Blog Post

Sync Your iPhone/iPod With Any Computer


One thing I have always wanted to do is be able to sync my iPhone or iPod with any computer. Lifehacker had an article a while back on doing this, but the software they used does not support the iPhone or iPod touch. So, I have developed a method to connect any iPod or iPhone to any computer to download the music or movies from that computer to the iPod or iPhone.

Once configured, you only need your iPhone/iPod, the USB sync cable, and a computer with iTunes to implement the hack (the idea being you always have your iPhone or iPod and the person with the computer has the iPod USB cable). It takes about 20 minutes to set this hack up and then only a few seconds to implement each time you would like to use it.

Things to Note

  • If you want to be able to do this hack on both Mac and Windows machines, you’re going to have to configure two separate iTunes libraries: one from a Mac and one from a Windows machine.
  • I was using an iPhone when writing this tutorial, so the iPod directions may vary slightly.
  • If you are using an iPhone or iPod touch: When you sync your device, the account last used to access the iTunes Store from the computer is synced to the mobile device. So make sure you sign out of your friend’s iTunes account before you sync your device, otherwise when you try to download the application via the app store on your phone you will be logged in as them.
  • This method does not work with DRM’ed music.
  • Using this method will let you plug your iPhone/iPod into any computer and listen to the music directly off of it. Whereas before, this was not possible.

What You’ll Need

  • Computer with iTunes
  • iPhone: Wi-Fi, USB cable, iTunes, phone
  • iPod: cable, iTunes, iPod
  • Software (Mac): Smultron, Hex Feind, IpodDisk (Open Source Free Software for Macs)
  • Software (Windows): Hex Edit, Pod to PC

Configure Your iPhone/iPod for Use as External Storage

You are only going to have to configure your iPhone or iPod to be used an external storage once.

  • iPhone: Download & Configure Air Sharing ($4.99)
  • iPod: Setup as hard drive
    1. Connect iPod to computer and open iTunes
    2. iTunes > Preferences > iPod Tab
    3. Click checkbox “Enable disk use”
    4. Close iTunes

Manually Manage Music and Videos On iPhoneiPod

We need to make it so we can simply drag songs onto our iPhone/iPod.

  1. Launch iTunes
  2. Connect iPhone/iPod
  3. Select the “Manually manage my iPhone/iPod” option
  4. Close iTunes

Create an iTunes Index On Your iPhone/iPod

If you want to be able to sync with both Mac and Windows computers you will have to make two separate iTunes index folders: one for the Mac and one for Windows boxes. So, just do this step both a Mac and Windows machine.

  1. Mount your iPhone/iPod as external storage device.
  2. Point the iTunes index to your iPhone/iPod. On a Mac: while holding “option,” double click on your iTunes icon. On a Windows machine: while holding “Shift,” double click on your iTunes icon in your start menu.
  3. A “Choose your library” window will pop up. Select “Create Library.”
  4. Under “Where” select the location on your iPod/iPhone from the pulldown. Save as: “iTunes1”. iTunes will Launch. Close it. If you decide to do this on a Mac and Windows machine, make a folder called “iTunes 1” from the Mac and a folder called “iTunes 2” from the Windows machine.

Editing Files On iPhone/iPod

You are only going to have to edit the files on your iPhone once. We need to edit those files so that whatever computer you connect your device to will think it can sync to your iPhone/iPod. I found this tutorial over at the Shiny Things blog. Thanks Andrew!

  1. On your computer navigate to your iTunes music folder. Macs: User> Music > iTunes. Windows: Music > iTunes.
  2. Right click on “iTunes Music Library.xml” and open it with a text editor (Smultron, or something similar, in OS X and Notepad in Windows)
  3. Look for the “Library Persistent ID”
  4. There will be a string of numbers and letters between the “string” tags. (In the screenshot below it is 2817B0BEDC7A2E5F). Copy this entry to another document for safe keeping.
  5. It’s time to edit the files on your iPhone/iPod. Go ahead and mount your iPhone/iPod and then navigate to the iTunes folder we created earlier.
  6. Find the “iTunes Music Library.xml,” and open it with a text editor.
  7. Look for the “Library Persistent ID.” First, copy whatever is between “string” tags to a text document for safe keeping. Next, Replace whatever is between the “string” tags with our key that we copied earlier. In our example we are replacing the ID on the iPhone/iPod with 2817B0BEDC7A2E5F
  8. Save the file and close it.
  9. Now find the file called “iTunes Music Library” and open it with the Hexeditor mentioned above in “What You’ll Need.” (On a Windows machine it is called “iTunes Music Library.itl”)
  10. Select “Find and Replace” from the Edit menu. Make sure “Hex” matching is selected (not ASCII). In “Find” enter the ID from the iPhone/iPod before we replaced it (The ID we put into a text document in step 7). In Replace, enter the ID we copied from the original computer (in our example it’s 2817B0BEDC7A2E5F). Choose Replace All, there should be one match.
  11. Save the file. Close the Hexeditor.
  12. We are now completely done configuring the iPhone/iPod. If you want to be able to sync to both Windows and Mac machines, make sure the do the all the steps listed above on both machines.

