How to Back Up Your iTunes to an External Hard Drive

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

Whether you have a hundred songs or tens of thousands, you need a backup of your iTunes library — and the one of the safest places to make the backup is on an external hard drive.

Having recent backups of your important files is crucial for any computer user. After all, 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 be faced with having to rebuild an iTunes library from scratch, but if you make backups regularly, you'll be ready when trouble strikes. 

Backing up iTunes on your primary computer isn't a great idea. If your hard drive fails, you don't want the only backup of your data to be on the hard drive that just stopped working. So, an external hard drive is the first step in taking care of your music. You may also want to consider a cloud backup service, too. That way, if your external hard drive fails, you have a backup you can download. Learn more about this option in the last section of this article. 

Preparing to Back Up iTunes to an External Hard Drive

Use an external hard drive when backing up iTunes incase your computer fails.

In order to make up a complete iTunes backup, it's important to understand all of the elements that make up iTunes.

Your iTunes library is a database that contains all the music and other media that you have purchased or otherwise added to iTunes. The iTunes library consists of at least an iTunes library file and an iTunes Media folder. The iTunes library is the database file, while the iTunes Media folder is where all of the songs, movies, and other content is stored. You'll need to backup all of these things in order to protect your data.

To back up your iTunes library to an external hard drive, you'll need an external drive with enough free space to contain your library. If you don't already have one, check out our picks for the best external hard drive.

One you've got your external hard drive, plug the hard drive into the computer that contains your iTunes library.

While it's not totally required, you may want to download any music from Apple Music (if you subscribe) that you want to backup. You can always redownload songs from Apple Music later, but it's easier to have a backup than to have to download all those songs again.

Locate the iTunes Media Folder

screenshot of itunes media folder location

Once you've connected your hard drive to your computer, it's important to know where your iTunes Media folder is. Without this information, it's going to be hard to back it up.

The Default Location for the iTunes Folder

By default, your iTunes folder contains your iTunes Media folder. The default location for the iTunes folder differs by computer and operation 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.

In all of those locations, you should see a folder called iTunes. This is what you're looking for.

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

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

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. In iTunes, open the Preferences window. On a Mac, go to iTunes > Preferences. On Windows, go to Edit > Preferences.
  3. Click the Advanced tab.
  4. Look at the box under iTunes Media folder location and make a note of the location listed there. It shows the location of the iTunes folder on your computer.
  5. As a bonus, while this window is, check the box next to Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library. This ensures that all media that gets added to your library goes into this folder. That's important, as we'll see in the next step.
  6. Click OK to close the window.

Now you have the location of the iTunes folder that you will backup to the external hard drive. But it's possible that some files in your iTunes library aren't actually stored in your iTunes folder (confusing, I know!). For those files, you need to get them into that folder to make sure they're backed up. Proceed to the next step for instructions on how to do that.

Consolidate Your iTunes Library

screenshot of itunes, consolidating files

The music, movies, and other files in your iTunes Library may not all be stored in the same folder. In fact, depending on where you got your files and how you manage them, they could be spread throughout your computer. Every iTunes file must be consolidated into the iTunes Media folder before backup.

This moves all of the files in your iTunes library to one location. This is important because backing up your library to an external drive involves moving just one folder — the iTunes folder — and you don't want to accidentally leave behind any files that are stored somewhere else on your hard drive.

To consolidate your iTunes library, follow these steps:

  1. In iTunes, click on File > Library > Organize Library.
  2. In the window that pops up, select Consolidate files. Consolidate Files moves all files used in your iTunes Library into a single location.
  3. If it's available, check the box next to Reorganize files in the folder "iTunes Media". If your files are already organized into the subfolders for Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks and other media, you won't be able to click this box.
  4. After you've checked the correct box or boxes, click OK.
  5. Your iTunes library is then consolidated and organized. This should take just a few seconds.

Consolidate Files actually makes duplicates of files, rather than moving them, so you'll end up with duplicates of any files that were stored outside the iTunes Media folder. You may want to delete those files to save space when the backup is complete and you're sure everything worked as expected.

Backup iTunes to the External Hard Drive

Drag iTunes to your external hard drive to begin creating the backup.

Now that your iTunes library files have all been moved to one place and are organized, they are ready to be backed up to your external hard drive. To do that, follow these steps:

  1. Quit iTunes.
  2. Browse your computer to locate the external hard drive. It may be on your desktop or you can find it by navigating through Computer/My Computer on Windows or the Finder on Mac.
  3. Find your iTunes folder. It will be in the default location or in the location you found in step 2 of this article. You're looking for a folder called iTunes, which contains the iTunes Media folder and other iTunes related files.
  4. When you find your iTunes folder, drag it to the external hard drive to copy your iTunes library to the hard drive. The size of your library determines how long the backup takes.
  5. When the transfer is done, your backup is complete and your external hard drive can be disconnected.

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. You'll be happy you did such a good job with your backups when that day arrives.

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

The steps from this article aren't your only option for creating a good backup of your iTunes library. Other solid options include:

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