How to Use iTunes With Multiple Computers

Posted by AfroWhitey | Computers,How-to,Q&A | Tuesday 2 June 2009 2:29 pm

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This post comes at the request of sn9500, who writes,

“I have a couple of computers and all have iTunes which won’t let me use my Ipod on there without deleting what is on my Ipod, so I only use the Ipod on one computer. So even tho I have downloads on the other computers, I have not known how to add it to my Ipod.”

This is a common problem with iTunes. iPods only allow you to sync to one iTunes library at a time, but what happens if you are adding music on multiple computers? How do you add that music to your iPod?

The quick solution is to enable “Manually manage music” in the iPod preferences and drag the music manually to your iPod. But what if you travel and want to be able to access all your music all the time, whether on your laptop or home computer? What if you have multiple computers like our friend above and don’t want to worry about remembering what computer has what music? This post will attempt to resolve this more complicated scenario.

Step 1: Locate Your iTunes Library and Music – The key to making this work is tricking your iPod into always believing its syncing to the same library, no matter the actual computer or location. To do this, we must first locate the iTunes library on your primary iTunes computer, just as we did to enable multiple users. The easiest way to do this is to look in your iTunes preferences, then click on the advanced tab.

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In the window that comes up, you’ll notice a box underneath “iTunes Music folder location.” Take note of this location. This is where both your music and library are located. Navigate to this folder and you should see all of your artists in their respective folders. Your actual library will be in a folder called iTunes, which may be in a separate folder from “iTunes Music,” usually still in your “Music” (Mac) or “My Music” (PC) folder.

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Step 2: Sync iTunes Folder Between Computers – This step involves another application. Using a file-syncing application, you will copy both your music folder (and all sub-folders) and your iTunes library file to the other computer(s) you want to use. Make sure to put the folder in the same basic place, or wherever the iTunes music folder is on that computer. Then, using the same application, you will periodically scan all locations for any changes and make those changes on any computers necessary.

Lifehacker recommends SyncToy for PCs on a local network (under the same roof/wireless network). They even have instructions for setting it up here (scroll down the page to find the appropriate section).

For syncing computers across the Internet (i.e. to a work computer), Lifehacker recommends FolderShare. Instructions are at the top of the page here.

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good free file-syncing program for Mac. If anyone knows of one, please share in the comments. Until then, I recommend installing SyncToy on a PC on the same network as your Mac(s), then using that to sync two network folders (both the source and the source and destination folders will be your individual Macs on the network).

UPDATE (6/3/09): Russell gave me a great Mac-syncing app in the comments. Instructions here.

Step 3: Sync Your iPod and Enjoy – All that’s left is to plug your iPod into any of the computers you just synced and test out your new system. If you get the “iPod will be erased” message, something went wrong. If not, you’re good to go, just remember to sync your folders anytime you download a new song or make a change.

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I hope that helps any of you with this problem. I used this method for years to create a usable backup of my Mac’s music to my PC and it works great. As always, if you have any other questions or tips, leave them in the comments below or email me. I make house calls to the Las Vegas area!

  • I use the creatively named SyncTwoFolders for syncing on my mac.

  • I use the creatively named SyncTwoFolders for syncing on my mac.

  • Thanks, Russell! Trying it out now.

  • What if my home PC has 60+ gigs of music on there, and I am not allowed to put that much music on my work compy? Will it actually be downloading the music onto my work compy hard drive or just accessing it online from my home compy?

  • Following the instructions in this post would actually download all the music in your library onto your work hard drive. You have two options to solve your dilemma. First, you could create a separate library on your home computer for the songs you want at work, and copy only those files over. Second, you could try an iTunes streaming program. I haven't actually tried any, but Lifehacker just reviewed one called PulpTunes and laid out the process. Here's the post:

    http://lifehacker.com/5274777/pulptunes-offers-

  • Thanks AfroWhitey. I am so pleased that you did this for me. I do have another problem now though. The computer that I was using to sync my Ipod to that had the majority of my downloads to was put in to get fixed. It was sent away and all the inside replaced. All I had on this computer was lost.

    So now I have all this info/music on my Ipod but my iTunes that connected with it is gone. Is there some way I can start a new iTunes on this computer and download my Ipod to it to keep it in the new iTunes?

  • Happy to help! That's too bad about your computer, but it is a common issue. Lots of people have asked me how to get their music off of the iPod. There are a bunch of programs out there that manage this for you and I'll try to find the best ones for a post early next week.

  • Much appreciated Luke 🙂

  • Facebook User

    Sorry for the delay, I ran out of time before going out of town and didn't have internet for the past week. Here's a couple programs that may help: http://www.afrowhitey.com/articles/favorite-ipo

  • Sorry for the delay, I ran out of time before going out of town and didn't have internet for the past week. Here's a couple programs that may help: http://www.afrowhitey.com/articles/favorite-ipo

  • Sorry for the delay, I ran out of time before going out of town and didn't have internet for the past week. Here's a couple programs that may help: http://www.afrowhitey.com/articles/favorite-ipo