Save Space On Your Mac By Storing iPhoto & iTunes Libraries Remotely

James Bruce 26-07-2013

With my head held low with shame, I publicly admitted last week that I’m a digital hoarder 8 Essential Tools For the Digital Hoarder Yes - I'm a digital hoarder - and my hard drive was so full I had to buy a 4TB NAS. Movies, music, photos, eBooks, stock footage -- I just know I'll get around to... Read More . My once blazingly fast Mac is now left with just 100GB of a 1TB drive left. I’ve already shifted all my downloads onto a NAS, but now I’m left with a legacy of nearly 20,000 photos and MP3s, which together add up to at least 200GB of space.


I’m hoping to upgrade to an SSD, but at this rate it’s looking quite difficult. Today, I’ll see whether it’s possible to shift these completely off to a network drive – my Synology NAS should be perfect for this, but you can also use an external hard drive if you lack network storage.

Before we begin: Backup

I can’t promise this is going to work for you and not completely screw up your libraries – so before you even attempt this today, do a full, complete and bootable Carbon Copy Cloner - A Free & Powerful Backup Utility (Mac) Read More backup of your drive. If you have Time Machine 4 Resources to Become a Backup Master with Time Machine [Mac] Read More  setup and working you shouldn’t lose any data, but it’s often easier when you’ve made a huge error to just clone your Mac back to how it was before.

If you’re not already backing up, now would be a great time to get started with the ultimate triple backup system The Ultimate Triple Backup Solution For Your Mac [Mac OSX] As the developer here at MakeUseOf and as someone who earns their entire income from working online, it's fair to say my computer and data are quite important. They’re set up perfectly for productivity with... Read More .

I’d also suggest not shifting your iTunes and iPhoto libraries to a network unless your NAS device has backup capabilities itself – the Synology DS413j I’ll be using has a hybrid RAID with one disk redundancy, so I’m trusting it not lose all my data.

Locate Libraries and Check Size

Your iTunes library can found under Music > iTunes. Right click the folder and give it a moment to count the file sizes – mine totalled nearly 125GB – but bear in mind this will include any downloaded apps for your iOS devices too. Don’t manually edit anything within the folder structure – always let the native apps manage these libraries.



The iPhoto/Aperture library – now unified – can be found in your Mac’s Pictures folder. This folder is a little special – you can’t “open” it to view the underlying structure (well you can, but just don’t, mmmkay?). Click on the folder once and the total size should be shown on the right information panel.


Moving iPhoto Library

Assuming you want to keep using iPhoto or Aperture as your photo management solution, you’ll be moving the entire iPhoto Library “file” as is. Make sure iPhoto and Aperture are closed, make an appropriate shared folder if you haven’t already, then simply drag and drop the library to your NAS or external drive.



Once it’s complete, you can double click to open the library in iPhoto ’08 or later and it will remember the location for future. For older versions, hold down the option key while launching iPhoto to open the library selection dialog, then navigate and choose your newly moved library.

No more changes needed for iPhoto, you’re all set – provided your NAS is present and functional on your network or the external drive you used is connected, iPhoto should function as normal.

Note: Scott got in touch to tell us he had problems with this causing data loss – the issue arises because the iPhoto library must be stored on an HFS+ formatted volume. His solution was to create a sparse bundle disk image and place that on the NAS storage instead – instructions on how to do that can be found here.


Moving iTunes Library

There’s a number of ways to go about moving the iTunes library.

  1. The simplest way is simply to move the entire library content and let iTunes manage as before. This is what we’ll be doing today, so as to keep all that juicy metadata and artwork intact.
  2. You may also choose to only copy the raw files, then re-add them to a new iTunes library with the option to leave them in their original location (by default, iTunes will attempt to copy them back into it’s own library again, defeating the entire point of our exercise today). This would be best if you have other apps accessing your library and would like to maintain your own folder structure, but bear in mind you will lose all the metadata if you do this – play count, ratings etc.
  3. Your NAS may also have it’s own iTunes server, which will create an iTunes compatible network share as well as extra features it might offer (like remote playback over the internet). You will need to let your NAS handle the library though, and iTunes will merely stream it.

Start by reorganising your library – especially if you’ve kept the same library for many years now and possibly even moved between operating systems. Choose File > Library > Organize > Re-Organize (not Consolidate) and allow it to sort out your files.


Update Library Location

Create an iTunes folder on your NAS or external drive, and update the iTunes preferences for your existing library to that new location by going to iTunes > Preferences > Advanced and clicking Change.


Save Space On Your Mac By Storing iPhoto & iTunes Libraries Remotely chnage location

Next, select File > Library > Organise > Consolidate.


This will begin the process of copying your music to the new library location. If you have a lot of files, this is going to take a very long time.

When you’re done, you can safely delete the iTunes Media folder on your local machine. At this point, you may also choose to move your library files (.ITL and .XML) to the NAS or external drive too, but I don’t suggest doing so as these are far smaller and keeping them locally will improve performance since they contain the actual index of files.

