How To: Move Your iTunes Library to an External Hard Drive

If your iTunes library is getting big, and filling up your computer’s hard drive, it’s a good idea to move it to an external drive. However, you need to be aware that you don’t move all of your iTunes library files; this can make iTunes confused. Here’s how you move your iTunes media files to an external drive.

Have a look inside your iTunes folder; it’s in the Music folder in your home folder (the one with the house icon and your user name). You’ll see the following files:

ITunes folder

You’ll also have an iTunes Media folder; you don’t see one in the screenshot above, taken from my iMac, because mine is on an external drive. Don’t move this iTunes folder; the library files should remain in your home folder, or iTunes can have problems.

So, to start the process, back up your iTunes folder, just in case anything goes wrong. When you’ve done that, in iTunes, choose iTunes > Preferences, and then click Advanced. Check Keep iTunes Media folder organized; this copies all of your media files to the iTunes Media folder. They may all be there, but it’s possible that some are in other locations. This ensures that none of your files get lost.

Itunes prefs

Next, in those same Advanced preferences, click the Change button next to iTunes Media Folder location. Choose the location for the new folder. Click New Folder, and name this folder iTunes Media. Click OK to close the preferences window.

Choose File > Library > Organize Library, and, in the window that displays, check Consolidate Files, and then click OK. iTunes will now copy all you files. Get a cup of tea or coffee; if you’re doing this because you’re running out of space, you’ll have a lot to copy, and it will take a while.

When this is finished, quit and relaunch iTunes, and check the Advanced preferences to ensure that iTunes is looking in the correct location. You can now delete the iTunes Media folder on your startup volume. I’d recommend holding on to the backup for a while, just in case some of your files didn’t get copied correctly during the process of organizing and consolidating your library; I’ve seen this happen.

You’ll now have lots more free space on your start volume.

18 thoughts on “How To: Move Your iTunes Library to an External Hard Drive

  1. With a collection exceeding Kirks and having to deal with this long ago — I found it easier to leave what’s in the iTunes library (before it gets too big) and just start ripping to an external drive by telling iTunes where to put new digital files. This spreads out the digital music collection but seems to work.

    • Is this still working well for you?

      I’ve been trying to figure out a way to keep a core set of frequent music on my laptop, but keep a larger library on an external for when I am at home, your solution seems like it would work. I’ve been bouncing back and forth with the holding of the option key to point iTunes between my mobile and stationary libraries…

      My concern is that iTunes will freak out too much with missing tracks (for example, pause while trying to find something if using a smart playlist) if I just use on library but keep content in two different spots.

  2. I just put the entire iTunes folder onto an external drive and tell iTunes to open that library by holding down the option key when I start iTunes (you only need to do this the first time – or if you want to switch to another library).
    This doesn’t seem to have caused any dramas. You can check in the “advanced” tab of iTunes setting to make sure iTunes is pointed to the folder on the external drive, so any new additions go there.

    • That’s not a good idea. I’ve found that iTunes loses track of the files eventually if you do it that way.

  3. Hi Kirk! I followed the procedure but by the final step, I saw this error message: “copying files failed. You do not have the privelege to do this.” What to i do?


  4. I tried this after replacing my old HD with an SSD. The HD was backed up first to and external drive, then erased and moved to the optical bay, to create a Storage HD. I installed El Capitan on the new SSD. I then tried to set up iTunes as described here. But when I did the “Consolidate Files” step, the Music folder did not get moved to the Storage HD. The only thing that happened was the “Automatically Add To iTunes” folder and “Downloads” folder were created in there. Any suggestions?

    • Consolidate files works after you’ve pointed iTunes to the new location of the iTunes Media folder. What is that location set as?

      • I had iTunes preferences pointing to the new iTunes Media folder on the Storage HD, but that didn’t work because it wasn’t finding a library file in that location. Came up with an error message. I had to start iTunes with Option key held down, then choose the iTunes library (itl file) that was on the external HD (it was a clone of the original drive, not a Time Machine backup). So that fired up iTunes with all the songs appearing, and all the playlists. After that, I was able to use the iTunes prefs to change to point to the new location. I did ‘Consolidate files’ process, and boom the transfer of all the music began. After that was finished I quit iTunes, copied the iTunes library files from to the external HD to the SSD boot drive, and now it’s all working. :-)

        • The iTunes Advanced preference, for the location of the iTunes Media folder, only looks for a folder, not a library file. It sounds like you moved the entire iTunes folder, not just the iTunes Media folder.

          In any case, glad it’s working now.

          • Thanks. No, I didn’t move the entire iTunes folder. The Advanced preference was set to the new iTunes Media location, but when iTunes started up from the SSD for the first time (it was a brand new installation of OS X), it creates a new library. So I had to option start it to get it to run from the (old) existing library on the external, then I was able to move it from that point. Tricky business with 3 drives in the mix to start with, down to 2 once it’s all been transferred… but now I now how to do it for next time!

  5. (No reply button under your last comment Kirk, so had to write here…) No, I didn’t move a whole iTunes folder anywhere. Only copied the database files (itl, xml) to the SSD.

  6. Hello Kirk: Really find your articles helpful All of my music files are on an EHD. Recently I moved all of my library files .xml and .itl etc to the same location. I also have the library fully backed up on two other EHDs. I figure that if I have to replace my PC at some point, my library should be intact and ready to connect to the new PC? Does this make sense to you?

    • I prefer keeping the library files on my startup disk, but you can put them on an external drive. And with your setup, you can always replace the drive if necessary with one of the backups. You should name them exactly the same, so if you do switch drives, iTunes will automatically point to the right location.

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