How to Transfer an iTunes Library to a New Computer

Keep your music while upgrading your hardware

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 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, play counts, and album art), and you need an efficient, comprehensive way to transfer iTunes or back it up.

itunes match on a macbook
Apple

You can use several techniques to keep your music when you change your computer.

Instructions in this article apply to macOS 10.14 (Mojave) and earlier. Apple discontinued iTunes in macOS 10.15 (Catalina)

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.

This method only works if your entire library fits on your device.

The exact procedure will differ depending on which software you use, but this is generally how it works:

  1. Download and install the backup and transfer software to the new computer.

  2. Sync your device to iTunes on the old computer to copy the most recent version of the library.

  3. Connect your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch to the new computer, but don't sync it.

  4. Use the software to copy the contents of your iOS device to your new computer.

Use an External Hard Drive

External hard drives offer more storage capacity for lower prices than ever before. Thanks to this, you can get a large external hard drive at affordable prices. These drives provide another simple option to move your iTunes library to a new computer, especially if you have more content than will fit on 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. You can also use backup utility programs to modify this process. For example, you can use them to only back 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 technique isn't 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.

Use iTunes Backup Feature

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

This option is available in iTunes 7 through iTunes 10.3.

  1. Open iTunes.

  2. Go to File > Library > Back Up to Disc.

    In iTunes 7, go to File > Back Up to Disc.

  3. Select which information you want to transfer to discs. Your options are Back Up entire iTunes library and playlists and Back Up only iTunes Store purchases.

  4. Click Back Up.

  5. Insert a blank CD or DVD into your computer's drive. The backup will continue until the disc is full, and then you'll need to swap it for a new one.

  6. On your new computer, restore the library from the discs. Again, you'll insert one disc until its contents transfer, and then you'll insert the next one.

If you have a big library or a CD burner rather than a DVD burner, this process will take many discs (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 have 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.

With 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.

Use Migration Assistant

On a Mac, the easiest way to transfer an iTunes library to a new computer is to use the Migration Assistant tool. Migration Assistant attempts to re-create your old computer on the new one by moving data, settings, and other files. It transfers most files 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.

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.

Use 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:

This method doesn't transfer video, apps and books, and playlists.

  1. Your library syncs to your iCloud account, uploading the unmatched songs.

    Expect to spend an hour or two on this step, depending on how many songs you need to upload.

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


  3. Click the Store menu.

    iTunes on a Mac with the Store heading highlighted
  4. 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.

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 that. If that's you, it's a simple and relatively foolproof option.

Use iCloud Music Library

Apple's iCloud storage system keeps all of your content in the cloud so that transferring it is as easy as signing in. More accurately, it keeps track of the songs, TV shows, and movies you have licenses for since that takes up way less space. But the end result is the same: If you get a new computer, you only have to sign in to your Apple ID to access the media you've bought.