Back Up Your iTunes to an External HD

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

Having recent backups of your 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 be faced with having to rebuild an iTunes library from scratch, but if you make backups regularly, you'll be ready when trouble strikes. 

of 04

Why You Should Back Up iTunes to an External Hard Drive

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

Backing up on your primary computer isn't a great idea. If your hard drive breaks, you don't want the only backup of your data to be on a hard drive that just stopped working. Instead, you should back up to an external hard drive or cloud backup service. 

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. Plug the hard drive into the computer that contains your iTunes library.

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 three files: two iTunes library files and an iTunes Media folder. You need to consolidate all your iTunes files into the iTunes Media folder before backing up the iTunes folder to the external hard drive.

of 04

Locate the iTunes Media Folder

You'll need to locate your iTunes media folder to create the backup.

After you connect your hard drive, consolidate your iTunes library into the iTunes Media folder. This process causes all files you add to your iTunes library in the future to be placed in the same folder. 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.

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 iTunes.
  • 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

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 locate it.

  1. Open iTunes.
  2. In iTunes, open the Preferences window: On a Mac, go to iTunes > Preferences; in 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. In the same window, check the box next to Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library.
  6. Click OK to close the window.

Now you have the location of the iTunes folder that you will drag to the external hard drive. But what about files already in your iTunes library that are stored outside your iTunes Media folder? 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.

of 04

Consolidate Your iTunes Library

backup itunes to external hd, step 3

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

To do that, use the iTunes Organize Library feature:

  1. In iTunes, click on the File menu > 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 - crucial for backing up.
  3. If it isn't grayed out, 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. 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.

of 04

Drag 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 organized in an easy-to-understand way, they are ready to be backed up to your external hard drive. To do that:

  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 discovered earlier in this process. 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.

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.


E-Commerce Content is independent of editorial content and we may receive compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page.