Seven Reasons to Use iTunes with an External Hard Drive

iTunes libraries can get huge. When iTunes only dealt with music, it was a large amount of space. Now that iTunes handles TV shows and Movies, the iTunes folder can consume extreme amounts of your hard drive. Just because iTunes wants to use your home folder by default to put all of your music, movies, and TV shows, doesn’t mean you have to keep it that way.

Here are seven reasons why you should consider moving your iTunes folder onto an external drive:

1. Free up space on your computer.

Its no secret that an iTunes folder with a movie or two, some TV shows and a good deal of music can be at least 15 GB in size. I’ve seen iTunes libraries reach almost 60GB. Really all it takes is a season pass to a TV show and a couple movies to almost triple the space. By moving to an external drive, you will reclaim that space from your laptop or iMac and devote your iTunes library to a larger external drive where it can grow without bothering you.

2. Portability.

Once you authorize the computer, you can play your purchased media on it. Even if you didn’t download it from there in the first place. By setting up iTunes for an external drive, you can carry your music with you, wherever you go. This works great if you have a computer at home and another computer at work. With an external drive, you can easily switch between computers without the massive file transfers and space requirements you would need without one.

3. Sharing music directly with other computers.

Sort of like reason number two, but with an extra tweak. With an Apple Airport, by plugging in the drive directly into it, it becomes a network disk. Now your iTunes library can be accessible from any computer on your local network. Sure you could use iTunes music sharing, but now you can share movies and TV. Also, if the other computer is off or sleeping, the Music Sharing won’t work. You will have to authorize the computers to play purchased DRM containing media.

4. Peace of mind if your computer is stolen.

Its unfortunate but it happens. Laptops (and desktops) get stolen. At least with a portable drive, you won’t have to worry about replacing your entire music collection. Just make sure that drive isn’t with the laptop when it’s swiped. Leave the drive at home, where its safer. When traveling, you can use a USB flash drive instead of using the external drive for music, etc.

5. Less to worry about if your drive fails.

The dreaded hard drive failure. Wouldn’t it be nice if you didn’t have to worry about your iTunes purchases? By using an external drive, your iTunes files are safe. Just make sure you back up your external drive – incase it fails.

6. Easier to upgrade with an external drive.

Not everyone has a brand new computer with a giant hard drive inside. Older models aren’t so easy to upgrade, or worth the cost. Also, most iMacs can’t be upgraded without an authorized tech. Don’t forget that with a hard drive upgrade you’d also need to back up everything, reinstall OS X, transfer everything back on and redo all your settings. Or you could save yourself the gigantic headache and waste of time but popping in an external drive and using that for your iTunes. Remember, if Itunes is using up most of your old drive anyway, now you won’t need the upgrade.

7. Simple to upgrade to a larger external drive.

Finally, after using an external drive for a while – even that will fill up. With larger and cheaper drives coming out every year (remember when a TB portable drive was practically unthinkable?), at some point you will want to upgrade the external drive. This couldn’t be easier. Just transfer the files over and that’s it.

How to use iTunes with a portable drive?

Now that you’ve read the seven reasons and decide to use an external drive, Here’s how to do it:

– Open iTunes and select Preferences.
– Select the “Advanced” tab.
– Make sure the “Keep iTunes Music folder organized” checkbox is checked.
– If it’s not, check it and press OK.
– Go back into iTunes Preferences and click the Advanced tab.
– Click on the “Change” button in the ITunes folder location box.
– In the Window that pops up, navigate to your external drive.
– Click “New Folder” to create a new folder for your iTunes library.
– Then, click “Open” in the Change Music Folder pop up window.
– Click OK in the Preferences window to save.
– Go to the “File” Menu Bar item in iTunes.
– Choose “Library” and then choose “Consolidate Library…”.
– Click “Consolidate”.

iTunes will now copy all music, movies, TV and anything else into the external drive. It will also move your ratings and playlists. When it’s done, you can delete your original iTunes Music Folder.

Note: Do not delete the iTunes Library files. iTunes needs them. Just delete the media only in the original iTunes folder.

19 thoughts on “Seven Reasons to Use iTunes with an External Hard Drive

  1. Worked like a charm! Thank you!!!

  2. Christine Hal says:

    Yes!! I had 1% free space on my hard drive and it was so slow, now I have 59%! And it was so easy! Thank you so much!

  3. Thanks for the tips! I recently moved my itunes library to an external hard drive. The biggest gripe that I have so far is that it seems soooo slooooow. I scoured my library for duplicate songs today and found a few hundred that I could delete. It took almost an hour to delete these songs! Is that typical?

