iTunes library on a external hard drive on Windows XP

Q: My iTunes library is on an external hard drive attached to my Windows XP laptop. Once in a while, I forget to turn on the external hard drive before launching iTunes. If I download a music track or podcast from the iTunes store, iTunes changes the location of my default iTunes directory to a folder inside My Documents on my laptop’s [internal] C:\ hard drive. Then, iTunes cannot find things stored in the iTunes folder of the external drive.

So, I go to Edit > Preferences > Advanced and change the iTunes music folder location back to the folder on the external drive. The problem is that some things remain in the iTunes folder of My Documents on the laptop’s internal hard drive, even after I check “Keep iTunes Music Folder organized”.

Ideally, I would always remember to turn on the external hard drive before opening iTunes. But I don’t. Seems like there should be another way, though, to prevent the inconvenience I’m experiencing.

I’d be grateful for any suggestions.

– Ron

A: iTunes checks for your defined “iTunes Music Folder” path when you first start iTunes, so as you’ve observed, if your external hard drive isn’t connected at that time, this path will revert back to the default location, under your “My Music” folder.

The good news, however, is that if you shut down iTunes, connect the external hard drive and then restart iTunes, it should pick up the external path again as its default, so you should not need to reset it manually, unless you want to keep iTunes running for some reason.

If you are using your iTunes library while the external hard drive is disconnected, either because you forget to connect it, or you are using a laptop computer away from home, any newly-imported or downloaded tracks will go to the default location, since the external hard drive cannot be found. These tracks will remain in this location, and be referenced from there, even after you’ve reconnected the external hard drive. Although the “Keep Music Folder organized” setting is turned on, this only applies to tracks that are within the iTunes Music Folder, as currently defined in your preferences. Once you switch this location to the external hard drive, iTunes considers the tracks that are in the old location on your C: drive to be outside of its control, and will therefore not attempt to organize these tracks in any way.

The solution is actually relatively simple:  Use the Consolidate Library action, which can be found on the iTunes Advanced menu. This handy function will take all of your iTunes content that is stored outside of your iTunes Music Folder and copy it into the iTunes folder. So, after connecting your external hard drive and confirming that that path in iTunes is correctly set, simply select Consolidate Library and iTunes will take care of the rest.

Note that this feature merely makes a copy of your media content, rather than moving it to the external hard drive, so if you want to later remove it from your C: drive, you are going to have to do this manually. This is because iTunes tends to err on the side of caution when dealing with any media files that are not contained within its iTunes Music Folder—it will never move or delete any files that are not under its direct control.

Interestingly, this feature can actually be made to work very effectively once you understand it, and can be particularly useful for portable or laptop use. Since the tracks remain in their original location after the Consolidate Library function has been run, and since iTunes reverts to this path when the external hard drive isn’t connected, this can be a very useful way to keep a subset of your library on your laptop computer for use when traveling, while still maintaining a master copy of the entire iTunes library on the external hard drive. Simply manually copy some tracks from your external hard drive to your local hard drive, being careful to preserve the file/folder structure, and these tracks will be available even when the external drive is disconnected. When importing or downloading music away from home, simply run the Consolidate Library function when you return to your desk and connect the external hard drive, and any new tracks you’ve added while you are away will be copied to the external hard drive.

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