A Brief Guide To Managing Your Growing iTunes Library

Five years ago, Apple’s iTunes was focused almost exclusively on one thing: managing your music. Today, iTunes has become a repository for high-definition media libraries and apps, and a synchronization tool for photos stored elsewhere on your hard drive—thousands of files that can fill up even the largest hard drives before you realize what’s happening. In fact, you might not know that your computer’s hard drive needs help until you have a serious space crunch on your hands; even Apple’s Mac OS only offers a low space warning when you’re at the point where your machine has already seriously slowed down, and is in danger of becoming unusable. There are thankfully some free tools that can help you manage your iTunes library and save precious disk space, so we wanted to point them out to you today, focusing on a Mac disk visualization solution.

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Our favorite Mac applications for managing hard disks are GrandPerspective and Onyx. We’re going to focus on GrandPerspective, which lets you view your hard disk as a collection of boxes representing the sizes of individual files, enabling you to quickly see what’s big and small, then decide whether to keep, prune, or delete space hogs; Windows PC alternatives including WinDirStat can be found here. By comparison, Onyx has an automation feature that purges temporary files created and forgotten by programs, which in rare cases can amount to tens of Gigabytes in size. We had over 55 GB of deletion-ready temp files after setting up a new photo library with Aperture, but the junk found by Onyx is generally in the 2GB or less range—enough to help a seriously space-crunched machine run better, but not enough to fix the larger problem of an expanding media library with nowhere to go.


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Both of these Mac programs are free, and worth grabbing. Since using Onyx is as simple as downloading the application, selecting Automation, and hitting the Execute button, we’ll focus here on using GrandPerspective to locate and handle different types of iTunes-related media files. Windows users can try WinDirStat or other utilities to perform similar visualizations on their hard disks.

Loading GrandPerspective and Using Filters


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When you launch GrandPerspective, you’re initially brought to a Scan Folder window that lets you choose which hard drive or folder you’d like to visualize. Selecting Macintosh HD will suffice on most Macs, but if you have a separate hard drive with your iTunes library, or a different name for your hard disk, pick that disk’s name instead and hit the Scan button. After several minutes of scanning, a window will pop up with a huge grid of boxes. Running your cursor over each box will display the current file’s name, folder, and size at the bottom of the window. The larger the box, the more space the file is consuming on your disk.


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This master view presents a crazy number of boxes in order to represent everything on your drive—useful for understanding the big picture, as you can see roughly how large given folders are: the little boxes are individual files, clumped into blocks representing folders. As you move the cursor over the boxes, you may start to get a sense that your videos are eating a lot of space, or that there are some really huge boxes representing photo libraries or other files. You could just try to delete the big files individually, using the “Reveal” button at the top of the window and dragging them to the trash can, but that’s generally not a great idea since the big files are normally either important or consist of smaller files you can’t see. Instead, we recommend that you use Filters, found at the top of the screen under Window > Filter, to drill down into individual media categories and figure out where you can make changes. (You can also just use GrandPerspective to search only your iTunes folder, but this will miss everything outside the folder, so we don’t recommend this otherwise convenient shortcut.)


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GrandPerspective includes some filters, including Audio and Images, that are at least somewhat useful right away. You can create new and important additional filters such as Apps and Videos by hitting the New button from the Apply Filter window. Type the new rule’s name (Apps), check the “name” box, change “is” to “contains,” and hit “Add.” Add “ipa” so that GrandPerspective will search your hard drive for iOS apps, which end with the “ipa” suffix, and check the “ignore case” box just for safety. Hit OK at the bottom of the window.


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This will bring you back to the Apply Filter window. You’ll need to select the rule’s name (again, for this example, Apps), hit the < button, and then hit OK.

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Following this procedure, either creating a new filter or using one built into GrandPerspective, will let you look at each category of iTunes-related files on your hard drive. Here’s what you’ll find in each one, with some additional category-specific notes.


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You’ll need to create a filter in order to see your iTunes-ready videos using GrandPerspective. We created this Video filter by using “name contains” m4v, mp4, and avi—three formats that are the most common for iTunes—but you can add additional suffixes if you have downloaded or created non-iTunes files (say, mov or divx) in different formats.

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Though the individual files might or mightn’t seem big, don’t be surprised if videos collectively represent the greatest space filler on your disk. We were amazed to find that our 1-Terabyte hard drive contained 479GB of video files—over half the formatted (931GB) space on the disk. A single movie purchased from the iTunes Store, Quantum of Solace, consumed 5 Gigabytes of space between the 3.54GB HD version and the 1.49GB SD version. Individual TV show episodes combined together to consume more space than movies. You may also find that video podcasts are eating up a lot of space on your drive, and you might even find duplicate copies of video files, which you could delete to save more room. Bear in mind that videos you’ve purchased from iTunes cannot be redownloaded for free, so you’ll want to either back them up to another disc—say, a blank DVD or second hard drive—or write them off with the understanding that you won’t be able to grab them again after deleting them.


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Thanks to the ever-increasing Megapixel counts on digital cameras, individual photos become larger with every passing year, and the longer you’ve been taking pictures, the bigger your photo library will become. If you choose GrandPerspective’s Images filter, you’ll probably wind up with a grid somewhat like this one, filled with tons of tiny boxes representing image files on your hard disk. GrandPerspective initially reported that these images took up 24.7GB of disk space, a big chunk, but only 5% of the size of our video library.

