Q: I need to re-load the operating system on my son’s Windows XP PC. A friend told me that only the iTunes content he’s purchased will be there when he signs back into iTunes. Is there way to back up his entire library, shared and purchased music? Can I copy everything to a jump drive or to my laptop?
A: Actually, you won’t even have the content purchased from iTunes there unless you’ve actually backed it up. Apple does not allow you to re-download purchased content from the iTunes Store under normal circumstances; they expect you to make your own backups of that content. You can, however, easily transfer purchased content that is on your iPod back over to your computer.
The bottom line is that if you’re going to reformat your computer’s hard drive and want to retain your iTunes library, you should back up the entire iTunes folder from your son’s “My Music” folder. This will normally contain the iTunes library database which stores information about the content and the playlists, as well as a folder containing all of the media content itself. Keep in mind, however, that the media content may be stored elsewhere depending upon whether the iTunes Music folder location was changed or whether content was imported into the iTunes Music folder when it was imported into iTunes. You can check these options by going into the preferences in iTunes and choosing the Advanced tab and checking the options for the iTunes Media folder path and the Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library option. If the latter option is selected, this means that music added to iTunes will be copied into the iTunes folder, although it’s important to keep in mind that this only applies to music that was imported when this option was actually selected.
If you’re unsure if all of your iTunes media content is in the same folder, you can use the “Consolidate Library” option described in our article on Transferring your iTunes Library to copy all of your tracks that are listed in the iTunes library into the same folder so that you can back them up from one place. This article also provides tips on how to transfer your iTunes library to another computer, and combined with our Guide to Backing up your iTunes Library should provide all of the information you need to sort this out and ensure that your son’s iTunes content is properly backed up so you can restore it after you reinstall Windows.
Note as well that if you have any content purchased from the iTunes Store you should also be sure to DEauthorize the computer within iTunes before reformatting it. You can do this by selecting Deauthorize Computer from the Store menu in iTunes. Once you’ve reinstalled the computer, iTunes will see it as a new computer, and authorizing it for your iTunes Store account will needlessly use up another authorization slot against your limit of five authorized computers.