How to restore a lost iTunes library

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Too often a hard drive crash or some unforeseen circumstance causes us to lose our library of tunes. This recently happened to my wife Megan, so I had a little project this morning to do what I could to restore it. I thought I’d take a second and share what I found and did. Of course, this assumes that you have no back-up (either a back-up drive or physical media such as CDs). Actually, after a little research it turns out it’s pretty easy.

1. Transfer what you can from your iPod to your new instance of iTunes.

A. Enable your iPod for “manual management of music.” You can do this by installing iTunes and then connecting your iPod. When it asks you, DO NOT tell it to erase and sync your iPod.  Hit cancel, then simply click the manual management box when your iPod comes up in iTunes.

B. Download Ephpod. This is a free little utility that allows you to copy music from your iPod to iTunes (iTunes doesn’t allow this itself). Ephpod will ask you to select your iPod hard drive when you fire it up. If you can’t see your iPod hard drive in the list then you need to go back to step A. Now select all of your music displayed in Ephpod and go to File > Copy to Directory. Copy everything into your My Documents > My Music > iTunes directory.

C. Go into iTunes and select File > Import Folder. Then import all of the music you just moved over. You should be good to go. In the case where you have AAC files bought from the iTunes store, you will need to make sure you authorized the new computer to play them.

2. Still not everything? Well, you can send Apple an email and it’s been reported that they will allow you to download all your purchases made through them – but only once.

I did all of this this morning, and I’m still waiting to hear back from Apple. I’ll let you know if that last step works as advertised.

Update: My wife did hear back from Apple the same day that I sent the request, and when she didn’t respond immediately the nice woman from Apple reached out to her again. We were able to download our purchases again, as reported elsewhere. Another great customer experience with Apple. Libary restored. Thank you Apple!

Update 2 (11/16/2009): This continues to be a very popular post, it really seems to be a problem that lots of people have. It looks like since my original post Apple has changed their website and removed the support form I used to reference in Step 2 above when I say “sending an email.” However, now you can arrange a call with an expert by going here, which admittedly is better than submitting a form and waiting for a response. In general, if you find any of my instructions above can be improved or are outdated please make a comment on how to fix the issue faster – around 50 people read these instructions every day so you would really be helping a lot of people.


79 thoughts on “How to restore a lost iTunes library

  1. Pingback: Ecstatic! « Megan’s Weblog

  2. Doug, I am not sure why I had to pay for Ephpod. After I hit the Download link, it went to a payment screen where you pay $19.95 for a one-year subscription or a one-time fee for $24.95, and I couldn’t go past that until I paid for it. It didn’t appear to download the application until after it processed the payment. Maybe, I didn’t have to do that? I really appreciate your post though. I had no idea where to start with trying to restore my library, but this was EASY!

  3. Ok, upon further research, it does appear that Ephpod download should be free. I will email and see what I paid for; I probably clicked on the wrong Download link. There are a couple on the Ephpod home page.

  4. Pingback: How to Restore a Lost iTunes Library | How To Restore

  5. Hey rj, I’m sorry, I can’t help you there as (gasp) I don’t own one – though I’m a huge iPhone and iPod fan. If you figure that out, would very much appreciate your additions here in the comments (and would be happy to update the blog post). This post gets a lot of traffic, so a lot of people would benefit.

  6. I don’t see the form at the bottom on the apple page that you link back to. Can you be more specific about which link on that page gets me to the form? Thanks for your help.

  7. I would appreciate if you would send me a link to something besides the apple itunes support site. My hard drive crashed and I don’t have the songs on an ipod. Apples site is so confusing and I looked all over and can’t find the page with an actual form(e-mail). Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

  8. I tried downloading and installing ephpod today on Windows 7. I ran ephpod, it found the ipod, but it wasn’t able to get much further then that because there was some sort of “access violation”. I ended up having to kill ephod from the task manager. that ephpod site was pretty confusing because not only was ephod available, but an assortment of paid utilities as well.

    I’ll have to keep digging around to see if I can find a an equivalent free utility to ephpod that isn’t crippled. Thanks for your note because now I know what to do.

  9. i don’t really know why but on my husband and my ipods all we had to do to restore our librarys was to plug in our ipods then go to file menu in itunes and click transfer files from the ipod attatched to the computer.

