How to Split Your iTunes Library

I am aware that I have a configuration optimised for my own particular computer system, which sometimes makes me shortsighted, and that others’ systems vary widely, but sometimes viewing another’s system really brings home the point.

I have a friend who has three 300Gb drives, but they aren’t RAIDed. He has a space problem that prevents him from moving all that data temporarily while he RAIDs the drives, which was the original plan. I gave him some video for iTunes that he couldn’t fit on his current iTunes drive. He has a huge iTunes library but it’s mostly music, with little video in it.

I have to credit him with the idea that enabled him to split his library. Instead of putting all iTunes content on the one drive, he realised that he could turn off iTunes’ “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library” option. This means that he can put the videos on a different volume, then add them without copying. iTunes simply writes the path in its database. In summary, here is his set up:

  • iTunes library folder (consists of database, support folders and files): drive 1
  • Music (in iTunes folder): drive 1
  • Video: drive 2

What can be a little confusing is the location of your support files and the media files themselves, as they can be different. A library means a folder containing your database and any support folders/files, such as Artwork, iPod Games, etc. Your media is by default also in this folder but you can scatter any media to your heart’s content, and with the copy option turned off (as covered above), iTunes will track it all. It is advisable to keep everything together, but not essential.

This technique has ramifications for laptop users. Laptops have smaller drives than desktops. With the default preferences, CDs you rip to your library will go into your iTunes Music folder on your laptop. To add video, which makes sense to keep off your laptop due to file sizes, put it somewhere, then add it to the library and iTunes will write pointers to those files. When you want to play them, attach the external drive or mount the network volume and go.

There is a caveat, which is a disadvantage to this system. The volume where the media is has to be mounted to work. It is best to mount it before you launch iTunes, or at least before you interact with any offline files. If you are using network volumes, it is wise to mount them on startup so you don’t have to think about it. On the Mac, you can add any currently mounted volumes to your startup items in System Preferences > Accounts. They will then mount automatically every time you log in.

This is a good solution for those with limited space.


7 Responses to How to Split Your iTunes Library

  1. Jordon says:

    Great post.

    FYI the following post says you can hold down the option key on a mac, with the “Copy files to iTunes Music folder” checked, to bypass copying the files.

  2. […] drive? It’s all about whether iTunes can see it. You can split your library. I’ve written a post on […]

  3. […] on How to Split Your iTunes Library I realised another aspect to this. My last post on the matter primarily related to adding new content. What if you’ve got content that you want to split? […]

  4. tunegardener says:

    If you’ve got stuff on the Apple TV that meets criteria (usually unplayed video), there would be no reason for it to delete it. It’s worth a test.

  5. Yashin says:

    Sorry, I meant that after an initial sync (drive connected), if I later open iTunes (drive not connected), will iTunes auto-sync and remove the files it can’t find on the hard drive? iTunes seems to be intent on auto-syncing the AppleTV without asking you first.

  6. tunegardener says:

    Sure you can. Apple TV is married to a library. It doesn’t know where the files are. As long as the files are available prior to sync, you’ll be allright.

  7. Yashin says:

    If I use this method to store my video on an external hard drive, can I sync my MacBook to AppleTV and still retain the video if I open iTunes without the hard drive mounted?

    I fear that Apple’s decision not to include drag-and-drop support for AppleTV will prevent me from doing this.

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