Run iTunes on a USB Drive or USB Stick

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Today I put together all the information needed to run a mobile Library from Apple iTunes on a USB stick or USB drive. This method will run the entire iTunes application from the storage device, making it easy to manage iTunes libraries from a single location. I believe this is how iTunes should have be developed – as having a library specific for each computer is a frustrating way to enjoy your music.

What pushed me over the edge is my wife wanting to purchase music from iTunes at work and sync them up with the iTunes computer at home. Typically this is done by purchasing the music and downloading directly to the iPod, but she’s a CPA and travels from location to location for audits and doesn’t even use the same computer all the time – yet she loves her music. The solution was to run iTunes from a USB flash drive to manage a single Library.

This tutorial includes installing iTunes on a flash drive, creating autorun files for auto-launching iTunes from the flash drive and how to set-up iTunes on different computers to run a music library from the single flash drive. Of course this method also works for larger storage hard drives – basically anything that appears as a Mass Storage Device on your system. If you are looking for a long term strategy for managing your iTunes music, I strongly recommend doing this process to an external hard drive that is, at least, 120GBs. So here we go:

Here is a quick summary so you know what we are getting into:

  • Create an autorun file for the USB drive
  • Create a batch file to auto-launch iTunes from any computer
  • Install iTunes on the USB stick
  • Install iTunes on any computer to run from the USB drive

It’s worth mentioning this does not get around the five license authorization for running iTunes purchased music, rather this is a method to manage your iTunes library from a single location for multiple computers.

Creating the Autorun file:

The autorun file tells the host computer what you want to do when the USB device is plugged into the computer. This step creates a single click auto-launch for iTunes.

Open Notepad and type the following:


action=Mobile iTunes
label=Mobile iTunes
shell\open=Mobile iTunes

Save the Notepad document as ‘Autorun.inf

itunes mobile autorun file

If you want a cool looking icon than pay attention to the first line ‘icon=\iTunes.ico‘ and place your ico file in the root of the USB drive (get one here). If you don’t care, delete the line.

Creating the Batch file:

Next create the batch file needed to automatically run iTunes upon connection of the USB drive. Please note you need XP Service Pack 2 or Vista for the autorun feature to work.

Open Notepad and type the following:

set APPDATA=%~dp0Application Data
if not exist “%~dp0Application Data” mkdir “%~dp0Application Dataset HOMEPATH=%~dp0Documents and Settings
if not exist “%~dp0Documents and Settings” mkdir “%~dp0Documents and Settingsset USERPROFILE=%~dp0
echo starting iTunes
start \iTunes_programs\iTunes.exe

Save the file as ‘iTunes_mobile.bat

With these two files, the autorun file and the iTunes_mobile.bat file we are ready to move along to installation.

Installing iTunes:

Install iTunes (7 at the time of the post) to your PC as normal – not the USB drive! While iTunes is installing on your PC go over to the USB drive and create a folder named ‘iTunes_Programs

mobile itunes

When the iTunes installation is complete on the PC copy EVERYTHING from ‘c:/Program files/iTunes‘ into the new folder of the USB drive ‘iTunes_Programs

Once this is complete create another folder on the USB drive ‘iTunes_Installer‘ Drag the iTunesSetup file into this folder. We use this when installing iTunes on future computers.

itunes usb mobile

Now that we have iTunes on the PC and we have everything on the USB drive, run the iTunes_mobile.bat file. Here a screen will flash then disappear and iTunes will open with a blank library. During this process you will see some additional files and folders created on the USB drive. This is good – everything worked as planned. Now, everything should look like this after adding the autorun file, bat file and ico icon file along with running the iTunes_mobile.bat file:

itunes usb all files folders

Loading your USB drive:

Your USB drive is now ready to accept content. Drag-n-drop everything from the host computer under /My Documents/My Music/iTunes Music/ to the USB drive under /My Documents/My Music/iTunes/iTunes/iTunes Music/ *Your file path might be slightly different if you customized iTunes from a previous installation. This process might take some time depending on the size of your library.

Once the copy process is complete run the iTunes_mobile.bat file again and everything will appear in it’s place. Simply double click the ‘iTunes_mobile.bat‘ file. If you are missing the song ratings on the USB drive, go back into the PC iTunes and run an ‘Export Library’ which creates an xml file. In the USB drive iTunes run the ‘Import Library’ feature to read in the xml file – your ratings should be restored.

Checking the Autolaunch:

At this point you probably haven’t disconnected the USB drive. Lets do that now. Reconnect the drive and the following window should appear.

itunes usb autolaunch

When you double click on the Mobile_iTunes icon listed first, iTunes will launch and use the library from your USB flash drive! Nice.

Congratulations you are running iTunes from your USB drive.

Installing iTunes on a different computer:

So you are at work and ready to run your iTunes from a USB drive. This is what you do. Plug in the USB drive, but DON’T click the Autorun icon which pops up (and we created). Rather, close the pop-up window and navigate to the USB drive from My Computer. Right click on the USB drive and click “Explore” Open the ‘iTunes_Installer‘ folder on the USB drive and double click the iTunesSetup.exe file. Run the installation.

Once the iTunes installation is complete you’ll have a blank iTunes library on the new PC. That’s OK, close iTunes. Now click your iTunes_mobile.bat file. This will open iTunes with your Library from the USB drive. Done!

Congratulations you are running iTunes library from your USB drive on ANOTHER computer.

So here is the bonus. If you perform this USB tutorial on a large USB hard drive, chances are that external enclosure has additional USB ports. Now connect and sync your iPod to the USB drive, forget connecting the iPod to your PC. You can sync, grab podcasts, whatever, without connecting the iPod directly to your computer.

If you have troubles, issues or comments, put them in the forums section for all to see and benefit. Keep in mind, this works for me and should work for you, but I take no responsibility if a major catastrophe occurs.

Some information came from an iLounge forum post:

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Rich Gates

Administator for started in 2004 with the concept of providing USB information for everything USB related. At the time, USB was gaining momentum and every day new products, articles and news became published. Today, the site is focused on bringing technical information, tricks and hacks to USB related products. The site does publish off topic information as well, to keep the variety up. Please visit the footer area of any page if you or your company is interested in article or product placement via purchased advertising.

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