Recovering iTunes onto an external hard drive

Q: Hello! I just finished your article on Transferring your iTunes library. It’s well done and you seem to have a great deal of knowledge on the subject of iTunes. With this, I was hoping you could help me with my problem. My computer crashed, but a friend was able to transfer the contents (my iTunes library and all) from my old hard drive to an external hard drive. Now I have a laptop that doesn’t have the room for all of the music, but I still want to have access to iTunes for my iPhone and iPod. How do I install iTunes on my external hard drive without wiping all my music and/or playlist that exist there? How do I run iTunes from my external hard drive, or can it even be done? I have 200+ GB that is on my external hard drive and don’t want to lose any of it, not to mention losing all those personal playlists! Any help you have with this problem would be greatly appreciated! Thank you for your time and have a great day!

– Pius

A: There are actually three separate pieces that you need to be aware of when talking about setting up or transferring an iTunes library.

The iTunes application is always installed on your local hard drive. This includes the executable for the iTunes program itself, as well as any support files and iTunes preference files.

The iTunes database is normally stored on your local hard drive, but you can tell iTunes at startup to create or use an iTunes database from another location.

iTunes’ media content is also stored by default on your local hard drive in a new iTunes library, but media files can also be references from other locations on your local hard drive or external hard drives, and you can choose a different location for the iTunes Media folder in iTunes’ Advanced Preferences.

In your case, you would install iTunes on your computer as you normally would—it’s going to get installed on your local hard drive no matter what, and the external hard drive’s iTunes library is irrelevant to this process. By default, the first time you start iTunes, it will create a new library database on your local hard drive, and set the iTunes Media folder path to a default location on your local hard drive as well. This will not affect anything stored on your external hard drive as iTunes doesn’t know anything about this.

In this particular case, the normal way of handling this would be to copy all of the recovered iTunes folders—database and media—from the external hard drive back to your local hard drive. Unfortunately, since you don’t have room on your internal hard drive, you’ll instead have to tell iTunes to use the database directly from the new location. To do this, you would simply hold down the SHIFT key (Windows) or OPT key (Mac) when starting iTunes and choose your iTunes folder on the external hard drive. This will open your iTunes library database from that location, and you should see all of your music and playlists displayed there.

Likewise, switching to the new iTunes database location should also automatically switch iTunes to using the “iTunes Media” folder in that location. You can confirm this by going into your iTunes Preferences and checking the Media Folder location on the Advanced tab.

Recovering iTunes onto an external hard drive

The only real issue is whether iTunes will be able to actually find your media content. The problem is that iTunes stores the full path to your media files in its library database, so it will still be looking for your media files on your internal hard drive—in the location that they were stored on your original computer. The good news is that when iTunes can’t find a media file in its specific location, it falls back to searching in the default location where that file would be under the “iTunes Media” folder. If your media content had previously been properly organized by iTunes into its default folder structure then iTunes should be able to automatically locate all of your media files in the new iTunes Media folder on your external hard drive, and you should be fine.

On the other hand, if you had used a custom organization for your media files instead of letting iTunes organize them for you, then you will need to put them back into their original locations on your internal hard drive and use the “Consolidate” option to move them to the external hard drive properly. Since you don’t have enough space on your internal hard drive for your entire iTunes Media collection, you would need to do this in stages: Move as many files back to your internal hard drive as you can, consolidate them to the new iTunes Media folder on the external hard drive, delete them from your internal hard drive, and then repeat the process with the next group of files.


Latest News