How to Make iTunes Really Sync Multiple Computers With The Cloud

Toronto startup Pushlife has just been acquired by Google for $25m. Hardly a huge outcome, but probably quite profitable (their website said they had an “impressive list of venture capital and angel investors”; I was able to identify just one who is known publicly, Duncan Hill, an angel investor).

ReadWriteWeb has a reasonable speculation on what may have motivated Google’s purchase.

We previously discussed some of the reasons why music might stay in the form of a music collection, rather than transform itself in to a streaming music service.

In fact, it is possible today to sync a music collection to the cloud, and thence to synchronize it between multiple computers, simply using iTunes and any generic cloud file-syncing and file-storage system, without the need for any special applications or services such as Amazon’s Cloud Player.

For a bit of a change to our normal startup topics, here’s how to synchronize an iTunes library with DropBox (the cloud file sharing service) and as many computers as you like.

First, move both the media files and the library files to Dropbox on the main MAC (you could do the analogous things on a PC, though I haven’t tried that myself):

  • Look under iTunes -> Preferences -> Advanced, for the iTunes Media Folder Location. You’ll see something like: /Users/<your-user-name>/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music
  • Quit iTunes
  • Create a new folder called “Music” inside your DropBox folder. For instance, the new folder might be: /Users/<your-name>/Dropbox/Music
  • Drag (move) your existing iTunes folder (e.g. /Users/<your-name>/Music/iTunes) into the new Music folder
  • Restart iTunes, then under Preferences -> Advanced, change the Media Folder to /Users/<your-name>/Dropbox/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music (or equivalent in your case)
  • Quit iTunes
  • Delete the default (now effectively empty) library files iTunes just created in /Users/<your-name>/Music/iTunes
  • Holding down the alt/option key, restart iTunes.
  • You will be prompted to choose a library, navigate to /Users/<your-name>/Dropbox/Music/iTunes and choose the “iTunes Library” file (or else just doubleclick on iTunes folder).
  • The Library shows up in iTunes
  • Quit iTunes and restart it – it will remember the new library location, library will show up and can be played as normal

Allow Dropbox to fully sync from your primary computer to the cloud, and thence to your secondary machine(s). This may take quite a while – for instance 24 or 36 hours – depending on the size of your music library and the speed of your Internet connection.

Once synced, on your secondary computer (or additional machines):

  • Open iTunes, under Preferences -> Advanced, change the Media Folder to /Users/<your-name>/Dropbox/Music/iTunes/iTunes Music
  • Close iTunes
  • Hold the alt/option key and start iTunes; you’ll be prompted to find a library
  • Navigate to the /Users/<your-user-name>/Dropbox/Music and double click on iTunes folder
  • Close iTunes, delete the contents of /Users/<your-user-name>/Music/iTunes, it’s not needed any more
  • Start iTunes again
  • Library will appear and is playable

Subsequently, new music purchases, play lists, additions to art work, etc. etc. will sync between the computers (this is much richer syncing than the Apple home sharing system, by the way…). And all your music is backed up to the cloud.

Of course, you can still synchronize music to your mobile devices as always, using iTunes sync for iPod/iPad/iPhone, and something like TuneSync for Android devices.

No doubt PushLife were doing more than this sync. Or else, they are good advertisement for packaging something up in any easily-digestible user-friendly solution. Congratulations to them in either case.



Filed under Tech

4 responses to “How to Make iTunes Really Sync Multiple Computers With The Cloud

  1. markyedmonds

    This is so simple and elegant I never thought of it!! Great idea.

    Just to add to the ideas…you can also share folders with others or make them public thus allowing others to sync to your music collection.

  2. Yes, you can share… though of course that may raise licensing-rights issues

  3. codyfield

    Nice post Duncan. This is the best approach I’ve been able to find to date too. I’ve been using this setup for about 6 months with minimal fuss.

    There is one big gotcha that you need to be aware of though – You have to be careful to not have more than one computer running iTunes at one time.

    This is because of the way iTunes handles it’s database files. It wasn’t designed to have multiple computers updating the DB at once and changes you make on each computer will step on each other.

    Note: (this one has bitten me a few times) Just putting one mac to sleep (shutting the lid) is not the same as quitting iTunes. It keeps the DB file open and will again overwrite any changes you’ve made through other computers as soon as you go back and open the lid 😦


    • Hi Cody – thanks the comment.
      I expected to have this issue, but in fact did not have it. For instance, if I created a play list on one computer, it did appear on the other, regardless that iTunes was still running on both throughout.
      One thing, though – I did treat one computer as the “primary” on which I would order new items from iTunes, create playlists, etc. The secondary computer was effectively read-only. This may be the thing that avoided database inconsistency. Or else I was just lucky…
      At any rate, at a minimum, closing, resyncing, and re-opening iTunes would be a wise precaution in the event of “unexpected” behavior.