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Small hard drive? Split your iTunes library across multiple volumes

Small hard drive? Split your iTunes library across multiple volumes

As more of our entertainment goes digital, we’re running out of hard drive space to store these big files directly on our Macs. A possible solution to this problem is dividing an iTunes library across multiple disk volumes.

To better explain the goal of this tutorial, let’s come up with a hypothetical situation. You have a MacBook with an 60GB hard drive and it’s only got a few gigabytes left before it’s filled to the max. But you’re just itching to download a bunch of music, movies, and TV shows which you want to keep indefinitely. More than likely, you really only listen to your music on a regular basis while the movies and TV shows are watched occasionally. It is for this reason that those massive files can be banished to an external hard drive while the relatively smaller music files get to stay on your Mac’s internal drive. Here is how you can split your iTunes library:

  1. Find all of your existing iTunes movies and TV shows and move them to your external drive using Finder. The movies are normally located at /Users/[Your_Username]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/Movies and the TV shows are at /Users/[Your_Username]/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music/TV Shows.
  2. Once these two folders and their contents have been copied to your external drive, launch the iTunes software.
  3. Using the left sidebar, go to the Movies heading. Select all of the items there, right-click, and choose Delete from the menu. First you’ll be asked for confirmation that you want to remove the movies from your library (you do), and then you’ll be asked whether you want to keep the file itself or move it to the trash. Select Move to Trash.
  4. Repeat step 3, this time using the TV Shows heading instead of Movies. Remember, these videos have already been copied to your other drive, so don’t worry about losing them forever.
  5. Now it’s time to re-add the video files back into your library. Open your external drive in Finder and locate the Movies and TV Shows folders you copied at the beginning.
  6. While holding down the Option key, drag the Movies and TV Shows folders from the Finder window to iTunes. Everything should go right back to the way it was with one exception — the video files are now stored on a different disk volume rather than on your Mac. The Option key keeps them there by overriding the iTunes setting which automatically copies files back to the internal disk.
  7. Any time you want to add a new movie or TV show to your library, move it over to the appropriate folder on your external hard drive, hold Option, and drag it to iTunes.

Of course, there are a few disclaimers about what will happen when you adopt this method. Anything you keep on the external drive will only be playable when it is connected to your Mac. It will always show up in your library, but double-clicking on it will yield an error. Since they’re only videos you watch every now and then, that’s not a big deal. Once the videos are synced to an iPod, however, they will stay there every time you re-sync after that — even if the drive isn’t plugged in at the time — until you remove them. It’s a nice touch which makes things a heck of a lot easier.

Obviously, the ideal situation would be upgrading your Mac’s internal hard drive to whatever size is necessary to hold all of your media files. This isn’t always possible, though, so splitting your iTunes library across multiple locations is a worthy alternative.

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17 Comments Have Been Posted (Leave Your Response)

Thanks ! It worked like a charm…

Does this work with DRMed files? How about digital copies of movies (you know, the ones that come with DVDs)?

Yes, DRM-protected files and digital copies of movies will work just fine. They’re still tied to the same iTunes library/account as before – it’s just that the files have been relocated.

Will this method delete my ratings and play counts for each file that I remove and re-add?

Kamil Dembinski,
I believe ratings and play counts are stored in the iTunes library files, not the media files themselves. So deleting and re-adding files will likely reset that information.


First, thanks very much for explaining this! I’ve been wanting to do this for some time, and the guides I initially found were all about moving one’s *entire* library over to an external drive, which would be very impractical.

My questions are, first, is there any reason this can’t be done with stuff not actually acquired through iTunes? I have audiobooks from an external vendor, music purchased from Amazon MP3, and a lot of audio files downloaded directly from websites. Do the same rules apply? One particular issue: all of these have separate files of their own, as well as locations within my iTunes folder: I have an “Audiobook” folder, eg, but also folders within “iTunes Music” corresponding to each book — and similarly for “Amazon MP3” and “Music.” Should I move BOTH versions of these files and/or enclosing folders, or which?

Thanks again!

This seems like a good solution. The Option key drag is very good to know.

However in a perfect world you would think that iTunes would come up with a way of doing this through library management of some sort. I think future iTunes releases should break up Movies, TV, and Music and allow you to easily store them locally or externally.

Thanks for the tips!

Thank you- this worked like a charm!

Hi thanks for the post will this work with two external hard drives? By way of example I have a large TV collection, large movie collection and also a decent size music collection. I would like to keep my music on my Mac hard drive, keep my movies on one external hard drive and then also keep my tv shows on yet another hard drive. Ideally when I purchase or import additional content it would auto sync / be stirred in the appropriate location. How can this be accomplished?
Thanks for your help!

Sweeeeeeeeet!! Very simple!!!!!

murat yorgancilar
November 4th, 2010, 8:54 AM

how do i do this (holding down option key) in windows pc?

What happens when I buy new Movies or TV Shows? Do they go to the external drive too or will I have to copy, delete and move them etc manually?

Also what happens when I close and itunes will it try to re-organise my files?

Many thanks

can I have half my movie collection on my Macbook and half on an external hard drive? Thanks!

WARNING: This method *will* reset playcounts, ratings, etc.

Fantastic! Thank you so much… one little key has saved me so much time!!!

HELP! Mine keeps “copying” them back to iTunes library. It starts out with the “processing” and then it starts “copying”. Tried it twice – both times holding down the option key. Why do you think it isn’t working? Thanks!

In iTunes 10.5 this is no longer required.
Copy the video files (for example the entire ‘TV Shows’ folder to a new disk. Exit iTunes and move the original ‘TV Shows’ folder to the bin. Restart iTunes, select one of the tv shows and iTunes will ask you to locate the missing file, point it to the file on the new disk. iTunes will subsequently ask if you want to fix all of the files…. and automagically it is done.

Just remember not to ‘consolidate’ the iTunes media at some point in the future.

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