How to free up your Mac's internal storage by moving your iTunes Library to an external dr...

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in iPod + iTunes + AppleTV edited March 5
A user's music and video collection can be one of the largest consumers of hard drive space on a Mac, and is typically overlooked in favor of other items when it comes time to free up drive space. This guide explains how to shift where iTunes stores all of the content to an external drive.




Users looking for ways to reduce the amount of things they store on their Mac usually steer clear of doing anything to iTunes and their precious music collection. Even at a time when there are many popular streaming services available to use, deleting these files is not viewed as an option, making iTunes itself an obstacle for salvaging a Mac's drive.

Moving iTunes to an external drive is one compromise, one which still keeps the music available, but off the primary storage drive completely. Though daunting to users, possibly due to the sentimentality associated with music collection, moving an iTunes Library is a relatively simple procedure that is also quite safe to perform.

Before the move

Transferring gigabytes of files between drives can take a considerable amount of time, with that length depending on a number of different variables.

First, make sure to select an external drive with a fast transfer speed, typically one that connects over USB 3.0, USB-C, or Thunderbolt. Using an older technology, such as USB 2.0, can severely prolong the amount of time it takes, purely from its slower transfer rates.

Once you have your selected drive installed, make sure it has enough storage capacity to hold your library, and for future expansion. Right click the desktop icon for the external drive and select Get Info, and make sure the Available listing has enough to cover the library's size.



The size of the iTunes library also dictates the length of the transfer, so it may be worth doing a little pruning beforehand. For example, check your podcasts to see if there are old and listened-to episodes that can be safely deleted.

If you are running iTunes 12.7 or later, there may be an archive of apps that are no longer usable within iTunes, that you may wish to remove. If you do, this AppleInsider guide will tell you how.

While it may be tempting to reuse an external drive already used for Time Machine backups, it is recommended to use a different drive completely. Backups are meant to be separately stored from the data it is duplicating, and keeping some of that data on the same drive as a backup effectively defeats the object of the exercise.

Now would also be a good time to make an up-to-date backup of your Mac before transferring any files.

Moving the library

We first need to collect together all of the content iTunes manages into one folder before making the move. Open iTunes, click File in the Menu Bar, then Library, then Organize Library.




Make sure the Consolidate Files checkbox is ticked, then select OK. Wait for iTunes to complete its consolidation before continuing.




Check the path for the folder within iTunes by going to Preferences within the iTunes Menu bar and selecting Advanced in the new window. The iTunes Media folder location section at the top details where the file collection is located.



Close iTunes, then bring up a Finder window and navigate to the iTunes folder.

If the external drive you wish to move it to is already empty, click and drag the iTunes folder from the Finder window directly onto the icon for the external drive. Alternatively, copy the iTunes folder, navigate to the place in the external drive you want to use to store iTunes in a separate Finder window, then paste.




At this point, the iTunes folder will be copied over to the external storage.

Depending on the bandwidth of the connection, the size of the iTunes folder, and if the Mac or the drive are being accessed by other tasks, this could take a long time to complete. For extremely large collections, or if the Mac needs to be used during the day, it is recommended to wait for a period of time when the Mac is left alone, as it can take multiple hours to move to its new home.




Once the transfer has completed, iTunes needs to be told where to find the files.

Hold the Option key and open iTunes. This will bring up a Choose iTunes Library window with three options. Select Choose Library on the far right.




In the next window, navigate to the external drive and enter the iTunes folder. Find and select the iTunes Library file, and click Open.




At this point, iTunes will open up from the new location, and will be accessing files from the external storage instead of the Mac's storage. If you are unsure, you can check the path again by going to Preferences in the iTunes Menu Bar, selecting Advanced, and reading the iTunes Media folder location.




If you wish, you can close iTunes and disconnect the external drive. To reuse that iTunes library, you will need to reconnect the drive to the Mac before opening iTunes again, else it will offer a "Library cannot be found" error.

Saving space

Once the iTunes library is confirmed to be working on the external drive, and possibly backed up too, you now have the option of deleting the initial iTunes library from the Mac to save space. Navigate to the original iTunes folder, and either drag it to the Trash or right-click the folder and select Move to Trash.




