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Finally! Split iTunes Library across multiple HDDs

For many weeks, if not months, I fought iTunes – and finally I won. And now that I know the trick, I’m more than embarrassed, that I didn’t come up with this weeks, if not months, earlier.
But let’s do this chronologically:

I always thought that iTunes, even though it has many annoying flaws, is a great application to organize your stuff. Media files, that is.
In 2009 no one should have to care about folder structures and that sort of stuff himself. And iTunes does that pretty well (and with the update to iTunes 9 even more cleanly).
That’s why I let iTunes handle everything. I have a playlist called „new music“ in which I throw -who would have guessed?- all my new music. iTunes then automagically copies those files into it’s own folder structure and puts the songs up into the media library.

The same goes for movies and tv shows (if the video files are in the correct format, of course).
And here comes the problem: with a growing library, I eventually ran out of harddisk space and tried many, many things in order to convince iTunes, to save my movies on external disk 1, my tv shows on external disk 2 and keep my music on the internal disk.

1. Folder Aliases come to mind and somehow work as long as one moves the files manually.

2. I tried soft and hard links on system level (I switched from Linux) but iTunes would simply ignore those and create another folder on the internal harddisk to store my video files in.

3. I mounted an external harddrive directly to /…/iTunes Media/Movies in the hope, that iTunes would put the movies there. Nope, wouldn’t work.

4. I tried adding the video files to the library the „old way“ and then moved them manually to the external harddisk. Which would result in iTunes asking me where the file is when I tried to play it. I had to tell iTunes the new location and everything worked fine. Still, this is pretty annoying if you have a collection of several 100 video files.

5. I bought VideoDrive (about 15€, should be something around $20). A software that uses Quicktime7 to do the following magic trick: it leaves to original files untouched on the external harddisk and creates a little „reference file“, about 4 megs, for every video. In that reference file it stores the original location of the video and some metadata („cover art“, name, synopsis, plot, … all fetched from amazon and/or IMDb). Than it gives those reference files for iTunes to import. iTunes does so willingly. The result: you have your video files in iTunes, without having the actual video files on the same harddisk.
However, you will not be able to use those video files with „Remote“ (iPhone App to remote control iTunes). Nor will you be able to put those videos onto your iPhone or iPod. You won’t even be able to play those video files on another computer which has access to your shared library.

6. The creators of VideoDrive thought about this and gave their software the import method called „Copy videos in a compatible container“ which results in two things: the reference files from above and a conversion of all your video files into .mov container files.
That gives you all the freedoms you would need. Still, this is kind of a dirty trick and I’m pretty sure that this setup will some day explode right in front of me.

Well, today, I had a major breakthrough!
But before I give away the trick, here’s the little annoyance you still will have to accept: you’ll have to convert all your video files into an „iTunes compatible format“. Namely: .mov, .mp4 or .m4v (which, as far as I know, is just another extension for the mp4 format).
Use the converter/encoder of your choice. I used to VideoDrive again to do the job. More precisely: to copy the video files into an iTunes compatible container (.mov) but I did not let it create any reference files this time.
This results in nothing but the .mov files the external harddisk right next to the originals (.avi). After a quick check, I moved the .avi files into the trash…
Now the magic happens!

Select all those video files, hold down the option key (until the end of the trick) and drag all the selected files over to iTunes with the mouse. Done.
iTunes will now check the files and do some internal magic and after a few seconds (or minutes – depending on the quantity of files you selected) will show those files under „Movies“ in the library.
Should the videos you moved to iTunes be episodes of a tv show, select all episodes, hit command+i and under „Options“ select the media type „tv show“. iTunes will again work for some time and then present those files correctly under „TV Shows“.
The truly wonderful thing: NOTHING gets copied to the internal harddrive. Everything stays in it’s place and still you have what you wanted:
1. The videos are in iTunes
2. You can share them using the „Shared Library“ feature
3. You can start playing them using the „Remote“ app on your iPhone or iPod Touch
4. You can put the files onto your iPhone or iPod

See? That was easy, wasn’t it?

