How to Move iTunes Library to a New PC

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Have you ever had that feeling that you wanted to do the impossible task? No matter how hard you try, the results would not be what you want? That your gut tells you that you will end up disappointed? This is the feeling I had when I began my attempt to move iTunes from one Windows PC to another and keep everything intact.

The first thing I did was a Google search to find out if anybody else had already done this. I found various bits and pieces of information, but no complete set of instructions. So I used those bits and pieces and compiled my own list of tasks to complete this project. For an application as widely used as iTunes, you would think Apple would make this an easy process, but it’s not. It’s not hard, but it’s not trivial; you have to know your way around the operating system to be successful. I’m happy to say that I was successful in moving iTunes to a new computer and I’m sharing the steps I took. One caveat: These instructions worked for me and may or may not work for you; “your mileage may vary.”

I started with an older, slower computer running Windows 7 and wanted to move iTunes to a newer, faster computer, also running Windows 7. (This is important to note since different versions of Windows put things in different places. For example, by default, Windows 7 puts the iTunes folder in “C:\Users\[User Name]\Music” whereas Windows XP puts the folder in “C:\Documents and Settings\[User Name]\My Documents\My Music” by default.) My iTunes library consists of 5212 songs, 16 movies, 3 podcasts, 2 iTunes U subscriptions, 97 books, 106 apps, 6 ringtones, and 10 custom playlists. Needless to say, I did not want to rebuild all of this from scratch on a new computer. I was willing to sacrifice an iPad as a test device on the new computer to determine if things worked properly; I could always set it up again from scratch if I needed to. Thankfully, everything transferred properly and worked correctly on the new computer.

The Process

Here are the steps that I took to move iTunes from my old computer to my new computer. These instructions were based on iTunes version 10.6.3.25.

  1. Backup! Backup! Backup! I can’t stress this enough. If anything goes wrong, you need a backup to recover from. I use CrashPlan to backup my systems to two separate locations, so I was good to go. You can also use one of the many external hard drives on the market that have backup software included on them. (Don’t use this external hard drive to copy data to the new computer to keep from corrupting your backup.)
  2. Sync all iPhones, iPads, and iPods to iTunes on the old computer. This creates a condition where iTunes and the iDevices that sync to it are all at the same point in time (same version of apps, same playlists, etc.) and helps avoid conflicts down the road.
  3. Copy your media to new machine (optional). Long ago I made the decision to not let iTunes manage my media library; if you let iTunes manage your media library, skip this step. Everything was in the C:\Media folder on my computer, so I copied that to the new computer. I used the Homegroup function in Windows 7 to network the two computers together and copy the folder. You could also use an external hard drive to copy the folder to the new computer (don’t use the same external hard drive as your backup). This step took the most time because of the size of the folder, about 82 GB.
  4. Copy the iTunes folder to new machine. The default location of this folder is “C:\Users\[User Name]\Music\iTunes”. I used the same user name on the new computer as the old computer, so this copied over seamlessly. If you are using a different user name on the new computer you might find yourself needing to modify the iTunes library file (see link below). If you let iTunes manage your media files, then all of your music, podcasts, videos, etc. should be located in this folder.
  5. Verify that all of your media is on the new computer. Open the folders in Explorer and make sure that your music is on the new computer. If you aren’t sure where it should be, open iTunes on the old computer, right-click on a song and choose Get Info from the menu. At the bottom of the Summary tab you will see “Where” with the folder and file name. Make sure everything was successfully copied to the new computer before moving forward.
  6. Copy “C:\Users\[User Name]\AppData\Local\Apple Computer” to the new computer. I’m not sure exactly what this folder contains, but I moved it to make sure I had all of the settings and supporting information for iTunes.
  7. Copy “C:\Users\[User Name]\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer” to the new computer. I’m not sure exactly what this folder contains, but it appeared to have backups of my iDevices and metadata for my media. It was a relatively small folder but it had a lot of files in it so it took a little time to copy.
  8. Download and install iTunes on the new computer. This can be found at http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/
  9. Open iTunes on the new computer. As soon as I did, it looked exactly the same as it did on the old computer. Whew!
  10. Authorize computer in iTunes. This allows the new computer to sync purchased apps and media to your iDevices. Click Store->Authorize This Computer and follow the prompts.
  11. Plug in iDevices. The new computer loaded the proper USB drivers, then they would sync with iTunes. This is the part I feared most. Would the iDevices sync properly with iTunes? Or would they think it is a new computer and want to reset to factory config? They ended up syncing perfectly!
  12. Deauthorize old computer in iTunes. Apple only gives you 5 computers that can ever be authorized to work with your iTunes account. If you skip this step you burn one of those authorizations and can never get it back if you uninstall iTunes or rebuild the hard drive on the old computer. On the old computer, click Store->Deauthorize This Computer and follow the prompts.

At this point, everything was working on the new computer just like it was on the old computer. I was happy that my iTunes library was the same and that my iDevices did not have to be set up from scratch. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and unicorns danced across my front yard!

Much of the information that I used was found on other sites. Here are some links that you may find useful:

Good luck! Share your success or failure of moving your iTunes library in the comments below.

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