To fully reclaim the storage after this, either enter the Trash and select Empty, or right-click the Trash and select Empty Trash. If you have the Trash to automatically delete files after 30 days, doing this will free up the storage occupied by the iTunes folder in the Trash far earlier.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 5,403member
    I'm currently running this. Only FYI is that if your external volume is unplugged or off, and you close iTunes, then you cannot re-open iTunes without powering the drive back up or selecting an alternative library. Kind of a bummer if you just want to playback some podcasts in iTunes and don't need your entire offline library. 
  • Reply 2 of 30
    ...things were so much easier when we could upgrade or swap storage drives, as I've done on every mac I've ever owned until recently...
    DavidAlGregory
  • Reply 3 of 30
    BenCBenC Posts: 11member
    2011 called and wants its how-to guide back
  • Reply 4 of 30
    mrfishmrfish Posts: 14member
    So will time machine still back up the library if it’s on the external drive? What if I put the library on a second internal drive , would it be backed up from there?
    Thanks
  • Reply 5 of 30
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,229administrator
    BenC said:
    2011 called and wants its how-to guide back
    Just because you know how to do it, doesn't mean that everybody does.

    AppleInsider is not just for you.
    JinTechjony0DavidAlGregoryracerhomie3redgeminipawatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 30
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,236member
    mrfish said:
    So will time machine still back up the library if it’s on the external drive? What if I put the library on a second internal drive , would it be backed up from there?
    Thanks

    Yes, as long as you have set the external drive to backed up to your time machine drive. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 30
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,229administrator
    mrfish said:
    So will time machine still back up the library if it’s on the external drive? What if I put the library on a second internal drive , would it be backed up from there?
    Thanks
    If the library is on a second INTERNAL drive, Time Machine will by default back it up. You can add externals to a Time Machine set.

    We'll be discussing that in an upcoming tip.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 30
    abolishabolish Posts: 10member
    This article should have mentioned iTunes Match. That has more or less obsoleted this method. Combined with iCloud Music Library it totally frees you from the burden of managing an external drive -- plus it's stored in the cloud so you get an offsite backup of your precious music collection as well. It is Apple's primary solution for this exact problem. I get that there were some rare problems reported with it years ago but it's worth at least discussing here, in an article about "how to free up your Mac's internal storage by moving your iTunes Library..."
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 30
    alaninbelfastalaninbelfast Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    However, iOS device backups made by iTunes will stay on your primary drive ... if you want off load that storage onto an external drive, you'll need to set up a symbolic link.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 30
    maestro64maestro64 Posts: 4,236member
    Good to know this, it looks like Apple fixed the issue that iTunes only looked in the Music/iTunes folder for the library file. I have always had my music stored on an external drive. The issue was the fact iTune would only look to one folder for the library file and if you have more than one users on the computer this cause problems, since it only uses the users home folder music folder and if one user updates the database file it messes up iTunes.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 30
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,229administrator
    abolish said:
    This article should have mentioned iTunes Match. That has more or less obsoleted this method. Combined with iCloud Music Library it totally frees you from the burden of managing an external drive -- plus it's stored in the cloud so you get an offsite backup of your precious music collection as well. It is Apple's primary solution for this exact problem. I get that there were some rare problems reported with it years ago but it's worth at least discussing here, in an article about "how to free up your Mac's internal storage by moving your iTunes Library..."
    iTunes Match and the similar but not identical feature in Apple Music will be discussed in a future tip. 

    This solution requires no paid service.
    edited March 5 racerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 30
    anomeanome Posts: 1,094member

    I've been putting my iTunes library on external storage for years. For some reason I seem to end up with rather a lot of files.

    The only problem is with portables, since you don't tend to just leave the external drives plugged in when moving them around. Which means closing down iTunes a lot, or even not running it by default.

    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 30
    Eric_WVGGEric_WVGG Posts: 426member
    Users of Macbook Airs and older Pros with SD card slots can use a "minidrive" to create more internal storage, this tip is a great application for that.

    https://www.amazon.com/MiniDrive-Retina-13-Adaptor-Expansion/dp/B017HOBQ8Q
  • Reply 14 of 30
    abolishabolish Posts: 10member
    abolish said:
    This article should have mentioned iTunes Match. That has more or less obsoleted this method. Combined with iCloud Music Library it totally frees you from the burden of managing an external drive -- plus it's stored in the cloud so you get an offsite backup of your precious music collection as well. It is Apple's primary solution for this exact problem. I get that there were some rare problems reported with it years ago but it's worth at least discussing here, in an article about "how to free up your Mac's internal storage by moving your iTunes Library..."
    iTunes Match and the similar but not identical feature in Apple Music will be discussed in a future tip. 

    This solution requires no paid service.
    Purchasing an external hard drive costs money too -- X2 if you want a backup.