Getting Music From Other Computers (Finally!)

Getting music from computers that are not your home computer is the step that you will have to perform over and over again.

  1. Mount your iPhone (using Air Sharing) or iPod (as an external storage device)
  2. Point the computer’s iTunes index to the one on your iPhone/iPod. Mac: while holding “option,” double click on your iTunes icon. Windows: while holding “Shift,” double click on your iTunes icon in your start menu.
  3. A “Choose your library” window will pop up. Select “Choose Library.”
  4. Navigate to the “iTunes 1” or “iTunes 2” (depending on if you’re on Mac or a Window’s machine) folder on your iPhone/iPod and select “Open”
  5. iTunes will launch
  6. The actual iTunes library will be empty, this is OK. We aren’t adding things to the iTunes library, just to the iPhone/iPod library. Your iPhone/iPod should appear in the left hand column of iTunes. Click on your iPhone’s or iPod’s music library to select it. A playlist should appear in the main iTunes screen with all the music form the iPhone/iPod.
  7. Drag any music you want into your iPhone’s library. Make sure you drag into your iPhone’s/iPod’s library, not the iTunes library.
  8. Since we are loading the library our iPhone/iPod is connected to, not the computer’s local iTunes library, we have to manually locate music on the computer to be able to add it to our iPhone or iPod. In OS X navigate to: User > Music > iTunes > iTunes Music. In Windows navigate to: My Documents > Music > iTunes > iTunes Music.
  9. When you’re done getting music, safely disconnect your iPhone/iPod and close iTunes.
  10. As a final step, we need to point the computer back to its original iTunes library. On a Mac: while holding “option,” double click on your iTunes icon. On a Windows machine: while holding “Shift,” double click on your iTunes icon in your start menu.
  11. A “Choose your library” window will pop up. Select “Choose library.” Point to the iTunes Music folder on their computer (Inside the Music folder on both Mac and PC).

Getting the New Music Back Onto Your Main Computer

iTunes won’t let you take the music off your iPhone/iPod, so we’re going to have to use third party software.

  1. Download iPodDisk (OS X Free Open Source iPod Ripping Software) or Pod to PC (Windows)
  2. I made a playlist on my iPhone called “New” so I know what to download.
  3. Import all songs from the “New” playlist.
  4. Empty the “New” playlist so that you do not accidentally download the same songs next time you sync.

And there you have it! I know it’s a lot to digest, so please let me know if you have any questions in the comments.

Related GigaOM Pro Content: Forget Syncing, Let’s Put Music in the Cloud!

149 Responses to “Sync Your iPhone/iPod With Any Computer”

  1. Hey! I have a new computer and NO idea of what my old computer’s ID was. (i don’t have access to it anymore). Any chance I can find out the old computer’s iTunes hex ID from my iPhone somehow?

  2. Yeah, this would be cool if “The API gives access to every music video in the MTV archive” but that’s not true. It doesn’t even look like it shares the same database with the actual site. For instance, try searching for “shanice” using the API. Watcha get? Nada. Search for “shanice” on the site – you get 3 videos. It doesn’t even include her best video “When I close My Eyes” – but that’s a different issue.

  3. Lol man dis process looked soooo fun! It actually wuld hav made me feel lyke a hacker!!! Bt itz also VERY difficult. Datz y took da liberty of going to the source. APPLE.COM. On apple it sayz dat all u havta do iz sync ur ipod with the otha computer and change tha sycn setting to MANUAL mode. Dat way ur ipod wont automatically sync dat iTunes library with ur ipods which iz MUCH more simpler den dissecting iTunes to get ur own songz.. Follow dis plan and i GUARANTEE it’ll work. It’ll do most of the work in half that time.

    • What on earth, man? Why are you writing like that? First of all, half the words you write arnt evun eny showrtr the wayz ur writtin dems. Second of all, it takes so long to decrypt your words that people don’t want to even bother reading what you have to say. It’s not a text message–it’s a blog.

    • Gonzobot

      Except then you lose all the stuff you already put on your iPod, and you get the host computer’s library instead. Then when you get home and sync, you lose everything you just got, and get back everything you had originally.

      Dumbass. Why do you think this had to be backdoored, if it was as simple as you think it is?

  4. thanx for the info, but does syncing my ipod to say my friend’s computer affect his ipod syncing to his computer? I know my ipod will be recognized by these 2 machines, but I don’t want to screw up the actual owner’s computer so that they can’t sync their own ipod. It’s a cool feature, but It still looks sketchy to me and Apple should quit supporting what idiotic artists have to say and cut to the chase. As if they never reproduced tapes or cds in their life time, which is technically according to their idea, illegal. So yeah, thanks for the details, I appreciate it very much!

  5. Ok I downloaded all the applications required for Mac users. However under where you mention configuring the iPod for use as an external storage device, step 2 and 3 lost me totally. I cannot find an “iPod tab” or the checkbox “Enable disk use” anywhere in the iTunes preferences. I have my iPod connected to my Mac. I don’t know if the versions matter, but my iTunes version is 8.2.1, one of the latest if not up to date, and my iPod is a 2nd gen nano 8Gig.
    Can someone help me out here please? Am I missing something?

