How Do I Point iTunes to use my backup ext drive?

I use iTunes on a Mac Mini with 2 external 500GB disk drives. I use one of the external disk drives strictly as a backup. All I do to backup my iTunes information is I copy the complete contents of the iTUNES folder on my primary drive to the backup drive by the drag & drop (copy) feature. As you Mac users know, the iTunes folder contains 4 sub folders with the Music Library, Album artwork and XML file.

Well the dreaded day has come and I suffered a hard disk crash. No problem as my backup disk contains all of my needed iTunes files. However when I try to access my playlists, iTunes tells me it can't find the song title. I can change the location of the song title to the backup drive and it finds it successfully, but with over 4,000 songs ripped I can't imagine that I have to do this for every song. I changed the Advanced Preferences in iTunes to point to the backup location, but I think this is only to tell iTunes where to rip new music.

How do I tell iTunes to reference the backup drive so that it can find my playlists and music files?

Thanks in advance,
Brian ...
The library file has pointers to each song that includes the exact path to it.

It finds the song Cafe 1930 from Al Di Meola plays Piazzolla on my external drive named Music 1 by following this pointer to the song in Music 1/Al Di Meola/Di Meola plays Piazzolla/Cafe 1930

key>Location file://localhost/Volumes/Music%201/Al%20Di%20Meola/Di%20Meola%20Plays%20Piazzolla/02%20Cafe%201930.m4a if any of that info changes iTunes can't find it.

If you change the name of the backup drive to the exact name of the original drive and the folder structure is the same it may be able to find them. I have never tried it so can't say for sure.

You can always delete the original library and just drag and drop the backup drive into iTunes and it will rebuild it, but you will lose play lists and ratings and other stuff that isn't tagged to the songs.
As I said in an earlier PC Audio thread earlier this week...

This is a good starting point. Lots of beginner's nitty gritty. I found it helpful when I began my iTunes' quest.

Also, iTunes help is very helpful!
You need to give the backup drive the exact same path name as the dead drive. Once you set up your next backup drive you would be better off physically separating the drives as much as possible.
I haven't tried this, but I would imagine that you could go into the Unix terminal and create a symbolic link ("ln -s ...") from the music library that iTunes is expecting to the external drive.


goto "File" then "Add to Library..." and simply select, on your backup drive, the iTunes folder that has all the sub folders. Make certain on: "Advanced preferences" the option to "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library" is checked and then select the location other than the backup drive where you want the iTunes Music folder location to reside.

Works for me. Hope that helps.

I believe the solution is fairly simple.

First, quit iTunes (if it is currently running). Then, relaunch iTunes while holding down the "Option" key.

You should be presented with a dialog box that reads:

Choose iTunes Library

iTunes needs a library to continue. You may choose an existing iTunes library or create a new one.

Click on the "Choose Library" button, which will allow you to navigate to the iTunes folder on your backup drive. Be sure you choose the actual iTunes folder, and not one of the folders contained within the iTunes folder, such as "iTunes Music."

Assuming your backup was current, you should be back in business, with everything working exactly as it did before your disc crashed.

Once you're satisfied that all is well, create a NEW backup of your entire iTunes folder on a backup drive, just as you did before.

Good luck!

Also, regarding those Advanced Preferences in iTunes:

I changed the Advanced Preferences in iTunes to point to the backup location, but I think this is only to tell iTunes where to rip new music.

What this does is point iTunes to the location of the "iTunes Music" folder. This folder is where the actual music files reside. And, as you point out, the "iTunes Music" folder is just one component of the iTunes Library.

Making this change does NOT change the location of the "iTunes" folder (which normally CONTAINS the "iTunes Music" folder). What it does, in effect, is put an alias of your "iTunes Music" folder into your "iTunes" folder. This alias then directs iTunes to the ACTUAL location of the music files, wherever that may be.

So while this allows iTunes to locate the music itself, it DOES NOT tell iTunes where the actual "iTunes" FOLDER resides. And since iTunes is expecting this folder to be on your now kaput disc (which it can no longer access), until you redirect it to the "iTunes" folder on your backup disc, it is at a loss as to how to proceed, so it will appear "broken."

Redirecting iTunes to the proper folder on the backup disc should restore everything to its pre-crash state.

Hope this makes sense!
Rel, I don't think that will work.

