How to Back Up Your iTunes to an External Hard Drive

Save an extra copy of your music library

Create backups of important files so that you're prepared when a crash or hardware failure strikes your computer. A backup is especially important when you consider the time and money invested in an iTunes library. If your computer has a hardware failure, don't rebuild your iTunes library from scratch, rebuild your iTunes library from a backup file.

Instructions in this article 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 the library. Then, plug the hard drive into the computer that contains your iTunes library.

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

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

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

    • On a Mac, go to the Finder, select your username, then click Music.
    • On Windows Vista or later, go to the \Users\username\Music\ folder.
    • On Windows XP, go to the \Documents and Settings\Username\My Documents\My Music folder.
    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.

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

If you don't see your iTunes folder in the default location, 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. Select the Advanced tab.

    iTunes Preferences with the Advanced tab highlighted
  4. Go to the iTunes Media folder location section to find the location of the iTunes folder.

    iTunes Advanced preferences with the location of the Media folder highlighted
  5. Select the Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library check box to ensure that the songs you add to your library go into this folder.

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

Consolidate Your iTunes Library

The music, movies, and other items in your iTunes Library may not be in the same folder. Depending on where you got your files and how you manage them, these files could be in different places throughout your computer. 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:

  1. In iTunes, select File > Library > Organize Library.

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

    Organize Library window in iTunes with the Consolidate Files box highlighted
  3. If available, select the Reorganize files in the folder iTunes Media check box.

    If your files are organized into subfolders for Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, Audiobooks, and other media, this option isn't available.

    Organize Library window in iTunes with the
  4. Select OK.

    Organize Library window in iTunes with the OK button highlighted
  5. iTunes consolidates and organizes your library.

Consolidate Files copies items rather than moving files, so you'll end up with duplicates of any files that were outside the iTunes Media folder. 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, back up the files to an external hard drive.

  1. Close iTunes.

  2. Find your iTunes folder based on the location provided in iTunes.

  3. Drag the iTunes folder to the external hard drive to copy the 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 the drive determine how long the transfer will take.

Make new backups regularly. If you frequently add content to your iTunes library, backup the library weekly or monthly. Use this backup to restore your iTunes library from the hard drive.

If your hard drive crashed, and you don't have a backup, find out how to use an iPhone to save your music after a hard drive crash.

Other Options for Backing Up iTunes

An external hard drive isn't the only option to create a backup of your iTunes library. Other options include: