Does deleting songs from iTunes delete the file?

iTunes is a popular digital media player application developed by Apple. It allows users to organize and play their digital music and video files. A common question that iTunes users have is whether deleting a song from the iTunes library also deletes the song file from their computer or external hard drive.

Quick Answer

Deleting a song from the iTunes library does not automatically delete the song file. The original song file will still exist in its location on your computer or external hard drive. Deleting a song from iTunes only removes the library reference to the file location. The actual song file will remain untouched unless you specifically delete it from its location.

Detailed Answer

The iTunes library and the actual media files are two separate things. The iTunes library maintains a database with the locations of all your media files. When you add songs to iTunes, it records the location of the song file. Deleting a song from iTunes simply removes that file location reference from the library database. It does not delete or modify the actual song file.

For example, let’s say you have a song file stored on your external hard drive in this location:

E:\Music\Coldplay - Yellow.mp3

When you add this song to iTunes, the library will record that location. Later, if you delete the song from iTunes, it will remove that file path from its database. But the original Coldplay song file still exists in the Music folder on your E: drive.

Why iTunes Doesn’t Delete Files

There are a few reasons why iTunes is designed this way:

  • It prevents accidental data loss. If deleting a song also deleted the file, users could permanently lose files by mistake.
  • You may want to delete the iTunes reference but keep the file for use in other applications.
  • You may add the song back to your library later after re-organizing your files.
  • Other applications may still need access to the song file independently of iTunes.

iTunes wants to avoid accidentally interfering with your file system. So it only manages the library index, not the actual files themselves.

Manually Deleting Files

If you do want to delete the actual song file when you delete it from iTunes, you’ll need to do so manually:

  1. Find the file location – Right click the song in iTunes and choose “Show in Windows Explorer” to open the file location.
  2. Delete the file – Select the file in Explorer and delete it like any normal file.
  3. Remove from iTunes – Delete the empty iTunes reference afterwards.

This will permanently delete the song file from your computer or drive. Be cautious when doing this, as you may delete files you want to keep.

iTunes Folder Organization

By default, iTunes stores media files in organized folder locations:

  • My Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Music – Stores your imported or downloaded music files.
  • My Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Movies – Stores your imported or downloaded video files.

So even if you delete a song from iTunes, you may be able to find it again by browsing these folder locations.

Recovering Deleted Files

If you accidentally delete a song file manually, you may be able to recover it:

  • Use recovery software to scan for deleted files and restore them.
  • On Windows, check the Recycle Bin for recently deleted files.
  • On Mac, use Time Machine backups to find deleted files.

But preventing accidental file deletion is best. So unless you want to permanently delete a song, just remove it from the iTunes library.


Deleting a song from iTunes will not delete the actual song file. It only removes the library reference to that file’s location on your computer or drive. To permanently delete the file, you must manually locate it through Windows Explorer and delete it. Otherwise, the original song file will remain untouched after deleting it from iTunes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does removing a song from an iTunes playlist delete the file?

No, removing a song from a playlist does not delete the song file. It only removes the reference to that file from the playlist. The original file remains untouched in its storage location.

What happens if I delete a song file manually without removing it from iTunes?

If you manually delete a song file outside of iTunes, iTunes will show an exclamation point next to the song name indicating the file is missing. You can delete the missing iTunes reference, but this will not recover the deleted file.

Can I recover a song file after permanently deleting it?

It may be possible to recover a deleted song file using data recovery software or Time Machine backups, depending on when it was deleted. But recovery becomes less likely the longer ago the file was deleted.

Is there a way to make iTunes delete files when I remove songs?

There is no built-in iTunes setting to enable deleting files when removing songs from the library. You would need to delete each file manually after deleting it from iTunes.

What happens if I delete a song from iTunes on my iPhone?

Deleting a downloaded song from the iOS iTunes app only removes the song from your phone. The original iTunes library on your computer and the file storage location remain unchanged.

Importance of Backups

Since accidentally deleting files is possible both in iTunes and when manually managing your storage, it’s crucial to maintain good backups of your important media files.

Here are some tips for backing up your iTunes library and song files:

  • Use the iTunes backup features to copy your iTunes library to an external drive.
  • Subscribe to a cloud storage service like iCloud to backup files online.
  • Use a sync service like Google Drive or Dropbox to automatically backup files.
  • Manually copy your iTunes Media folder to an external hard drive periodically.
  • Use third-party backup software to automate local or cloud backups.

With regular backups, you can quickly restore any files that may get accidentally deleted from iTunes, your computer, or external drives.

Summary Table

Action File Deleted?
Delete song from iTunes library No
Delete song file manually from drive Yes
Delete playlist in iTunes No
Manually delete iTunes Media folder Yes

This table summarizes whether common actions in iTunes and the file system will delete your actual media files. Deleting items within iTunes will not affect files while manually deleting storage folders or files will permanently delete them.


In summary, deleting a song from your iTunes library will not delete the actual song file. Separate steps are required to permanently delete song files from your computer or external storage drives. Be very cautious when manually deleting files to avoid accidentally removing important media.

Maintaining backups of your iTunes library and media storage folders is recommended to allow recovery of deleted files. Follow best practices of both logically removing items from iTunes and manually managing your file storage to properly organize your music collection.