How to Transfer an iTunes Library to a New Computer

itunes match on a macbook


Most people have pretty large iTunes libraries, which can make trying to transfer iTunes to a new computer complicated.

With libraries that often have over 1,000 albums, multiple full seasons of TV, and a few feature-length movies, podcasts, audiobooks, and more, our iTunes libraries take up a lot of hard drive space. Combine the size of these libraries and with their metadata (content like ratings, playcounts, and album art) and you need an efficient, comprehensive way to transfer iTunes or back it up.

There are a number of techniques you can use to do this. This article gives some detail on each option. The next page offers a step-by-step to using these techniques to transfer your iTunes library.

Use iPod Copy or Backup Software

Assuming you choose the right software, probably the easiest way to transfer an iTunes library is to use software to copy your iPod or iPhone to a new computer (though this only works if your entire iTunes library fits on your device). We've reviewed and ranked a number of these copy programs:

External Hard Drive

External hard drives offer more storage capacity for lower prices than ever before. Thanks to this, you can get a very large external hard drive at affordable prices. This is another simple option to move your iTunes library to a new computer, especially if the library is larger than the storage capacity of your iPod.

To transfer an iTunes library to a new computer using this technique, you'll need an external hard drive with enough space to store your iTunes library.

  1. Begin by backing up your iTunes library onto the external hard drive.

  2. Disconnect the external hard drive from the first computer.

  3. Connect the external hard drive to the new computer you want to transfer the iTunes library to.

  4. Restore the iTunes backup from the external drive to the new computer.

Depending on the size of your iTunes library and the speed of the external hard drive, this can take some time, but it's effective and comprehensive. Backup utility programs can also be used to modify this process – such as only backing up new files. Once you have this backup, you can just copy it to your new computer or your old one, if you have a crash.

This is not the same as storing and using your main iTunes library on an external hard drive, though that's a useful technique for very large libraries. This is only for backup/transfer.

Use iTunes Backup Feature

This option only works in some older versions of iTunes. Newer iTunes versions have removed this feature.

iTunes offers a built-in backup tool that you can find in the File menu. Just go File - > Library - > Back Up to Disc.

This method will back up your full library (with the exception of audiobooks from to CD or DVD. All you need are blank discs and some time.

However, if you've got a big library or a CD burner rather than a DVD burner, this will take many, many CDs (one CD can hold about 700MB, so a 15GB iTunes library will require more than 10 CDs). This may not be the most efficient way to back up, since you may already have hard copies of the CDs in your library.

If you've got a DVD burner, this will make more sense, as a DVD can hold the equivalent of nearly 7 CDs, that same 15GB library will only require 3 or 4 DVDs.

If you've just got a CD burner, you may want to consider choosing the option to only back up iTunes Store purchases or make incremental backups – backing up only new content since your last backup.

Migration Assistant (Mac Only)

On a Mac, the easiest way to transfer an iTunes library to a new computer is to use the Migration Assistant tool. This can be used when you're setting up a new computer, or after it's already done. Migration Assistant attempts to recreate your old computer on the new one by moving data, settings, and other files. It isn't 100% perfect (I've found that it sometimes has problems with email transfers), but it transfers most files very well and will save you a lot of time.

The Mac OS Setup Assistant will offer you this option as you set up your new computer. If you don't choose it then, you use it later by finding Migration Assistant in your Applications folder, inside the Utilities folder.

To do this, you'll need a Firewire or Thunderbolt cable (depending on your Mac) to connect the two computers. Once you've done that, restart the old computer and hold down the "T" key. You'll see it restart and display a Firewire or Thunderbolt icon on the screen. Once you see this, run Migration Assistant on the new computer, and follow the onscreen instructions.

iTunes Match

While it's not the speediest way to transfer your iTunes library, and won't transfer all types of media, Apple's iTunes Match is a solid option for moving music to a new computer.

To use it, follow these steps:

  1. Subscribe to iTunes Match

  2. Your library is matched to your iCloud account, uploading the unmatched songs (expect to spend an hour or two on this step, depending on how many songs need to be uploaded)

  3. When that's complete, go to your new computer, sign in to your iCloud account and open iTunes.

  4. In the Store menu, click Turn on iTunes Match

  5. A listing of the music in your iCloud account will download to your new iTunes library. Your music has not been downloaded until the next step

  6. Follow the instructions on downloading a large number of songs from iTunes Match.

Again, the size of your library will determine how long downloading your library will take. Expect to spend a few hours here, too. Songs will download with their metadata intact--album art, play counts, star ratings, etc.

Media not transferred by this method includes video, apps and books, and playlists (though video, apps, and books from the iTunes Store can be re-downloaded using iCloud.

Given its limitations, the iTunes Match method of transferring iTunes libraries is best only for people who have a relatively basic library of just music and don't need to transfer anything besides music. If that's you, it's a simple and relatively foolproof option.

Merging Libraries

There are a number of ways to merge multiple iTunes libraries into a single library. If you're transferring an iTunes library to a new computer, that's basically a form of merging libraries.

Basic How-To Guide

  1. This assumes you're using Windows (if you're using a Mac and upgrading to a new Mac, just use the Migration Assistant when you set up the new computer, and the transfer will be a breeze).

  2. Determine how you want to transfer your iTunes library. There are two main options: using iPod copying tools or backing up your iTunes library to CD or DVD. iPod copy software allows you to copy the contents of your iPod or iPhone to your new computer, making it an easy way to quickly transfer your whole library. This is your best bet if you don't mind spending a few dollars on the software (likely US$15-30) and have an iPod or iPhone big enough to hold every item from your iTunes library that you want to transfer.

  3. If your iPod/iPhone isn't that big, or if you'd rather not learn to use new software, grab an external hard drive or a stack of CDRs or DVDRs and your preferred file backup program. Remember, a CD holds about 700MB, while a DVD holds about 4GB, so you may need a lot of disks to contain your library.

  4. If you're using iPod copy software to transfer your library, simply install iTunes on your new computer, install the iPod copy software, and run it. This will transfer your library to the new computer. When that's done, and you’ve confirmed that all your content has been moved, skip to step 6 below.

  5. If you're backing up your iTunes library to disk, do so. This may take a while. Then install iTunes on your new computer. Connect the external HD or insert the first backup disk. At this point, you can add content to iTunes in a number of ways: open the disk and drag files into iTunes or go to iTunes and choose File -> Add to Library and navigate to the files on your disk.

  6. At this point, you should have all your music on your new computer. But that doesn't mean you're done yet. Next, make sure to deauthorize your old computer. Since iTunes limits you to 5 authorized computers for some content, you don't want to use authorization on a computer you don't own anymore. Deauthorize the old computer by going to Store -> Deauthorize This Computer.

    With that done, make sure to authorize your new computer via the same menu.

  7. Next, you'll need to set up your iPod or iPhone on your new computer. Learn how to sync iPods and iPhones.

  8. When this is done, you'll have successfully transferred your iTunes library to your new computer without losing any content.