How to Stop iTunes Syncing Automatically to iPhone

Take control of when iTunes can copy music and videos to your phone

iTunes Device Preferences
Image © Mark Harris

One of the most popular reasons to disable the auto-sync feature in iTunes is to make sure that any songs that have been accidentally deleted from your main iTunes library won't also disappear from your iPhone.

It may be easy to get your iTunes purchases (music, videos, apps, etc.) back from iCloud, but what about all that stuff that hasn't come from the iTunes Store? Unless you have a backup somewhere (like iTunes Match or an external hard drive), the song you just accidentally deleted could be unrecoverable if iTunes has also deleted it from your iPhone.

The reason for this is because syncing songs and other files via iTunes is a one-way process. This means that when you delete content in your iTunes library, this change is also mirrored to your iPhone—sometimes resulting in accidental loss of non–iTunes sourced material.

How to Disable Automatic Syncing in iTunes

Turning off the auto-sync feature in iTunes should take just a few minutes at most.

Important: Before continuing, make sure your iPhone is disconnected from the computer to avoid auto-syncing.

  1. With iTunes open, go to the Edit menu (Windows) or iTunes menu (macOS), and then choose Preferences... from the list.
  2. Go to the Devices tab.
  3. Put a check in the box next to Prevent iPods, iPhones, and iPads from syncing automatically.
  4. Click OK to save and exit.

iTunes should now only perform file synchronization to your iPhone when clicking the Sync button. However, before connecting the iPhone to your computer it's a good idea to exit iTunes and then re-run it. This will make sure the settings you changed are reloaded and actively working.

One final note on disabling automatic syncing between iTunes and your Apple device is that automatic backups will no longer take place. Part of the iTunes syncing process involves backing up important data on your iPhone, so you'll need to do this manually after you've disabled this option.

Manually Manage iTunes Media

Now that you've disabled automatic synchronization between iTunes and your iPhone, there's another option you can use to switch iTunes into manual mode. That way, you can selectively choose what music and videos should sync to your iPhone.

  1. Open iTunes and connect the iPhone over USB. After a few moments, your device should be recognized in iTunes.
  2. Select the iPhone on the left pane of iTunes, under Devices, to see a summary screen that details information like backup settings and options. If you don't see this screen, select the small phone icon at the top of iTunes, right below the menu.
  3. Scroll down the summary screen until you see the Options section. Click the checkbox next to Manually manage music and videos to enable it.
  4. Click the Apply button to save the settings and switch to this manual mode.

Rather than all songs and videos being automatically synced to the iPhone, you will now have ultimate control over what songs and videos end up on your device. Here's how you'd manually move songs over to your iPhone:

  1. Select Library at the top of iTunes.
  2. Drag and drop songs from the main screen on the right to your iPhone's icon in the left pane.

You can select multiple songs or videos on a PC with the Ctrl key, or on Macs with the Command key. Do this for as many as you want to highlight at once, and then drag one of the selected items over to the iPhone to drag all of them simultaneously.