How to Find Which Files iTunes Has Deleted

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.

Backup loupe

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.

18 thoughts on “How to Find Which Files iTunes Has Deleted

  1. Yesterday = “Apple. It Just Works.”

    Today = “Apple. It Mostly Works.”

    Tomorrow = “Apple. It Sorta Sometimes Works, Ya Know, Probably Won’t F’ Up Anything You Care About Too Bad, And Ya Know – We Got This Really Cool Built-In Backup Thingy If The Software Happens To Go Completely Rogue. Can’t We All Just Chillax A Bit, Here?. BTW, You Are Still Welcome For That iPhone, Dude – Never Got The Thank You…”

    Sorry, I’m a Mac user and lover, but this is getting out of hand, don’t you find? 🙂

  2. Yesterday = “Apple. It Just Works.”

    Today = “Apple. It Mostly Works.”

    Tomorrow = “Apple. It Sorta Sometimes Works, Ya Know, Probably Won’t F’ Up Anything You Care About Too Bad, And Ya Know – We Got This Really Cool Built-In Backup Thingy If The Software Happens To Go Completely Rogue. Can’t We All Just Chillax A Bit, Here?. BTW, You Are Still Welcome For That iPhone, Dude – Never Got The Thank You…”

    Sorry, I’m a Mac user and lover, but this is getting out of hand, don’t you find? 🙂

  3. Agree with X Browne.
    Apple need to raise their software quality a significant amount of levels, and quickly.
    Yes, getting out of hand.
    Oh, and improve the hardware while they’re at it.

  4. Agree with X Browne.
    Apple need to raise their software quality a significant amount of levels, and quickly.
    Yes, getting out of hand.
    Oh, and improve the hardware while they’re at it.

  5. Does Backup Loupe deal with NAS based Time Machine backups? I tried it a long time ago, and it wasn’t functional because my backups are not on local disk.

  6. Does Backup Loupe deal with NAS based Time Machine backups? I tried it a long time ago, and it wasn’t functional because my backups are not on local disk.

  7. If you have another backup utility like Chronosync there is a simpler method.

    Making a standard backup, you usually have the option to keep an archive of deletions and alterations. So after backing up you can inspect the folder of archived items for all those items that were deleted – or changed – since the last backup.

    I do this regularly with my iTunes Media folder which is about 3 TB. Last year there was a period of time where files turned up in the archive – and were deleted in the original library – which I had not touched at all. So indeed iTunes was deleting files on its own, and this was going on without iTunes Match or Apple Music turned on. I could not detect any pattern in this behaviour, and it also stopped after a while.

    I also wrote about that in the forum here and on Apple’s site:
    https://discussions.apple.com/message/27515490?ac_cid=op123456#27515490 .

    At that time I thought that it had something to do with my Synology NAS. But now it seems that this might have been another incident of this mysterious bug.

    • That’s a good idea. The problem is you have to check after every back up, or fairly often, if you make a lot of changes. Otherwise you may run out of room to store those older files. I use Carbon Copy Cloner which offers a similar feature. But if you do change tags often, remove music intentionally, etc., then the old archive fills up quickly.

      If you were to start doing that now, it would be useful for the future, but with Time Machine, if you been using it for a while, you already have the ability to find those files.

      • You have some good points. On the other hand I would not want to burden Time Machine with backing up 3 TB of iTunes data. And with a 6 TB hard disc just for iTunes backups you have enough room to accumulate archives and feel save. Moreover you can inspect those backups right from the Finder.

        By the way one may also use a simple Apple script to check the consistence of the Media folder (provided you let iTunes manage your files). This also helps to spot irregularities – albeit not folders that are missing in their entirety.

  8. If you have another backup utility like Chronosync there is a simpler method.

    Making a standard backup, you usually have the option to keep an archive of deletions and alterations. So after backing up you can inspect the folder of archived items for all those items that were deleted – or changed – since the last backup.

    I do this regularly with my iTunes Media folder which is about 3 TB. Last year there was a period of time where files turned up in the archive – and were deleted in the original library – which I had not touched at all. So indeed iTunes was deleting files on its own, and this was going on without iTunes Match or Apple Music turned on. I could not detect any pattern in this behaviour, and it also stopped after a while.

    I also wrote about that in the forum here and on Apple’s site:
    https://discussions.apple.com/message/27515490?ac_cid=op123456#27515490 .

    At that time I thought that it had something to do with my Synology NAS. But now it seems that this might have been another incident of this mysterious bug.

    • That’s a good idea. The problem is you have to check after every back up, or fairly often, if you make a lot of changes. Otherwise you may run out of room to store those older files. I use Carbon Copy Cloner which offers a similar feature. But if you do change tags often, remove music intentionally, etc., then the old archive fills up quickly.

      If you were to start doing that now, it would be useful for the future, but with Time Machine, if you been using it for a while, you already have the ability to find those files.

      • You have some good points. On the other hand I would not want to burden Time Machine with backing up 3 TB of iTunes data. And with a 6 TB hard disc just for iTunes backups you have enough room to accumulate archives and feel save. Moreover you can inspect those backups right from the Finder.

        By the way one may also use a simple Apple script to check the consistence of the Media folder (provided you let iTunes manage your files). This also helps to spot irregularities – albeit not folders that are missing in their entirety.

  9. Just last night I went to delete a “duplicate” file by clicking on the icon and selecting to delete it. (I’ve done this hundreds of times before) – this time the delete took longer than normal, 30-60 seconds. My entire library was in the recycle bin completely mixed up. Fortunately I have iTunes match, but with nearly 20k songs I’m still downloading. I’ve spent way too much time managing iTunes files over the years – they need to get this corrected and quickly. I swear each iTunes release gets worse.

    • Okay, that’s really interesting. I assume you didn’t take screenshots?

      You could just drag all the files back to the iTunes window, and they’ll get added correctly.

  10. Just last night I went to delete a “duplicate” file by clicking on the icon and selecting to delete it. (I’ve done this hundreds of times before) – this time the delete took longer than normal, 30-60 seconds. My entire library was in the recycle bin completely mixed up. Fortunately I have iTunes match, but with nearly 20k songs I’m still downloading. I’ve spent way too much time managing iTunes files over the years – they need to get this corrected and quickly. I swear each iTunes release gets worse.

    • Okay, that’s really interesting. I assume you didn’t take screenshots?

      You could just drag all the files back to the iTunes window, and they’ll get added correctly.

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