  4. all of my music is now on my mybook. When I plug in my ipod Itunes says it cannot recognize it. any tips?

  5. 2 questions: I can see that my data has been transferred to my external drive, but what about applications for ipod/iphone? I have a few and can’t see them in my transferred material (although I can see, for example, two television shows).

    Also: I can’t seem to find the original iTunes music folder.


  6. Hi Carl,

    There’s a few apps you can use to get into your iPod without iTunes. Take a look at this post on managing iPods without iTunes.

    The original iTunes folder is located in your User folder, here is the exact location:


    Good Luck,

  7. Hi, my itunes has been running from my external hard drive for some time via a previous laptop. However I have just received a new laptop and I need to sync it up with my music/videos there. Can you guide in me through the process please?

  8. Hi Mark,

    The easy way to do this is copy the entire iTunes folder from the external drive to your /-User-Folder-/Music/iTunes/. This would have your library’s home be on the new laptop. (This works if you use the default location).

    Make sure you de-authorize any old computers before getting rid of them – Apple only lets you authorize 5 of them per account.

    Good Luck,

  9. Hey guys – I inherited an external hard drive of music and when I select a song to play, some songs default to playing through iTunes and some through Windows Media Player. I’d like to manage it all through iTunes and be able to sync it to my iPod. I’m totally clueless on what to do! Can you help? Thanks in advance!

  10. Hi Dawn,

    Since you mention Windows Media Player, I’ll assume you’re using a PC.

    Right-Click on the file and choose “Open With”.
    Select iTunes from the menu.
    Check the checkbox next to “Always use the selected program to open this kind of file.”

    For those who’d like to know how to change this in OS X:

    Highlight / select the file.
    Click File from the Menu Bar
    Choose Get Info.
    Look down, towards the middle where it says “Open With”
    Click on the Application and choose iTunes.
    Underneath the application, click “Change All…”

  11. Hi,
    I just transferred my music from 2 computers to an external hardrive and got a switch to listen to the drive on both computers. It is working great for listening to songs. However, is it possible to manage my downloads, so that songs I download on one computer, are automatically added to the playlist on my other computer? Any advice would be great.


  12. Hi Michelle,

    Sounds like a job for an Apple Script or Automator action. Take a look at Automator World. They may have written something with this in mind.

    Good Luck,

  13. peter mchugh says:

    sounds great but, i sorta messed up before i found this guide, i copied and pasted all my tunes including i tunes folder over to my haurd drive. now when i start up itunes theres nothing there, how do i get it to scan my external udb drive for tunes, and get back up and running? should have read this first im such an idiot.

  14. I have the same issue as peter. Moved my folders already and now nothing in itunes so very confused how I put some of the songs back on my iphone and manage my ipods ect.. Any help would be appreciated.

  15. @ Mike and Peter – Looks like you have to tell iTunes where everything went.

    – Go into iTunes Preferences and click the Advanced tab.

    – Click on the “Change” button in the ITunes folder location box.

    – In the Window that pops up, navigate to your external drive.

    Always remember that as long as your media wasn’t deleted, you’re OK. You can also drag and drop the music back in. Be careful – depending on your settings, it may copy – taking up twice as much space.

    Good Luck,

  16. How can I tel if my media was deleted as I have updated the preferences tab already with no results ? When I double click on a song from my hard drive location it plays in itunes and then seems to stay in my library if that means anything.

    Thanks for all the help.

  17. @ Mike –

    If you still have your songs, your media is fine. iTunes itself is only a fancy database with pointers to your music, movies, and podcast files. Right now, your iTunes either doesn’t know about where the files are or is still looking for them in the old location.

    Since you’ve changed the location already, just drag all your songs into iTunes. It also looks like you have it set to copy the files, this is fine – iTunes will rebuild the library. Just make sure to delete the old location when you’re done or you’ll have duplicates taking up space.

    And remember, make sure you have a good backup just in case something goes wrong.

    Good Luck,

  18. Hi, I’ve got my music on an external HD (recognized already as G: drive) I don’t know why, but my notebook recognizes it as H: recently. So iTunes doesn’t find the original files. I’m really tired of searching a solution on google, forums, Apple support …
    can u help me plz?

  19. Hi Arman,

    Most likely you have a USB pen drive, Camera, DVD drive or some other device taking up the G: drive. Try unplugging them if you do. If not, try restarting and then plugging in your external drive. Other than that, you can always re-point iTunes to your external drive on H:..

    Good Luck,