How to sync iTunes across multiple iPhones and computers

It was all very easy when you had one iPod and one computer. But what do you do when you have an iPhone, 4 iPods, and three computers in the same household? Can you sync multiple computers to one iPod or vice versa?

There are various third-party applications to allow an iPod to sync with two different computers or to sink the library of two different computers together, but I’m going to talk about how to do it the Apple way…

If you have one computer, you can synchronise any number of iPhone’s or iPods to that computer. Just plug them in and when prompted say yes, I’d like to sync this ipod to this computer. If you select your iPod in iTunes, and select the Music tab, and then under settings select the “Entire music library” option, all the songs on your computer will be available on all your iPod or iPhones. Also, any songs that you purchase from iTunes on your iPhone will be synced back to your computer, and then passed on to the other iPod or iPhones. If for some reason this does not work, if you control click (left button click) on your iPhone in iTunes and then you will find a special menu item to manually transfer the purchased items across.

In other words syncing between multiple iPods and iPhones to a single computer works really well.

Going from one iPod/iPhone to multiple computers is more of a problem. If you have the “Entire music library” sync option checked, you can only sync your iPod or iPhone to one computer. This seems to be Apple’s way of stopping you pirating songs from one computer to another one.

So the Apple way of doing things is to choose which computer each iPhone or iPod will be synced with and just sync it to that one computer.

If you have two computers in your house, and you want to share your music between them, you simply have to go to your iTunes preferences and turn on library sharing as follows (this is with Snow Leopard) :

This will share all the music from one computer to any other computers on the same network – but both computers need to be turned on WITH ITUNES OPEN! This can be a bit of a downer if one computer is happens to be out in your study and it is your main one, so Apple have an option for you to transfer purchases from one computer to the other.

On your second computer, go into iTunes, turn on sharing, and your iTunes library should appear on your second computer like this:

There will be now two new buttons on the bottom right hand side of your iTunes library that control the copying of songs from your first computer to your second computer. The buttons look like this:

You can manually import songs by selecting the song and clicking on import, or you can automatically import purchased songs by clicking the settings button and selecting them:

Once you have this syncing working, you don’t need to have your first computer on to access the songs that were purchased on it. Of course you will have to make a decision as to whether you want all the songs from your first computer transferred across to your second one and taking up valuable hard drive space, or whether you want to manually transfer just some of the songs across.

SUMMARY: You can sync multiple iPods and iPhones to one computer and all the purchased songs will transfer across automatically. You can share libraries between different Macintosh computers. What you can’t do is synchronise one iPod or iPhone to different computers. If you don’t have snow leopard, you can do everything mentioned above except for the sinking of iTunes purchases between computers. The import and settings button were only added to iTunes in snow leopard.


40 responses to “How to sync iTunes across multiple iPhones and computers”

  1. Omega Mcvey

    Fantastic article. I’ve favorited this page so I can follow your follow-ups. Thanks for taking the energy to share this.

  2. Thanks for the information. I’ll send it to others

  3. Brian

    Only like the 5 millionth time that apple has made my life difficult in the past 3 years

    1. lol

      Hahaha agreed

  4. Ed

    Nice article; however, I don’t see the two buttons, Import and Settings, on iTunes 10 in Lion so I’m wondering how to make this work on the new OS.


    1. Joshua

      I’m with Ed, I’m running Snow Leopard and iTunes 10.5 and do not see the buttons.

      1. James

        yeah I cant see them either… I’ve done all the sharing bits but I can’t copy the songs accross. Same issue I think cos I have iTunes 10 or above so I dunno..

        Could somebody who knows please, please comment on this??

      2. Allison

        Hey! I had the same problem and just figured it out. You have to click on Advanced in the toolbar at the top of the screen and turn on Home Sharing. You have to log in with your Apple ID with both computers, then voila!

  5. zz

    i have an i tunes library for my i pod but when my i phone is connected to the computer it doesn’t show in the i tunes library. how to sync that music on to my i phone?

  6. Sarah

    My self and kids all have I phones. My kids have i phone 4s. We all share the same itunes account. All have own PC’s also. Tonight my kids phones somehow were getting each other’s contact info from the other person’s phone and deleting their own contact info from their own phone. I’m new to all this. How can I trouble shoot this? We are all pulling our hair out! Help!

  7. Randy Winters

    I moved my entire library to an external drive. Now my Itunes listing grid is gone. I emptied my trash of the music still on my internal drive after I copied to the external drive. How do I get the itunes listing grid back to my Imac? Please help. I am desperate.

    thanks, Randy

    1. MommaAng

      Randy, Have you tried remapping your library to the external hard drive? I have a networked external drive that I keep things on (including music) that I want to be able to access from any computer in the house. Under iTunes preferences, click the “advanced” icon on the top far right. The first item is the iTunes Media folder location. Just click the “change” button and reroute it to your external hard drive.

