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.


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.


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!

27 Responses

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  1. Uncle Hammer said, on October 15, 2011 at 5:54 am

    My iPhone 4 was corrupted too (It’s jailbroken, 4.3.3). So I tried some stuff here. One that worked was the renaming of the iTunes folder, though it wasn’t what I was looking for. I wanted some way to restore the iPod database, but I ended up setting it up as a new iPhone. Sigh… At least it worked. Thanks for the guide!


  2. commorancy said, on April 30, 2010 at 3:00 am

    Another update here. After experiencing a bad keyboard, it’s very possible that a dodgy USB keyboard could throw errors onto the USB bus and affect other connected USB components. It’s difficult to diagnose a bad keyboard, but if you have checked everything else and still experience USB problems, try a new keyboard. It’s a reasonably inexpensive and easy to check.


  3. Jon Barber said, on February 18, 2010 at 1:16 pm


    After the continual problem cycle of a dead iPod after a full (or even near) restore, I took my iPod in to the Apple store and they even gave me a new iPod, but this didn’t fix it; my library of 130GB (after 6 hours restoring) would corrupt at a certain point and the only way to rescue my dead iPod was to reset it in to disk mode and restore again.

    However, after 2 weeks of messing round with my library trying to work out what was corrupting my iPod (as iTunes seemed fine), I discovered DELETING ALL PLAYLISTS FIXED IT. A bit of a pain because I had 100s of playlists to recreate, but it was preferable to losing all my Date Added, Rating, etc settings on 22,000 tracks.

    I hope this works for some of you guys? Worth taking a backup copy first, of course. I always back up my itl and library xml files now!

    Would love to know if this helps any of you…


  4. iPad said, on January 29, 2010 at 3:04 am

    Jobs announce iPad today.. Anyone buying?


    • commorancy said, on January 29, 2010 at 3:27 am

      Check out my most recent post on this very topic. Thanks.


    • giselle said, on July 4, 2010 at 3:43 am

      good god no !!!….if it says apple now..i avoid it like the plague after all the b**lsh*t with itunes wiping my iphone time …after time…after time..and never resyncing properly…so now i deleted anything and everything off my PC hardrive that says apple on it..and i will just keep my iphone till i can afford a new HTC windows phone and forget about ever wanting the stupid iphone…i can just see apple going down in like a couple yrs due to poor software and mentally deficient developers….what the heck were they thinking???
      i am quite annoyed with my empty phone atm…almost tossed it into the wall…cept for the fact it cost me 700 dollars….grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr …waste of money!!!!!!!!!!!!


      • commorancy said, on July 4, 2010 at 4:05 am

        Oh, the iPhone will definitely have cost you $700 (and then some). After you run through your 2 year AT&T contract, the phone will have cost you close to $1500 (after taxes) assuming a $200 up front phone cost. Granted, you might pick an $89 a month plan for another phone, so you might have had that bill anyway. However, for me, a $90+ phone bill is ridiculous. I simply will not invest into any phone that costs me more than $40 a month (smart phone or not). That said, I’m actually using prepaid plans right now because I rarely use my cell phone.. and when I do, I want to know that I’m paying for exactly what I use. I don’t like the way postpaid/contract plans work to trick people into going over their alloted minutes. So, the overage costs end up costing people up to 45 cents per minute!

        Yeah, I agree with you about the problems with the iTunes software. When it works, it works great. When it doesn’t, it’s a royal pain and difficult to fix.

        Apple likes to think they know what they’re doing, but in reality it’s all a crap shoot with any company when buying technology devices. The real problem with Apple, though, is that they are not a phone manufacturer. They are a computer hardware producer. So, for the iPhone it’s really square peg, round hole. It works, but not very well.. as evidenced with all of the recent iPhone 4 antenna problems which looks to be leading towards lawsuits.


  5. mehak said, on December 19, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    i opened my ipod nano 16 gb 5g just today, and put in a movie. I played the movie, the thing hung up, i reset it, and for some reason i went to that movie again, and played it again. This time when i tried to reset it, it didnt work. I connected it to my itunes, where it said i had to restore my ipod.

    I feel so pathetic! I just bought it!!


    • commorancy said, on January 15, 2010 at 7:16 am

      This problem sounds like an OS problem. I can’t see why playing media on an iPod should corrupt it from within. This sounds like the nano’s firmware is not stable. But then, it is written by people and people aren’t infallible. I haven’t used the most recent nano, so I can’t really comment on its stability.