You may also face some issues when copying to a NAS. EXT3 filesystems are case sensitive, and filenames have 255 character limit. Unfortunately, there’s not an awful lot you can do other than manually fixing these and trying again. If you are using an external drive, a HFS+ file system will provide best results.

Map the Network Share So It Mounts on Boot (NAS method)

Assuming you moved your libraries to a NAS and that the drive is already mounted (which it should be if you’ve been copying things to it) you’ll want to make sure your newly networked media boots with your Mac. Open up the Users & Groups panel from System Preferences, click Login Items and add a new login item for your own user, and select the network drive.

This should now cause your Mac to mount the network share automatically on restart so your library doesn’t break. If you used an external drive, you’ll need to ensure the drive is physically connected each time instead.



That’s it, all done. Now – I really suggest you don’t go filling up all that space again, but instead consider swapping out your drive for a smaller SSD for much improved performance. Here’s how I added one to an old Macbook Pro How To Swap Out Your Macbook's DVD Drive For An SSD Is your old Apple laptop starting to struggle? Is the boot time so long that you can actually go out and buy a coffee? If so, perhaps it's time to think about upgrading your main... Read More .

Got any more tips for freeing up space? Let me know in the comments, and share if you appreciate this tutorial!

Related topics: iPhoto, iTunes, NAS.

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  1. Mike
    October 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Hi James,
    that looks so easy I'm tempted to try.

    - Have you "upgraded" to Photo, and if yes, does it work for you?

    -There are many articles from people who failed with NAS, or came up with more complicated solutions such as - why would they do that?


    • James Bruce
      October 26, 2016 at 1:20 pm

      To be honest, I've since upgraded to Adobe Lightroom, and now use a Mac Pro with many terabytes of local storage, so it's no longer an issue for me. Sorry!

  2. angieyeo
    June 28, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Hi James, i done exactly what you had done for my iPhoto library - copying to my NAS. It worked well.

    I had a question, how can i then view my iphoto library (which is on the NAS now) on my iPhone?

    When I opened my qfile station (Im using qnap), it just sees iPhoto library.

    • James Bruce
      June 28, 2016 at 1:27 pm

      Hi Angie. iPhoto libraries are in a special format, and not visible by regular file managers. You would need to use a special library viewer, which supports networking. That might not be possible. (though, this isn't really specific to moving it to a NAS drive, this would be true even if it were on your mac).

  3. Akeem Soolayman
    May 30, 2016 at 5:09 am

    I stumbled across "make use of" when looking at backing solutions.

    I have a situation (not sure how unique it really is) ... I have an older MacBook Pro ( with a primary 120GB SSD drive and secondary internal 1TB SSD ) a component in the logic board went bad and it was sent to be repaired. As a paranoid student. I used savings and ordered a MacBook Air right off of the apple site.

    I have at home, a regular router with a 3tb Seagate drive attached to it. I'm very mindful that I want to use the MacBook Air for work and class and use the MacBook Pro for home use once I get it back. The MacBook Air only has 256 gigs of flash storage. Is there some way to use my current Seagate drive in my router to store my photos? And have them accessible only through the network? So I can save space on both systems? Whist still wing able to access them via either laptop on the network at home.

    I'd like to take my music with me on the MacBook Air but not necessarily the photos. But if I transferred photos from my phone. I'd like that when I get home, I was able to transfer them to the network storage and off of the MacBook Air.

    Please let me know if any of this makes sense to you and if there is any advise that you and your team could give.


    Working (overworked really) Trinidadian Student

  4. G.W.L
    January 13, 2014 at 8:15 pm

    Thanks for your question - nothing is too silly anyway. Highligt with cmd-A and Export is what I mean. It will not work with .mov files. Not with iPhoto, nor with Aperture. I get only exported a image to my Synology NAS. The format is correct and all the other .mov files are working correct.
    What I have to do, is manually open the library - copy the name of the .mov file and past it into the searchfield - and search inside the giant iPhoto library. then copy the original file to my NAS and it will work perfect. With at least 130.000 images and movies from the last years students and classes and situations and live filmed educational material - this will take moth or years.

    Perhaps you James or others had an idea how to master the transition from iPhoto and Aperture Library - to Synology NAS and their DS sharing tools. Having two libraries with 260.000+ images and films afterwards, is perhaps not a solution to administer easy, in the long run.
    I like to concentrate on just my iPad and turn on or off music on Sonos, all light, pictures and movies, powerpoint or whatever on my fingertip in the room or Auditorium. Education is much more fun this way - for all parts. SONOS, Synology and a Projector making this possible today, wherever I am in the world. Without taking all the stuff with me in huge suitcases like before.

    Thank you James
    Perhaps you read or hear or experience
    something in the future.
    I will appriciate it very much.

    • James B
      January 14, 2014 at 9:43 am

      For movies, you can create a smart album which contains only movie files, then drag and drop them out to the desktop or somewhere. They're going to be all out of order though, separate from your photos, so you'll need to manual management at that point.

