managing synched itunes libraries
February 3, 2006 8:07 AM   Subscribe

I have a powerbook, an external hard drive, and more music than will fit on my powerbook. I would like to keep a single organized library on my external hard drive and have a subset on my powerbook. I can do that easily enough -- but when I add iTunes to the mix . . .

and I want to add iTunes in for the song ratings and playlists, I know of no way to manage it. In a sense, it would work like the iPod : Computer relationship, but instead it would be Computer : External Hard Drive (but with some uploading).
So let say I have 100 gb of material on my external drive. I have 30 gb on my powerbook. Most is from the ext. drive library but some material is new. On my machine iTunes has all the songs in its library. Now I want to synch. Send up the new music, drop some albums, gather a few more. While keeping all iTunes data.
Can this be done?
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
iTunes is a nightmare for this sort of thing, unfortunately. I have a similar situation, although in my case it's split between computers, rather than an external drive. Making playlists is next to impossible as I cannot mix songs between machines, and haven't been able to find a way to do so.

I think what you'll end up doing is having all the music on the external and using that as your sole library.
posted by wackybrit at 8:18 AM on February 3, 2006

You can keep your iTunes library on the external. That is what I do. However, things get a bit messy when you run iTunes and the external HD is not plugged in. iTunes will create a new library in your home folder. (However, when you plug the external back in, it will go back to using the original library.) Your music is marked with an ! if you try to play it while it is inaccessible.

Anyway, you can store music outside of the iTunes libary folder and have everything work.
posted by chunking express at 8:35 AM on February 3, 2006

I didn't find a good iTunes-based solution when I was in the same position. My solution was to plug the external HD in to an old linux box, and run MPD and phpmp on it. When you're at home, you can control the jukebox on the linux machine from a web browser on the laptop. On the go, you can use iTunes with the smaller library. Of course, you have to have a copy of everything on the external HD.

I know this is nerdtastic.. But it works for me.
posted by beniamino at 8:36 AM on February 3, 2006

I just downloaded Libra, which is supposed to help manage multiple libraries (so you can have a library on your computer and one on the external hard drive - this is also what I'd like to do). I haven't installed it yet, but it has been recommended in other AskMe questions like this one.
posted by echo0720 at 8:50 AM on February 3, 2006

Oh, I just re-read your question - I don't think libra will do the synching, I think you'd have to do that manually.
posted by echo0720 at 8:51 AM on February 3, 2006

1) Go into iTunes Preferences and find the current iTunes Music folder location under the Advanced:General tab

2) Copy the complete contents of that folder to some location on your external drive

3) Go back into iTunes Preferences and modify the iTunes Music folder location to point to the folder from step #2

4) In the Finder, go to the original iTunes Music folder location (i.e., the one on your PowerBook's internal drive) and start deleting stuff you know you don't need to carry around with you. Stop when you've freed up "enough" space (you get to pick your own definition of "enough").

5) There is no step 5. When you have the external drive attached, all your music will be available to you. When your external drive is detached, anything that isn't also on your PowerBook's internal drive will show up with an exclamation point next to it and you won't be able to play it. No need to synch as long as you use iTunes to import any new music.
posted by santry at 9:45 AM on February 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: santry's answer is an interesting one . . . I think 4a is missing, where the library location will need to be switched back to the local drive. Won't itunes fail if the music location set in step 3 is missing?
I was hoping my situation was not so unusual that third-party app might have been written. At the very least, I will explore Libra out of curiousity.

(My own not-so-cheap solution: get a mini, set its itunes library as the mega library, and stream it to myself as needed. For off network life, something like santry mentioned.)
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 10:08 AM on February 3, 2006

As I mentioned, if you start up iTunes and the music library folder is missing, it will create a new one in your home directory. It reverts back to the correct one when you plug the hard drive back in and restart the program.
posted by chunking express at 10:27 AM on February 3, 2006

Kingfisher, you're right, you'd need to do library-switching.