    All I'm saying is this article should have mentioned iTunes Match / iCloud Music Library. While there are some small differences, the bigger picture is this is the Apple's primary solution for this local storage problem. High quality cloud storage easily accessible from all your devices. In that context this external drive method is much more niche, so it would be informative to explain the (rare) niche conditions under which you might want to explore it.
    edited March 5
  • Reply 15 of 30
    Have a large iTunes library and have a slightly different twist.
    I bought a 4 bay ProBox connected by USB 3 and the movies are on 1 HD, TV shows on a HD, Music & Podcasts are on a HD and the 4th HD is used for Time Machine.
    I put shortcuts in the iTunes folder pointing to the external HDs.

    Not perfect, but it works.
  • Reply 16 of 30
    duervoduervo Posts: 67member
    abolish said:
    abolish said:
    This article should have mentioned iTunes Match. That has more or less obsoleted this method. Combined with iCloud Music Library it totally frees you from the burden of managing an external drive -- plus it's stored in the cloud so you get an offsite backup of your precious music collection as well. It is Apple's primary solution for this exact problem. I get that there were some rare problems reported with it years ago but it's worth at least discussing here, in an article about "how to free up your Mac's internal storage by moving your iTunes Library..."
    iTunes Match and the similar but not identical feature in Apple Music will be discussed in a future tip. 

    This solution requires no paid service.
    Purchasing an external hard drive costs money too -- X2 if you want a backup.

    All I'm saying is this article should have mentioned iTunes Match / iCloud Music Library. While there are some small differences, the bigger picture is this is the Apple's primary solution for this local storage problem. High quality cloud storage easily accessible from all your devices. In that context this external drive method is much more niche, so it would be informative to explain the (rare) niche conditions under which you might want to explore it.
    iTunes Match only works for music files. Not much use for those that have a lot of personal video files that were not purchased from the iTunes Store. The method in the article addresses that. Your method does not.

    Scope of the article was defined at the beginning, and it stuck to that topic. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the article itself. The author “could have” adjusted the scope of it, but they didn’t, and that’s their choice.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 30
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,229administrator
    abolish said:
    abolish said:
    This article should have mentioned iTunes Match. That has more or less obsoleted this method. Combined with iCloud Music Library it totally frees you from the burden of managing an external drive -- plus it's stored in the cloud so you get an offsite backup of your precious music collection as well. It is Apple's primary solution for this exact problem. I get that there were some rare problems reported with it years ago but it's worth at least discussing here, in an article about "how to free up your Mac's internal storage by moving your iTunes Library..."
    iTunes Match and the similar but not identical feature in Apple Music will be discussed in a future tip. 

    This solution requires no paid service.
    Purchasing an external hard drive costs money too -- X2 if you want a backup.

    All I'm saying is this article should have mentioned iTunes Match / iCloud Music Library. While there are some small differences, the bigger picture is this is the Apple's primary solution for this local storage problem. High quality cloud storage easily accessible from all your devices. In that context this external drive method is much more niche, so it would be informative to explain the (rare) niche conditions under which you might want to explore it.
    To say that the number of users without an external drive and with Apple Music/iTunes Match outnumbers the number of users without Apple music and with a hard drive making the latter "niche" doesn't make a lot of sense.

    That all said, this tip is concise, to the point, and complete. Making tips too long with too many branching points defeats the purpose. Like I said, we're discussing Apple Music/iTunes Match later, and like Duervo said your solution does nothing about stored video.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 30
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 1,733member
    I'm currently running this. Only FYI is that if your external volume is unplugged or off, and you close iTunes, then you cannot re-open iTunes without powering the drive back up or selecting an alternative library. Kind of a bummer if you just want to playback some podcasts in iTunes and don't need your entire offline library. 
    There’s an alternate way to do this, where your main iTunes Library stuff is on your primary drive, but you consolidate your Media files to a different location. That way it’d still find the Library file but you just wouldn’t be able to play back any media until the second drive is connected. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 30
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,117member
    AI feature request: I'd really appreciate an article like this on how to save space on an iPhone by moving photos and videos to Photos on my mac. Every time the phone gets full, it have to fumble forever to figure out how to do that.


  • Reply 20 of 30
    potzerpotzer Posts: 1member
    Hey, Malcolm, in your article you stated, "you will need to reconnect the drive to the Mac before opening iTunes again, else it will offer a "Library cannot be found" error." In my experience that's never what occurs. If I ever launch iTunes without my external drive mounted iTunes will default back to the original media storage location in ~/Music/iTunes, recreating a fresh iTunes Media folder. This has happened to me multiple times when my drive was acting funky but since it happens silently I never notice until months down the road. My solution was to set the empty ~/Music/iTunes/iTunes Media directory to read-only. This way I get an error if iTunes ever tries to use it again.
    watto_cobra
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