  6. Rick said, on December 7, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    I have to restore my iPod Classic weekly, because iTunes consistently eff’s it up. I never had such problems with a Toshiba Gigabeat (no longer made?), and I am looking forward to punting iPods for good. It’s interesting that Apple touts its brand as consistently having more stability than Windows, and I just have to laugh. Both brands suck at stability.


    • commorancy said, on January 15, 2010 at 7:13 am

      I haven’t had to deal with a 120+ GB iPod. But, with it storing that much data, I could easily see this process becoming problematic. It’s also part of the reason I haven’t invested in a large sized iPod. The other part is that I prefer the iPod Touch interface and want a large sized drive with this interface. Until Apple releases an iPod touch with a 500 to 1TB sized drive, I likely won’t be anxious to move in that direction. Of course, I don’t relish the time spending to sync this much data, but I suppose as long as it doesn’t have to do it more than once it should be ok.

      If it gets corrupted often, I might think twice about that.



      • giselle said, on July 4, 2010 at 3:45 am

        i would stick to other brands if i was u….its mostly itunes fault..so since they REQUIRE u use itunes to download crap…u might wanna think about ur decisions carefully…
        i wanna shake Bill Gates hand right now…he is a hell of a lot smarter than Steve Jobs…


        • commorancy said, on July 4, 2010 at 4:13 am

          To be ‘officially’ supported, you have to use iTunes. You can always jailbreak the device and then use other software to manage it. So, if you want to play by Apple’s rules, then yes, iTunes is basically it. If you are willing to jailbreak the device, then you definitely have a lot more alternatives.

          I’ve already decided, however, I will never buy an iPhone. I will buy another iPod touch if they can get one to be the size of a paperback book. I will not buy an iPad as it’s a waste of money. If Google can get an Android tablet onto the market soon, I may buy into that. I wouldn’t mind having a tablet, I just don’t want to be tied to Apple’s lame closed infrastructure. The iPod wasn’t really that bad, but the iPad is about as bad as it gets. So, this is why I’m looking for alternatives and it looks like Google is shaping up to be Apple’s biggest competition very soon.


  7. Best Registry Cleaner Tools said, on December 5, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Thanks for this, I really like using iTunes but I am unable to get my library to stay intact!


  8. Bill Barrick said, on December 4, 2009 at 2:31 am

    I also found this solution by trial and error but in my case it was a little easier. I had two iPod Classics doing the synch–no content thing. I tried restoring, reformatting, restoring device defaults, etc.

    What worked was I changed the iTunes Media folder location to a new location (my second internal drive), used “Organize Library” to both Consolidate and Organize files (v9.02.25 Vista). In the process it alerted me of a number of files in the iPod library that were missing from the iTunes library. I removed the records for those. Now, at this point, it probably would have been enough but I went to wipe out my old iTunes library and stupidly wiped out iTunes.db along with it. Then my iTunes said there was nothing in my iTunes library on my desktop.

    I dragged the container folder of organized media from the new location onto the iTunes application and it re-cataloged everything and recreated the iTunes.db. Lesson learned: the iTunes.db is on the local disk in C:\Users\user\Music\iTunes whether you move the media or not. Of course when I plugged the iPod back in the iTunes informed me that the device was synched to another library and I had to erase. I also wiped out my playlists and history, and all my music says it was added on the same day, but my iPods are now synching without a problem. Use this method at your own risk and make sure you understand what I did before attempting. I don’t want to feel responsible for anyone wiping out all their media.

    On a related note, I did recently upgrade the memory in my Vista machine and I can’t remember for sure whether the problems with iTunes/iPod began before or after that. I’ll just have to wait and see. It may be that the memory is the source of the problem but the resolution seems to be to rebuild the iTunes database which forces the iPod to rebuild the iPod db as well.



    • commorancy said, on January 15, 2010 at 7:06 am

      I should point out here that there are two iTunesDB files. There’s the one that’s built for iTunes itself (the Windows or Mac application) and then there’s the ITunesDB file that’s located on the iPod itself. These two files, while named the same, are not the same. Meaning, the iTunes app loads files into the iPod’s iTunesDB through an upload transfer process over USB.

      The corruption of the iTunesDB file I was discussing was specifically the one on the iPod itself and not the one related to the iTunes App. Of course, it’s possible that the ITunesDB file that iTunes builds for itself could become corrupted as well. That’s easy to fix by deleting the entire library and reimporting the music back into iTunes.

