How to Back Up Your iTunes to an External Hard Drive

Don't trust your hard drive with your music library

Creating an iTunes backup that's not on your computer ensures your files don't get lost.

JGI / Jamie Grill / Getty Images 

Having recent backups of your important files is crucial for any computer user. You never know when a crash or hardware failure can strike. A backup is especially important when you consider the investment of time and money you've made in your iTunes library.

No one wants to rebuild an iTunes library from scratch, but if you make backups regularly, you'll be ready when trouble strikes. 

These instructions apply to iTunes 12 and later.

How to Find Your iTunes Library

To back up your iTunes library, you'll need an external drive with enough free space to contain it. Once you have your external hard drive, plug the hard drive into the computer that contains your iTunes library.

  1. Before you begin, you may want to download any music from Apple Music (if you subscribe) that you want to back up. You can always re-download songs from Apple Music later, but it's easier to have a full backup than to have to download all those tracks again.

  2. Connect your hard drive to the computer containing your iTunes library.

  3. By default, your iTunes folder contains your iTunes Media folder, which holds all of the music. The default location for the iTunes folder differs by computer and operating system:

    • On a Mac, go to the Finder, select your username and click Music.
    • On Windows Vista or later, follow this path: \Users\username\Music\.
    • On Windows XP, follow this path: \Documents and Settings\Username\My Documents\My Music.
    Finder on a Mac with the path to the iTunes folder highlighted
  4. In all of these locations, you'll see a folder called iTunes.

Finding an iTunes Folder That Isn't in the Default Location

If you don't see your iTunes folder in the default location, you can still find it by following these steps:

  1. Open iTunes.

  2. Open the Preferences window. On a Mac, go to iTunes > Preferences. In Windows, go to Edit > Preferences.

    Preferences in iTunes on a Mac
  3. Click the Advanced tab.

    iTunes Preferences with the Advanced tab highlighted
  4. The box under iTunes Media folder location shows the location of the iTunes folder on your computer.

    iTunes Advanced preferences with the location of the Media folder highlighted
  5. While this window is open, check the box next to Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library. This setting ensures that the songs you add to your library go into this folder.

    iTunes advanced preferences with the
  6. Click OK to close the window.

Consolidate Your iTunes Library

The music, movies, and other items in your iTunes Library may not all be in the same folder. Depending on where you got your files and how you manage them, they could be in different places throughout your computer. You must consolidate every iTunes into the iTunes Media folder before you back it up to ensure you don't lose anything.

To consolidate your iTunes library, follow these steps:

  1. In iTunes, click on File > Library > Organize Library.

    iTunes on a Mac with the Organize Library option highlighted
  2. In the window that pops up, select Consolidate files to move all files in your iTunes Library into a single location.

    Organize Library window in iTunes with the Consolidate Files box highlighted
  3. If it's available, check the box next to Reorganize files in the folder "iTunes Media."

    If your files are already organized into subfolders for Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks, and other media, you won't be able to click this box.

    Organize Library window in iTunes with the
  4. After you've checked the correct box or boxes, click OK.

    Organize Library window in iTunes with the OK button highlighted
  5. iTunes will consolidate and organize your library.

Consolidate Files copies items rather than moving them, so you'll end up with duplicates of any files that were outside the iTunes Media folder. You may want to delete those files to save space after you perform the backup.

Back Up iTunes to the External Hard Drive

Now that your iTunes library files are in one place and organized, you can back them up to your external hard drive. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Quit iTunes.

  2. Find your iTunes folder based on the location that iTunes gave you.

  3. Drag the iTunes folder to the external hard drive to copy your iTunes library to the hard drive.

    Dragging the iTunes folder to an external hard drive to copy it
  4. The size of your library and the speed of your drive determine how long the transfer will take.

Consider making new backups regularly — weekly or monthly is a good idea if you frequently add content to your iTunes library. One day, you may need to restore your iTunes library from the hard drive.

If your hard drive has already crashed, and you don't have a backup, you're not totally lost. Check out how to use iPhone to save your music after a hard drive crash.

Other Options for Backing Up iTunes

An external hard drive isn't your only option for creating a good backup of your iTunes library. Other options include: