How To Run iTunes On An External Harddrive

Given that some of us have massive media collections, mines approaching 400 GB soon, it’s crucial that iTunes is able to support a media library on an external harddrive. As of right now external storage is much cheaper than buying an internal drive. For example my iTunes library is on a 1TB HD that cost about $115. Pretty cheap if you ask me considering 3 years ago I got a 250 GB for about $160. Now I should of wrote this post a loooongg time ago, as I’ve had a few friends ask me how I did this and just now one of my twitter friends @ryanbruce sent out a tweet asking the same question. How do I move my iTunes Library?!

Well it’s really quite simple to do it the wrong way annndd the right way. The wrong way isn’t necessarily wrong but the right way will be MUCH smoother, trust me. One of the things you DO NOT want to do is drag your iTunes Music folder from one location to another. This just throws a wrench into the once smooth procedure. This is because iTunes is simply a collection of referenced media files, that by default are copied and organized into your iTunes Music folder. Some though are rogue and when referenced don’t get copied into your default folder. For instance if you have a song sent by IM it’ll reside in your downloads folder and never will sit in your iTunes Music folder. If you need a better and more indepth explanation on how iTunes manages and references your media files please read this article about the same thing over at ilounge. READ HERE.

Let’s get to my explanation though in lamen terms for us all. The first thing to remember is that you will want to do all of this through iTunes. There is no need for any finder windows or explorer windows. Simply start by going into your iTunes preferences, which can be found under the iTunes menu near the top left. or hit command comma/control comma on Mac or PC. Now that you are in preferences you should see this…Nothing on this screen matters except for clicking on the advanced tab.


This is what you will see once you’ve clicked on advanced and this is where the money is at as far as moving your library is concerned. The first and most important step is to click on the CHANGE button. From there just pick your new location you want your iTunes to be. obviously this can be your new external or it can be anywhere you want it to be. A network share, external, second internal, etc… Once you’ve done that it’s optional but still important to me that I keep my iTunes organized and I also usually have the copy files to iTunes Music folder on as well, but as I’m not plugged in right now I turned it off. I’ll add a little bit about that below.


So now you’ve got your library’s location saved and iTunes will keep everything organized for you. Also anything you add now will be saved to your new location you picked. So what about all of that old stuff that’s still sitting on your internal drive, well this is where iTunes has a great solution. If you go under the file tab in the menu then library then click consolidate. This copies all of your referenced files into the new location you chose back in the preferences. It may take some time depending on the size of your library, but after that’s all said and done you are up and running in your new location.

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Now you still have your files in their old locations as well so you can get rid of those if you want, delete, move, whatever it is you want to do with them is fine. You’ve got everything in one central location and nice and organized thanks to iTunes. This is one way to move your iTunes library and I think it is quite simple. There are others ways that I’ve done and they’ve just been a mess. I’d recommend doing it this way before anything else.

Back to the sidenote I mentioned earlier. Since everything is running on an external now you have to be careful if you are using a laptop with this setup. Once you go mobile and don’t have your hard drive with you iTunes reverts back to it’s original location. Don’t worry it doesn’t screw up anything. It’s just that if you download anything new, or rip a new cd you have to be sure to consolidate your library once you are plugged back in to your external. Also be sure to restart iTunes once you plug back in to make sure it goes back to running off of your external. You don’t want to hit consolidate and have it move everything from your external back to your internal. Just because of that I usually leave iTunes shut down if I’m not plugged in to my external. A little extra safety precaution I take, but it isn’t necessary as long as you are aware what you are doing.

That’s all there is to moving your library, a few easy steps and iTunes handles it for you. I’d recommend reading the ilounge article as well with this one just to make sure you understand how your iTunes library works. If you have questions please leave a comment. or get with me on twitter, or shoot me an email. Just ask me somehow. Again thanks to @ryanbruce for the inspiration to write the post. Let me know how your move goes!