Copying Music Files from your iPod to your Computer

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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.




57 replies
  1. jbsibley says:

    Actually, the easiest way to do this is with my friend Drew’s program iPod
    Access, which makes this a drag and drop operation… check him out at http:/
    /www.findleydesigns.com. There are mac and windows versions.

    Reply
  2. Kirk says:

    That’s good – but Mac-only. I’ve got lots of Windows users who read the site.
    Any good free Windows programs to recommend anyone?

    Reply
    • rmerrill says:

      This was a huge help to me after a recent hard drive failure. Thought I lost 3,500+ songs, but they’re all back now following these detailed instructions (Windows version). I was in the process of burning my CD collection when the failure occurred, so didn’t have any playlists to lose. Thanks for the help.

      Reply
  3. joodoo9 says:

    Hi
    i just followed your really-easy-to-follow (!) instructions for getting songs from an ipod to a mac (just bought my first one). Firstly thanks very much for the excellent information.

    But one small problem — from within iTunes, I cannot ‘see’ the folders with the music in them. I can see the others (like F06 with nothing in them….)

    Am I missing something?

    Thanks
    Giles

    Reply
    • joodoo9 says:

      ah ok gotit. you need to drag the files into the itunes library from the desktop or wherever you have stored them. (like it says in the instructions!!!!!!) oops. i’ll forget to turn the computer on next time!!!!

      lol
      thanks

      Reply
      • spaten136 says:

        after i finish using tinkertool to coppy all of my songs from my ipod i can get
        the songs into i tunes i can however do the songs 1 by 1 but i have over 2000
        songs
        thanks
        tim

        Reply
  4. jcamp says:

    was relieved to find seemingly simple instructions on this procedure. however, for some reason, i tunes did not copy the music files from my ipod and in the process wiped out my ipod anyway. fortunately, i created a copy of the ipod music file but now i cannot figure out how to get it onto the ipod. please help!

    Reply
  5. chedread says:

    problem: every time I hook my Ipod up to my computer after I rebooted it, it askes me if i would like to make my ipod belog to my computer. As much as I would, this would mean deleeting all the songs off of my ipod. every time i refuse, my ipod dissapears, and I can’t get to the files

    pleas help!

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      If it’s your computer, then the files it contains are the same as on your iPod,
      right? If not, copy the files to your computer as explained here, then let iTunes
      copy the files over, and add anything that’s not in your library (the files you
      copied from your iPod) to your iTunes library, then sync again.

      Reply
  6. rednukleus says:

    Everyone here who recommends installing a program to copy the files is either seling something or smoking something. Enable viewing hidden folders, and then drag the files to your hard drive. How much simpler can it get? I have one complaint about this article. Perhaps it is outdated. When I drag files from my ipod directly to itunes library nothing happens. I can copy them to the hard drive, however.

    Reply
    • Bill says:

      It appears that iTunes version 7 prevents the iPod from being seen in “My Computer“. It Shows up in device manager, but that doesn’t help to enable viewing of hidden files, and version 7 of the software also does not give the option of allowing disk access to the iPod. A littlle app (Windows) I found called Sharepod takes care of it by finding the drive which Apple has taken such care to hide.
      Bill

      Reply
      • Kris says:

        use control panel, appearance and personalization, show hidden files and folders. you should see a bubble for “show hidden files, folders, and drives” apply and your good to go.

        Reply
    • Otter says:

      This may be a dumb question, but where do you go on a Windows to enable the viewing of hidden files?

      Reply
  7. joeyisgod666 says:

    is there any way to transfer all the music but keeping the file info as it would appear on the ipod or itunes??

    Reply
  8. leica says:

    On Windows, there’s a way to go one better: Since the file
    names are hashed for obscurity and iTunes merely reads the ID3 tags, and writes to an XML file you can do much the same.

    Copy the iPod_ControlMusic folder with all the music onto your harddrive, download and use a free tool called Ant Renamer and change the filenames based
    on the ID3 tags.

    http://www.antp.be/software/renamer


    Ta-da!

    Reply
  9. Anonymous says:

    i am in the process of transfering all my music from ipod to my comp using the windows version instruction, its working very well, so thank you very much for ur help!

    however, is there still no way of getting my old song-statisctics(plays) on my new laptop along wih the songs..?

