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Recover your iTunes library from your iPod or iOS device

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VERSION 9  Click to view user tip history Published
Last Modified:  Apr 8, 2014 4:19 PM

Apple's iTunes software is, in the main, designed to transfer data to their devices but not in the other direction. In general if you try to connect and sync an Apple device to a new library iTunes will want to erase all the current content and replace it with items from the new library.

 

Should you be in the unfortunate position where your computer has been lost, stolen or damaged and you have no viable backup of your library then you can use the steps below to attempt to recover most, if not all, of your media and other information from your devices. If, however the library that has been lost or damaged was on your current computer see Empty/corrupt iTunes library after upgrade/crash first.

 

If you still have the computer, but it is in a non-bootable state, then it may be possible to extract the hard drive, put it in an external drive bay and recover data from it that way. That approach may well be easier than what follows, though it depends in part on the mix of purchased vs. ripped media and whether or not your device holds all your media, or a subset of it.

 

  1. Preparation
    Before you connect any device to a new library go to the Devices tab of the the preferences panel via Edit > Preferences (Windows - press CTRL+B to reveal the menu bar if needed) or iTunes > Preferences (Mac) and ensure the box next to Prevent iPods, iPhones, and iPads from syncing automatically is ticked. You can now safely connect the device to your computer without the danger of media being automatically deleted or overwritten.

    If this device contains contacts or calendar items that are not already on the computer you are using, and that you wish to recover, then make sure you have at least one contact & one event in the applications that will sync with the device (e.g. Windows Address Book or Outlook under Windows, iCal & Address Book on a Mac). Dummy entries will do, but there must be at least one if the data is to be retrieved from the device in step 7 below.

  2. Transfer purchases
    You can transfer your iTunes Store purchases into a new library, after connecting the device, with the menu item File > Devices > Transfer Purchases from "<DeviceName>". You should be prompted to authorize the computer to your iTunes account if you have not already done so. If your device holds content from more than one account you will need to authorize each one. To avoid duplicates it may be easier to extract all media at one time at step 4, then come back to this step to recover any Apps or iPod Games.

    See also: HT1848: iTunes Store: Transferring purchases from your iOS device or iPod to a computer.

  3. Back up (iOS only)
    If this is an iOS device you should now right-click on it (control-click on a Mac) in the left-hand column of the iTunes window and click Back Up to make a backup of the current settings and application data on the device.

  4. Recover other media
    iTunes only permits the transfer of iTunes Store purchases. If your device contains other media that you've ripped from CD or downloaded from other online stores you can either go back to the original sources or use third party software to extract your data from your device. There is a list of some of the software available below.

  5. Recover other purchases
    Your device may not have held all your iTunes Store purchases. You can recover qualifying purchases from your account by visiting the home page of the iTunes Store and clicking on the Purchased link in the Quick Links section in the right-hand column.

    See also: HT2519: Downloading past purchases from the App Store, iBookstore, and iTunes Store.

  6. Restore (iOS only)
    Having backed up your device, and rescued all the media from it that you can, you should now restore the device from the backup that you took earlier to ensure that the device is properly associated with this new library. Right-click on it (control-click on a Mac) in the left-hand column of the iTunes window and click Restore from Backup...

  7. Sync
    Set up your preferences for syncing Music, TV Shows, Podcasts, Info etc. then click Sync. For a device that holds calendar or contact information you should be prompted to restore or merge. Click merge to copy this information into your computer. Your device is now properly associated with your new library and you shouldn't have lost any data.

  8. Backup your library
    For the future you should backup your library to a separate hard drive or network share as restoring a backup is much easier than the process above. The user tip Backup your iTunes for Windows library with SyncToy gives a suggested way of doing this effectively for Windows users. Mac owners can make use of Time Machine, or use Carbon Copy Cloner which does a similar job to SyncToy.

 

 


 

 

Media recovery software

This list is by no means comprehensive. Compatibility and feature details may have altered since this tip was published.

 

ProductDescriptionWinMaciPodiOSPlaylists Ratings
DeTuneFree Mac OS X media extraction tool.
FloolaFree cross platform (Linux too) iPod manager. It appears to have partial support for extracting playlists to m3u files rather than transferring directly to iTunes. ?
iPod AccessCopies music, videos, playlists, ratings and more. Can extract content from hard drive based iPods with damaged databases.
iPod2PCCan copy songs, podcasts and playlists to iTunes or a folder of your choice.?
iRipClaims it can copy the contents of your iPod or iPhone to your Mac or PC with a single click.?
Music RescueCopies music, videos, podcasts, audiobooks, audio recordings, playlists and notes.?
PhoneViewSave iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch app data, voicemail, text messages, iMessages, call log, notes, contacts, music and photos to your Mac.
SenutiTransfer music from your iPod or iPhone to your computer with this easy to use application for Mac.
SharePodFree tool that can add, remove and copy media to or from your device.
TouchCopyComprehensive tools for copying media and other items from your device to your computer.
TuneJackCan copy all songs & playlists from your iPod/iOS device to your PC and optionally add them to iTunes.
iRepoCan copy selected songs & playlists from your iPod/iOS device to your PC/Mac and optionally add them to iTunes. (TuneJack with options)
iGadgetCan copy selected songs & playlists from your iPod/iOS device to your PC/Mac and optionally add them to iTunes. Can also add other data as notes to non-iOS devices. (TuneJack with more options)
YamiPodYet another iPod manager. Mainly designed as a free cross platform (Linux too) alternative to iTunes for hard drive based iPods it includes features for transferring media from your device to your computer.?

ImportDevice
Playlists

 

Metadata only

A Windows script that imports regular playlists from an iPod or iOS device into the iTunes library. Can import from a selected playlist, or playlist folder, or all playlists on the device.

 

Use to extract metadata not recovered with other tools, e.g. the method in the iLounge Article below.

SyncStats

 

Metadata only

A Windows script that copies highest play count, skip count, rating and most recent played & skipped date of selected tracks or playlist between iTunes and an iPod or iOS device.

 

Use to extract metadata not recovered with other tools, e.g. the method in the iLounge Article below.

iLounge
Article

Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer - The Definitive Guide. Page two of this guide shows how to extract all your media using Windows Explorer or Finder. It is mainly aimed at older devices that can be accessed via disk mode, however free tools such as iFunBox which give access to the iOS file system may also allow you to use this method to extract media from an iOS device. Windows users would be able to make use of the two scripts above to recover playlists and stats.

?
ProductDescriptionWinMaciPodiOSPlaylists Ratings

 

See also:

Wikipedia: Comparison of iPod managers

User Tip: Syncing to a "New" Computer or replacing a "crashed" Hard Drive

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