iTunes libraries can quickly take up a lot of storage space, especially if you have been using iTunes for many years and have built up large music, movie, TV show, and other media libraries. At some point, you may want to delete old iTunes libraries you no longer need to free up disk space. But is this okay to do without losing data?
Is it safe to delete an old iTunes library?
Generally speaking, it is safe to delete old iTunes libraries as long as you have a current iTunes library that contains all of the media and data you want to keep. Here are some key points on deleting libraries safely:
- Make sure you have consolidated your media files and iTunes data into your current library. You can consolidate by choosing File > Library > Organize Library and selecting the option to consolidate files.
- Sync your iOS devices and make backups before deleting any libraries. This ensures you have copies of any data that may not be in your current library.
- Check for any media, playlists, app data, etc. that may be in old libraries and not in the current one. You want to make sure nothing gets permanently deleted.
- Make a backup of your current iTunes library and media files before deleting anything.
As long as your current library contains everything you want to keep, deleting old iTunes libraries should be fine and will free up disk space.
What gets deleted when you delete an iTunes library?
Deleting an iTunes library will delete the following:
- The library database file (iTunes Library.itl on Windows, iTunes Library.xml on Mac). This contains all your metadata like playlists, play counts, ratings, app data, etc.
- The media folder containing your music, movies, TV shows, books, app files, and more. By default, this folder is named “iTunes Media” and is located inside the Music folder.
- Any album artwork that is stored in the library folder and not embedded in the media files themselves.
Settings like authorized computers and devices connected to your Apple ID are not deleted. Media files can be re-added to a new library, but metadata like playlists will be lost unless you have a backup.
How can I rebuild my iTunes library from scratch?
If you want to delete your iTunes library completely and start fresh, follow these steps:
- Make a backup copy of any media files, playlists, or other data you want to keep.
- Delete the iTunes library database file (iTunes Library.itl or .xml).
- Delete the iTunes media folder (“iTunes Media”).
- Open iTunes – it will prompt you to create a new library.
- Add back your media files by dragging them in or using File > Add to Library.
- Recreate playlists and other metadata manually or restore from backup.
This will give you a brand new empty iTunes library to work with. Any media or info not added back will be gone, so use backups if needed.
Is it better to delete or move old libraries?
Rather than deleting old iTunes libraries, another option is to simply move them to an external drive or other location for storage. This gives you the ability to access them again in the future if needed. There is no real benefit to keeping old libraries on your built-in hard drive if you have consolidated your content and no longer use them. But having archived copies can be useful.
Here are some pros and cons to deleting vs. archiving libraries:
|Delete||Move to External Storage|
|Frees up hard drive space immediately||Keeps libraries accessible if needed later|
|Data is permanently gone unless you have backups||Requires storage space on another drive|
|Forces you to maintain just one main library||Can get disorganized with multiple old libraries|
Some benefits of moving vs. deleting:
- Access old playlist or media data if needed
- Have backups available in case of problems
- Avoid permanent data loss from accidental deletion
Some downsides to archiving:
- Need to have available storage space on another drive
- Old libraries can become cluttered and confusing
- Temptation to not maintain consolidated library
How do I maintain a single up-to-date iTunes library?
Here are some best practices for maintaining a single consolidated iTunes library:
- Keep your active iTunes library on your built-in hard drive and delete or move old libraries.
- Set your library to automatically update and organize files when adding new content.
- Periodically use File > Library > Organize Library to clean up and consolidate.
- Always sync devices from the same library to avoid duplicates.
- Be careful about restoring from backups or copying in content from multiple libraries.
- Consider storing a backup copy of your library on an external drive.
Keeping everything in one place avoids issues with missing data and duplication across libraries. Follow the one library approach for best organization.
When is it okay to have multiple iTunes libraries?
While one consolidated library is best for most people, there are some cases where using multiple iTunes libraries makes sense:
- Keeping separate libraries for different types of media like music vs movies.
- Maintaining different libraries for different computers or users.
- Storing an archived version of your previous library.
- Temporarily using a different workspace library for testing.
The key is to be very careful to avoid duplication and missing data when things are split across libraries. Some tips:
- Be very disciplined about not mixing content across the libraries.
- Make sure each device or sync only connects to one library.
- Clearly label the libraries and database files.
- Limit to cases where separating libraries makes sense for organization.
For most iTunes users, sticking with the single library approach is best unless you have a specific need to maintain multiples.
Can I switch back and forth between iTunes libraries?
iTunes does allow you to easily switch between different library databases on the same computer if needed:
- Quit iTunes.
- Hold the Option key (Mac) or Shift key (Windows).
- Launch iTunes – you will get a prompt to choose a library.
- Select the iTunes library file you want to open.