Choosing the library file on the backup as the new library will not let iTunes find the music. The library file that is backed up is exactly like the one it is replacing and therefore still pointing to the old drive that crashed. It will look for the music files on the crashed disc and won't know they are on the backup disc.

This is also incorrect.

What this does is point iTunes to the location of the "iTunes Music" folder. This folder is where the actual music files reside.

The music files may or may not be in that folder. It only tells iTunes where you want to put any new files that are imported or ripped. You can have music files scattered about on any attached drive and iTunes can find them as long as they have not been moved since first loaded into the current library

Your concept of redirecting iTunes and aliases is also incorrect. A given library has pointers that point to specific locations like drive/artist folder/album folder/song file so unless the song you are looking for is in that exact folder iTunes can't find it. The only way to "redirect" is to use the function where iTunes allows you to search for a lost song but as the original poster said this is very tedious for a big library. I do think once it finds one song on an album it will know where they all are for that album but still tedious.

Other than that I think you pretty much nailed it :>)


Don't mean to be contentious, but I believe it is you that has it completely wrong.

Holding the option key on launch allows iTunes to work with multiple libraries (have you ever actually tried this??).

In this case there are two libraries in question: the original (now fried), and the back-up (hopefully identical to the original).

If iTunes is pointed to the back-up, it should not be able to tell the difference between the back-up and the original library.

The only thing that MAY prevent this from working, is that the back-up was made by dragging and dropping, which could conceivably result in iTunes becoming confused.

Your point that iTunes is versatile enough to not require all music files to be in the "iTunes Music" folder is certainly correct. However, disasters like this make a very strong case for keeping all your music in one place, rather than scattered hither and yon on your hard drive--or worse yet--on multiple hard drives.

Perhaps Brian (Cycles2), the original poster, could update us on his progress?
Yes, I do have multiple libraries and it works quite well. However, I believe you are still a bit confused about how iTunes works. Think about it for a second and let me know if my logic is incorrect......

The reason he can't use his old library is that it is pointing to a crashed drive that is no longer accessible.

The old library expects to find the files on the crashed disc and when it can't it displays a !

The library file on his backup disc is not a different library that points to a different disc; it is a backup copy of the one he can't use i.e. it is exactly the same.

The backup library expects to find the files on the same crashed disc as the original.

If the original won't work there is no way an exact copy of it will work.

For it to work as you described iTunes would have to somehow change all of its pointers as it was being copied to the backup disc. That doesn't happen.

I agree that an update would be nice.

Take care
This is a very simple task and I don't understand why people are trying to make it so complex. You've done everything correctly -- two separate drives with one serving as a backup. If each drive had the exact same info organized in the same file hierarchy, then all you have to do is rename the backup drive whatever name you gave the drive that died. You do not have to do anything within iTunes. iTunes won't know and won't care that it's not the original drive as long as the path to the data and music files is exactly the same. Of course, you would then need to get another drive as a backup.
Thank you. I'm kinda new to PC audio but not new to PCs. I was beginning to think that Itunes was a lot more complicated than it first seemed.

BTW, I'm using a Vista machine as a music player/server and am backing it up to a 3.5" hard drive. Should the internal HD in the player/server fail, I have several options including physically replacing the HD in the player/server with the HD in the backup drive.

Sorry Rel and Herman for not replying sooner. I'm not sure what I did to access my backup but soon after the hard disk crash I was able to use my backup and access my playlists and music files without much difficulty.

The fun began a few days later when my replacement hard drive arrived. I wanted to make the new drive my primary drive so I copied (drag & drop method) the files and subfolders starting from the MUSIC folder from my backup to my new primary drive. No problem as all folders and files were copied and I verified total file counts to confirm everythng copied over.

So now I have 2 hard drives with exactly the same folder hierarchy and files. The only difference is the name of the hard drive. As Herman points out this is probably the reason that iTunes can't locate the files.

I tried Rel's suggestion to hold down the Option key while starting iTunes and choose the location of the iTunes folder and that didn't work as no music was listed in the iTunes Music area.

I'm not overly concerned as I can still see all of my music files on the backup drive. It's probaby as Herman mentioned a matter of iTunes still looking for the iTunes folder/file hierarchy with the name of the old primary hard drive.

I'll await further suggestions from you guys as you're more knowledgeable than I am on Macs and iTunes.

Brian ...
I think I've figured out a way that works for me. Again thanks for everyone's great responses to this question. I also believe there are multiple ways that can be used so many of you although you had different recommendations are probably correct with your responses. Here's what ultimately worked for me.

