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How To Fix ‘The file iTunes Library.itl cannot be read’

Posted by Jamie on September 27, 2018

If you have used iTunes for any length of time you will have come across ‘The file iTunes Library.itl cannot be read’ errors. They will usually happen after an upgrade or when you have reloaded iTunes onto a new computer. The error stops iTunes from from accessing your library. It is a showstopper but can be addressed relatively easily.

The error seems to be caused by a mismatch between library files. As mentioned above,  it can often happen when switching iTunes to a new computer or when restoring an old backup of your library. There was also an issue when iTunes removed the App Store for a while and a number of users downgraded their iTunes version to bring it back. Any library files created with the newer version of iTunes would not work once those users rolled back to a previous version.

The full syntax can be ‘The file iTunes Library.itl cannot be read because it was created by a newer version of iTunes.’ This gives us a clue as to what happened. Here’s how to fix it if you see it. This error happens on both Windows and Mac so I’ll cover both.

Fix iTunes library errors on a Mac

To fix the error reading iTunes Library.itl, you first have to remove the older version of iTunes and install the latest version. You can then retry or continue the repair.

  1. Remove the older version of iTunes from your Mac and install a newer version.
  2. If you use iCloud, stop your internet connection during the following steps. This prevents any issues with syncing while you are repairing your iTunes library.
  3. Select Command+Shift+G and type ~/Music/iTunes/ to open the iTunes folder.
  4. Rename iTunes Library.itl to iTunes Library.old within the iTunes folder.
  5. Navigate to Previous iTunes Libraries and copy the latest library file. They include the date within the filename.
  6. Paste the file in Music/iTunes/ and rename it to ‘iTunes Library.itl’.
  7. Open iTunes and retest.

Renaming the file to .old is an IT tech method of keeping the original file just in case. The filename isn’t used by anything else so we can maintain file integrity without interrupting operation. If anything goes wrong here, we can simply rename the .old file to what it was and we are back where we started.

Fix iTunes library errors in Windows

If you mix and match your operating systems, the Windows version of iTunes work quite well. It still suffers from this same error if you roll back your iTunes version and will trigger the same error. Here’s how to fix it.

  1. Remove the older version of iTunes from your computer and install a newer version.
  2. Navigate to your Music folder and open the iTunes folder.
  3. Located iTunes Library.itl. If you don’t see it, select View within Explorer and select Hidden Items.
  4. Rename iTunes Library.itl to iTunes Library.old.
  5. Open the Previous iTunes Libraries folder and copy the latest library file. The same date format exists in Windows too.
  6. Paste the file into the iTunes folder and rename it to ‘iTunes Library.itl’.
  7. Open iTunes and retest.

Now when you open iTunes everything should work fine. Your library should load and you should be able to access all of your media as normal.

I don’t have a Previous iTunes Libraries folder or files

I have seen a couple of instances where there hasn’t been a Previous iTunes Libraries folder or any files within that folder. This can happen but I have no idea why. It isn’t an issue though. All that happens is that you rename your existing .itl file to .old, start iTunes and you will begin with no library.

As long as iTunes can sync from your Mac, it should download your library from iCloud or Time Machine. You may have to wait a little while as everything syncs but it will happen and you will get your library back.

Windows users may be able to get the files back too depending on how you back up your computer. If you use Windows 10 File History or have a System Restore Point, it may be worth checking there. As far as I know, iTunes does not sync or automatically back up on Windows computers. If you’re reading this, it may already be too late but if you don’t have a backup option for iTunes on your Windows computer, now would be a good time to set one up!

That’s how to fix ‘The file iTunes Library.itl cannot be read’ errors on Mac or Windows. It’s a critical error that is easily fixed. Hope we have helped!

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