The Easiest Way To Move Your iTunes Library To An External Drive

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move itunes library external driveStorage space is one of the biggest problems for laptop users. You can run out of those bytes in no time at all, especially if you fill your laptop with multimedia files like music and movies – the types of files that you keep and manage using a multimedia manager like iTunes.

A quick look at the folder sizes inside my MacBook hard drive shows that the iTunes folder occupies a large area on that near-full storage space. To regain some room to breathe, I decided to move my collections to an external drive.

If the problem is only moving everything inside the iTunes folder to the external drive, a simple cut and paste would solve it. The trick however is to keep everything intact. Nobody wants to re-fill hundreds (or thousands) of song information, re-assign all the ratings, re-paste all lyrics and re-hunt for the cover art. The only thing that should be different after the move is the location.

Do It The iTunes Way

After asking around and browsing the net, I found several ways to achieve this goal; from the easiest – almost automatic – way, to the script-compiling complicated way. In the end, I picked the easiest and most obvious way: the iTunes way. Aside from the simplicity, the reason I chose it is because it’s applicable for both Windows and Mac.

The following process was done using the Mac version of iTunes, but the steps are similar under the Windows version.

  • To move your collections to another location, open iTunes “Preferences”. Use the menu “Edit – Preferences” (Windows) or “iTunes – Preferences” (Mac). You can also use the shortcut key combination: “Ctrl + Comma” (Windows) or “Command + Comma” (Mac).
  • Go to the “Advanced” tab and click the “Change” button for “iTunes Media folder location“. While you are at it, check the “Keep iTunes Media folder organized” and “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library” boxes.

move itunes library external drive

  • Browse to the new location where you want to put your collection. Create a new folder if you have to.

01b New Location

  • After you click “Create“, iTunes will update the library.

moving iTunes Library

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  • Now you have assigned a new location to store your collection, but the multimedia files are still in the old location. To move them to the new location, you have to consolidate them. Go to “File – Library – Organize Library” menu (similar under both Windows and Mac).

02b Organize Library

  • Check the “Consolidate files” box and click “OK“. If you’ve organized your files in the iTunes Music folder before, the second box will be greyed out.

move itunes library to new drive

  • Then the waiting game will begin – iTunes will copy all the files inside the iTunes Music folder to the new location. The process could take a while depending on how large your collection is.

move itunes library to new drive

  • Now that your collection is safely stored in the external hard drive (or another location that you chose), you can delete (some of) the files at the old location to free up some space in your hard drive. You can keep your favorite songs/movies so you still can play them even without the external drive.

move itunes library to new drive

Another point to remember: Even though the multimedia files are in the external drive, iTunes stores the information about them in the iTunes Library file in your local hard drive. So don’t delete the iTunes Library file.

What Will Happen Now?

With a larger empty space in your laptop’s internal hard drive, you are convinced that moving your multimedia collection out was a good idea. But you also realize that bringing an external hard drive everywhere you go is a bit impractical. The question is, what will happen if you open iTunes on your laptop while the external drive is unplugged?

You will get this error message every time you want to play a file that doesn’t exist in the local hard drive. Then an exclamation mark will appear next to the item.

move itunes library

If you still keep the items that you want to play inside the local drive, click “Locate“, browse to the location, and you can play them without any problem. If not, click “Cancel“. You don’t have to do anything because this issue will be automatically resolved the next time you plug in the hard drive. If you add new music or movies during the unplugged period, you can always consolidate those files to the external storage later.

Another possible path to take is to create another iTunes library for your local multimedia files. You can do this by holding the “Alt” button when you open iTunes, You will have the option to create a new library.

move itunes library

  • Give a specific name to the library so that you can easily tell the difference between the one that points to the local files and the one that points to files stored in the external drive.

move itunes library

  • Pressing “Alt” while opening iTunes will also let you switch between iTunes Libraries easily.

move itunes library external drive

If you have a different solution that works better for you, please share them using the comments below!

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Comments (14)
  • Karolina

    Thank you for the above,

    unfortunately the step to create a new location “new folder” on my external hard drive did a “updating iTunes” process followed by a question:

    Would you like iTunes to move and rename the files in your new iTunes Media folder to match the “Keep iTunes Media folder organized” preference?

    i answered yes……. then followed your consolidating procedure.

    i checked my external drive and only some of my music is on there. It is filed by the artist & only 1 track is in each artist folder.
    Does anyone have a solution?

  • Lisa

    ….okay, false alarm.  I restarted and everything worked again; no exclamation marks.  I am such a newbie.  But I still hate iTunes.

    Does any one here use Media Monkey?  If you do, what do you think of it, and do you think it is more user-friendly?  Or am I just going down another road of confusion…….? 

  • Lisa

    Well, I followed (at least I think I followed it to a tee) the instructions above.  I read the Apple site instructions, as well.   After going through all the actions above, I found that none of my songs would play while my external hard drive is connected.  This is after I moved the iTunes Media folder to the Recycle Bin.  I tried to restore the folder from the bin and my songs still will not play, with the exclamation marks on ALL songs.  Can someone please tell me what I may have done wrong.  I hate iTunes.

  • Yodash

    Top article: Clear, Concise, Easy To Use – a great solution to a very frustrating problem.
    Thank you.

  • Jack

    I had a little bit different approach, but this somewhat gave me the enlightenment I needed. I really wish that once you change the “Advanced” preference to the Media Folder location that it then and there updated iTunes Library.xml, but that isn’t the case. Seems not until you “Consolidate the Library” does it.

    Issue with that for me is that I had anally went through a lot of work building my own file hierarchy and not 100% sure how Apple “Organized the files” I wasn’t sure I wanted to just switch my 130GB+ collection to a knew folder set-up.

    So, essentially after changing the “Advanced” preference to where the new location was, I did a Find & Replace on the iTunes Library.xml file with my updated Location.

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Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.