      This is also a good reason to make a backup of your iTunes (App) music library every so often. In fact, iTunes more-or-less already does this in C:\Users\%USERNAME%\Music\iTunes\iTunes Music Library.xml

      So, you can always make a copy of this file, delete your library and use the copy of this file to reimport your library back the way you previously had it. This XML file is always kept up to date on any changes. But, if your llibrary has become corrupted, this file might also be corrupted. So, you may want to make periodic copies of this file and keep multiple copies.

      As I said, though, the corruption of the ITunesDB on the iPod itself is a separate issue from the other iTunesDB on the C drive.



  9. Ryric said, on October 1, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Same issue, however havn’t checked my ram in a few weeks, guess we know what I am playing with tonight…


  10. More42 said, on August 9, 2009 at 10:48 pm

    OK … tried the Vista memory checking utility. Ran successfully. No errors.

    Tried Memtest86 and it wouldn’t run. Strange I thought. So I tried a Chkdsk. Wouldn’t run – like I was pressing escape or something.

    So I tried again and unplugged the USB keyboard. Bingo – both ran and no errors.

    So, its not a memory or disk issue but perhaps the USB keyboard continually polling is interfering with the USB syncing of the iPod (BTW – once again I have the ‘no content’ screen).

    One more experiment and then I’m going to give it up and try and get my money back!


  11. commorancy said, on August 5, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Vista any version is susceptible to memory issues. The reason is that Microsoft changed the way they load software into memory. With XP, Windows would load things in memory from lowest to highest (if I recall correctly). Anyway, in Vista they scatter load everything in memory so it can end up literally anywhere in memory. This was done as a security measure. The idea is that if software isn’t loaded in the same place in memory each time, a person sniffing memory would have a hard time finding passwords or other sensitive information.

    The downside is that scatter loading is likely to find a bad sector of memory a lot easier than sequential loading. So, if you had bad memory in XP, you’d know it really fast as the system likely wouldn’t even boot. In Vista, the OS can load properly, but applications can act flakey.

    How do you know if the memory is bad? In windows, you don’t. You have to run a memory test on the mem. The only way to do that is with Memtest86 (which runs in a small DOS shell which you boot from a floppy). It can take hours to run this software, but it’s good at finding bad memory. As far as art goes, I don’t think art can corrupt iTunesDB. I believe the artwork gets corrupted as a side effect of something else (like bad memory).

    If your machine has acted flaky in other ways outside of iTunes, then it is likely you have some bad memory somewhere. Keep in mind that a bad hard drive could also account for this behavior if the hard drive is corrupting portions of your files. You can easily check that by running chkdsk on the volume. If chkdsk runs clean, then it’s something other than your hard drive.

    I guess I should also make a warning about chkdsk and bad memory. If you do have bad memory and run chkdsk and it modifies the disk, it’s possible that chkdsk could corrupt your volume based on corrupted memory. So, be cautious if you suspect bad memory. Personally, I’d run Memtest86 first to test the memory. If all the memory tests clean, then I’d run the chkdsk to make sure the HD isn’t going bad.



    • giselle said, on July 4, 2010 at 3:53 am

      well…i bought a brand new comp…got a brand new iphone..downloaded itunes to use phone…everything alright for a couple months…then after updating itunes…voila…everything went to the crapper…i had a very good pro make this comp..it runs everything perfectly..no viruses atm ..except it kept tellling me itunes was a virus lol…
      long story short…i end up with no music and a clean phone…and me..very annoyed….
      i refuse to download anything ever again with apple in the name…i think it damages ur comp and causes alot of problems


      • commorancy said, on July 4, 2010 at 4:23 am

        I’ve had my iPod Touch for about 2 years now (it’s a 2G Touch) and the problems I ended up having were as a result of bad system memory. Since Windows is now scatter loading the operating system and applications to prevent easy sequential reading of RAM space (security precautions), the RAM in the system now has to be 100% perfect. If there’s a stick or segment of bad RAM, Windows 7 will find it fast. In my case, iTunes found the bad memory and kept corrupting the iTunes DB on my touch. At first I thought it was the device, but later found it to be the system memory. I replaced the memory with Corsair and it’s been fine ever since. It also means I will never buy OCZ memory again. I simply can’t trust their quality control processes. RAM is something that should ‘just work’.

