By Joseph Moran
If you have an iPod, then you almost certainly also have a computer running iTunes that’s storing your music collection. A PC running iTunes gives you the option to enjoy headphone-free listening, but access to music need not be limited to a single PC. If you’d also like to have your music available from other computers on your network, the iTunes sharing feature makes that possible.
What follows is a description of how to set up and use iTunes sharing with the Windows version of the software, although the process is pretty much the same when using the Mac version or when sharing between the two.
Begin by firing up iTunes on the computer that contains the music you want to share. Choose Edit, Preferences, and click the Sharing tab, then click Share My Library on My Local Network. The default option is to share the entire library, but by selecting Share Selected Playlist you can limit what material will be available to other systems. If you want a modicum of control over who will be able to remotely access your iTunes library, you can also specify a password. Other users will see the library name specified within the General tab, which you can edit as desired.
When you first enable iTunes Sharing, you’ll have to acknowledge a dialog box that reminds you sharing is for personal use only. Note that iTunes sharing doesn’t actually copy any files, it only streams them. It also allows a maximum of five systems to be connected to a single library, although this doesn’t include the system where the library is located. When iTunes sharing is enabled, the Sharing tab will report how many users are connected. (iTunes sharing uses Apple’s own Bonjour network protocol.)
Once iTunes sharing is set up you’ll need to make sure iTunes is installed on any other systems from which you want to access your music. (You can find the latest version of the software at www.apple.com/itunes/download.) Computers don’t necessarily need to be running identical versions of iTunes for sharing to work properly, but if the system with the library is running a particularly old version (say, anything prior to v7) it might be a good idea to update it.
To access a shared iTunes library from another system on your network, simply launch iTunes, and the library will appear under the Shared heading. iTunes should detect shared libraries automatically, but if you don’t see one, go to the Sharing tab and verify that the Look for shared libraries option is checked. If you still don’t see the shared library, or you see the library name but can’t access anything on it, it could be due to a software firewall running back on the host computer.
That’s not likely — we didn’t have any problems setting up iTunes sharing on systems running Norton Internet Security 2008 and 2009. However, in some cases you may need to create an exception rule for the iTunes.exe application on your firewall.
When you click a shared library entry, its contents should appear after a short delay (especially with extremely large libraries or sluggish network connections). Clicking the triangle next to the library name will display all the available content categories and playlists, while double-clicking the library name will open it in a separate window. This is useful if your system has its own library or there are other shared libraries you want to see at the same time.
When browsing a shared library, keep in mind that you can view its contents only as a list. The grid and Cover Flow formats are disabled, although you can still use the iTunes search feature. Most of the audio file formats supported by iTunes (e.g., AAC, MP3, WAV and AIFF) as well as QuickTime video files are accessible via a shared library. Content purchased through Audible.com, which seems to include most of the audiobooks offered for sale through the iTunes store, isn’t sharable.
One final note on sharing. Due to copy protection, the computer doing the playback must be authorized for your iTunes account in order to play any kind of purchased content, be it audio or video. You can do this in advance by selecting Authorize Computer from the Store menu, otherwise you’ll be prompted to authorize the system the first time you try to access protected material. Also, be aware that that Apple allows only five machines to be authorized per account.
Joseph Moran is a regular contributor to PracticallyNetworked.