How to run your iTunes library off an external hard drive

Sections: Features, How-To, iPod, iTunes

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iTunes LogoLet’s face it—an iTunes library can get very big, very quickly. You don’t want to clog up your system, but deleting things would be a waste of your money. The best choice, therefore, is to save your library on an external drive. No, not for storage, for active use. Let’s look at how you can put your whole iTunes library on an external drive and still use it.

These comes in two steps.

Step One: Organize your iTunes music folders automatically.

  1. From the iTunes menu, choose Preferences.
  2. In the resulting window, click the Advanced button.
  3. Select the “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” checkbox.
  4. Click OK.

Now, you can actually make the move.

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. From the iTunes menu, choose Preferences.
  3. Click the Advanced button in the Preferences window.
  4. Click the Change button in the iTunes Music folder location pane.
  5. In the Change Music Folder Location window that appears, navigate to the location where you would like your new Music folder to be created. Note: By default, your iTunes Music folder is a folder named “iTunes Music” in ~/Music/iTunes/ where the tilde “~” represents your home directory.
  6. Click the New Folder button in the Change Music Folder Location window.
  7. In the New Folder window that appears, enter the name of the new iTunes Music folder.
  8. Click Create.
  9. Click Open in the Change Music Folder Location window.
  10. Click OK in the Advanced window.
  11. From the File menu, choose Library and then Consolidate Library… A message appears that says: “Consolidating your library will copy all of your music into the iTunes Music folder. This cannot be undone.”
  12. Click Consolidate. Important: This action copies all of your music and media files to the new location. There must be enough hard disk space available to copy all of your music and media files.
  13. After the folder has been copied, locate your original iTunes Music folder, and drag it to the Trash.
  14. Empty the Trash.

And that’ll do it. If you need more help, you can get it on the Official Apple Support Site.

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  • Paul

    An easier way to accomplish the same thing is simply relocate your itunes media folder to your external hard drive and then create an alias called iTunes Media and place the alias on your computer, directing to the external hard drive.
    Works like a charm.

  • Supernova

    What would be a nice option in iTunes is the ability to archive selected songs, videos etc. to an external hard drive without actually deleting them from the library. This is essential for me especially that my iTunes library setup & usage relies on the date a track was added, skipping count, playing count etc. For now, I can wait for such an option since my library occupies 70% of my 500 GB HD with more than 30K Tracks. I hope Apple will add this in the near future.

  • Vic Laville

    Am about to try to move my iTunes library (iTunes from my pc to an external drive as described. However, following other threads on how to do this and also checking the details outlined above before doing it, I cannot find the 'CONSOLIDATE LIBRARY' option….there isn't one under the file tab or anywhere else. So how do I achieve this final important part of the transfer?

    There is an IMPORT PLAYLIST option which I could use to import the .xml file, but which? Under my iTunes folder there is an iTunes Library and an iTune Music Library .xml file; the first is dated yesterday and the second last year…are they both needed?


  • Katie Gatto

    Vic – Consolidate should be an option under file, then library. I would move both of the library files to be safe.

    Paul – your option may work, but you will also have duplicate pathways. Its not nearly as clean.

  • Will Evans

    In response to Vic's issue, iTunes has moved the consolidate feature from being in the initial library drop-down.
    It's new path is File>Library>Organise Library..>Consolidate Files.

    This menu will also give you the option to upgrade to iTunes media organization which I'd recommend doing before the consolidation process.

  • Richard L

    I am migrating from one computer to another and I want to run iTunes off the external drive on the new computer. Here is what I've already done:
    a) Use the Library "consolidate" function to move all my titles to the external drive
    b) In iTunes on the new computer, edit preference to point to the external folder instead of the default under My Documents.
    c) Imported my playlists via the XML file into my new iTunes
    d) Moved my old ITL file to the external drive
    d) Ran "choose folder" in my new iTunes and pointed to the ITL on the external drive.

    Yet my playlists are STILL empty. What have I missed?

    Thanks in advance!

  • Paul

    Does this method move the apps, movies, books, and ringtones to the external HDD as well? I'm thinking about getting a MacBook Air w/ 64GB HDD so I need to move as much of my files onto the external HDD as I can.

  • Ali Fincham

    I've just got a new laptop and my Itunes is stored on an external drive under musiciTunesItunesmedia. I've changed the preferences on the new iTunes but it's not picking it up and I'm stumped! Any suggestions please?



    • joe bloggs

      wise words indeed