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.

« At E3, the iPod’s long white shadow of success

First Looks: iFi, DecoDock, Incase Shuffle, USB Power »

Related Stories



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 Kirk McElhearn 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 Kirk McElhearn 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 Kirk McElhearn on May 28, 2005 at 4:01 PM (CDT)


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

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


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

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

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter


Recent News

Recent Reviews

Recent Articles

Sign up for the iLounge Weekly Newsletter


iLounge is an independent resource for all things iPod, iPhone, iPad, and beyond.
iPod, iPhone, iPad, iTunes, Apple TV, Mac, and the Apple logo are trademarks of Apple Inc.
iLounge is © 2001 - 2015 iLounge, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Terms of Use | Privacy Policy