My First Mac Archive

This article was first published on 2008-06-27. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.


I don’t know about you, but the single largest set of files on my Mac is my iTunes Library, meaning all my music. And I’m perpetually struggling with having enough free hard drive space, so it makes sense to try to move these files to an external drive.

This article covers the steps of moving your iTunes library to an external hard drive, and discusses why you may want to have an ipod or a second external hard drive at your disposal if you choose to stow away your heavy iTunes library externally.

Editor’s Note: This article is for older versions of iTunes. A recent commenter noted, " just to update people, in iTunes 10, the
consolidate library option is in File > Library > Organize Library." Be advised as you go forward.

The good and the bad

One thing that I’m sure many people with limited space on their internal hard drive(s) will find wonderful about storing their iTunes library on an external hard drive is the potentially huge amount of internal hard drive space saved. I know there are some ethically challenged folks with over 100Gbs of music on their drive. You can find out how big yours is by opening iTunes, and chose one of the sub-libraries (Music, Movies and Audiobooks). Now you can read the individual sizes of the sub libraries at the bottom of the window.

An obviously bad thing about having your iTunes library stored on an external hard drive is the inability to listen to your music when the external hard drive is disconnected. The obvious solution to this is to listen to your music from your iPod when your library is disconnected. If you don’t have an iPod, storing your library on a dedicated portable hard drive could solve the problem. However, if you e.g. use your laptop on the couch, this could be a pain, and I therefore recommend the iPod way of getting around this problem.

Moving the tunes

So how do I move my iTunes library? The process can be split into the following five steps:

  1. Getting set
  2. Change library location
  3. Consolidate library
  4. Copy files
  5. Delete old library

Until step 4, this is the official method provided by Apple. But since their method does not move the whole library, we will do something different (step 4).

Getting set

Launch iTunes, and from the iTunes menu choose Preferences. When the preferences window is open, click the Advanced tab (highlighted below). Select the "Keep iTunes Music folder organized" checkbox (highlighted below) and we’re set. You may also want to check the Copy files to iTunes music folder box as well. That will keep you future music imports organized as well.

Change library location

Now, still in Advanced tab, push the “Change” button (highlighted above). An open dialog will pop-up. Navigate to the desired location on your external hard drive, make a new folder for your library, and click the “Open” button in the lower right corner of the dialog. Then click “OK” in the Advanced window.

Consolidate library

What’s left now is to bring your music files together in your library if they aren’t already. To do so, From the Advanced menu, choose 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." Press the “Consolidate” button, and iTunes starts moving music files to your library. Expect this to take a while if you’ve left your music files strewn all over your Mac.

Move files

Quit iTunes, and open your iTunes folder (default is Users / Username / Music / iTunes). Next, select the files shown below, copy them (shortcut: command-c). Then navigate to your new iTunes folder, and paste them (shortcut: command-v).

Delete old library

First, make sure everything works just as usual. Browse your library, check that no album art is missing, the songs play like they should.

If everything works, delete the old iTunes folder, and you’re done!

My insecure setup

I moved all of my media libraries to my external hard drive recently, but after doing so, I realized that my brand new and extremely space saving setup was seriously insecure. While having a great time finding the best way to move the libraries to an external hard drive, I had completely forgotten about backup.

I only own a single external hard drive, and that meant that my libraries were now on the same hard drive as the backups of the libraries! That left my libraries completely vulnerable to an eventual hard drive failure. I would not recommend having such a setup to anyone, since hard drive failures happen time to time.

As you may have guessed by now, my libraries are at the moment back to their default locations.

The alternative setup

The above mentioned insecure setup can easily be avoided by keeping your libraries and backup on two separate hard drives. If you have an iPod, your library is probably stored there already, and you don’t have any kind of security problem. Other choices could be getting a second external hard drive or to opt for a RAID 1 setup with two disks if you want to save an USB port.

Further Thoughts

If you don’t have a spare drive around or hooking up to your laptop is a pain, you can explore some other options. First, if you have an iPod, iPhone or AppleTV and your library fits on there, sync it and leave it on that device to play from. Don’t forget there are a wide variety of speakers with remotes to make your life easy in this way.

Next, if you have another Mac (or PC), even an old beater that is not up to much else, you can run your iTunes there, or use it to stream you music to your new Mac via the Shared Music on a network. You may even want to move this old Mac to a room that you’ll listen to music more often in.

Lastly, always use your first extra drive as a backup, not only for your iTunes Library, but all your crucial files. This leaves you the option to put music on another device like an iPod and then take it off your Mac.

Got any suggestions or question of your own? Let us know in the Comments section below!

Bjørn Friese is studying Social Science and English in Denmark, and has an ever growing passion for computers and being creative.