        Anyway, I won’t buy an iPhone just because Apple’s design team seems to keep making their aesthetic considerations take precedent over having the phone work well. Making such design concessions is simply bad design. You should never compromise a technological design simply because you need a pretty case wrapped around it. First and foremost, I want my devices to work. Secondarily, if they look great then all the better. But, if it needs to look like a standard cell phone to retain the phone quality, I’m all for that.

        Jobs needs to rethink his approach to design. I will give him that the devices look great, but never at the expense of making it actually work. Never.


  12. More42 said, on August 5, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    Ah …. might also explain some system crashes as well if this is what it is. I’m on Vista 32 bit.

    Dodgy memory sounds plausible, but how do you know for sure it was bad memory and not the artwork thing? My issue has gone away since I removed the downloaded artwork (new option in 8.2.1 of iTunes) – but that could be memory luck if you follow your logic.

    I might just change the memory anyway depending on the cost…


  13. commorancy said, on August 4, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    I’ve been meaning to update this post on my resolution. What was corrupting my iPod was actually bad system memory. At the time, I had 8 GB of memory in my 64 bit Windows Vista system. Vista, unlike XP, is not tolerant of bad system memory due to Microsoft’s change in memory handling. Yet, Vista doesn’t do a thorough check to make sure the memory is good. In fact, Windows doesn’t do ANY checks to make sure the system memory is good.

    The problem, though, is that Vista does scatter loading of Vista’s OS components and all applications. This means, Vista puts the OS components anywhere in that 8GB of space. If any memory is bad, the system works, but acts sporadically flaky (and usually just specific features or components are affected).

    iTunes is also being scatter loaded. So, apparently, the syncing components of iTunes were being loaded into the corrupted memory regions. But, the memory was just good enough so that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. However, when iTunes wrote out the iTunes database to the iPod, it would write out corrupt data and I would see no music on the iPod.

    Of course, the bad system memory then led to all of the other issues with iTunes. Suffice it to say that I took out all of the OCZ memory that I had purchased and replaced it completely with Corsair memory. Since then, I’ve had no issues at all and iTunes works like a champ once again.

    I can’t specifically say that your issue is bad system memory, but if you are on Vista and experiencing this issue, it may very well be the problem. Note that in order to diagnose that it is a system memory issue, you’ll have to thoroughly test each stick of memory. It is a hassle to test memory on the system, to say the least. I was able to eventually isolate a bad stick. Of course, after I found one bad stick and replaced it, that didn’t resolve the issue. I then rescanned the memory again and found another bad stick. Because I had found there was more than one bad stick, I decided to pull all of the OCZ memory out and replace it with new Corsair memory. Once I did this, my issues all went away.

    You might call a computer repair place and ask if they have a standalone memory tester. If so, take your memory there and have them test each stick to see if you have any bad memory. A standalone tester is a lot faster than using Memtest86 to test it in the computer (which takes hours at a DOS prompt). You can use Memtest86, but be prepared to let it run for a long time (especially if you try to test all of the memory in the system together).

    Of course, this could have all have been resolved rapidly if Windows would occasionally do memory tests in the background while running. Windows could then mark any memory as unusable and still keep the system functioning. But, no. No such thing in Windows. This is yet another reason why Microsoft should not write operating systems.



    • giselle said, on July 4, 2010 at 3:56 am

      microsoft does a heck of a lot better than apple …omg…u had to replace all ur memory just to use itunes…geez..


      • commorancy said, on July 4, 2010 at 4:31 am

        Not exactly. iTunes uncovered the bad RAM. I was already having some weirdness in some of my 3D apps. After iTunes began corrupting the iPod touch and considering other app crashing problems, I decided to replace the system memory. So, I didn’t change it specifically for iTunes. I changed the memory to stabilize my machine. In fact, the only thing iTunes really did was prompt me to run memory tests on the RAM sticks. After I found that the RAM was bad, that’s when I decided to replace.



  14. More42 said, on August 4, 2009 at 8:38 am

    Just wanted to let you know that I have had this exact issue and it was good to see I wasn’t going mad by myself!

    Apple support is non-existent and the Apple discussion forums have not really been any help. The advice all seems to basically telll you to uninstall and re-installiTunes over and over and if that doesn’t work to disable your firewall, update USB drivers or change the USB cable. None of which make any sense.

    Your post makes total sense. Now I just need to work out what’s corrupting the library…

    See: http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2098827&tstart=0


    • giselle said, on July 4, 2010 at 4:05 am

      replace ur corrupt memory in ur hardrive?


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