Apple’s iTunes was released in 2001 as a media player and library for organizing and playing digital music and videos. Over the years, iTunes evolved to include additional functionality like an online music store, app store, and a content syncing system for Apple devices. Many users built up extensive iTunes libraries containing purchased media, ripped CDs, imported audio files, and more.
With the launch of Apple Music streaming in 2015 and the eventual discontinuation of iTunes in 2019 in favor of standalone Music, TV, and Podcasts apps, some long-time users wonder what has become of their iTunes libraries from over the years. This article will examine where old iTunes libraries are located, how to access them, troubleshooting tips, upgrading and importing legacy libraries, iTunes alternatives, and more.
iTunes Library Locations
iTunes libraries are typically stored in specific default locations on both Windows and Mac operating systems. On Windows, the default iTunes library location is usually under C:\Users\Username\Music. For Mac, it is typically under /Users/Username/Music/iTunes.
On Windows 10, libraries are stored by default at C:\Users\Username\Apple\iTunes\iTunes Library.itl. On older Windows versions like 7, it’s under C:\Users\Username\My Music\iTunes\iTunes Library.itl.
For MacOS, newer iTunes library files use the .itl extension and are stored in /Users/Username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Library.itl. Legacy iTunes libraries on Mac used .xml extension and were stored under /Users/Username/Music/iTunes/iTunes Library.xml.
The exact location can vary, especially if the user changed the default iTunes folder location. But typically on both Windows and Mac, the iTunes library files reside in the native Music folders associated with each user profile. Checking the Music folder is a good starting point to locate iTunes libraries.
Accessing Old iTunes Library on Windows
If you have an older iTunes library stored on your Windows computer that you want to access again, there are a few steps you can follow:
1. Open File Explorer and navigate to the location where iTunes stores media files by default: “C:\Users\Username\My Music\iTunes“. If you stored your iTunes library in a custom location, navigate there instead.
2. Locate the iTunes library files. There may be a file called “iTunes Library.itl” or “iTunes Library.xml”. There may also be a folder called “iTunes Media” containing your actual media files.
3. Right-click on the “iTunes Library.itl” or “iTunes Library.xml” file and select Open With > iTunes. This will open up that specific library in iTunes.
4. If iTunes opens your default library instead, hold Shift while launching iTunes again. This will bring up a prompt to choose a library – navigate to and select your old library file.
5. iTunes should now open with your previous library loaded. You can browse and play your old media just like before.
If you have trouble finding the files, try searching your entire C: drive for filenames like “iTunes Library”. Restore from a backup if needed. With the files accessible, iTunes makes it easy to access old libraries again.
Accessing Old iTunes Library on Mac
To access an older iTunes library on a Mac, you first need to locate the library file ending in .itl. By default, iTunes libraries are stored in the Music folder within your user account. For example: /Users/yourname/Music/iTunes.
If you have multiple iTunes libraries, they may be stored in subfolders within the Music/iTunes folder. You can also search your entire hard drive for files ending in .itl to locate libraries stored in non-default locations.
Once you’ve located the old .itl file, open the Apple Music app and hold down the Option key while clicking the Music menu. A menu will appear asking you to Choose Library. Navigate to and select the older .itl file you located. This will open the legacy iTunes library within the Apple Music interface so you can access your old music, playlists, etc. 
If you had iTunes Match enabled on the old library, you may need to re-enable it to restore your full collection in Apple Music. You can also choose to consolidate the media files from the old library into your current Music folder if needed.
With the legacy library opened in Apple Music, you can browse and play your old content while still having access to new Apple Music features and functions. Just be sure to quit Apple Music before opening your usual library again.
If you open your iTunes library and see exclamation marks or missing file notices, it likely means the media files have been moved or deleted without iTunes being updated. Here are some troubleshooting tips to locate and restore missing iTunes media files:
First, check if the files still exist somewhere else on your computer or external drives using Spotlight search on Mac or Windows search. If found, you can add them back to iTunes by going to File > Add to Library and selecting the files. iTunes will relink them.
If files are not found, open Preferences in iTunes and go to Advanced to check the iTunes Media folder location. See if the missing files are still in the old location. If so, they can be moved back to the current iTunes Media folder.
