Q: Suppose I’ve synced my iPod with a particular iTunes installation on a PC. If the PC’s hard disk crashes and I need to buy a new hard disk and reinstall iTunes and sync my iPod to it, won’t I lose all the existing songs in my iPod? Is there any workaround for this problem?
A: iTunes keeps track within each specific library database of which iPods have been associated/synced to that library. If you connect your iPod to a fresh installation of iTunes with a completely new iTunes database, it will recognize that you have not synchronized your iPod to this particular database before, and will prompt you with a warning message similar to the following:
As the name implies, selecting “Erase and Sync” will in fact erase all of the content on your iPod and replace it with the content of the current iTunes library (in the case of a new iTunes library, that would be no content at all). However, in the scenario described, you would instead select the “Cancel” button.
This leaves the iPod connected to your computer and accessible through iTunes, but does not perform any kind of synchronization operation.
The only situation in which iTunes would erase all of the content on your iPod without prompting you is if you had actually manually deleted all of your tracks from your existing iTunes library. In this case, in the same manner as removing a single track from iTunes removes it automatically from your iPod during the next sync, removing all of your tracks would remove them all from your iPod. This is rarely a problem for most users, however, since the track entries have to be specifically deleted from within iTunes in order to be removed from your iPod (simply erasing the underlying files will not remove them from your iPod if they’re still listed in the iTunes database).
Note that if you have content on your iPod that has been purchased from the iTunes Store, and you have already authorized your computer for the same iTunes Store account, the “Erase and Sync” warning will offer an additional option:
In this case, selecting “Transfer Purchases” will transfer any purchased content that your computer is authorized to play from your iPod back into your iTunes library. This will not include content transferred to your iPod from sources other than the iTunes Store, however.
Although iTunes doesn’t provide any method for transferring any other type of content from your iPod back to your computer, the good news is that there are ways to manually recover the content on traditional iPod models (ie, iPod classic and iPod nano) and many third-party developers have stepped in to fill this gap in iTunes as well to provide comprehensive software solutions for recovering not only media files, but also metadata such as ratings, play counts, and playlists. See our iPod 201 article, Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer for more information on the methods and tools available for recovering content from an iPod back into your iTunes library.