Q: My iTunes library is on an external hard drive that was plugged into an older desktop computer running Windows XP. I just bought a new computer that runs Vista and downloaded iTunes. When I plugged in the external hard drive, I was able to see all the albums, but the playlists had vanished. Also, iTunes on the new Vista computer does not recognize my iPod and tries to synch out the entire library which I do not want. When I plug the HD back into the old desktop, everything is still intact. So my question would be how would I get the new version of iTunes to keep the old playlists, and to recognize that my iPod was synched using that library?
A: Although you may be storing all of your content on the external hard drive, the iTunes library database is still most likely located in your “iTunes” folder under “My Music” on your computer’s C: drive. It is this database that contains information such as playlists, ratings, play counts, and your iPod configuration information.
When you connect your external hard drive to the old computer, it of course reads the original iTunes library database for the information, and simply accesses the media from the external hard drive. On the new computer, a new and different iTunes library database is being used (created when you first started iTunes on that computer), which of course does not contain any information at all by default. Any content listed in that library database on the new computer is most likely a result of iTunes searching out and importing tracks from the external hard drive automatically, as it would do for any new library.
The correct solution here is to copy the iTunes library database over to the new computer. You can accomplish this simply by shutting down iTunes on both computers and then copying the entire “iTunes” folder and everything in it from the “My Music” folder on your old Windows XP computer to the corresponding “My Music” folder on your new Vista machine. You can safely overwrite any folder that is already on the Vista machine, as this simply contains the new library that was created when you first ran iTunes on that computer.
You will also want to ensure that the drive letter used by the external hard drive is the same on both computers, since your iTunes database will have a full path to each media file, including drive letter. While iTunes can sort this out for you if your music was properly organized by iTunes in the first place, it’s generally far simpler to ensure that the drive letters are the same. If your external hard drive is assigned a different drive letter on the new computer, you can change it by going into your Control Panel’s “Administrative Tools” section, choosing “Disk Management” and then right-clicking on the external hard drive and choosing “Assign Drive Letter.”
Once you have copied the iTunes library database over and have the external hard drive connected with the same drive letter that was used on the original computer, you should simply be able to restart iTunes and it will automatically pick up the new library database with all of your playlists and other information intact, and be able to locate the media content on the external hard drive.
More information on how iTunes stores its library database and content when using external hard drives can be found in our iPod 201 article, Managing your iTunes Library on an External Hard Drive.