Portable iTunes Library

Those of you that watched the screencast in my previous post may have noticed that my iTunes library doesn’t have many albums in it! This is because I am toying with how to actually do this on my MacBook. I have a ~80Gb library on my PC which I obviously can’t just move to the MacBook because it would entirely fill my HDD :)

So far I have around 30 albums (~2Gb) imported but I am really going to need an external HDD to get my library properly imported into iTunes. The problem here is that when I do that, I won’t be able to listen to any music at all when I am not sitting at my desk here at home which will make hotel rooms suck again! Are there clever solutions to this problem? (apart from buying an iPod!)

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21 responses to “Portable iTunes Library

  1. Have you heard of Orb ( http://www.orb.com/ ) ?

    It lets you stream video, audio, or photos to any web enabled device. Based on what device and what connection the device has, it picks the right codec, format, bitrate, bandwith, and display size (for video) on the fly.

    You just download the server to what ever machine hosts the content then goto a web interface on the web enabled device to stream it.

    Don’t know if that’s exactly what you are looking for, but it works.

  2. Forgot to mention it can’t do DRM’ed media though….

  3. Your MacBook or your MacBook Pro? ;)

  4. This is one (of many) reasons that I am not a fan of iTunes. I have around 60 gigs of music but I have an iBook with a 40 gig HD. Back in the day I used to use Audion which has this really nice feature known as Linked Playlists which let you set up a folder that it would watch and it would auto-refresh the playlist whenever the folder contents changed. Problem with Audion now is that it hasn’t been very stable since Mac OS X 10.2 came on the scene (and there is nearly a zero percent chance of it being updated) and for people like you there is also the fact that it isn’t Universal. So what I use these days when I am on the go (or in need of a light player like when I have the majority of Adobe’s Creative Suite running all at once) is MacAmp Lite X. Like Audion it hasn’t been updated in forever and it isn’t universal but it is pretty stable and very light. I just maintain a folder on my laptop that I copy mp3’s to and feed that folder to the playlist. If you look around you can probably find an Applescript that will let you create playlists in iTunes and then copy the files from that playlist into another folder.

  5. Oliver Bothwell

    I use an external HD for my iTunes library and folder. This does have the disadvantage of not being able to play anything when my HD isn’t present as iTunes won’t open but does allow me to have 50GB music without my PowerBook struggling. It’s really easy to set up – you just create an alias in your music folder called iTunes and link it to the folder.

    I’m sure you could also make an alias to the iTunes Music folder – thereby keeping the library on your MacBook meaning you will be able to open iTunes when your HD isn’t present. This would also enable you to put some music in separate locations.

  6. You could set up an Automator action that will keep a folder on your laptop filled with tracks from your external HD based on certain criteria, or create a ‘playlist to go’ in iTunes (when you eventually go back to it ;-) that is synchronised to your laptop’s drive via Applescript.

    Or, as you say, you could do what I do and get an iPod. My library is 102Gb and counting – can’t wait till they bring an iPod that allows me to take all that with me.

    However, I’m loving my Shuffle – I find with my 30Gb iPod that I spend all my time deciding what to take and what to play. My Shuffle just does it for me and I’m constantly surprised – the Shuffle list only picks songs I’ve not played since importing (though it does keep wanting to play me ‘Wonderful Christmas Time’ every time I’m down the gym…)

  7. John Spottswood

    Like Twist, I use an external HD. I am in the same boat with you as I have a desktop and a MacBook Pro. Both of mine are Mac’s, and I don’t think this solution will work in a mixed environment, but I have not tried it.

    Anyways, first thing to do is tell iTunes on the desktop that you want the music folder to be located on the external drive, which is done under the advanced tab in the preferences. Make sure you also have the “Keep iTunes music organized” and “copy all music to iTunes” checkboxes checked off. Then under the advanced menu (from the menu bar, not the preferences) you click the “consolidate library” button. This will do all the moving of the files to the external drive, as well as tell the library that all the files are on the external drive. This is important, because if you just move the files and change the music folder location without this consolidation step, it will look in the original location for the music. Now your desktop knows to look to the external drive for your music and will put it there when you add new stuff to the library.

    Next is the part that might be a little complicated. I set up a second user account on the MBP for iTunes. This way, I can use iTunes in my usual user account without the need for the external drive, or in case I open it accidentally when the drive is not plugged in I won’t cause any problems. I use a program called ChronoSync to sync my iTunes library files between the G5 and the MBP, it is great. Since you are using the same library file as the desktop, it already knows to look to your specific external drive for your music. So whenever you want to listen to your primary iTunes library music, just fast user switch over and play. It will be a buplicate of everything on the desktop, right down to ratings. The library files are always kept in ~/Music/iTunes. These are the files to use ChronoSync to keep synced. They do not move when you choose a new place to keep the music itself. You can use the HD as the medium of choice to sync, or a thumb drive, or whatever.

