How to Restore Your iTunes Using a Backup

Prevent Data Loss by Restoring iTunes From an External Hard Drive Backup

computer with external hard drive

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You've heard the advice to back up your data, but you'll appreciate having followed that advice if your computer's hard drive fails or your data is corrupted. That's especially true if your drive contains a huge iTunes library—or its replacement in macOS Catalina, the Music library—made up of songs you can't easily access anywhere else.

If your hard drive fails or you need to move your iTunes library to a new computer, you'll be glad if you had the foresight to back up your iTunes library on an external hard drive. If you have a backup, restoring your iTunes library from an external hard drive is simple. Here's how to do it:

Information in this article applies to the Music app in Macs running macOS Catalina (10.15) and to iTunes on macOS Mojave (10.14), macOS High Sierra (10.13), macOS Sierra (10.12), and OS Leopard (10.5) through OS X El Capitan (10.11), as well as Windows 10 PCs.

How to Restore an iTunes or Music Library Backup

  1. Quit iTunes (Music on macOS 10.15) on the computer where you plan to restore the iTunes library backup.

  2. Attach the external hard drive that contains the iTunes backup to your computer. The icon for the external hard drive should be on your desktop or in the Finder on a Mac or in My Computer in Windows. Double-click the external hard drive icon to open it.

  3. Navigate through the hard drive to find the iTunes backup.

    External drive contents displayed in Finder window
  4. Open the location on your computer where you keep your iTunes library:

    • On Windows, the default location of your iTunes library is in your My Music folder.
    • On a Mac, the default is in your Music folder, accessible through the sidebar of the Finder window or by clicking on your hard drive, selecting Users and clicking on your username.
  5. Drag the iTunes folder from the external hard drive to the correct location on your computer.

    Location of iTunes Music Library on a Mac

    If there's already an iTunes Library in the Music/My Music folder, you are asked whether you want to replace it. Doing this deletes the old library and all the music in it. If you respond "yes," the backup copies over and becomes the current iTunes or Music application library. You're finished.

    However, if you don't want to replace the existing iTunes or Music Library, there are a few more steps to take.

  6. If you don't replace the library and instead copy the backup to a different location on your computer, you must tell the iTunes or Music application which library to use. Hold down the Option key on a Mac or the Shift key on Windows and launch iTunes.

  7. A window pops up asking you to Quit, Create Library, or Choose Library. Click Choose Library.

    Choose Music Library window
  8. Browse through the hard drive in the pop-up window and locate the iTunes library that you just copied from the external hard drive. On a Mac, select the iTunes Music folder. On Windows, select the .itl file in the folder.

  9. Click Choose on a Mac or Open on Windows to launch iTunes using the new library you restored from backup.

  10. Disconnect the external hard drive from your computer.

Tips for Restoring Your iTunes Library From Backup

If you have an older iTunes library that no longer use, you may want to delete it so it doesn't take up disk space. Before you do that, confirm that the new library has all the contents of the old one, so you don't accidentally delete something you want.

An external hard drive isn't the only way to back up your iTunes library these days. You may prefer to use an iCloud backup, or you may want to check out iTunes Match.