Multiple accounts iTunes sharing

I’m feeling helpful today. And because I am, I’d like to lend a hand to reader Derek Morgan, who writes:

I’ve recently switched back to Macs and have run into a few questions regarding sharing files among different accounts on the same computer. Specifically, I’ve been trying to share my iTunes library among all the accounts on my computer. After reading some help files, fiddling around with the music library, I decided that it’d be best to ask for a bit of help. I was also curious to know if it was possible to have specific files show up on the desktop or in the documents folder for all accounts, without having to manually log into each one and drop them there.

I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to move my iTunes music library into the Shared folder inside my Mac’s Users folder.

To do so, I drag the iTunes folder from my user’s Music folder into the Shared folder found within the Users folder at the root level of my Mac’s hard drive. Once it’s there, I select Preferences from the iTunes menu, click the Advanced tab, click the Change button, and navigate to the new location of the iTunes folder. Before leaving this window I make sure that the Copy File to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library option is unchecked.

Next, I select Add to Library from iTunes’ File menu and, in the resulting Open dialog box, navigate to the iTunes folder inside that Shared folder. This adds the titles of the tracks to the list of tracks in the iTunes library. It does not make a copy of the tracks and put them somewhere—disabling the Copy File to iTunes Music Folder When Adding to Library option ensures that only track titles are created, not copies of the tracks.

I emphasize this because you’ll use this same technique for other user accounts on the Mac and you don’t want to double up on your tracks. For other accounts simply direct iTunes to the iTunes folder within the Shared folder, make sure the Copy Files option is not enabled, and invoke the Add to Library command.

One distinct advantage to using this technique is that you can cause other computers on a network to use this same Shared folder for their music library. Just mount the volume that contains the Shared folder on another computer, configure iTunes to use its music, disable the Copy Files option, and choose Add to Library. Note that should that volume go offline, iTunes won’t be able to play the tracks.

Why do this when you can simply take advantage of iTunes’ Sharing feature to stream music from one computer’s music library to another? Apple has imposed a limit on the number of users who can stream music from a single computer (a limit of five users) plus you’re confined to streaming music to only those computers that share the same network subnet. With the technique I describe you can stream music from a central music server to any computer capable of accessing that server—whether locally or across the Internet. And, of course, if you can mount the music server, you can copy songs on it to your computer. (Though you won’t be able to play music purchased from the iTunes Music Store on another computer unless that computer is authorized to play those tunes.)

Finally, having a central location accessible by all your computer’s users accomplishes the goal you seek in the latter part of your question. There’s no need to make multiple copies of your song files so that each user can access them. The single copy in the Shared folder makes the music files available to everyone.

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