Storing artwork on an external hard drive


Q: I have all of my iTunes files on an external hard drive connected to my laptop. However, all of my album artwork is being stored on my actual laptop hard drive. How do I change this? How can I transfer all of my artwork from my laptop hard drive to my external hard drive without confusing all the files? How can I make the default place for my artwork to be stored be on my external hard drive?

Storing artwork on an external hard drive

– Brandon

A: Although iTunes does create an “album artwork” folder in the same location as your iTunes library database, this is not necessarily the only place where album artwork is stored. Rather, this functions as a cache for any artwork you manually add, as well as the location for album artwork that is automatically downloaded through iTunes’ “Get Artwork” function.

Artwork that you manually add to the tracks themselves is actually placed in a tag within each track file. This means that no matter where you copy the song file, the artwork itself will always be available within the track. Even if you were to import these tracks into a brand new iTunes library, the artwork will be included.

For manually added artwork, iTunes does cache the artwork within the “album artwork” folder, in a subdirectory called “local.”  This cache is intended to improve performance for artwork-intensive features like the new iTunes 7 “Coverflow” feature.

Note that this also applies to artwork that you download through third-party applications such as iArt. These applications use the same functions that you would if you were adding the artwork manually, and therefore the artwork will be stored within the tracks.

On the other hand, artwork that you download automatically through iTunes 7’s new “Get Artwork” feature is not embedded in the tracks themselves, but rather only stored in the “album artwork” folder, under the “download” sub-folder. Tracks with automatically downloaded artwork will not maintain this artwork if moved to a different iTunes library, since the artwork isn’t in the MP3/M4A file itself. However, since the artwork was downloaded automatically, iTunes can easily re-retrieve the artwork as required, which at least partially eliminates the need to store the artwork within the track.

Note that if you’re using a Mac, you can embed all of your downloaded artwork into your track files by using the Embed Artwork AppleScript, which can be found at Doug’s AppleScripts site.

Embedding the artwork is the best way to preserve it for backup purposes, but if you do want to move the artwork directory to conserve disk space or maintain your iTunes data completely on the external hard drive, this is done by moving the entire iTunes library folder. Unfortunately there’s no way to move just the album artwork folder—you need to move the entire “iTunes” folder and all other associated files to the external hard drive in the process.

To do this, simply shut down iTunes and copy your “iTunes” folder (from directly under your “My Music” folder in Windows or your “Music” folder on a Mac) to a location on the external hard drive. Once you’ve done this, hold down the SHIFT key (Windows) or OPT key (Mac) while starting iTunes. You should be prompted with a dialog box similar to the following:

Storing artwork on an external hard drive

Simply select “Choose Library…” and then browse to the location that you copied the “iTunes” folder to on the external hard drive. From this point on, iTunes will continue to use this new path for it’s library database and other related data such as album artwork unless you manually change it to another location by using the same procedure again.

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Jesse Hollington

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.