On Windows, go to Edit > Preferences > Advanced and click ‘Consolidate Files’ which will copy all media into the iTunes Media folder location. This can help restore missing tracks.
Use File > Library > Organize Library to reorganize and consolidate your library, ensuring all tracks are located. Check for mislabeled or unsorted tracks too.
As a last resort, switch iTunes to show All Unplayed tracks using View > Unplayed. Any tracks with exclamation marks can be deleted since iTunes cannot locate them. Then consider an iTunes library rebuild.
Using Multiple iTunes Libraries
It’s possible to maintain and switch between multiple iTunes libraries on both Windows and Mac. This allows you to separate your music and media into different libraries based on preference. For example, you may want to have one iTunes library for your own music collection, and another for your children’s collection.
To switch between iTunes libraries on Windows, hold down the Shift key while launching iTunes. A prompt will appear allowing you to select a different library XML file. On Mac, hold down the Option key when launching the Music app, then click “Choose Library” and select the desired library file.
Apple provides instructions on how to switch libraries here: https://support.apple.com/en-afri/HT210230. The key steps are:
- Press and hold the Option key when opening the Music app on Mac
- In the prompt that appears, click “Choose Library”
- Navigate to and select the desired library file ending in .itl or .xml
- The chosen library will now open in the Music app
This process allows quick switching between multiple libraries stored on your computer or external drives.
Importing Old iTunes Library
If you wish to access your old iTunes library in the new Apple Music app, you can import it into your current library. Here are the steps to import an old iTunes library:
On your Mac or Windows PC, open the Music app and go to File > Library > Import Library. This will open the file explorer. Navigate to the location of your old iTunes library and select the iTunes Library.xml file. Click Open.
This will begin importing your old iTunes library into the current one. All your old playlists, ratings, play counts etc. will be preserved. The import process can take a while depending on the size of your library.
You can also hold down the Option (or Alt) key when opening the Music app. This will give you the option to create or choose a different library. Select ‘Choose Library’ and navigate to your old iTunes folder to load that library.
If your media files have been moved or renamed, you may need to use the Relink Missing Files option to locate them again. Go to File > Library > Relink Missing Files to do this.
See this Apple Support guide for more details on importing your iTunes library: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201259
Upgrading Legacy Libraries
iTunes libraries created with older versions of iTunes use the .itl file format. These legacy libraries need to be upgraded to the newer .itl2 format to work properly with the latest versions of macOS and the Music app.
To upgrade an old iTunes library on Mac, first quit the Music app using Command + Q. Then hold down the Option key while launching Music again. This will bring up the Choose Library dialog box. Navigate to and select your old .itl file. Music will then prompt you to select a folder to store the new upgraded iTunes library. After choosing the location, Music will begin converting the old library to the new .itl2 format (Source).
The conversion process can take some time depending on the size of your iTunes library. Make sure your Mac is plugged in during the upgrade to avoid any issues. Once finished, you’ll be able to access your full iTunes library contents and playlists within the Music app.
On Windows, a similar process can be followed by holding Shift while launching iTunes. This brings up a dialog to choose your iTunes Library. Navigate to and select the old .itl file to trigger the upgrade.
Alternatives to iTunes
There are several alternative programs to iTunes for organizing and managing your media library. Some popular options include:
There are many features to compare when looking at alternatives, like device syncing, library size limits, playback formats, and metadata organization tools. Overall, programs like MusicBee, MediaMonkey and WinAmp provide the closest experience to managing a local iTunes music library in terms of features and flexibility.
In summary, old iTunes libraries can often still be accessed even after upgrading computers and operating systems. The key is knowing where iTunes stores the library files by default. On Windows, it’s in the Music folder under the user profile. On Mac, it’s in the Music folder under Home. If the default location has changed, you may need to do some digging to find the library XML file.
With a little effort, you can usually recover an iTunes library dating back many years. You can reinstate it as the main library or keep the old one separate by using advanced preferences. Libraries can also be merged to combine all music and playlists. Although iTunes is fading, the ability to access legacy libraries remains.
The bottom line is don’t give up hope if you can’t immediately find your iTunes music and playlists. With the right troubleshooting tips, there’s a good chance your old iTunes library is still intact and accessible somewhere on your system.