How to Use Multiple iTunes Libraries on a Single Computer

multiple iTunes libraries one computer
image credit: Colin Anderson/Blend Images/Getty Images

 Did you know that it's possible to have multiple iTunes libraries, with completely separate content in them, on one computer? While not only a neat lesser-known feature, it also helps you:

  • Keep separate each person's music, movies, and apps on a family computer shared by more than one family member
  • Sync multiple iPods, iPhones, or iPads to a single computer without getting other people's music on your device unintentionally (other options for this include using playlists and multiple user accounts).

Having multiple iTunes libraries is similar to having two separate computers each with iTunes on them. The libraries are completely separate: Music, movies, or apps that you add to one library won't be added to the other unless you copy the files to it (with one exception that I'll cover later). For computers shared by multiple people, this is generally a good thing.

This technique works with iTunes 9.2 and higher (the screenshots in this article are from iTunes 12).

To create multiple iTunes libraries on your computer, follow these steps:

  1. Quit iTunes if it's running
  2. Hold down the Option key (on Mac) or the Shift key (on Windows)
  3. Click the iTunes icon to launch the program
  4. Keep holding the key down until the pop-up window above appears
  5. Click Create Library.
01
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Name New iTunes Library

multiple iTunes libraries one computer, step 2

Next, give the new iTunes library you're creating a name.

It's a good idea to give the new library a name sufficiently different from the existing library or libraries so you can keep them straight.

After that, you have to decide where you want the library to live. Navigate through your computer and select a folder where the new library will be created. I recommend creating the new library in the existing Music/My Music folder. That way everyone's library and content is stored in the same place.

Click Save and your new iTunes library will be created. ​iTunes will then launch using the newly created library. You can start adding new content to it now. 

02
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Using Multiple iTunes Libraries

history of iTunes logos
itunes logos copyright Apple Inc.

Once you've created multiple iTunes libraries, here's how to use them:

  1. Hold down the Option key (on Mac) or the Shift key (on Windows)
  2. Launch iTunes
  3. When the pop-up window appears, click Choose Library
  4. Another window appears, defaulting to your Music/My Music folder. If you stored your other iTunes libraries somewhere else, navigate through your computer to the location of the new library
  5. When you've found the folder for your new library (either in Music/My Music or elsewhere), click the folder for the new library
  6. Click Choose. No need to select anything inside the folder.

With this done, iTunes will launch using the library you've chosen.

03
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Managing Multiple iPods/iPhones with Multiple iTunes Library

Limit iTunes Syncing, step 3

Using this technique, two or more people using the same computer can manage their own iPods, iPhones, and iPads without interfering with each other's music or settings.

To do this, simply launch iTunes while holding down Option or Shift to select a given iTunes library. Then connect the iPhone or iPod you sync with this library. It will go through the standard syncing process, using just the media in the currently active iTunes library.

An important note about connecting a device that's synced to one library to iTunes using another: You can't sync anything from the other library. The iPhone and iPod can only sync to one library at a time. If you try to sync with another library, it will remove all the contents from one library and replace them with content from the other. 

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Other Notes About Managing Multiple iTunes Libraries

Multiple iTunes libraries, restrictions

A few other things to know about managing multiple iTunes libraries on a single computer:

  • If you have multiple iTunes libraries on your computer and don't hold down the Option or Shift button when you launch iTunes, it will open the last library used
  • By default, all libraries are signed into whatever iTunes account was last used. To make sure that each person uses only their iTunes account with their library, always remember to sign out of your iTunes account when you're done using iTunes
  • Despite having multiple iTunes libraries on one computer, you can't have different parental control settings for each library. Whatever parental control settings you use will apply to all libraries on the computer. To have different Restrictions settings, you'll need to use multiple user accounts on the computer.
05
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Watch Out for Apple Music/iTunes Match

how to setup and use iTunes Match
image credit Atomic Imagery/Digital Vision/Getty Images

If you use Apple Music or iTunes Match, it's crucial that you follow the advice in the last step of signing out of your Apple ID before quitting iTunes. Both of those services are designed to sync music to all devices using the same Apple ID. That means if both iTunes libraries on the same computer are accidentally signed into the same Apple ID, they'll end up with the same music downloaded to them automatically. Kind of ruins the point of having separate libraries!