iTunes: Using Home Sharing to Sync Content

If you’re unfamiliar with Home Sharing (a feature that we’ve been enjoying since iTunes 9), then man, are you multiple-Mac families missing a great thing. Not only can you use it to listen to or watch your iTunes content across multiple devices (including the Apple TV), you can also copy media between up to five household Macs at will. If you’re unsure about how to set it up, Apple’s posted a how-to, and the venerable Ted Landau also wrote an extensive article on it right here at TMO.

Here’s the thing, though—how do you keep media synced between computers? Once you’ve pulled music from your wife’s Mac, say, to yours, how do you make sure that anything she buys from now on is on your Mac, too? Here’s an easy way to do it. First, set up Home Sharing with the steps outlined in either of the articles mentioned above, and then as long as iTunes is running on both machines (and they’re on the same network), you should see your other Mac’s library show up under “Shared” in your iTunes sidebar.

Click on either the whole library or a subsection beneath it, and you’ll see three important buttons near the bottom of the window.

Import is pretty obvious—select one or multiple items, and then click that button to add them to your library. The other two, though, are gifts from the media-syncing gods. Toggle the Show drop-down menu to “Items not in my library,” and you’ll automatically know how much you share with the other member of your household by the updated numbers that’ll appear.

In my house, apparently, we don’t have much in common. What the heck is Tuvan throat-singing, anyhow?

If you’d like, you can then just hit Command-A to select everything and click the Import button to pull it all in at once. 

After you’ve done that, click on Settings. In the box that pops up, you can choose the purchased media types that you want to automatically transfer from now on. So when your spouse buys a movie, a song, or whatever you choose here, it’ll download into your library, too.

Here are a few caveats for you (there’s always a catch, isn’t there?). First, iTunes won’t warn you if you already have the stuff you’re importing, so if you don’t use the “Items not in my library” view, you could end up with a pretty messy collection of duplicates to wade through.

Secondly, for purchased items to transfer from one Mac to another, both of them have to be on the same network and running iTunes. So you could occasionally open the program on both machines and let it do its thing for a little while just to get them to transfer content again.

Also, any media you “acquire” from other “sources” will not transfer automatically—you’ll have to move that manually. I’m not judging—after all, you could be buying your non-iTunes media legitimately. I trust you guys to behave.