  5. G.W.L
    January 12, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Using Synology own DS Photo and DS Music will perhaps solve the most of our problems. we can add photos from all over the world and can watch and listen to our movies, photos and music wherever we are in the world. We can also share a folder includet some pictures with one person and other folders with other kind of pictures with colleagues or family etc. like I did with Dropbox before.

    The music library is easy and i still can use it with my iPad on all Sonos speakers in my home or at work. Over 130k+ Pictures and my own educational film material are much better accessible from Synology cloud I can create or DS Photo. A second Synology NAS, with exactly the same configuration can be placed on a different place on earth and can mirror my entire 18Tb NAS.
    It gives me access on my iPad and wherever I study, travel or do seminars.
    It works great until now with my current photos I did transfer - but James and everyone - how to extract over 130.000 .jpg and .mov from Aperture and iPhoto libraries to my NAS Photo folder and sharing folders for our students or my family?

    It is real challenge when I open the content of each library and see all the folders inside other folders inside other folders again... The images can be high-lighted i iPhoto and copy to my NAS - the movies won't copy. Doing the job by hand is a never ending Detective-story and will never be finished. I do need the photos and films as soon as possible on the NAS - people are waiting.
    Any experiences or ideas?

    • James B
      January 13, 2014 at 9:11 am

      Silly question - but whats wrong with CMD-A then File -> Export?

  6. Leo Przybylski
    November 25, 2013 at 3:06 am

    I used to do this, but with the recent update to OS X Mavericks, iPhoto crashes. I switched to Picasa.

  7. Jonathan
    October 26, 2013 at 2:41 am

    What if you're off on vacation and want to load pictures into iPhoto? You've brought along your macbook, but it can't connect to its library ...

    Does it just have to wait until you get back home?

    • James B
      October 26, 2013 at 7:12 am

      You could start a new library on your macbook, but then you'd need to use a paid library management utility to merge the two again.

  8. Avneesh
    October 6, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Thanks again James. It works.

  9. Avneesh Raghuvanshi
    October 4, 2013 at 2:56 am

    Hi James.....Thank you for helping me save space on my mac by transferring all my music (I havent tried the pictures as yet). With my SSD now, the machine is running like a NASCAR!
    I do have a small query - how and where do I add new music? Do I just drag from a file onto iTunes as I used to do earlier? Ofcourse with the external drive connected to the Mac.
    Thanks again and I will wait for your response on my email ID please.

    • James B
      October 4, 2013 at 8:02 am

      As long as the paths are set correct, yes, just drag and drop as usual and let iTunes manage it all.

  10. Pierre
    September 15, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Hi there,

    Just tried this on my Qnap. Works like a charm. So thanks for the tutorial.
    Is it possible to share the same library with multiple Macs? I've got 2 Macs running. It would be great if i could use the same library on the Macs.

    Someone familiar with this?

    Thanks in advance.

    • James B
      September 15, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Not possible I'm afraid - concurrency issues, and the fact that a lot of info is still stored locally.

  11. Andy
    September 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

    oh well. The lib is approx 100gb so I will think on.....

    thanks anyway James.

  12. Andy
    September 3, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Hi James,
    The post was actually created by me (Createbnd) :(
    The thread goes through the problem but with no resolution (which I why I sought help elsewhere), but basically I do not want to store the iPhoto lib locally as I have multiple users on various macs & need a central storage (mac mini server) to enable all assets are backed up to attached external drive to the mini.
    Since iPhoto 11, .mov files are incompatible in this setup :(

    Hope you can help my friend.

    • James B
      September 4, 2013 at 8:11 am

      Heh. No good then... I'm stumped too. Have you considered not using iPhoto, but switching to some other photo management - perhaps cloud based?

  13. Andy
    September 3, 2013 at 3:04 pm

    Hi James,

    That's actually a thread I started :)

    As you will see, a local library is ok but once moved to network drive .mov files are unreadable.
    This is a real pain, as my household has different users & I would like to have the library(s) on an external so I can backup from there.
    The drive is connected to a Mac Mini running server, I have also moved the lib to the server itself but get the same error :(

    Don't know if you can help me, but I hope you can :)

  14. Andy
    September 2, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Hi James,

    Have you tried this using the latest version of iPhoto (11)?
    Since upgrade to that version (11) I have found that iPhoto is no longer compatible with .mov files :(

    Hope you can help!

  15. Patrick S
    August 24, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    In your iPhoto instructions you say to "make an appropriate shared folder" where you can copy your iPhoto library, but what do you mean by that? Read/Write access for Everyone? Also, I'm a little fuzzy on how to setup an external drive so everyone (all users on the iMac) can access it. Is that automatic when you create a new volume, or do you have to modify the root folder permissions? That may sound like a dumb question but I don't want to make any assumptions and corrupt my library! Thanks.

    • MakeUseOf TechGuy
      August 24, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      That's mainly referring to a NAS setup, where you would need to ensure the correct user has read/write permissions. If you're copying to an external USB drive or something, you don't need to worry about permissions as the default is fine.