Ode to iTunes Home Sharing

<p>Last week I said iTunes is the most important software for most Mac users and that Home Sharing is the most under appreciated feature of iTunes. &nbsp;Home Sharing is the highway that connects your Macs, allowing them to copy music from one to the other. &nbsp;For any home with multiple computers, or even one computer with multiple user accounts, Home Sharing is the easy way to build and manage your iTunes libraries. &nbsp;Here, I&rsquo;d like to explain how to turn on Home Sharing, and then provide some examples of when it should be used.<!--more--></p>

The Setup

In most homes I visit, there are at least two computers, each with their own iTunes library.  Inevitably, someone will ask how to copy a bit of music from one location to the other, but not the entire music collection.  Enter Home Sharing.  To start, open up iTunes on both computers, and choose “Advanced” from the menu bar, and click on “Turn on Home Sharing.”  You will then be prompted to sign in with an iTunes account.

Now, let’s pause for a second.  iTunes accounts are only used for purchasing songs from iTunes.  “iTunes account” is not synonymous with your user account.  In my opinion, couples should use the same iTunes account in order to prevent re-purchasing the same music.  (Kids, on the other hand, can be given their own iTunes accounts, and then set up with either gift cards or even an allowance system.)  If you have multiple iTunes accounts among you and your spouse, seriously consider only using one.*  

OK, assuming you are only using one iTunes account, you’ll want to use that account when signing into Home Sharing on both computers.  Now, let’s take a visit to your iTunes preferences.  From the menu bar, click iTunes > Preferences.  Under the General tab, change the name of your iTunes library to either the type of computer you have (eg. “MacBook Pro”) or something uniquely identifying that particular computer (eg. “Rick’s PowerBook G3”).  Still in Preferences, click on the Sharing tab and make sure the two boxes towards the top are checked.  When you see them, you’ll see why they need to be turned on.  After you do this, close the Preferences window.  Make sure you do this on both computers.


Import those beats!

You should now have a new category in your iTunes left sidebar called “Shared” with the name of the other computer’s library listed next to a Home logo.  Now comes the fun part.  Click on that library name, and you’ll see the other computer’s library become wirelessly browsable from your computer.  Keep in mind, if the other computer does not have iTunes turned on and is not on your local wifi network, it will not appear.

You are now able to search the other library’s music and “Import” it onto your computer in one of two ways.  You may either select songs and click the Import button in the lower right corner of the screen, or you can drag and drop music into your already created playlists in your left sidebar.  Nice, right?

Go ahead and start importing music.  Once you queue up a bunch, it will most likely take a long time to transfer wirelessly, so make sure not to turn off either computer.  While that’s transferring, let’s check out some added features Apple provides.  Next to the aforementioned “Import” button, you’ll see another in that lower, right corner labeled “Settings.”  Clicking this button will make your Mac auto-import any media from the other computer.  For example, if your partner buys an album on her Mac, the next time both hers and your Mac are open at the same time, your Mac will automatically import her music.

This is a great time to point out that Home Sharing is not just for music.  All types of iTunes media, including movies & apps, are invited to the party.


Satellite Scenario

Now let’s talk about two different scenarios where Home Sharing could be really nice.  The first is what I’ve already been discussing above.  It’s the simplest form when there are two computers simply copying music from one computer to the other.  Yin and yang, if you will.  Neither library is the designated “main” library, but they overlap a bit, thanks to Home Sharing.

The next situation I’m going to describe is what I personally use.  If you’ve read My Mac Setup from last week, you know that we are a three Mac household.  Spoiled, I know.  I’ll call this situation the “satellite scenario,” meaning, there is a main Mac which houses the main iTunes library, and other Macs hold smaller, satellite libraries.  For me, it is the MacBook Pro that has my main iTunes library.  This library has all music and apps stored in it.  My Mac mini and MacBook Air also have iTunes libraries, but I’ve Home Shared only a few songs over to them.  For example, I have a study playlist that I’ve moved to the MacBook Air.  The Mac mini has a lot of kids songs my daughter likes.  If either the satellite computers purchase music, the main mac is set to automatically import them.  This frees me to delete music from the satellites if I begin to run out of space.  I’m fairly certain my music is back safe at my main Mac.  What this does, it makes my satellite iTunes libraries feel more like iPods.

I complicate things a bit more by telling my Mac mini to also auto-import any movies and TV shows purchased on the other Macs.  Our mini is plugged into our TV.


Wrap Up

Prior to Home Sharing, I used to keep my iTunes library on a portable hard drive and plug it in to whichever Mac I was currently using.  This quickly got old, as I either forgot it, or just didn’t want to carry around an extra gadget.  I also don’t feel the need to have all music with me all the time, so Home Sharing is a great solution.

Another thing I like about Home Sharing is that it makes sense to the average user.  Tech-geeks might balk at it for whatever reason, but the fact that many of my clients use and love it testifies to its relatively low friction.

Here's what Apple has to say about Home Sharing:

Understanding Home Sharing

iTunes Sharing Feature Page


*Be sure to still remember the login credentials of any accounts you stop using, as any purchased music will forever be locked to that account and will need to be “authorized” to play on any future computers.


Rick Stawarz

Minneapolis, MN

I am an Apple Certified Support Professional with over a decade of experience supporting families, schools, and businesses. Tech has always captured my imagination, but it's not my only passion. I'm an ordained Anglican minister;  Aeropress is a daily ritual of mine; I've driven across Mongolia; and I'm the father of three girls. I hope to provide for you a balanced and realistic perspective into the practicality of technology.