I don't think you can quite do what you want, at least, not in any streamlined fashion.

Here's the real problem: "Most is from the ext. drive library but some material is new." This is very similar to this recent discussion.

IMO, your best bet is going to be to keep the external as your master library and ensure that all new rips go to it. I think it'll just get too dang confusing otherwise.

Assuming you can live with that, you can then use playlists/metadata to manage the files that will be copied to your internal drive. You could either drop them all manually on a special playlist (in your master library) or add a comment in the id3 metadata like "keep internal" (I've got an applescript that can help).

Once you've done that, you might use this script to copy them to your internal (note--that's a really useful website).

OK, we're almost done. Now you've got to switch library files (either manually or using one of those helper apps) and then renew the library for the internal drive using the "add to library" command--select your existing internal music folder. This will take a while to scan through. It's a shame that iTunes lacks a "rescan my music folder" command.

Hmm, on further consideration, this script also looks very helpful.

In theory, if you really wanted to have some new rips on your internal, it would be possible (I think) to write a script that examined your internal's music library, found the new rips, and copied them to the external, and then re-updated the music library file for the external. However, this would be tricky and very slow, and still require some manual management on your part.
posted by adamrice at 10:41 AM on February 3, 2006

When I unplug my external drive and open iTunes, the Music Library folder is automatically changed to ~/Music/iTunes, so here's my suggestion:

Make sure the option to copy music to your iTunes folder and the option to keep your iTunes folder organized are both checked.

Move all the music you want on the external drive to a directory on that drive and make that directory your iTunes folder. From the sound of it, you haven't moved it yet, but either way, it shouldn't matter too much. When I moved to an external drive, my iTunes library files stayed on my local drive so that when I opened iTunes I still had a listing of all my songs. This is what you need.

Keep / move the music you want on your Powerbook to your internal drive, into ~/Music/iTunes. This is imperative if you don't want any hassle when you aren't plugged in to your external hard drive. You may have to manually tell iTunes the location of the moved music if you already had it on the external, but that's just a sacrifice you'll have to make, I'm afraid. You do this by double clicking a song in iTunes that you just moved, and then browsing for the new file. I know of no way to do this procedure in batches. Actually, on second thought, it looks like Put This Where I Want It as linked by adamrice looks like it could be money in this situation. I'm not sure if that script just moves the file, or if it actually tells iTunes to move the track to a new location though, so YMMV.

Now, when you have your external hard drive plugged in, you'll be able to play music as usual. When you are not plugged in to your hard drive, all your songs will be listed in the library, but only the songs that you elected to keep on your internal drive will be playable.

If you want to put music on the external drive, make sure you're plugged in when you rip or add music. If you want music on your Powerbook, make sure you are not plugged in when you rip your music or add it to the library.

- You have to tell iTunes where that locally placed music is located. That could get tedious if you want to have more than a few albums on your Powerbook's drive.
- You have to pay attention to what drive you are adding music when adding. This shouldn't be too hard though...

- This method is transparent. You shouldn't have to do anything more than decide what drive you want to put music on.
- This is easy. There is no scripting, or advanced wishy-washy computer voodoo (hacks), and, besides having to tell iTunes where your moved music is, relatively work-free.

After writing all this out, I think I'm going to try this myself. If I run into any caveats or hitches, I'll let you know here. I also just realized that I have done this by accident before: I added some downloaded tracks without being plugged in to my external hard drive, and I went for weeks before realizing that the music was playing from my internal hard drive (I realized when I started playing music and my hard drive was not turned on.)

So there you go. I hope this works.
posted by Third at 2:45 PM on February 3, 2006

Sorry to be so late in addressing your followup, kingfisher.

No, there is no Step 4a. iTunes will automagically use your internal drive library when you disconnect the external drive.
posted by santry at 1:10 PM on February 10, 2006

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