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Unfortunately, the GrandPerspective Images filter doesn’t show you everything. Most Mac users use a program such as iPhoto to store their files, but the resulting iPhoto Library file won’t be revealed unless you create a new filter (“name contains iPhoto”) and search for both Images and iPhoto Libraries at the same time. Lo and behold, something like this will come up.

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Suddenly the 24.7GB of images on our hard drive were dwarfed by a 53GB iPhoto Library file, the latter represented as one huge chunk of data by GrandPerspective. Cleaning out iPhoto requires hunting and pecking through individual image and video files, tossing unneeded ones in iPhoto’s trash can, and then emptying iPhoto’s trash can. If you want to keep everything, or move some files to a separate disk, you can do that, too, but in any case, there’s a lot of space to be saved by getting rid of blurry or otherwise unusable photos, as well as accidentally recorded digital camera videos that may have wound up in iPhoto. Note that Aperture users will have a separate library that can be found using a new filter (“name contains Aperture”). Our Aperture library is so big that it needs to be on a second hard disk.


Without knowing your personal iTunes usage habits, we’d venture a guess that videos and photos are taking up more of your hard disk space than anything else. But depending on how much of an iOS app fan you are, you might also find that iPod, iPhone, and iPad applications are a pretty big section of your drive at this point. Our app library—after two years of at least occasional pruning—still occupies a considerable 66.4GB of space, and though some of these apps are individually large, you might be surprised to find how many small apps have aggregated to waste hard disk space. Again, you’ll need to create a new filter by using Window > Filter, entering the filter name Apps, checking the “name” box, changing “is” to “contains,” and hitting “Add.” Then add “ipa” and hit OK. Once you’ve selected your new Apps filter, you’ll see something like this.

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In our collection, huge games and GPS apps are the biggest files, but there are plenty of smaller ones that add up, too. You can save a lot of hard drive space by deleting apps you no longer use or need from within iTunes. A positive is that you can re-download any application from Apple for free even after deleting it, assuming that the app remains in the App Store. Two negatives are that deleting the app from your library will prevent you from seeing updates whenever they’re offered, and that iTunes doesn’t let you see a list of all the apps you’ve downloaded but deleted, so you’ll need to hunt for these updates and apps manually on your own.

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It would be great if iTunes offered the “Purchases” feature found in both its iBooks application for iOS devices and its Mac App Store, to let you see everything that you’ve downloaded even if it’s not installed. The fact that both of these newer programs have received the tab suggests that Apple may offer such a thing for the App Store in the future, assuming that it can handle the re-downloading demands of its millions of users.


Five years ago, there was a strong possibility that the largest component of any iTunes library was music, but both iTunes support for and the expanded sizes of videos, photos, and apps have eclipsed many users’ music libraries. Using GrandPerspective’s built-in Audio filter, we found that the total size of our audio library was 70GB, and that predictably most of the files were very small. It’s possible to delete files, and to find big clumps of files that have been duplicated on your drive after being imported into iTunes, but many users will discover that trying to get rid of individual songs is—like deleting individual photos from a huge collection—akin to pulling drops of rain out of a bucket. Also note that once a purchased song has been deleted, you can’t re-download it from from iTunes, so getting rid of music and other audio files has a negative side relative to purging larger and easily replaceable apps.

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Some things you may notice as disproportionately large in your audio collection include WAV or other lossless audio files, which can eat five to ten times the space of comparably long MP3 or AAC files. In the past, iPods recorded Voice Memo audio in lossless formats, which wasted plenty of space in iTunes. Today, they thankfully tend to use compression and consume less space. You can delete unneeded Voice Memo files from iTunes by searching your Music library for Voice Memo, or just sorting it by genre and looking for Voice Memo.

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Alternately, right-clicking on almost any WAV or lossless file in iTunes will bring up an option to “Create AAC Version,” which will be much smaller and—for most people—imperceptibly lower in fidelity. Unless you need an archival copy of these files, you can then delete the bigger originals and use the smaller ones instead.

Audiobooks and audio podcasts can also consume quite a bit of space, given that they tend to run longer than an individual song and in some cases an entire album. You can decide whether you really need to keep these long files on your hard drive, or whether burning them to a DVD, placing them on a secondary hard drive, or just deleting them is a better way to keep space free on your primary disk. Sorting your iTunes library by “size” can also help you find and eliminate huge files, assuming that you’ve backed them up or are okay with losing them.

Parting Thoughts

Hard disk space is limited, and as iTunes video, photo, music, and app libraries continue to grow, you’ll probably need to either buy a new and bigger drive to hold everything, or delete files that you’ve decided you won’t need in the future. Our tutorial on moving an iTunes library to a second hard disk provides you with a relatively painless option for everything except images if you don’t want to lose files; this trick is especially useful for laptops and older machines with small built-in hard disks. Hopefully, this guide has shown you how to understand just how big your media collections are becoming so that you can anticipate your future needs a little better, and get rid of some of the clutter that may be filling up even the large drives in recent computers.