    It is a little complicated to set up, but it works very well. There are a few more in depth details to my set up that would be a bit much to relay in a comment, so if the method interests you, drop me an email and I can give a more detailed picture of the individual steps.

  8. I use Mp3Tunes will allows you to backup the whole library and stream music to whatever pc you are sitting in front of.


    I (currently) does not play DRM’d AAC files, even if you are streaming to a machine that has been authorised and there is a yearly subscription

  9. I’ll say this: having my iTunes library on my home machine, I systematically tried accessing it via my laptop in every conceivable manner, and in the end, found it the most convenient to simply buy a set of speakers for my desk at work that I sit my iPod into.

    I tried streaming the music from the home machine, but I couldn’t control what song was playing.

    I tried web-based apps that allowed me to pick the song, but it was costly in terms of bandwidth usage at work.

    I tried mounting a network share, and that allowed me to use iTunes at work to listen to music, but rating songs, changing tracks, editing ID3 tags — anything you’d normally do in iTunes — all of these things required a 2-5 second delay as data was sent over the wire. If I had to edit the genre of an album I’d just bought off of iTunes, it’d take FOREVER to first download the album and then change the tags. Very painful.

    In the end, I bought a set of Altec Lansing (they were the best option at the time) speakers that have an iPod dock built into them. I simply dropped my iPod into the speakers, which sat on the corner of my desk at work, and listened that way. When I write code, I like to have earbuds in (I prefer Sony’s MDX series — lightweight and semi noise-cancelling), so I’d simply plug them into the iPod.

    The upshots are this:
    — No bandwidth usage.
    — Last listened to info is sent back to iTunes when you sync
    — You can rate songs on the iPod (also synced to iTunes)
    — The dock also charges the iPod
    — New iPod for you (can’t believe you don’t have one!)

    Down sides:
    — No access to editing the ID3 tags on iPod
    — Sound quality is iffy, but about the same as laptop
    — Have to add new stuff while at home
    — Added cost of iPod (you don’t have one???) and speakers

  10. On the topic of external HDDS – can anyone reccommend one? I’m a recent PC to Mac switcher, and love the almost silent nature of my PPC Mac Mini, and was wondering what the best option for expanded storage might be.

    I like the look of this:


    especially as it includes some extra USB and Firewire ports, but am worried about the noise levels.

  11. When I sold my PC – I took the HDD out and bought a external HDD enclosure for 20 bucks off ebay. Just pop your 3’5 drive in and connect the USB cable and you have an external drive. Works great.

    I then formatted to the mac and then I just finally got around to installing bootcamp/xp and I use macdrive on that to access the mac HDD’s.

  12. @iLEZ:

    GRRRRRRRR, Yes…. MacBook PRO!!! :)

  13. I used to own an iPod……….

    I sold it, it annoyed me so much that I eventually got completely sick of it and sold it to a friend… I hated the fact that my music was hidden, that it wouldnt play WMA’s (even non-DRM ones), that its battery life sucked (this was a 2G or 3G iPod, I forget which now so they may be better now), that I had to use iTunes on the PC to store my music library (yes, thats a miserable experience for those who like lean and lightweight software).

    Those were my main gripes!

    I am sure that it would be a much more pleasant experience on a Mac, but I am not sure I can make that leap of faith, yet :)

  14. @Jonathan:

    “You could set up an Automator action that will keep a folder on your laptop filled with tracks from your external HD based on certain criteria, or create a ‘playlist to go’ in iTunes (when you eventually go back to it ;-) that is synchronised to your laptop’s drive via Applescript.”

    That is a superb idea… Also thanks John, I think your idea is similar and would probably have better iTunes integration.

    I will look into both of these.

  15. @MacDork:

    Problem is, I am probably looking at a fairly expensive solution right there :) iPod and Speakers together…

  16. I used to be mad at not being able to copy music from the iPod. That was until I found iPodDisk, a great application that can read the DB file from the iPod and mount it as a disk in Finder, with the music neatly organized in folders by Artist/Album. VERY neat application.


  17. Yes, it’s quite simple, actually. I use this exact same method.

    1. Enable sharing on your PC and your Mac.
    2. Download and install Hamachi (www.hamachi.cc)on your PC and your Mac.
    3. Read the Hamachi tutorial on how to create a network.
    4. Open up iTunes on your Mac.
    5. Open up the shared library from your PC.
    6. Enjoy!

    This works because Hamachi creates a VPN over the internet. This allows you to access your files as if you were on your own, private home network.

    Feel free to send me an email if you have questions.

  18. I forgot to mention, you enable sharing for iTunes under the “Sharing” tab in the preferences menu.

    Not sharing of the drive/folder itself, it would help though.

  19. oh that’s a good idea too

  20. @Nil: hamachi for mac is “in the works” tho??

  21. Like Nil, I was going to recommend using iTunes sharing and then using a VPN when not at home, although I’d not heard of Hamachi. When you’re at home you obviously don’t need a VPN, but when you are at work you could use a netgear router with the Netgear VPN client, for example.