      You may also want to uncheck the box for “Copy files to iTunes Media folder when adding to library”. Otherwise you’ll waste a lot of space with duplicate music files.

      This will only work if you moved the entire iTunes library file. If you moved only the music files, the only option I know of is the “File”/”Add to Library”. Maybe someone else has a better idea for that.

      Hope this helped.

      1. Stacey Dupree

        I have an iPhone and my kids have iPod touches. I am probably going to do away with my laptop as I hardly ever use anymore. Can I move iTunes to External and run on my husbands laptop if I ever need it?
        Do I use the same steps as you listed above?

  8. Richelle

    Can i keep my Iphone music seperate to my husbands music library and daughters Ipod music? If we all use the same computer? Thanks R’chel

    1. Yep you just set up different user accounts and have different logins on your mac. Each person then sees their own iTunes. That’s what separate user accounts are designed for.

  9. Scott

    My wife and I share a laptop at home. We both have IPhones and have purchased music and apps on them. We login to our individual accounts on the laptop and sync our phones with no problem. What I want to do share songs between out two phones.

    I am a little hesitant on doing much as I have had to reload my wife phone a couple of times because syncs did not work.

    Any ideas???

    1. Under iTunes Advanced Menu go ‘turn on home sharing’ then you can see you wife’s songs, and if you click on one you can play it OR you can choose to import it to your mac.

      1. Jeff

        I tried doing this, but how do I import the song? I tried ctrl click and can only find play.

  10. spen

    I have the same issue and am having the same trouble resolving it.

  11. darrencuz

    good article bro, I’ve saved this page so I can follow your follow-ups. Thanks darrencuz

  12. Vicky

    I have a 3gs and want to upgrade my software to ios4. When I upgrade, will everything stored on my iTunes account stay on my iPhone (moat importantly te music I’ve downloaded off CDs and not purchased on iTunes) as I’ve heard due to copyright they might not transfer across??

    1. Yes they all transfer across, it works out the song, it must do it from the audio, then it transfers across. 90% of my music is frm CD’s that I own, not from iTunes, and they all came across.

  13. arun goyal

    i hav two laptops one at office n one at home so how can i use from both is it possible ???

    1. MommaAng

      Maybe an iCloud account would solve this. I haven’t transferred over from MobileMe yet (there’s always tomorrow!), but that’s how I access documents from both my home and work computers.

  14. emily

    i have an older ipod classic as well as a nano connected to sync to my itunes account. i just got an iphone, and when i plug it in, nothing even pops up in itunes acknowledging that there is a device. how can i sync it?

  15. Go to Apple’s website or call 1-800-my apple if you need help, they can mail articles to you at no cost, i know i used to work there! They also will make sure you do not lose your contacts,

  16. Brad

    Thank you very much!this was very helpful! I now have everything working fine :)

  17. Steve Jellison

    I recently switched from Charter Cable to Uverse. That required a new email address. I’ve tried everything to sync recently purchased songs from my computer to my IPhone and nothing is working. Any advice would help, thanks.

  18. Ellie

    Well done. I would like to contribute in adding that you don’t need to worry about the music that’s on the iPhone to be overwritten you can use DiskAid to copy the music from the iPhone to iTunes and then start a new sync.
    Here is an explanation of this :
    Dead simple ;-)

  19. Shrieks

    Hey guys

    By trial and error, I was able to transfer music to my iphone by just copying my music folder from my pc and in Itunes, I went to devices/iphone, clicked on it and then right clicked on “music” / open in a new window then edit/paste – voila!

  20. Michael M. Rosenblatt

    There are some excellent programs that you can buy that will assist in transferring material between iphones, ipods and your computer. One is called: icopybot software.

    I use it all the time. I paid for my version, as I never download software that is free. I have never had any virus problems with paid-for software.


  21. UPDATE: the best way to share an iTunes library with multiple computers is to turn “Home Sharing” on . . . read this carefully:

  22. Earlene

    I have an iPod touch 4 and an iPhone 4 each with separate libraries but under same apple id. I want to merge the libraries creating one to use with both devices as they contain different music and audiobooks. Can I do this?

    1. How do you have 2 separate libraries under the same Apple ID? Are they synced to 2 different computers?

  23. Matt

    You told how to do this with 2 computers. How do you do this between 2 different accounts on the same computer?

  24. Anton

    Will this maintain all the metadata of all tracks and synchronized in real-time if I changed the genre, lets say, in one computer with another?

    1. Not sure – anyone know this? It is meant to sync play-counts.

  25. brucethat

    Nice post! But I can use the FonePaw iOS Transfer which can transfer data from iPhone to computer with only few steps.

  26. Maria

    It didn’t work with me!
    I don’t know why!

    Can Anyone help please?
    I tried the same steps?

    Maria Maroon
    University of Jordan

  27. kathryn

    All of my purchased songs are transferring just fine, but the downloaded cds won’t transfer. Help

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