This can be useful for testing or accessing old libraries temporarily. However, regular back and forth switching between libraries is not recommended. It can cause issues like:
- Data duplication across libraries
- Play counts and timestamps getting out of sync
- Matching and uploading errors with Apple Music
- Syncing problems between devices and libraries
In general, pick one main working iTunes library and stick with it for consistent results. Only access others on a temporary basis as needed.
Should I delete old iTunes libraries from other computers?
If you have retired an old computer and no longer need access to that machine’s iTunes library, it is generally fine to delete it. This helps eliminate old clutter.
A few tips on managing libraries from old machines:
- First consolidate all media and data into your current library if possible.
- Check for any playlists or other metadata not already copied over.
- Make sure you are signed into your Apple ID – don’t delete any libraries holding your purchased content.
- Consider making a backup copy of the library before deleting if unsure.
Maintaining one unified library avoids the confusion of scattered data. But if you rely on playlists or other data only present in the old library, you may want to keep it archived somewhere.
What about deleting iPhone or iPod libraries on old computers?
If you connected iOS devices to iTunes on a computer you no longer use, there may be device-specific libraries on that machine. The libraries are found in subfolders under \iTunes\iTunes Media\Mobile Applications.
These libraries hold app data, messages, and other device-specific information like:
- App documents, data, and settings
- Text/iMessages conversations
- Voicemail files
- Call logs and favorites
- Notes and voice memos
Generally speaking, it is safe to delete these device libraries as long as you have a more current backup elsewhere like on your main computer, iCloud, or iTunes.
However, you may wish to consolidate any app data, messages, or files you need before deleting libraries from those old devices. Be very careful before deleting any data that cannot be easily recovered or recreated.
What gets lost if I delete an iTunes library without consolidation?
If you delete an iTunes library without first consolidating its contents into a new library, here are some of the main things that could get permanently lost or deleted:
- Playlists, play counts, ratings, and other metadata
- App data files, messages, and device backups as noted above
- Non-music media like movies, TV shows, books, podcasts, etc.
- Music with metadata edits or album art added
- Music purchases that are not re-downloaded
- Photos, videos, and voice memos synced from devices
Media files themselves can always be re-added if you have the originals or repurchase content. But all the metadata, app data, messages, and edits that iTunes stores about those files will be gone unless you have backups.
Be extremely careful before deleting any iTunes library that may contain important data or content. Use the consolidation process to preserve anything you want to keep.
Should I delete old iOS backups before deleting libraries?
iOS backups can take up significant storage space, so it may be tempting to delete old ones from your libraries before removing the libraries themselves. However, this is generally not recommended.
It is safer to:
- Keep all device backups intact until new backups are made.
- Consolidate any important device data like messages into your main library.
- Delete old libraries only after confirming recent backups exist elsewhere.
You ideally want multiple backups as redundancy before deleting any. Don’t remove old backups until new ones have been completed.
What are the risks of deleting iTunes libraries without care?
Being careless about deleting old iTunes libraries can lead to permanent data loss and problems. Some specific risks include:
- Losing metadata like playlists that are not consolidated
- Missing purchased content that is not re-downloaded
- Having to rebuild large media libraries from scratch
- Losing app documents, messages, and device backups
- Accidentally deleting your current library and data
At best, you may lose customized data and have to re-add files. At worst, you could lose content licenses, have media permanently deleted, or corrupt your main library.
Go slowly, use backups, check for missing data, and only delete libraries you are 100% sure you no longer need. Hasty deletion can really cause issues.
How can I safely delete old libraries and upgrade to new?
Follow this process for safely deleting old iTunes libraries:
- Make a full backup copy of your content – both libraries and media.
- Designate your new “master” library and consolidate all media into it.
- Deauthorize computers holding old libraries if possible.
- Check for any missing content and migrate playlists, app data, etc.
- Sync devices to new library and make fresh backups.
- Only delete old libraries once everything is consolidated.
Go slowly and carefully to avoid issues. Don’t delete anything until you’re sure it’s safe and redundant. Also maintain good backups of your new library after deletion.
What are some alternatives to deleting iTunes libraries?
If you don’t want to outright delete old iTunes libraries, consider these alternatives:
- Archive libraries – Move to external storage to retain backups.
- Maintain read-only versions – Lock down old libraries after migrating content out.
- Start a new user account – Create a fresh and separate iTunes for testing.
- Use library referencing – Keep media on external drive to save space.
- Store on NAS – Use home media storage to offload libraries.
The key is to avoid data loss while still freeing up primary storage space. Archiving, referencing, and network storage can help achieve this balance.
Deleting old iTunes libraries can reclaim storage space if done carefully and with appropriate consolidation of important data into new libraries. Always be absolutely sure vital content is backed up elsewhere before deletion. Move slowly and double check for any missing items. With proper care and backups, deleting unused iTunes libraries is generally fine, just be diligent about consolidation and preservations first. Maintaining a single up-to-date library should be the goal for most users.