    • @ ak: the “Enable disk use” checkbox can only be selected when you have your iPod/iPhone selected in iTunes. If you click on whatever is showing under DECIVES on the left side of the iTunes GUI, you have tabbed options for the device itself. In the first tab, is where you’ll find the checkbox, under “Manually manage music and videos.”

  6. i use xplay and the original usb cable as it created a drive letter with usb access.
    alls i do is drag my music off to a folder
    use itunes to import purchaced products (for the applications)
    and drag the music to the itunes folder

    this way if i want something i dont have alls i have to do is the above to the persons computer in question, and sync up

    and when im home drag what i recieved to itunes after to a folder
    and resync.

    the small snag is xplay isnt free. But the plus is, its HASTLE free.
    no wireless or bluetooth needs, usb and bingo direct connection.

    hope this helps if jen’s solution is awkward to implement on your computer or your friends computer.

    im not saying my way is better, but it is less steps and doesnt require internet if u have the requirements on disk or usb


    xp needs windows media player 11 (xplay requires this to install)
    vista will have this.

    any iphone ready itunes will work i would suggest 8.x or higher for newer iphones

    thats all i needed and it worked..

    linux support is harder and requires wireless atm
    checkout ubuntu forums for this if u need it (it is based on the gnome way)


  7. Nevermind, I didn’t RTFM on Air Sharing! For others who run into this, you need to open a Windows Explorer window and select Tools->Map Network Drive. Then assign a driver letter (such as I:) to the path (http://10.x.x.x:8080 as shown by Air Sharing). Then you’ll see the drive as I: in your Windows Explorer view.

    On opening iTunes I didn’t hold Shift long enough. Hold it for a few seconds while iTunes loads and it’ll prompt you to create a library. Thanks! Nice tutorial here.

  8. I can’t figure out how to do the steps in “Create an iTunes Index On Your iPhone/iPod” on an iPhone with Windows Vista. How do you mount the iPhone as an external storage device? Air Share seems to only give an http link to access the phone.

    Also holding Shift and double-clicking on the icon is not bringing up the prompt in iTunes to change libraries. Is there another way to do this?

  9. krishan

    super great product if you know how to use it!!! you can transfer all your tracks from the iphone to itunes in couple of easy steps!!!!

  10. I got a new computer, and I had to move the whole library onto this. Finally this iPhone transfer program helped me out.
    It has helped me transfer all songs, videos, photos, podcasts and more from my iPhone to my new computer and iTunes. Now I can sync with it smoothly. I think if you need to upload files from iPhone to pc, it will help you a lot.

  11. I am assuming this is for people that also want those library items (music/podcasts/videos, etc.) available to use ON the iPhone, not just for transferring them between computers. Just checked out SwapTunes on Cydia… if freakin’ rules! No hex edit, etc. just install on your jailbroken iphone, and walla! 2 libraries on 1 phone :)

    Personally running an app off a jump drive that copies music files seems rediculous, but I suppose that may be necessary for people that actually BUY music of iTunes…

  12. I Have Almost Successfully Put Together An App Where All You Have To Do Is Type In Your Libary Id And It Will Create A New Blank Libary For You And It Has A Portable Itunes So This Proccess Becomes A Whole Lot Easier For More Info Email Me At [email protected]

  13. Good tip. I was going to suggest skipping the hex editor and just figuring out what your ID translated to in ASCII, but while Mac Calculator will show you the ASCII representation of a hex code it won’t let you copy so I guess downloading a hex editor is just as easy as getting a new calculator.

  14. wildbill

    hey all:

    the company that makes the missing sync – markspace – is working on two-way sync for iphone and ipod. they already have a line of free apps called Fliq for iphone/ipod touch that let you do many things with music, video, photos, notes, tasks and docs, including sharing them with others over a wifi
    check it out

  15. this is great, just imagine: i constantly want to put music on my iPhone at work and get it down at home. until now, i use the “swaptunes” app (only for jailbroken phones), basically it copies the iTunes library on the phone and you can switch to either one of them. this solution here seems to be more elegant, but also complicated… maybe someday there will be an app for that, too (and not just fot farts ;)

  16. This seems like a lot of work. When I want to transfer music off of another computer, I simply use an external USB hard drive. In Vista: Go to iTunes, select a play list. When the play list is open, hit shit, and press the down arrow key, until all of the songs that you want are highlighted. If you have only one monitor, you need to have your iTunes window minimized somewhat, so that you can see your desktop. Create an iTunes folder on your desktop, and drag the highlighted songs into the folder. Next, go to “computer,” find the icon for your USB drive, and open it, then drag the contents of the folder on your desktop into it. Once it’s copied the songs, plug the USB hard drive into the other computer, go to the “file” tab in iTunes, and select “add file to library.” Navigate to the USB drive, select the songs, and you are done. It sounds like a lot of steps but it only takes about two minutes.

  17. I understand the process but I don’t really get how this is useful.

    I’m sure I’m not getting something as to develop this must have taken some time and brain power and wouldn’t just be for nothing