Importing folders with M3U files

Q: When I import music into my iTunes library it seems to be getting imported twice and I’m ending up with duplicates. For example, one of my music folders has ten MP3 files and one M3U file. When I drag-and-drop that folder to add it to my iPod touch, it adds the MP3 files twice. I am using Windows Vista. If I remove the this M3U file and drag the same folder, the files are only added once. This just started happening with the latest upgrades to iTunes and it only happens on my Vista machines, not my XP Machine. What is happening and how can I stop iTunes from doing this?

– Fred

A: An M3U file is actually not a music file itself, but is rather a playlist of your tracks. Depending on what application you may have used to organize your music in the past, M3U files can often get created automatically in each folder to group tracks for other applications. If you open up an M3U file using an application like Notepad and take a look inside you will likely see nothing more than just a listing of your MP3 files.

iTunes does not normally care about M3U files, and will not create them. However, in those cases where you actually want to import them as playlists into your iTunes library, you can do so manually by using the File, Import option on your iTunes menu.

The most likely cause of the problem in this case is that the more recent version of iTunes on the Windows Vista computer is importing your M3U file in addition to the MP3 files whenever you drag them in. Previous versions only imported M3U files if you did so manually, however iTunes 8 appears to collect them alongside your MP3 files during the normal import. The result is that it imports the MP3 file itself directly, and then imports all files referenced in the M3U file. Since the M3U files in each folder likely contain a list of all of the tracks in that folder, you simply do not need to import these files.

The simplest solution would be to go through your music folder structure and delete all of these M3U files unless you are using some other application to manage or play your music that specifically requires them. You can quickly search for and clean out all of the M3U files simply by using the Windows “Search” option to locate files that end in an M3U extension, and then selecting them all and sending them to the Recycle Bin.

If you need to keep your M3U files for some reason, then the other option to avoid importing them into iTunes would simply be to use the Windows “Search” function to locate your MP3 files instead, and then drag those search results into iTunes as a single group of files.

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