Transferring iTunes library between two external hard drives


Q: I just transferred all of my iTunes library files from my old external hard drive to my new one. Now the iTunes library won’t recognize the data from the new drive. I haven’t changed the computer, all I did was moved ALL my data that no longer had space on my old drive to a new drive. What do I do to make the library recognize the data/files from the new drive? Can I keep my old playlists or do I have to start from scratch again? I have gazillons of songs and I have manually typed in thousands of song lists into the playlists. Sure appreciate any help!

– Maki

A: If you’re using Windows, the first and simplest trick may be just to re-assign the drive letters for your external drives so that the new drive has the same letter assigned as the old one. Assuming that you kept the same folder structure when you moved your iTunes library from the old hard drive to the new one, simply assigning the old drive letter to the new drive should allow the iTunes application to pick up all of the files as if they had never been moved at all. You can reassign your drive letters by going into your Control Panel and choosing “Computer Management” from under “Administrative Tools.”

Otherwise, how to proceed will depend on where you’re storing the iTunes library database itself and whether you’ve moved just the media files or your entire iTunes library folder.

Most often when users choose to store their “iTunes library” on an external hard drive they’re really just referring to the iTunes Media folder which contains all of their underlying media files—songs, videos, audiobooks, apps, etc. In this case, the iTunes library database which stores information about those media files as well as your playlists still lives on the internal hard drive, and simply references the media files on the external drive. If this is your situation, what you should now be seeing is all of your tracks still listed in iTunes but with exclamation marks beside each track indicating that the file cannot be found and asking you to locate the file. This is due to the fact that iTunes stores the full path to each of your media files so when you’ve moved them to a new location your iTunes library can no longer locate them in their original locations.

The solution in this case is to move the files back to their original location and then instead of moving them using Windows Explorer or the Mac Finder, use the “Consolidate Files” option within iTunes itself to copy the files to the new location and update the internal paths. You can find out more information about how to do this in our article on Transferring your iTunes Library.

Alternatively, if you’ve been storing your entire iTunes folder, including the database files on the external hard drive and have moved this entire folder to a new location, you may now be finding that iTunes starts with an entirely empty iTunes library. In this case, iTunes has simply re-created a blank library database at the old location on the external hard drive. You can tell iTunes to open its library database from another location simply by holding down the SHIFT key (Windows) or OPT key (Mac) while starting the iTunes application. The process for this is also detailed in the article above.

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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.