted to know how to save what’s in my library now to the folder so I can then save that on a external hard drive?

Thanks in advance for any help!

Posted by hoppy11 on August 30, 2007 at 4:38 PM (CDT)


Probably sounds like a daft question, but my itunes is saying that my ipod is corrupted, and that i’ll need to restore my ipod settings, to make it work with itunes.
I don’t mind restoring my ipod settings-but I DONT want to wipe my itunes folder and restore those settings either, as I have tons of songs on it.
So my question is can I restore my ipod setings, without losing the songs from my itunes?

Posted by canfly on September 1, 2007 at 12:50 PM (CDT)


I have 1.5TB of music on a RAID drive. Still nervous, I got a second RAID drive as a backup and keep it at a friends house. The first time I backed up as you suggested. Now 6 months later I need to update the back up. I have added new music, which is easy, but how do I update my changes to comments, ratings, etc on the music that is alredy there? I have deleted stuff because it was skiping or for other reasons. What i realy need to do is to make the backup drive the mirror of the main drive but without deleting the backup and recopying the whole thing because 1.5 TB takes days to copy. Any ideas?

Thank you


Posted by Steven Morris on October 6, 2007 at 2:00 PM (CDT)


How do I transfer my itunes library on my desktop to my new laptop?

Posted by vtovar on March 20, 2008 at 4:53 PM (CDT)


I would like the answers to questions #7, #12 and #26.
My daughter backed up all intunes from old computer on a portable hard drive.  Now we have a new computer and she is having trouble loading songs on her ipod.  The error message comes up “unauthorized computer”.  We want all old and current itunes purchases kept on portable hard drive.  Is there a problem with that.  Thank you.    Terri

Posted by Terri Gorder on April 29, 2008 at 10:17 AM (CDT)


How do I get the answers to #3? Actually I want to see answere to multiple questons>

Posted by Dokken Ramey on May 22, 2008 at 3:57 PM (CDT)


I need your help iwas downloding music
and by axident i unplug my ipot and i lost all my music i have a 80G I lost all my music how do I get or star a music list Ineed your help please let me know this is urgen!!!!!!!

Posted by judith on May 27, 2008 at 1:50 PM (CDT)


Well, no one seems to answer any of the posted remarks in this thread,  so .......  you’re all out of luck as far as obtaining answers via this thread.

Posted by bigmutt on July 11, 2008 at 6:39 PM (CDT)


If you want an answer go search in in the forums or post there.

Posted by helix66 on August 6, 2008 at 2:49 PM (CDT)


How do you specify an external DVD drive to be the backup source in the iTunes software, it just prompts me to insert cd in the cdrw that came with my system, I need to backup to DVD writer because of size, any ideas? Thanks.

Posted by Rick on August 18, 2008 at 12:29 PM (CDT)


My daughter had the operating system (XP) reloaded.  How can we get the songs off of the ipod into the new libary?  There are songs on the ipod that where no purchased thru itunes.  The itunes songs show up in the libary not the others, thought if you select the ipod in itunes you can see they are on the ipod.  Eg.. 100 songs in the library, 150 songs on the ipod.  we don’t want to loose the non itunes songs.

Posted by Dave on August 29, 2008 at 9:46 PM (CDT)


Ok, I had an HP laptop with Itunes and all my 1400+ songs on it.  I sold the laptop and now I have my Ipod still with all the songs on it but I want to be able to have all those songs on my desktop.  Is there a way to make this happen?

Posted by C.J. on September 17, 2008 at 1:09 AM (CDT)


I have no music on my computer and have added tracks from my friends computer to my iPod touch is there anyway i can export the music from my iPod touch to my computer?

Posted by Ryan Westerman on October 6, 2008 at 12:23 PM (CDT)


When I opened the complete guide to backing up my ipod and itunes music postedin may 2005 it didn’t offer option to us a usb thumb drive.  Now that they are available with large capacity, how do you back-up or save music to one of these?

Posted by Larry Gossman on October 7, 2008 at 12:49 PM (CDT)


How do i transfer songs from my ipod to my computer

Posted by Morgan on December 2, 2008 at 5:58 PM (CST)


Here is basically the deal with our iPods, iTunes and coping with moving the music to new PC or recovering from a disaster:

Simply put, you cannot just copy/move your media from your iPod to your PC currently with the iTunes software as it is now. If you are like me and recovering from a hard drive crash and have just installed iTunes, iTunes will not import your library from your iPod without first wanting to erase it and then synching it. If you do this, it will wipe your iPod and synch with the empty library, leaving you with nothing.

Unless you have backedup your library to discs through the iTunes program or copied the library to an external drive as a copy, you will not be able to transfer from your iPod back to your PC. The ONLY way you can do this is through 3rd party software, as someone mentioned above.

If you were like me and thought “Well if my PC goes, at least I have it on my iPod.” It does not work that way and I do not understand why Apple can’t work out some kind of system within iTunes that will allow you to do this. Unfortunately as much we like our iPods, Apple is very heavy handed in controlling how the media is handled.

It is a shame that Apple cannot allow a more elegant solution to what is supposed to be an elegant product. As drive capacity increases on iPods (I have a 160GB), it is simply unacceptable that the only Apple approved method through their own software is to create discs. Who wants to make 30-40 DVD discs for backing up media that is already located in two locations already?

Posted by Achtungg on December 5, 2008 at 12:14 PM (CST)


Actually, although iTunes itself does not transfer songs from your iPod back to your computer, with the exception of those songs purchased from the iTunes Store, there are a whole lot of other methods for doing this.

See our iPod 201 article, Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer for more information and some detailed steps on how to do this.

Posted by Jesse Hollington in Toronto on December 6, 2008 at 2:41 PM (CST)


I have two questions, the first probably not being possible.
First question being; I have all my music files in itunes ripped at ACC standard format at 128 kbps. Can I change it to ACC lossless without re-ripping my entire library (about 18g), and will it make that big of a difference (I just purchased an Audio-Technica headphones and I would like the best sounding audio possible)?
Second question is there a way to erase my library from my laptop HD (I’ve already ripped it to an external SeaGate 250g HD) and access my library from my Ex. HD with cover art and all, such as it is on my laptop (would save me alot of grief from the lady for filling up the laptop)? Thanks and sorry for the long question.

Posted by Brian Tryba on September 17, 2009 at 12:56 AM (CDT)


my computer crashed, i have my itunes library saved on a external hard drive (HP Simple Save) but i have no idea how to transfer my itunes library back into my itunes that I just installed on a new computer. Help please! Thanks

Posted by Pauline Willems on February 10, 2010 at 8:04 PM (CST)

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