Published inAllgemein

17 Comments

  1. Good to hear that you finally solved it! Especially since I’m considering getting a MAC and such information sure helps. 🙂 Still not sure if I like the idea of converting all my files into a certain format. Sounds annoying to me.

  2. Good to hear that you finally solved it! Especially since I’m considering getting a MAC and such information sure helps. 🙂 Still not sure if I like the idea of converting all my files into a certain format. Sounds annoying to me.

  3. Well, it is annoying. But annoying to a degree I can live with. Especially considering the alternatives.
    As for the converting itself: my Mac runs 24/7 anyhow. I just let a batch converter do the job.
    Sure, it would be nice if iTunes would simply accept .avi files. On the other hand, I can understand that this would be a lot of work, since .avi ist nothing more than a container, which can contain… well… just about anything.
    Yeah, .mov, too, is a container format. But it’s a container the „Apple way“, which, probably, makes things easier.

    Then again: one has to think about what one really needs. For most users my solution „5“ is possibly good enough…

  4. Well, it is annoying. But annoying to a degree I can live with. Especially considering the alternatives.
    As for the converting itself: my Mac runs 24/7 anyhow. I just let a batch converter do the job.
    Sure, it would be nice if iTunes would simply accept .avi files. On the other hand, I can understand that this would be a lot of work, since .avi ist nothing more than a container, which can contain… well… just about anything.
    Yeah, .mov, too, is a container format. But it’s a container the „Apple way“, which, probably, makes things easier.

    Then again: one has to think about what one really needs. For most users my solution „5“ is possibly good enough…

  5. jakob jakob

    This does not work for me with iTunes 9 and current Snow Leopard OSX. The files are being copied from the external drive to the internal drive.

    Have you maybe deactivated the copy-files-to-iTunes-library in your iTunes settings? Because that would explain why your files are not copied. Deactivating that setting, however, makes no sense in my opinion, because I do want music to be moved to the library upon adding the to iTunes.

    Why the FUCKING HELL does iTunes not simply allow aliases in the library? It would be SOOO much easier to simply have an alias to „Movies“ or „TV-Shows“ on an external drive…

  6. jakob jakob

    This does not work for me with iTunes 9 and current Snow Leopard OSX. The files are being copied from the external drive to the internal drive.

    Have you maybe deactivated the copy-files-to-iTunes-library in your iTunes settings? Because that would explain why your files are not copied. Deactivating that setting, however, makes no sense in my opinion, because I do want music to be moved to the library upon adding the to iTunes.

    Why the FUCKING HELL does iTunes not simply allow aliases in the library? It would be SOOO much easier to simply have an alias to „Movies“ or „TV-Shows“ on an external drive…

  7. Sebastian Schack Sebastian Schack

    Hey there.

    No, I did not deactivate the copy-files-to-iTunes-library-thingy, because I want iTunes to copy music that I drag into the iTunes window to the library.

    However, I invested some time to investigate your problem… I don’t use iTunes on my MacBook. Ever. I think I never really started it on the MacBook before the following test. I unplugged my external Movie HDD from the Mac Mini and plugged it into the MacBook. I then created a binary file on my MacBook HDD, just big enough to leave it with exactly 1GB of free space. I then started to drag a couple of movies from the external HDD into the iTunes window. As expected my Mac started to copy the files and after a few seconds shouted something like: GET A BIGGER HARDDRIVE!
    I deleted the files again, checked: 1GB of free space, okay.
    Then I selected the same movie files (about 13GB in total), held down the option key and „moved“ them into the iTunes window. The whole „import“ took about 10 seconds and the Mac did not complain about HDD space and I could play the movies from inside iTunes from the external HDD.

    I do not know what, but something seems to be wrong at your end here… sorry…

  8. Sebastian Schack Sebastian Schack

    Hey there.

