How to Back up iTunes on Your Mac

 If you're like most iTunes users, your iTunes library is chock full of music, movies, TV shows, and podcasts; you might even have a few classes from iTunes U. Backing up your iTunes library is something you should do on a regular basis. In this guide, we're going to show you how to back up your iTunes library, as well as how to restore it, should you ever need to.

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Back up iTunes on Your Mac

Before we begin, a few words about backups and what you may need. If you back up your Mac using Apple's Time Machine, then your iTunes library is probably already safely duplicated on your Time Machine drive. But even with the Time Machine backup, you may still want to make occasional backups of just your iTunes stuff. After all, you can never have too many backups.

This backup guide assumes you'll be using a separate drive as the backup destination. This can be a second internal drive, an external drive, or even a USB Flash drive if it's big enough to hold your library. Another good choice is a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive you may have on your local network. The only things all of these possible destinations need to have in common is that they can be connected to your Mac (either locally or by your network), they can be mounted on your Mac's desktop, and they're formatted with Apple's Mac OS X Extended (Journaled) format. And of course, they must be large enough to hold your iTunes library.

If your backup destination meets these requirements, then we're ready to begin.

Preparing iTunes

iTunes offers two choices for managing your media files. You can do it yourself or you can let iTunes do it for you. If you're doing it yourself, there's no telling where all your media files are stored. You can continue to manage the media library on your own, including backing up the data, or you can take the easy way out and let iTunes take control. It will place a copy of all of the media in your iTunes library in a single location, which will make it much easier to back everything up.

Consolidate Your iTunes Library

Before you back up anything, let's make sure the iTunes library is being managed by iTunes.

  1. Launch iTunes, located at /Applications.
  2. From the iTunes menu, select iTunes, Preferences. Click the Advanced icon.
  3. Make sure there's a checkmark next to the Keep iTunes Media folder organized option.
  4. Make sure there's a checkmark next to the Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library option.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Close the iTunes preferences window.
  7. With that out of the way, let's make sure that iTunes puts all of the media files in one place.
  8. From the iTunes menu, select File, Library, Organize Library.
  9. Place a checkmark in the Consolidate Files box.
  10. Place a checkmark in either the Reorganize files in the folder 'iTunes Music' box or in the Upgrade to iTunes Media organization box. The box you'll see depends on the version of iTunes you're using, as well as whether you've recently updated from iTunes 8 or earlier.
  11. Click OK.

iTunes will consolidate your media and do a bit of housekeeping. This may take a while, depending on how big your iTunes library is, and whether iTunes needs to copy media to its current library location. Once the process is complete, you can quit iTunes.

Backup the iTunes Library

This is perhaps the easiest part of the backup process.

  1. Make sure the backup destination drive is available. If it's an external drive, make sure it's plugged in and turned on. If it's a NAS drive, make sure it's mounted on your Mac's desktop.
  2. Open a Finder window and navigate to ~/Music. This is the default location for your iTunes folder. The tilde (~) is a shortcut for your home folder, so the full pathname would be /Users/your username/Music. You can also find the Music folder listed in the Finder window's sidebar; simply click the Music folder in the sidebar to open it.
  3. Open a second Finder window and navigate to the backup destination.
  4. Drag the iTunes folder from the Music folder to the backup location.
  5. The Finder will start the copy process; this can take a bit of time, especially for large iTunes libraries.

Once the Finder finishes copying all of your files, you've successfully backed up your iTunes library.

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Restore iTunes From Your Backup

Restoring an iTunes backup is pretty straightforward; it just takes a little bit of time to copy the library data. This iTunes restore guide assumes you used the manual iTunes backup method outlined on the previous page. If you did not use that method, this restoration process may not work.

Restore the iTunes Backup

  1. Quit iTunes, if it's open.
  2. Make sure the iTunes backup location is powered on and mounted on your Mac's desktop.
  3. Drag the iTunes folder from your backup location to its original location on your Mac. This is usually in the folder located at ~/Music, where the tilde (~) represents your home folder. The full pathname to the parent folder is /Users/your username/Music.

The Finder will copy the iTunes folder from your backup location to your Mac. This can take a bit of time, so be patient.

Tell iTunes the Library Is Restored

  1. Hold down the option key on your Mac's keyboard and launch iTunes, located at /Applications.
  2. iTunes will display a dialog box labeled Choose iTunes Library.
  3. Click the Choose Library button in the dialog box.
  4. In the Finder dialog box that opens, navigate to the iTunes folder you just restored in the previous steps; it should be located at ~/Music.
  5. Select the iTunes folder, and click the Open button.
  6. iTunes will open, with your library fully restored.