Random Thoughts – Randocity!

iTunes can corrupt your iPod’s iTunes library

Posted in Apple, computers, corruption, ipod, itunes, music by commorancy on January 19, 2009

As a follow up to this Randosity article, this article will focus on a specific condition when iTunes will corrupt your iPod’s music database… over and over and over.

How it all starts

About a week ago, my iPod became unrecognized by iTunes.  Because iTunes cannot ‘recognize’ the iPod, it requests that you restore the iPod using the restore feature.  As a result of a domino effect issue, this problem became more and more compounded.  Compounded to the point that I was ready to sell the iPod to someone else and get a different solution.

What is the issue exactly?

This issue started right after the first unrecognized error.  After the iPod becomes unrecognizable (we’ll get to what that means shortly), I had to restore the iPod to actually use it again.  From that point forward, I kept having to restore it about once a day.  Mind you, this is the 8GB iPod Touch and not a 60GB iPod.  If it had been a 60GB device, I would have sold it no questions asked.  I digress.  Anyway, the restores kept getting more and more frequent.

  • So, I plug the iPod Touch into the computer’s USB port and let iTunes synchronize the touch.  The synchronize progresses normally and then ends correctly.
  • I unplug the iPod and check it out.  Yep, everything is all there.
  • I plug it in again and iTunes then syncs again.  Except, this time I noticed (or thought I noticed) iTunes synchronizing some music that was already on the iPod.  I thought it was weird, but I discounted it.
  • I unplug the iPod and check the ‘Music’ app.  I see a “There is no music loaded” message…frustrating (note this was the first time it had happened).
  • I plug the iPod back into the computer.   iTunes says, “This iPod is unrecognized, please restore it”.
  • Note that the Touch’s Apps are all still loaded and the iPod works even though iTunes won’t recognize it (and the music is missing).

What does ‘unrecognizable‘ mean exactly in the iTunes?

After poking around on the Internet about any similar type issues, I’ve found others who’ve had similar behavior on their iPods.  The base problem that prevents iTunes from ‘recognizing’ the iPod is that the iPod’s music database (iTunesDB) file has become corrupted.  Basically, when the iPod’s iTunesDB file becomes corrupted internally, iTunes refuses to recognize the device or work with it forcing the user to do complete restore (even when the unit is STILL functioning).

Restore Process

There are so many problems with this restore process, suffice it to say that Apple is in desperate need of help.  Apple has designed the iPod to work under ideal conditions (i.e., never need to restore).  However, when it comes time to restore your iPod and because they didn’t really work this all out properly, the restore process is where iTunes fails miserably.

When iTunes needs to restore the unit, it places the iPod into a special restore mode.  A mode that appears to make the unit receptive to installation of firmware (a special icon appears).  After iTunes extracts and transfers the firmware over to the iPod, the iPod reboots and installs the firmware (all the while iTunes is watching the progress).  After the unit has restored the firmware to factory defaults, iTunes allows you to try to restore from a previous backup or set it up as a new iPod.  This factory reset process can take anywhere between 10-15 minutes.

iPod Backups

iTunes only allows for one (1) stored backup of your iPod at a time.  So, if that one (1) backup that iTunes has is corrupted, you’ll waste a ton of time trying to restore only to find that the iPod is still corrupted.  So, you’ll have to start the restore completely over again and then set the iPod up as a new device (wasting even more time).  This happened to me.  I also quickly realized it was simpler (and faster) to avoid using an existing backup and just setting it up from scratch again.  Apple really needs to allow iTunes to take multiple backups in dated slots and allow these backups to be stored outside of iTunes in files.

Note, if you choose to set the iPod up from scratch, you will have to completely set up your apps again.  For example, settings like your WiFi settings, your email settings and your VPN settings will all have to be manually reconfigured.  Any apps that require login and passwords will need to be re-entered.

Restoring your settings and media

If you’ve chosen to restore your iPod’s customization settings from a backup, this process will take between 10-15 minutes to complete.  And no, as slow as this process is, it doesn’t restore music, videos or any other media.  That still has yet to be done (and comes last).  After the settings have been restored, you now have a workable (and very blank) iPod again.  So, the next thing iTunes does is sync up the applications, then the music, then everything else.   The applications will take anywhere from a few minutes to over ten minutes depending on how many apps you have downloaded.  The music restore will take whatever it takes to copy the size of your unit (about 6 gigs takes at least 15-25 minutes).  So, an 8GB iPod Touch, it takes probably 15-45 minutes depending.  If you’re restoring a fully loaded 32 or 60GB iPod, your rebuild will take a whole lot longer.

Corruption

The issue I faced, however, is that something kept corrupting the iTunesDB file on the iPod.  It was either the iPod’s hardware messing up or iTunes was shuttling something over it shouldn’t have been.  I noticed that on a particular CD the artwork kept disappearing in iTunes (it would be there and then it would show the blank icon when I know that the art previously worked).  I also noticed that iTunes would randomly transfer this music over even when it already existed on the iPod and had not been changed.  I guess it thought something changed about the music file.  Anyway, after it transferred that music, I believe this is what corrupted the iPod.  Whatever was causing the artwork to disappear must have corrupted an iTunes file which was transferred to the iPod.

Fix

The fix for this issue, that I found by trial and error, was to completely delete the entire iTunes music library, podcast library and video library and reimport it.   So, I went to the ‘Music’ area and selected everything and pressed delete.  Of course, I used ‘Keep Files’ to keep them on the disk.  I also made sure to NOT use downloaded artwork on the reimported music as I believe the downloaded artwork database is what is getting corrupted.  I don’t know why the corruption happens and the guy at the Genius Bar had also never heard of this.. so much for their Genius.  He also offered to replace the iPod Touch just in case the hardware was bad, but I don’t think it is.

Arrgh.. Apple get your ACT together!

iTunes can be a hassle to deal with, as evidenced here.  Apple needs to take a long hard look at how this all works and fix these problems. One of the ways to fix this issue is to stop marking the unit as unrecognizable when the iTunesDB is corrupted.  Instead, they should simply delete the database and rebuild it.  Better yet, they should keep a copy of the iPod’s database on the computer for restoration.  Also, if Apple allowed multiple backups stored by date on the computer, it would be far simpler to roll back to a previously KNOWN working configuration.  Because of this lack of foresight of Apple and because of the simplistic backup system Apple has implemented, this leads to a complete timewaster in restoration by trial and error.

Since there is no real fix you can do to iTunes itself to manage these limitations, I recommend that you turn off automatic synchronization so you can manually sync the iPod yourself at the time of your choosing.  I should also mention that Apple decided to turn off visibility (through a drive letter) into the iTunes library files with the iPod Touch, so you can’t even use a third party utility.  I can’t imagine having to go through this restore process on a 60GB or larger iPod.  Having to go through it 5 times in 5 days because of iTunes is ludicrous and enough to make anyone want to get away from Apple as fast as possible.  Apple, you definitely need to figure out how to deal with this issue!

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