    No, I did not deactivate the copy-files-to-iTunes-library-thingy, because I want iTunes to copy music that I drag into the iTunes window to the library.

    However, I invested some time to investigate your problem… I don’t use iTunes on my MacBook. Ever. I think I never really started it on the MacBook before the following test. I unplugged my external Movie HDD from the Mac Mini and plugged it into the MacBook. I then created a binary file on my MacBook HDD, just big enough to leave it with exactly 1GB of free space. I then started to drag a couple of movies from the external HDD into the iTunes window. As expected my Mac started to copy the files and after a few seconds shouted something like: GET A BIGGER HARDDRIVE!
    I deleted the files again, checked: 1GB of free space, okay.
    Then I selected the same movie files (about 13GB in total), held down the option key and „moved“ them into the iTunes window. The whole „import“ took about 10 seconds and the Mac did not complain about HDD space and I could play the movies from inside iTunes from the external HDD.

    I do not know what, but something seems to be wrong at your end here… sorry…

  9. Negrito Negrito

    Quick question: So your itunes is managing your files in the new way where its iTunes ‚media‘, and not iTunes ‚music‘ correct? I have iTunes since before the change, would you recommend switching to the new organization system, or does it not matter at all?

    • Partly correct.
      I’ve been using iTunes for a couple of years now. When Apple introduced the new organization scheme, I switched – without thinking about the consequences (I do Time Machine backups!).
      However, I found out, that the new organization scheme has absolutely no impact on my little trick. Everything still works.

      What I had hoped for my switching to the new scheme was, that it would be possible to tell iTunes that folder media/music is on Disk #1, media/tv shows on Disk #2, and media/movies on Disk #3 (and so forth) – that, of course, does still not work.

      The easiest way to split ones media collection across multiple disks still seems to be my little trick to drag those files into iTunes while holding down the option key.

  10. Negrito Negrito

    Quick question: So your itunes is managing your files in the new way where its iTunes ‚media‘, and not iTunes ‚music‘ correct? I have iTunes since before the change, would you recommend switching to the new organization system, or does it not matter at all?

    • Partly correct.
      I’ve been using iTunes for a couple of years now. When Apple introduced the new organization scheme, I switched – without thinking about the consequences (I do Time Machine backups!).
      However, I found out, that the new organization scheme has absolutely no impact on my little trick. Everything still works.

      What I had hoped for my switching to the new scheme was, that it would be possible to tell iTunes that folder media/music is on Disk #1, media/tv shows on Disk #2, and media/movies on Disk #3 (and so forth) – that, of course, does still not work.

      The easiest way to split ones media collection across multiple disks still seems to be my little trick to drag those files into iTunes while holding down the option key.

  11. Hal B Sure Hal B Sure

    Based on your tip I scoured iTunes help for confirmation. At the end of the instructions for „Adding items to your library without copying them to your iTunes folder“ I found what I was looking for. „Tip: When dragging files to the iTunes window, you can temporarily reverse the checkbox setting by holding down the Option key while you drag.“

    The checkbox they’re referencing is that „Copy files“ checkbox. Thank you very much for the tip, you’ve made me a happy, happy man.

    • Glad I could help you out. And very nice of you to leave a comment here. When you get some feedback, sharing becomes real fun.
      Didn’t know that my little „hack“ was a documented feature, though. 🙂

  12. Hal B Sure Hal B Sure

    Based on your tip I scoured iTunes help for confirmation. At the end of the instructions for „Adding items to your library without copying them to your iTunes folder“ I found what I was looking for. „Tip: When dragging files to the iTunes window, you can temporarily reverse the checkbox setting by holding down the Option key while you drag.“

    The checkbox they’re referencing is that „Copy files“ checkbox. Thank you very much for the tip, you’ve made me a happy, happy man.

    • Glad I could help you out. And very nice of you to leave a comment here. When you get some feedback, sharing becomes real fun.
      Didn’t know that my little „hack“ was a documented feature, though. 🙂

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