Apple has told us that iTunes can delete music files “in an extremely small number of cases,” leading many iTunes users wondering if any of their files have gone missing. I occasionally get anecdotal reports from users who say that a single file or an album, has disappeared, but I’ve never been able to offer any answer as to why that may be happening. I had always assumed that this was due to user error, and that may be the case.
This said, you might be worried about your iTunes library, especially if you have a lot of music. There’s no log in iTunes recording what you add and what you delete, no way to look back at previous versions of your library to compare it with the present. However, if you use Time Machine to back up your media, there is a way to see what has been deleted during each backup.
First, let me point out how important Time Machine is for backing up files. Unlike a standard backup, where a utility copies all your files to an external drive, adding changed files and removing deleted files, Time Machine keeps older files even after they’ve been deleted. So you can go back through the history of your files and potentially find a file that was deleted six months ago, and restore an older copy.
To do this, get soma-zone’s $10 Backup Loupe. This app can scan every Time Machine backup you have, and show you which files were added and which were deleted from each backup. (To show deletions, you need to enable Track Deleted items in the app’s Scanner preferences.)
When you run Backup Loupe, and scan a backup, it takes a while to compare all the files to the previous backup, and you can then examine the differences. Here’s an example. Backup Loupe indicates deleted files by a red number in parentheses. You can see that on my Music disk, 35 files were removed; I drill down in the folder structure to see which files those were.
I find that the difference was because I renamed two albums; so you can see that the same albums are shown as having been copied during this backup, as well as having been deleted.
You can use Backup Loupe to browse all your Time Machine backups, looking for deleted files in your iTunes Media folder (or anywhere else on your Mac). It takes a long time, because the app has to scan backups that have potentially a million files or more, but if you’re worried, you only need to do this once. Later, you can run the app again and check more recent backups.
Obviously, if you move files in and out of your iTunes library often, you’ll find a lot of files that show as being deleted in your Time Machine backups. And if you change the name of a file or album, you’ll see those items as deleted, but then as new items with the new names. So you may encounter a lot of deleted files, but there may be valid reasons for them having been deleted.
Don’t be alarmed when you see lots of files being deleted in, say, your user’s Library folder, or in the Applications folder. This is normal. You can drill down and see what’s been deleted; it’s often just cache files, or an application that was updated. (Apps can contain thousands of files.)
So don’t worry about this iTunes file deletion problem; it doesn’t seem to be widespread, but it’s not reassuring that Apple has no idea what’s going on. If you want to check your own library, use Backup Loupe. You may even find some files that you accidentally deleted.