Q: I have a question about rebuilding an iTunes library from an external hard drive when you have the library content but not the data. I have read your article on Recovering iTunes from an External Hard Drive which was very helpful. I have my library stored on an external hard drive but when my old laptop died I was unable to get the database from it to set up my library on my new computer. I understand that I can rebuild it from the files I have but what I am worried about is what effect this will have on my iPod and iPhone? You say in the article you will need to “reconfigure your iPod and iOS device sync settings again.” What does this mean? Will I lose any data from my devices? I should say that I do not automatically sync my iPod. Can you please clarify exactly what the implications of rebuilding my library will be? Thanks for your help.

Recreating a lost iTunes library from existing media content

– Louise

A: If you have lost your library database but still have your actual media content on an external hard drive, then what you are essentially doing is creating an entirely new iTunes library from scratch and importing your media content into that new library. In most cases this will result in all of your media content being basically back in place, but you will lose information such as playlists, ratings, and played status as this information is only stored in the iTunes library database file.

In most cases track information such as title, artist, album, genre, and so forth is stored within the actual media files, so that information will be read in when importing your media content into the new iTunes library and used to identify your tracks.

In terms of iPod and iOS device synchronization, the impact depends primarily on whether you have been using automatic or manual synchronization.  If you’ve been syncing manually, you basically have nothing to worry about as iTunes treats your iPod or iOS device as its own separate library, and you can continue to connect it to your new iTunes library, manage the content from iTunes, and drag-and-drop new content to it in the same manner as before. Keep in mind, however, that even in “manual” mode, some types of content such as podcasts, ringtones, iOS apps, and calendar/contact entries are still synchronized automatically.

On the other hand, if you’re using automatic synchronization for your media content, you will be prompted when you connect your device to the new iTunes library to “Erase and Sync” your device with the new library.

From here you can simply choose the “Cancel” option to leave your iPod or iPhone alone and then adjust your sync settings, such as changing to manual mode or choosing which specific media content you want to sync with your device.

Note that despite the implication of “Erase and Sync” button, iTunes doesn’t actually remove content from your device, but rather matches it up to what is in your library. The effect is the same as an “erase and sync” but the process is generally much faster as iTunes doesn’t bother removing and recopying content that’s already in both places.

Therefore, in most cases, connecting to a new library that already has all of your content in it won’t really remove any of your media content from your device, however since your new library won’t include any of the playlists from your old library, you probably want to avoid this process so as to retain the playlists on your device(s).

If you want to get your playlists back into your iTunes library, you can export them from your iPod or iPhone by selecting the playlists from the device view in iTunes and choosing File, Library, Export Playlist or right-clicking on the Playlist and choosing “Export” from the context menu.


Recreating a lost iTunes library from existing media content

Save the playlist as an XML file and you can then use the corresponding File, Library, Import Playlist option back in the new main library to recreate your playlist there. Assuming the same tracks are already in both places, iTunes should match up the track names to the imported playlist.



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.