Backing up iTunes Playlists


Q: I have a very large music libray. Mostly it is classical and is organized into radio station playlists of about 2 hours duration on my MacBook Pro. These playlists have been produced over a long period and are very specific. For instance, my playlists are compiled following a specific formula. So when I back up these files to an external drive, I need to be sure that the music playlist is copied in the exact same fashion. For instance, how do I organise this so that Playlist No. 79 will be copied exactly in the correct playing order onto the new external drive? I have just read your tutorial about backing up and moving files and content, so will this do the job I need if I follow this step by step guide?

– Neil

A: All of your playlists and other important metadata is contained with your iTunes library database—a file named “iTunes Library.itl.” This file is normally found in your main “iTunes” folder in your home directory unless you have taken very specific steps to locate it elsewhere. Even if you are storing your media content in another location (as specified in iTunes’ Advanced Preferences), the ITL database file and other related supporting files remain in the main “iTunes” folder on your local hard drive.

So provided that you’re backing up your main “iTunes” folder, or in the very least the “iTunes Library.ITL” file you will be backing up not only all of your playlist data, but other metadata such ratings, play counts, and so forth. Restoring this information is simply a matter of copying the ITL file back to its proper location on your original computer or a new computer, and ensuring that the media content is restored to the same location where it was previously located.

You can also export each playlist manually to a text or XML format using the “Export Playlist” option found on the File, Library menu if you want an additional backup of your playlists. The XML exports can be reimported to restore your playlists or move them to a different library, although you will need to ensure that all of the music referenced in the playlist is available in that library before importing the XML file. This is not something you will need to worry about as long as you’re backing up the ITL file; it is simply a method for getting an additional backup of your playlists if you’re concerned about having an extra copy.

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Jesse Hollington

Jesse Hollington was a Senior Editor at iLounge. He's written about Apple technology for nearly a decade and had been covering the industry since the early days of iLounge. In his role at iLounge, he provided daily news coverage, wrote and edited features and reviews, and was responsible for the overall quality of the site's content.