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      The best way is simply to export your library (File > Export Library) then import
      it on the new computer. Make sure you have _exactly_ the same music on the
      new one, and you’ll get everything: playlists, ratings, play counts, etc.

      Reply
  10. Katee says:

    Now that I’ve copied the ipod control folder, how do I get it into itunes, or will it already be there? Thanks so much for your help.

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      Just open iTunes, then drag that folder onto the iTunes window. Everything will
      copy (this may take a few minutes).

      Kirk

      Reply
  11. Katee says:

    Okay. So I don’t have to manually click every single file like I’ve been doing? Okay. Also, when I go to update my ipod, is it going to put everything on there twice or will it register that it’s already on there?

    Reply
  12. Kirk says:

    Once you add the music back to your iTunes library, it _should_ not try to copy
    back to the iPod. But that may depend on the music files.

    Kirk

    Reply
    • Katee says:

      I tried taking the folder I created with the music in it and dragging it onto itunes from ‘my computer’ but it’s not working. Is my best bet just manually adding it or am I doing it all wrong? Thanks so much for your help.

      Katee

      Reply
  13. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the simple and easy to follow directions. My son passed away and I wanted to save the music that he had on his iPod. I am using Windows and the process was a snap : )

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      I’m glad to hear that it worked for you. I haven’t tested it with the latest iPods,
      but I see no reason why Apple would change the way this works. I don’t know
      about the iPhone or iPod touch though…

      Kirk

      Reply
      • Ann says:

        Hey, could you find out about the Ipod touches because I’ve got an Ipod touch and I can’t seen to do the last steps in My Computer.

        Thanks.

        Reply
  14. Anonymous says:

    i need help. i followed the instructions but couldnt find the preference on the ipod didnt show that option and my appearance/themes folder didnt show the hidden file. so i dont know what to do now. i had to reformat my dell and i lost all my music. i bought my ipod a year ago and i dont know how to get my files back onto my computer. HELP…. thanks

    Reply
    • maree says:

      HI, I can’t find the ipod preferences either.
      Normal prefs window in iTunes has no “enable’ option.
      Am i looking in the wrong place?
      My ipod is mounted, I can see it on the desktop, I can open it and see the song files all there, but they are greyed-back and can’t be selected, and I cannot work out how to get at them to copy them and restore them. After a recent hard drive meltdown, the ipod is the only place I have these files. Thanks!

      Reply
    • maree says:

      Hi Kirk, I did all that successfully, thank you so much – you saved my music files.
      BUT… now I have a strange desktop: all icons are greyed back and .ds files all visible, and multiple network icons on the desktop.
      I tried to turn the ‘show invisible files’ pref off, but Tinker tool is nowhere to be found?? Can you help?
      Im on a mac powerbook G4.
      Thanks for your brilliance.
      M

      Reply
  15. irishcoleen says:

    Kirk, you rock!

    I DID and DO back up my files but I’ve had that question in the back of my mind for a long time. I’ve actually lost both my hard drive and my backup(s) once in my life. It’s good to know that there’s one more way to get them back.

    BTW – ID3-Tagit is a great little tool for updating your ID3 tags (either V1 and/or V2). It’s very simple to take the Title of the song and move it to the File Name for as many files you can mark at one time. And it’s free. I love it for updating all kinds of tags on files where the author isn’t kind enough to actually put in correct tags (non-copyrighted material of course).

    Reply
  16. Carla says:

    Thank you a million times! I just have to write a say thanks for helping me with a tough situation. Shortly after my husband died, his computer and I lost many important files. The most precious to me were some of his own music files of songs that he had created on the Rolland and computer. I discovered that he had put them on his ipod and so I set out to figure out how to put them on the computer again so that I could create a CD. It hasn’t been easy until today and I stumbled into your site. Needless to say, with your simple directions, I had the job done in just ten minutes as tears of joy and sadness were streaming down my face. Thank you so much for helping me with this. Carla, too young to be a widow in Indiana.

    Reply
    • Kirk says:

      Carla, I’m sorry for your loss, but I’m delighted that my humble site was able to
      help you save your memories.