First I copy my iTunes environment from a primary hard drive to a backup hard drive every month or so depending on the amount of CD ripping I do. I use the drag & drop method to copy the files as backup programs all put their various naming conventions on the files which gets in the way of iTunes.

I discovered that using the File, Add to Library feature of iTunes I was able to direct iTunes to the backup drive and it recognized my songs & playlists on the backup drive without any problem. I did de-select the Copy files to iTunes Music folder option on the Advanced tab before I used the Add to Library feature as I believe it may have duplicated the songs. Afterwards I selected this option and changed the iTunes music library location to the new primary drive so that when I rip new CDs they'll go to the correct location.

Again, thanks for everyone's assistance as I couldn't have got it done without all of you.

Brian ...

I've been tied-up for the past few days, so haven't had a chance to chime-in till now.

First, in the "All's Well that Ends Well" Department, I'm very happy to hear that you've recovered your music, Brian.

However, I still think the way you're using iTunes is unwise, and likely to cause you problems in the future. I don't have a lot of time at the moment for a detailed discussion, but I would suggest that deselecting "Copy files to iTunes Music Folder" is a big mistake!

What happens when you do this is that your music files stay wherever they started out, and what you add to your library are merely POINTERS to those files. This is all well and good when everything is working well, but when you make a drag and drop copy of your iTunes folder, you have ONLY COPIED THE POINTERS, NOT THE MUSIC.

Should disaster strike your primary drive, you are left either without the music files (unless they're backed up elsewhere), or without a simple way to reconstitute your library, as the pointers now point to an inaccessible drive (as Herman has alluded to).

So in the "Flogging a Dead Horse" Department (are you reading this, Herman?), I would like to report the results of a little experiment I did.

Starting with a brand-new, completely empty iTunes library, I added a single disc to the library--and before anyone objects that this is not a useful real world experiment, I'll remind you of the newly chartered "Minimalist School" of Audiophilia, whose members pledge to own only one disc.

In order to eliminate as many variables as possible, the files I added to the library were ripped directly from a CD so as to insure they had no previous contact with iTunes or any other program, and hence, no association with any computer, file structure, etc.

Then, I copied this newly created library (by means of drag and drop) onto another drive. When I quit iTunes, I disconnected the drive containing the original library, leaving only the back-up drive (with a completely different name) connected to the computer.

On relaunching iTunes (with the option key held down), I choose the newly created back-up of the newly created library, and discovered the back-up was indeed IDENTICAL to the original.

I really can't think of anything simpler than this, and would be very leery of the suggestion made by Onhwy61 to "rename the backup drive whatever name you gave the drive that died," which, for many reasons, is likely to lead to a whole lot of trouble.
Since I'm planning to use drive imaging to just back up the whole drive what you suggest may not apply to me.

But I must say your solution to Cycles2's original problem seems very straight forward. (Of course we have yet to hear from Herman about this.)

But I must also say that I have done exactly what Onhw61y suggested and have successfully accessed data (but not Itunes data) on an external drive, with no difficulties whatsoever. And I would be tempted to try it again if I were attempting to access only my backup Itunes and not using third party backup software to restore the whole drive.

Is there something particular to Itunes that would make this a bad ideah?

Sorry, I didn't address my post to Rel but meant to.
Rel, I don't mind being flogged, actually enjoy it.

I'm trying to wrap my head around this. Please clarify if it's not too much trouble.

What were the names of the drives connected including the internal and 2 external?

Where did you originally store the files from the one disc you ripped? In other words what drive/folder was designated as the "iTunes Music Folder Location" in the advanced-importing preferences when you ripped it.

When you say you "copied the library" what did you copy? Just the iTunes library file?

Thanks, I find this fascinating (how sad is that) so would really like to figure out what is happening.
Since Herman has thrown down the gauntlet, I'll try to shed some light on this whole iTunes thing--with the very clear disclaimer that I am not a computer scientist, programmer, or even, for that matter, a Unix jockey.

The whole "flogging" thing was, of course, directed towards the aforementioned dead horse, not any of our esteemed 'Gon'ers. So even though Herman has admitted to actually enjoying being flogged, perhaps this personal tidbit is best kept between him and his therapist(s). Or as the old joke goes:

Masochist: Go ahead, hit me!

