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Have you ever wondered if you can keep your entire iTunes library on an external drive so you can release up disk space and provide a portable music and media library? The answer is yes, you can, and it’s actually quite easy to transfer an entire iTunes collection to another drive, whether you’re using a Mac or a Windows PC.
There are many reasons why you might want to move an iTunes library to an external drive or USB stick, but owners of computers with limited disk space may find this particularly useful. Use this trick you can transfer a music library to a secondary external drive without taking up your limited internal disk space, which is especially useful for the MacBook Air and other SSD-based Macs with a smaller internal storage capacity.
If you want to go the USB flash drive route with a portable Mac (or PC) it is best to use one of the small USB flash drives as shown above, they are cheap, incredibly small and offer a lot of storage for most music libraries. Many flash drives today are so small that they are barely noticeable when connected to a portable computer, often just a small piece protruding from the side of a USB port.
Assuming you have an external USB drive or flash drive handy, let’s start moving the iTunes collection to it.
Transfer an iTunes library to an external drive
This process will move the entire iTunes library to an external drive, where it will keep usage, but cannot use up primary internal disk space:
- Open iTunes and choose the “Advanced” tab
- Look under “iTunes Media Folder Location” to see the current location, select and copy that path
- Go to the Finder in OS X (or Windows Explorer if you’re using a PC) and navigate to the file path of the iTunes library, usually in the following location on a Mac:
- Connect the external drive to copy the iTunes library to
- Look at the ~ / Music / iTunes / folder, copy the “iTunes Media” folder to the external drive with drag and drop, let the file transfer complete before doing anything else
- Now go back to iTunes and under “Location iTunes Media folder” choose the option “Change” button to select the new location
- Navigate to the external drive you just connected and copy the library to, select the newly copied “iTunes Media” folder, then choose “Open”
- Choose “OK” to confirm selection of the new iTunes media folder
~ / Music / iTunes /
Keep in mind that copying an iTunes library to an external drive means that the external drive must be connected to the computer to access the media, be it movies or downloaded apps, movies and TV shows via iTunes.
If you’re moving the library to conserve hard drive space, you probably want to delete the iTunes Media folder from the primary hard drive when the copy is complete. You can do this by looking at the “Advanced” Preferences tab and checking if the external drive is now the location shown in the screenshot below with an external flash drive called “Untitled”.
There should be no problems with this at all, but double check that the music plays as intended before removing the library from the computer’s built-in drive.
For those wondering, yes this works with mounted network drives too, but there are drawbacks to that approach, and you can do better Home Share to stream an iTunes collection around a home or local network. The same recommendation applies to sharing an iTunes collection between Macs and PCs, which is best handled over networks or with a full-fledged media transfer between the PC and Mac.
In general, flash drives and external SSD drives are best for offloading an iTunes library, as they are faster and have no wake / sleep spin.up delay that can occur with traditional external hard drives. Nonetheless, it works fine with an old-fashioned spinning disk, although you may sometimes encounter a slight delay if the external drive is asleep when you launch iTunes. You can also move the library on a partitioned drive, although there isn’t much benefit to doing it unless you want to swap it with another user account or just keep it somewhere else, that process is similar and has been covered before.
Restore the iTunes Media folder to default settings
Do you no longer want your iTunes collection on an external drive? You can easily restore it to its default location, although you will likely want to restore the library to the computer first using the same process described above. When the iTunes library is back in its original location, do the following:
- Connect the external device to the computer and copy the iTunes Media folder back to the ~ / Music / iTunes / folder
- Launch iTunes, go to the Advanced tab of Preferences and choose “Reset” under “iTunes Media Folder Location” to return it to its default setting – to make sure your previous library is accessible, it must be stored in the same location otherwise just choose the “Change” option and navigate to the new location
That’s it, you will go back to the default settings and iTunes Media will go back to where it was.
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