    • Mine was the same way. I think if you are transferring your music to a computer which you’d previously authorized with apple/itunes, the transfer is considered legit.

  10. Go to file and import the library although you must be able to identify it’s location. If it is missing then you need to re-consolidate all your music. This is unfortunate though as you will likely loose all rating stars etc. That loose data only stores in the Library format and not in the file. Hope this helps someone. I can’t locate mine and have backed it up so many times I can’t find the most recent. I believe iTunes last update screwed it up but I could be wrong.

    • I have a PC. My Itunes playlist was not totally gone, but I could not make a song play. All I did was go into Windows Explorer, Control Panel, Performance and Maintenance, and free up space on your hard disk. It makes you wait. After deleting the Temporary Internet files (usual email junk), I noticed that my recycle bin had a lot of content. Viewed details and noticed that Limewire was in it. Since that was where I had originally downloaded music, I just deleted it from the recycle bin, and my songs are back in Itunes.
      Be careful when doing this, though. And don’t delete more than the Temporary Internet files. You could delete a lot more than you meant to!!

  11. My computer crashed. So i had to get a new system. But when i plugged my ipod in it didnt download itunes. So i did a search for an itunes download. I downloaded it and it worked. But when i tryed the ephpod it would only put 250 songs that were not on my itunes but on my ipod on there. i dont get what to do and how i get it all back.

  12. Tried copytrans which i downloaded from the ephpod Site. Choosed only 10 Songs for Testing, and it tells me in The Trial version i am limited to 100 Songs. I am desperate. What can i do?

  13. Followed the Ephpod link and downloaded the CopyTrans software. At 19.99$ or £13 it’s worth every penny. I successfully retrieved almost 6000 songs. Thanks Doug.

  14. Does this method also restore your artwork and file tags? I have spent a lot of time organizing my mp3’s and would hate to lose that.

  15. it costs at least $30 to call the apple support team. Are there any free options? None of their suggestions worked.

  16. This helped for the most part. But I only got back all the songs I paid for . I had 900 songs and only 50 of them were purchased with Itunes. It would be helpful if you could tell me how to get the rest of my libary back. Being that I sat here two days now copying and trying to get the files back but it wouldnt work.

  17. what can I… love you guys, got my 8000 songs back!!!!!!!!!


    Off to have a beer to celebrate…. CopyTrans!!

  18. I had 360 songs in my iPod on my iPhone. When I made my first iTunes purchase all of my music was deleted. I called Apple but they were not able to help me restore it. Before I reload my personal CDs again in would like to know if this is preventable.


  19. ITunes official posted policy is that you only get to download them once.

    I hope they will let us get replacements. If not I guess I’ll let my son bootleg them, but I don’t feel great about that. I like to think that Apple is not just another predatory corporation. Keeping my fingers crossed to see if they still have this “one time exception” policy.

  20. so downloaded the latest version of I tunes and this morning found it has corrupted the whole previous set up – saying it needs Quicktime 7.6.7 and not 7.6.6 and reinstall i tunes! Any way of doing so in a way that reinstalls playlists – I had ******** everything by playlist/artist!

  21. When my computer crashed, we backed up all of iTunes songs on DVD. When I tried to restore iTunes, all the files on the DVD somehow are in a WMA format and iTunes says it cannot locate the files. The song titles and albums show up, but no songs. Can you assist, Doug? I’m not very computer literate, but I can follow instructions! Thank you for anything you can do. Michelle

  22. My wife recently purchased a new MacBook, and copied hundreds of songs into iTunes. None were purchased from the Apple store. A week ago she discovered that her directory was wiped, although the songs are still on her hard drive. The same thing happened to me last year, again having made no purchases from Apple. Was this due to an iTunes upgrade? How can I avoid this, and why is it not illegal, after all it is my computer someone is tampering with.

  23. CopyTrans works WONDERFULLY with Windows 7! But only the first 100 songs are free. You have to buy the software for $19.99 to copy more than that.

  24. I’ve just spent the past 4 hours doing this and have finally suceeded!I clicked on the Ephpod link above and downloaded Ephpod initially but i couldn’t get it to work. So i then went back into the link and downloaded the CopyTrans Download instead (Pod to PC option). It said that you can only download a certain amount and then you would have to pay but i didn’t pay anything. Using the software was easy. It would only let me transfer 10 tracks at a time though so it did take ages but i got there in the end. I just selected songs from albums that i wanted to definately keep as i didn’t know how long it would let me keep transferring 10 songs for. This was good for me as i didn’t have hundreds of albumns in the first place.