Sadist: No way!

So let the flogging begin....

It seems one of the primary causes of confusion in these iTunes discussions is nomenclature. Apple is at least partly to blame for this by using terms that are often less than clear, or even downright ambiguous. The prime example is the term "iTunes Library."

This term is merely a concept that refers to the complete collection of software components and data used by iTunes to perform its familiar functions, such as playing music, displaying album art, keeping track of playlists, presenting track information, etc., etc. Your "iTunes Library" is, in effect, all the music you've imported into iTunes and its associated data and metadata.

By default, this entire collection of information (including the music files themselves), is contained within a FOLDER named "iTunes," and this folder is (again, by default) contained within the user's "Music" folder.

Within the "iTunes" folder, however, are four items: the "Album Artwork" folder; the "iTunes Library" file; the "iTunes Music" folder; and a file called "iTunes Music Library.xml."

This is where the confusion begins. "iTunes" (the computer program), requires an "iTunes LIBRARY" (a term used to convey a concept referring to a collection of data), which data are contained within a FOLDER named "iTunes," which contains a FILE named "iTunes Library," plus another FILE named "iTunes Music Library.xml." Fantastic!

The "iTunes Library" file contains all the non-music, non-artwork information used by iTunes to organize your music collection (including track names, album titles, playlists, ratings, etc.); while the "iTunes Music Library.xml" contains essentially the same information, but is used primarily to exchange information with other programs in the iLife suite (such as iPhoto, iMovie, etc.)

If the "iTunes Library" file becomes lost, damaged, or corrupted, you'll still have all your music and artwork, but iTunes (the program) won't know how to deal with it. Re-importing your music and artwork will restore iTunes functionality, but you will have lost information regarding playlists, ratings, number of times played, etc. If, on the other hand, your music is lost, damaged, or corrupted, it's time to pray that you have a backup of some kind. Same goes for artwork, but to a much lesser extent, since much of it can be downloaded (free) from the iTunes Store (not to be confused with the iTunes Program).

So this is how Apple sets up the iTunes environment by default. If you are content to leave things as they are, everything is likely to be just fine. The problems start when well-meaning users begin to take advantage of various flexibilities that Apple builds into the iTunes program.

The most "dangerous" choice is to UNCHECK the box in "Advanced Preferences" that reads "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library." Once you do this, every bit of music "added" to your iTunes Library consists solely of POINTERS to the actual music files. If those music files are scattered all over the place, you had best be sure your backup procedure includes backing those files up. Copying your "iTunes" folder or your "iTunes Music" folder (or both) to another drive will succeed in copying ONLY the pointers, NOT the music!

Another somewhat less dangerous choice allowed by Apple is to move the "iTunes Music" folder to a different location. Granted, for large collections (hundreds of GB's), this makes a lot of sense. By dedicating an external drive (or even a network accessible drive) to your music, it is possible to have an enormous collection without using up all the space on your primary drive. In this case, however, you'll need to back up both your "iTunes" folder and your "iTunes Music" folder. Merely backing up your "iTunes" folder will save all your artwork and metadata, but NO MUSIC! Backing up just your "iTunes Music" folder will save your music, but lose your metadata.

So to answer your specific questions, Herman, here's how my little experiment was carried out. My primary drive (which contains OS X and my home folder) goes by the default name of Macintosh HD; the two drives I used we'll call Drive A and Drive B.

Launching iTunes with the option key depressed allowed me to create a new "iTunes LIBRARY" on Drive A. To this LIBRARY, I added the tracks ripped from a single CD, so the track data that the iTunes PROGRAM grabbed from CDDB (the online CD DataBase) got added to the "iTunes Library" FILE within the "iTunes" FOLDER. The music itself got added to the "iTunes Music" FOLDER, also within the "iTunes" folder, and the album artwork (downloaded from the iTunes STORE), was placed into the "Album Artwork" folder, which again, was contained within the "iTunes" folder.

I then quit the iTunes program, and copied the entire "iTunes" FOLDER on Drive A by dragging and dropping onto Drive B. Drive A was then ejected (removed completely from the computing environment), and I relaunched iTunes with the option key depressed. This time, rather than creating a new library, I chose an existing library (the one copied to Drive B), represented in the Finder by the FOLDER on Drive B named "iTunes." Upon selecting this folder I was presented with an iTunes library IDENTICAL to the one I had copied from Drive A.

