How to: Share iTunes Media With All Your Computers


March 23, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

iTunes Media

To do this, you will need:

  • A home router (Wi-Fi or wired)
  • Computers running the newest version of iTunes
  • Network hard drive

This project assumes that you are starting from scratch with iTunes. If not, (and many people won’t be) details are listed at the end of the article to help you move your existing libraries too.

External hard drives are really common these days. Most of them connect via USB or Firewire and they provide a great way to store and back-up data. However, for family members to access the drive, the computer it’s plugged into must be turned on. Performance of the host computer will also start to suffer as people access the drive and stream music or movies. So, while it works, an external PC drive isn’t the best option for this.

What we recommend is a network hard drive like the Western Digital My Book World Edition. You gain a major advantage because it simply plugs into an open port on your router and does not require a host computer to be turned on to access the device. It is essentially a “computer” [do we want to use a “server” analogy?] on it’s own and you can access it from any other computer on your local area network. It’s also really small, about the size of your average router, so it shouldn’t take up much room.

To start sharing files

    • First, install the network hard drive and connect it with each computer. This info can easily be found in the owner’s manual, and each device varies slightly – some are easier than others. 
  • From one computer on the local area network, you need to access the new drive and create an iTunes home directory. Normally, on Windows this would be found in userMy DocumentsMy MusiciTunes – but we don’t want it there. 
  • Create an iTunes folder on the external hard drive – this is where your music will be stored. Now open iTunes and then the preferences panel; you’ll want to specify the new shared network location for the directory you just created. With the My Book World Edition this is automated and the device shows up in the left navigation of iTunes. 

Sharing and accessing the music on the external hard drive

    • Click on the Sharing tab, there are two options:
      • Look for shared libraries
      • Share my library on my local network

      Check both of those options. The first lets you look for others libraries; the second lets the other computers see your libraries. This is the somewhat confusing part, as each individual computer can have its own set of shared library files. For simplicity, I’d suggest sharing all. 

  • Click on the Advanced tab and now the General tab; note that this is where you set your iTunes Music Folder Location, which should be the external network hard drive you have. Now tick the box that states Copy files to iTunes Music Folder when applying to Library. This will ensure that all new music added to iTunes will be copied into the external hard drive. 
  • Make sure iTunes is installed on all the other computers in your home and replicate these settings. Everything should be good to go now and you can access and play all media stored on the external device from any computer in your home. 

If you already have an existing iTunes library
You’ll need to change the Music folder location and move the files over.

    • Change this in the Preferences > Advanced > General tab by selecting Change, and then select the folder on the network hard drive. 
  • Now copy all the files from the existing iTunes directory on your local computer to the network hard drive, ensuring you include the Album Artwork folder as well as the iTunes Library.itl and iTunes Library.xml files. 
  • Paste them into the iTunes folder you created on your network hard drive and verify the move took place before deleting from your local drive. 

If there is a caveat to sharing media over your local network using a network hard drive, it’s that iTunes purchases are limited to five systems, then they don’t work.

Using the a network hard drive will free up gobs of space on your computer’s local hard drive, increase the total amount of space available to store media, and give a safer place to store files. If you’re like me and use a laptop, there’s always a chance it will get dropped in transport or stolen from a car or coffee house, and you don’t want to run the chance of losing all those media files too!

Written on 3/23/2009 by Elmer Thomas. Elmer blogs primarily at Thinking Serious which focuses on programming, design, business and productivity content for tech entrepreneurs living in a 2.0 world. That is, when he is not tickling his entrepreneur itch or consulting. Photo Credit: volkanoboy

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