Copying Music Files from your iPod to your Computer

I get lots of questions from readers and visitors to this site, and the most common question is this: My computer crashed and I lost all my music! How can I copy my files from my iPod back to my computer? Read on to find out how to do this…

(Note: this doesn’t work with an iPod touch, or with an iPhone, because you cannot mount those devices in hard disk mode.)

Kirk’s rule number one of computing: Back up your data now; you will lose your original data one day. It’s not a question of whether you will lose it or not, it’s a question of when you’ll lose it. Computers are sensitive objects, and your files are merely positive or negative charges in microscopic sectors of hard disks.

Things happen, and they can delete your data. Or if you have a serious system problem, the only way to get your computer working again may be to reformat your drive, reinstall Windows (or Mac OS X, though that happens less frequently), and start from scratch. If you don’t have a backup, well, you’re sunk.

But even if you don’t have a backup of your music files, you should be able to copy them from your iPod back to your computer, right? After all, the iPod has the files on its hard disk? So that should be easy…

Not.

Apple doesn’t give you a way to copy files from the iPod, because that would open the floodgates of people sharing music too easily. But there are ways to get at these files, and it’s certainly reassuring to know that if you lose the music on your computer, you can get it back.

Don’t use these methods to share music illegally, though. That’s bad karma.

Hidden Files and Folders

Since the iPod is just a hard disk, all you need to do is mount it and access the music files. When you mount your iPod and double-click its icon, though, you don’t see any music—you see several folders, such as Contacts, Calendars, and Notes, but none of them contain music. This is because the music folders are hidden. So the trick, to access your music, is simply to make these hidden folders visible

First, you’ll need to set your iPod to work as a hard disk, if it is not already set to do this. Connect your iPod to your computer, click the iPod Preferences button in iTunes, then click the General tab and check Enable disk access. Your iPod now shows up on your desktop as a hard disk.

Copying Music Files from an iPod to a Mac

I’m going to tell you here what I consider the easiest way to get your music files if you use a Mac. The free program TinkerTool lets you access lots of hidden functions in Mac OS X, including a setting that displays hidden files in the Finder. When you open TinkerTool, click the Finder icon in its toolbar and look for the Show Hidden and System Files option. Checking this option displays all your Mac’s hidden files, including the hidden folders on your iPod.

Check this option, then click the Relaunch Finder button at the bottom of the window. This quits the Finder and restarts it. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t do any harm.) Now, click your iPod’s icon in the Finder window sidebar, or double-click its icon on the Desktop. You’ll see a bunch of icons that weren’t there before, including some dimmed folder icons.

One of these dimmed folder icons is the iPod_Control folder. Double-click this folder, then double-click the dimmed Music folder it contains. You’ll see a bunch of folders hiding in the shadows, with names such as F1, F2, F3, and so on. Double-click any of these folders to see their contents.
You can copy your music files back to your Mac, and drag them all into your iTunes music library. The best way is to make sure that iTunes is set to copy music you add to its library into your iTunes Music folder. Open the iTunes preferences, click the Advanced tab, then check Copy files to iTunes Music Folder when adding to library. When you drag your files onto the iTunes library window, iTunes will copy them all, even placing them in the appropriate folders by artist and album. You’ll have to re-create any playlists, and you’ll have lost any additional information, such as ratings or comments, but you’ll at least have all your music files intact.

Copying Music Files from an iPod to a Windows PC

An iPod formatted for Windows uses the same data-hiding schemes as Mac versions, but it’s actually easier on Windows than on the Mac to show the hidden iPod_Control folder and the Music subfolders where the goodies are stored.

Earlier in this article, you saw that there is a hidden folder called iPod_Control that contains all your music files, as well as some other files. If you want to access your music files and copy them back to your PC, you need to get to this hidden folder.

To display hidden folders on a Windows computer, select Start > Control Panel > Appearance and Theme > Folder Options to display the Folder Options dialog box. In this dialog, you can check the Show Hidden Files and Folders option to see all of the files and folders on your computer. Click OK.

Now, when you open your iPod in My Computer, you’ll see the elusive iPod_Control folder.
Open this folder, and you can navigate through the Music subfolder and its F subfolders which contain your music files.

Copy your files, as described in the Mac section of this article, and you’ll have your music back.