How to best handle my iTunes library?
July 22, 2008 1:47 PM   Subscribe

What is the easiest and best way for me to share my large iTunes multimedia library amongst 4 Macs?

I have a multimedia library (mostly MP3 files ripped from my personal collection, a few purchased iTunes songs some with DRM somewithout, and one or two movies/TV shows purchased from iTunes) that is approaching 100GB. This is stored currently on a 100GB external hard drive.

My wife and I have 4 computers; we each have a desktop and a laptop. All 4 are authorized on our shared iTunes account for our content.

Currently the library is hooked into my Airport Extreme's USB port. As the router uses little power and is always on, it seemed the best way to share the files across the network. However we have 2 problems:

1) To add this library to a computer takes overnight. It must process all the files on the drive, then cover index, etc. This isn't a problem if it were a one time thing or even once per computer but...

2) When one of us purchases more music, etc. it only appears on one computer at most (if, for example, we make a DRM free purchase at Amazon it shows up on no computers).

As we like to keep our media organized by Artist, Album, Song, we end up having to purge our entire iTunes library and re-add it (taking, again, overnight) to find the few tracks added.

What I want is a simple way to have the library on all 4 computers and when any computer adds a file all computers see it.

Bonus points: 1) If one of us accidentally opens a file like an MP3 sent by e-mail in iTunes and then deletes it, it does not cause a dead link on all computers.

2) Uber bonus points if there is also a way to share these files with my X-Box/PS3/multimedia receiver to play my music in our living room.

Thank you hive mind! Help me see the links I can't see for myself in this conundrum.
posted by arniec to Technology (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you only need these available while you're in your house (that is, if you do not need to carry the actual music with you when you travel with your laptops), why not just plug the drive into one of the desktops (and leave it running) and share that library. The library will show up on each of the other Macs/PCs as a shared library and always be up to date (no syncing or copying needed).

This solves (1), also, since that file will not be on the shared library, just the local (empty) one.

To solve (2), you need to run additional software on the desktop that's hosting the library. There are many choices that make the iTunes library available/visible to PS3s and XBoxes. I like the Roku (no relation) SoundBridge player myself, which finds and parses iTunes directly, with no extra software needed. Stereo and optical outputs.

If you DO want the music available on your laptops even when you are far away, you need to run a streaming server (see 2, above) on that desktop, or do some sort of secondary sub-library file syncing.
posted by rokusan at 1:57 PM on July 22, 2008

I'm stepping out the door, so I can't research this right now (I'll see if I can find more info when I get back), but there's a way to make each computer make a link (symbolic link, perhaps?) to the external drive, effectively making it each computer's music folder. Thus, no processing when you add it. Also, it's still an external drive, so any other sharing methods will work as well.
posted by niles at 2:11 PM on July 22, 2008

Response by poster: Niles: That's what we have now is we have all the computers map the shared folder. Problem is if computer A adds a file, computers B, C, and D never see the updates. That's something we have to get around somehow...

And rokusan: We TRY to not keep the PCs on 24/7 for green reasons, so that's why the hard drive is in the router. I decomissioned our server to go with the less power option. If putting it on an actual computer which houses the library and is available 24/7 is the only way then I'll do it, but it wasn't my first choice.
posted by arniec at 2:18 PM on July 22, 2008

Okay, your comment clears things up a little bit. At first it seemed like you had a separate set of files on each computer.

Don't Macs have some sort of option for smart searches by the date a file was created or last modified? Perhaps you could use that to figure out which tracks have been added since you last updated your library and just perform regular updates of your libraries that way.

Of course, the simplest way to do this is the way that rokusan describes. In iTunes preferences under the Sharing tab, you can choose to "Share my library on my local network" which should allow you to access that library from iTunes on each computer, provided the "Look for shared libraries" option is checked.

For your first bonus point question: copy the any files from your e-mail to another location on your hard drive first. Don't open directly from the e-mail. Although I don't really understand how this could cause a dead link on all of your computers, since you just told us that files added on one compute don't show up on the other computers...
posted by roomwithaview at 2:36 PM on July 22, 2008

That's what we have now is we have all the computers map the shared folder. Problem is if computer A adds a file, computers B, C, and D never see the updates. That's something we have to get around somehow...

Just so we know all the small bases are covered, have you made sure that the "Check for updates automatically" is checked in the iTunes preferences on the machines that don't seem to be updating correctly?
posted by Thorzdad at 3:06 PM on July 22, 2008

Ok, so that dental appointment went a lot quicker than I thought, so I'm back.

This isn't quite symbolic links, but it does what was I was thinking links should do. I don't know exactly how you're doing the links, but your main problem is that each computer has it's own library (effectively, a big XML file listing each song). Once the computers share the file, you're golden. However, as you are sharing (a) file(s) across multiple machines, note this warning from the end of the article: "As far as I know, you can’t share out the library files to use on multiple computers simultaneously.".

This *should* take care of the "accidentally opens a file like an MP3 sent by e-mail in iTunes and then deletes it" problem, as long as you check the "Keep iTunes Music folder organized" box. The one problem with this setup is that all of your media is sitting on the drive - if you don't have connectivity to the router (say, every time you're not a home), you don't have music either.

Honestly, I personally would find some way to roll an AppleScript that looks for changes on the drive and copies over any new files along with the new library files. Then you have local media without the update hassle, and everyone can listen to music at the same time. On that note, this page looks semi-promising.
posted by niles at 3:35 PM on July 22, 2008

Thorzdad: I'm pretty sure that's for the software updates. The web is full of complaints about iTunes not syncing its library with the computer's file structure.
posted by niles at 3:36 PM on July 22, 2008

Keep your iTunes library on one computer and using sharing to beam it to all computers on your network.
posted by wongcorgi at 4:18 PM on July 22, 2008

I haven't tried this personally, but this Doug's Script looks like it would help you locate files not already added to each computer's iTunes library.
posted by phrayzee at 4:26 PM on July 22, 2008

Also, this other script will scan your library and look for "dead" links (files that are deleted).
posted by phrayzee at 4:29 PM on July 22, 2008

You should be able to use one iTunes library folder that lives on the shared drive instead of on each computer.
posted by andrewraff at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2008

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