How to remove all duplicate files in iTunes for free, while keeping the originals, without having to buy extra software or learn code.

Introduction: The Problem.  

Over the years, you may accidentally create duplicate files by importing the same album multiple times. Especially if your library is old and has been transferred across different hard drives. I for example had simply too much music to fit on my current laptop’s hard drive, so had to buy an extra hard drive. I wanted to have my iTunes library on the extra hard drive, but iTunes kept adding any new material to the iTunes folder on my original hard drive, so the library became split across two drives. When I tried to fix it, through trial and error, I ended up with about five thousand duplicate tracks.  

As you can see iTunes is just full of the same song over and over again, which is cumbersome and impractical.

Worse still, as you can see below, the thousands of duplicates were also on the hard drive, taking up loads of space.

I tried following a bunch of websites and youtube videos with various solutions. Most didn’t work or were so time consuming as to be not worth it, or required the use of additional (usually paid for) software, or knowing how to code. I didn’t want any of that. I wanted to just use iTunes to solve the problem.

After much experimentation and trial and error, I have come up with what I believe to be the fastest solution you can do without using code, script (deduper) or downloading any extra programmes like Gemini. Maybe its faster to do it those ways if you understand script or are willing to pay for programmes, but as I said I want it to do it in the most basic laymans way possible.

There’s basically four (mostly*) quick phases to fixing this problem my way; Which I have jokingly dubbed The Metal-Nerd Method.

Phase one – Prepare iTunes for the new way. This is a 1-2 minute job.

In iTunes click edit > preferences > advanced then click change and chose the new hard-drive location you want your super iTunes library to live in.

Also make surge the tick-box for ‘keep iTunes media folder organised’ is ticked to ‘yes.’ (This will help prevent future duplicates and other shenanigans.

Next, back up your playlists. There’s hundreds of videos and sites online on how to do that, pick one and back them up. I didn’t think of doing it in time, and lost all my playlists, so do not skip this step!

Next, back up your whole iTunes library. Cloud, external hard drive, time machine…whatever your preference. Just back it all up in case you make a mistake and delete something permanently in error.

Ok. Once this preparation has been completed, you can move on to the solution.

Phase two – Identify duplicates. This is a 5 or 10 minute job (If everything goes smoothly*).

Now, you think you could just open iTunes, and click show duplicates. Unfortunately; As you can see, this will display all the duplicates, but beware, it doesn’t differentiate between things that aren’t true duplicates of the exact same file, and includes just songs with duplicate song titles (eg. Remixes, live versions and demos with the same song name are included too, so you could delete something you want to keep if you aren’t careful).

So instead, follow the below instructions to only delete exact copies of the exact same file.

First step is to open iTunes, click on songs, then hold alt+shift and click file>library> show exact duplicates. The ‘exact’ bit is important. Then click the ’same album’ tab (also important, don’t skip this), then sort by artist. That should finally give you a list of your true duplicates, and you can just quickly glance through and check for any mistakes that aren’t true duplicates, but it’s a lot less time consuming and a lot more obvious within this view.

So now you know what your duplicates are, you want to get rid of them.

A lot of videos just say select all then delete. DO NOT DO THIS! – that will delete both the duplicate AND the originals and leave you with nothing!

Some videos tell you that your only option is to ctrl+click every song you want to delete individually, which is all well and good if you only have six duplicates, but I had thousands upon thousands and ‘aint nobody got time to manually select over a thousand files one by one by one by one.

Instead, without exiting your view, create a new iTunes playlist called ‘duplicates,’ and add all the duplicate files from the aforementioned show all exact duplicates > same album view into that new playlist, without exiting your view.  Don’t click anything else in iTunes yet.

Then minimize iTunes and create a new folder on your desktop (or hard drive with the most space) called ‘duplicates’ or something similar.

Excuse the background image!

Then reopen iTunes, select all files in the duplicates playlist, and drag them over to the desktop folder you’ve just created for duplicates.

Ok, so now you have all the duplicates AND the originals (important to remember that!) on your desktop in one folder instead of thousands of different artist folders. Otherwise you’d have to go into every single folder one by one to delete the duplicates. Too time consuming. Then view the folder as thumbnails.

Then resize the folder until you have only two columns. So now, instead of having of individually select every file, you can drag and select which is much faster.

Before doing it though; quickly double check there’s no mistakes (iTunes duplicate finder is unfortunately not 100% accurate and your individual hard drive mess isn’t always even and logical throughout). You’re probably thinking ‘’I don’t have time to look through a thousand files’’ and luckily you can cheat by just quickly checking the first few columns, somewhere in the middle and the last few just to safely ensure that everything lines up nicely with originals on one side and duplicates on the other.  Eg. All the way down, you have ‘songtitle’ next to ‘singtitle 1.’ The one with the number on the end is the duplicate. If you scroll down and you have only one original and one duplicate this is perfect. You’re ready to delete the duplicates.

The whole process up to this point should only have been 5-10 minutes. Skip the following section in brackets if you have only one duplicate and one original all the way down the folder. Follow the next section in brackets if it doesn’t totally perfectly line up origionals with duplicates in two perfect columns all the way down to the end.

[*Optional Phase If Everything Didn’t Go Smoothly: This takes variable times depending on amount of the mess in your particular hard drive and library.

So if you weren’t lucky, and they don’t all line up perfectly, things have not gone smoothly. This is usually because you have some random files iTunes mistakenly thought were duplicates, or you have duplicated something more than once, and so you could then be taking up to an hour to fully fix it depending on how many extra duplicates you have; you’ll have to go through the folder while its set up in two columns, look at the artwork, and scroll until you see the albums stop matching, that’s how you’ll find your random third duplicates or weird exceptions, manually delete those, (in my case some Avenged Sevenfold, Death, and Death Angel albums had more than one duplicate of each song which messed up the flow, and it took me an extra 15-20 minutes to manually find and remove those exceptions, slow and annoying, but still faster than doing it for thousand and thousands in iTunes), and once the oddballs are gone carry on, you have two completely matching columns now]

Phase three – Remove duplicates. This should only take 2-3 minutes.

To delete the duplicates in the duplicate desktop folder, simply drag, scroll and select all the duplicates in the second column, and delete them.

Go back to iTunes, which should still be up and ready to go; still viewing all the identical duplicates in same album, as you only minimized iTunes, so you’re still in the duplicates viewer. Now click select all (that’s both the duplicates AND originals) and select delete all (even the originals) and IMPORTANTLY tick the box that says remove the files from the hard drive. Hooray, all the duplicates and originals are completely gone. However, you want the originals back now.

Phase Four – Restore Originals. This is a 1 minute job.

So finally in iTunes click file>add folder to library, then select the duplicate folder from your desktop, which as established now only contains originals.

Hey presto, iTunes now only has one copy of each file and no duplicates! Success.

Just quickly check you haven’t deleted something by mistake through user error. I deleted two Hirax albums somehow before I even started during my trial and error phase, but you shouldn’t have a trial and error phase if you are just following these instructions.

Ps. If you backed up your playlists (as you should have) then reinstate them. I didn’t think of backing them up, and lost them all, I’m still a little upset about that oversight.

Pps. If anyone can think of a faster way of doing this, or any way to eliminate steps from the process, please comment.

I have a dream of just pressing ctrl+a on the show all exact duplicates > same album view, but instead of it selecting all, it only selecting every-other file, and in that way you just select every other file then delete every other file and it is basically a 30 second job, but as far as I can tell after hours of searching no ctrl+ shortcut exists for ‘select every other file’ unfortunately.

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