      Reply
  17. sallypapermoon says:

    Help! I stupidly, unknowingly synced my iPod to a friend’s computer some time ago and lost some of my iTunes library at the same time. I have since built up a new library and now want to resync my iPod with my computer to get all my music onto my iPod.
    I understand I have to copy my iPod music onto my hard disc-I use Windows – but
    when I plug in my iPod it asks me to resync and therefore wipe all files. Help!
    I am madly looking for the iPod preferences to click but can only see an iTunes preferences. What am I doing wrong??

    Reply
  18. Scott says:

    Is there any way to rate your songs in the original song file? In other words, when you open an album file and look at the songs there is a column for rating. Right now they all have 5 stars and are “greyed out” so you can’t change them. I want to rate each song at the file level so it will always be attached to each song.

    Is there a way to do this?

    Reply
  19. kirk says:

    No, that info isn’t stored in the song files, but in the library itself. You could add rating info manually to, say, the Comments field if you want.

    Reply
  20. Maria says:

    Thank you Cpt Kirk!
    I made a small mistake that actually worked to my advantage. When I copied the F-folders I selecetd them all under the Music folder and placed them in the iTunes Music folder. I then had to open each one of them so that the library cold be populated.
    The advantage was that I was able to see my library rebuilding before my eyes upon opening each one ofthe 49 folders. a true voyage. Nostalgia, smiles, all sorts of emotions flowed while the journey prompetd yet another folder … a wonderful yet unexpected experience :)
    Forever a tru Kirk-fan!
    -m.

    Reply
  21. De says:

    I can’t thank you enough!

    I looked at other sites but they didn’t explain how to make hidden folders visable, so thank you SO much!

    2k songs back on the menu =D<3

    Reply
  22. Dacia says:

    I am so thankful for people like you. I thought I’d lost everything!! :( you really are a lifesaver kirk :)

    Reply
  23. Mart says:

    2.5k songs moved successfully. Thanks for the detail and for the clear explanation. I much preferred this over downloading or running some random app on my new Mac in order to rip the content. Yah!

    Reply
  24. Maria says:

    I followed your instruction for the iPod and it worked.. now I have to help a friend with an iPhone and some music he wants to retrieve (644 songs). The windows 7 machone he has “sees” the iPhone as a camera with images, but no music is displayed (though iTunes recognizes it).
    Help?
    -m.

    Reply
  25. Kirst says:

    Hey Dude (Kirk),

    Thanks alot!! Im on a PC and this was so helpfull.
    My computer was destroyed the other day and I was sure I lost all my music files (Atleast 3000 songs)….this is a massive relief!

    Thanks mate

    Reply
  26. dextroz says:

    For windows get Sharepod or GTKPOD. They are both freeware and you don’t need to go through any of these steps.

    Reply
  27. Josh says:

    Soo.. I can get everything mentioned above to work on my older Ipod Touch generation, but my 4th gen isn’t working. I have the folder options on ‘show hidden files’ and stuff, but I have no Ipod_Control folder in the Ipod hard drive. What’s going on???? It’s pissing me off!!!!!

    Josh.

    Reply
  28. JaeSen says:

    I have been trying this method as well as 3rd party software and keep running into trouble because there are no folders past iPod_Control/Music; it’s empty. The files are on the Nano (6th gen.) and I can play them on the Nano fine. When I plug it in and go to the Nano drive I see the dimmed iPod_Control folder as well as others, one in particular which is not dimmed and says ‘Music’. I can access that folder and see the artists, then albums, then song files (.m4a). However, this entire section appears to be read only and it will not allow me to drag and drop, right click and use send to iTunes Library (or anywhere else). I also tried to import from within iTunes. The third party software can see all the files also, but when ready to transfer it states I have a disk error. The .m4a files mentioned previously have paths that lead to the iPod_Control/Music/F** folders but they do not exist. How can I listen to the files and see them on the disk, but they are missing??? Help please! :/

    Reply
  29. jerdin says:

    wow this worked almost perfectly the only problem is i need to go into my music to play them for the first time. but hey i got my music back on my computer this is great thanks

    Reply
  30. Dan says:

    Can anyone tell me I have an IPOD and I have show hidden folders… when I open the IPOD the music files do not show up… I can not see the hidden files even with the Hidding folders disabled

    Reply
  31. Dan says:

    is there anyway of doing this with an ipod touch i know you mentioed that you can not because you can not cannot mount them as in hard disk mode. is there anyway around that ??
    cheers

    Reply

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