  25. hey i lost everything, including things i hadnt purchased, but downloaded from limewire, so how can i get that back? its not in my documents or in my limewire folder so please help me get back all my music. some of the music is me singing so please help me!
    i have a mac:)

  26. hey i lost everything, including things i hadnt purchased, but downloaded from limewire, so how can i get that back? its not in my documents or in my limewire folder so please help me get back all my music. some of the music is me singing so please help me!
    i have a mac:) thank you

  27. I just lost my entire 1-tunes library of over 7200 songs. Luckily, my ipod still has the songs. Since the original post was in November of 2009, is the information still current? I was originally thinking of going to the local apple store to see if they can help me. Of all of the 7200 songs, not one song was ever purchased through i-tunes. They are all from cds or I am nervous, however about I-tunes wiping out my library from the ipod. I accidentally did that once but still had the i-tunes library online as a backup. This time, there is no backup. Thanks!


  28. Last night I listened to my stored songs on the laptop but when I swithed on the computer this morning, what a shock. The wntire iTunes library is gone. There were folders with mp 3. saved seperately in musc folder but they also gone, but when i opened the media player in my laptop some of the songs wre there
    I wonder what I should do,

  29. Thanks for any other informative website. The place else may just I am getting that type of info written in such a perfect approach? I have a challenge that I’m just now operating on, and I’ve been at the glance out for such info.

  30. Thank You SO much! I was freaking out when my hard drive crashed and I thought for sure I would loose all my music. But thanks to your post I only lost the holiday music that I didn’t have saved on my ipod. and I am going to call itunes and see if I can re-download it. Thank you SO much!

  31. I lost my entire iTunes library, I believe I accidentally deleted the folder from My Music, it was not in the recycle bin but I did restore everything in the bin anyways. All of the music was downloaded from CDs that I no longer have. Can you help me find where the files would have gone? I also downloaded art work and all of that is gone. I am devastated and I really need help!!!

  32. Auctly itunes alows you to redownload all the songs you bought on it for free. In the itunes store homepage there is “Purchast” on the right hand side. You must be logged into the itunes account to be able to do this. If you click the “Purchast” you have a full log of all the song you bought on itunes. There is a Download all button or even a single song redownload on each of the listed songs.

  33. This just happened to me & I went on a search through my computer’s music library file & found it all under the file C:\Users\Username\Music\iTunes\iTunes Media\Music, which is just the itunes media file. I didn’t have it backed up & thought I would have to send a email & wait forever to get my stuff back but nope. It only took about 10 minutes to restore my 6,000 songs.

  34. This worked great. I was seriously scared that when my laptop crashed and I didn’t have a back up I was in big trouble. I tried the free download first but it would only allow 100 items to be copied and I have well over 2000. I ended up purchasing the copytrans version for 20.00. My one complaint would be that after I purchased it the instruction were not clear to me on how to activate my purchase. I had to dig to figure it out but i could have missed it. In my opinion a link should be sent with the confirmation email to automatically install. Regardless, I was happy that I was able to find this post an retrieve my music.

  35. Last night, i tried to update my itunes from 10.6 on my laptop to 10.7 in order to sync my music to my iphone. In doing this it removed the itunes 10.6 and 59 gigs of music that I had on my laptop. I tried restoring the computer to the point previous to the download but it did not produce the music. All this music was from cd’s and not itunes. Can you tell me how to retrieve my music. I’m feeling sick right now!

  36. Hi all 🙂 I have an old iPod Nano (1997) with approx 900 tracks on it. I cannot remember the account details I used back in those days and certainly the card details are long expired!!! Consequently, I have no way of logging into my original account. I now have a new iTunes account that I use with my iPhone 5s with plenty of new music. The question is, how can I transfer all the music on the Nano into my new iTunes account and there after onto my iPhone? I can still use the Nano but I do get some rather strange looks. Its like the house brick mobile phone scenario of the iPod world !!!!! although it is rather retro ……
    Many thanks in advance of any help 🙂

  37. Just wanted to leave that if you have paid for all your itunes (i.e. you didnt steal them) Apple will allow you to download them again. DO not ask them if you have stolen merch in your itunes library.

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