The reason I did NOT run into the problems you predicted is that although the absolute names of the files on Drive B were different (they were, after all, on Drive B), the relative names were not: everything other than "Drive B" was identical, so iTunes didn't really care. It's kind of like the old days, before Area Codes started multiplying like rabbits. If you wrote down the phone numbers of all your friends in your town, there was no need to write down the Area Code--it didn't matter. But if you travelled around the country collecting phone numbers from people wherever you went, neglecting to write down the Area Codes could lead to serious problems.

And Jpod, to answer your question, I don't think you could do any better than backing up your drive using some kind of drive imaging program. My understanding of these is that you get a bit-for-bit "clone" of your original drive, something impossible to do by means of drag and drop copy. Assuming you keep your backups current, should disaster strike, you merely substitute your "cloned" disc for the original, and your computer is none the wiser. Everything should work exactly as it did with the original disc.

Final disclaimer: I'm a Mac-only guy, and know NOTHING about Windows.
Thanks for the detailed response, but if I understand what you did the reason iTunes found the songs is not the reason you describe.

I think we agree on this but just to be clear; iTunes stores all new songs in the "music folder" that is established in preferences-advanced-general. By new music I mean music that is ripped by iTunes at the time that folder is in use or a song already ripped and added by dragging and dropping or importing when you have this checked "Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library." If you don't have it checked it will point to to the song location but not copy it into the music folder.

Since you have it checked your songs went into this music folder.

You said "Launching iTunes with the option key depressed allowed me to create a new "iTunes LIBRARY" on Drive A."

Doing so puts the library files on Drive A but does not put the music folder on Drive A unless you go into preferences and change the location to a folder on Drive A. I did not see where you did this.

It does not automatically create a new music folder when you create a new library. The music folder never changes unless you change it in preferences, and if you do it changes it for every library on your computer. That goes for all preferences. They do not apply to just the library in use at the time you change them because there is only one set of preferences and they apply to any library launched by that copy of iTunes.

If I go to preferences in my main library my music folder is currently MusicFour/aug2/

If I launch iTunes with the option key down and create a new library on the drive MusicOne and look at preferences the itunes music folder is still Music4/Aug2. Any new song will be stored in MusicFour/Aug2 and the data stored in the library points to that song on MusicFour/Aug2. Therefore I can move the library files wherever I want because if I launch that library from any location it still points to the song on MusicFour/Aug2

It sounds like this is what you did. To find out do a "get info" on a song in your new library copy on drive B. I bet the song isn't actually stored on Drive B and that is why you can move the library around without losing track of the songs.

BTW your warning to always leave the copy box checked is fine if you have a small library but will not work if your library is too big to hold on a single drive.

Your concept of "relative names" is also off base.

The reason I did NOT run into the problems you predicted is that although the absolute names of the files on Drive B were different (they were, after all, on Drive B), the relative names were not: everything other than "Drive B" was identical, so iTunes didn't really care.

Computers aren't clever enough to go out and find files unless you tell them the exact path. If you move the file from A to B and the pointer says it is in A there is no way it will find it in B.


Jethro, I been flogging this here dead horse for days now, and it don't hardly budge none.

Cletus, sometimes them dead horses just enjoy it too damn much. If I wuz you, I'd just stop and see if he don't just git up and gallop off all by hiself.

Sorry, but I've been getting ready for a trip and won't be back till next week, so haven't had time to respond.

The short answer is:













Don't mean to be a smart ass, but that's all I have time for now!

There's no way in the world to follow what you wrote, but here's the deal.

I tried it again and it does exactly what I said. I tried it your way and it does not find the song.

Preferences I changed in one library were latched and came up that way in any other library I launched or created.

Creating a new library did not create a new music folder, it stayed the same as what was last set in preferences.

I created a new library with music folder on the same drive
I loaded one song into that library in that music folder
I copied the whole thing to another drive
I deleted the first one
I launched itunes holding the option key and selected the second library
It could not find the song

Why? becuase it was looking on the drive where I deleted it. If I look at the .xml file I see it is pointing at the file I deleted.

The only reason it found your file (I say again) is because you never changed the location on the music folder.

Your description of how iTunes handles music folders on 7-31 is completely wrong as well as just about everything else you have stated,

That is as simple as I can put it. If you still hold on to your other ideas then I can't help you. I don't know what else to tell you other than you are either wrong or you are just screwing with me.