iTunes: Exporting playlists with relative paths

TL;DR; A way of exporting iTunes playlists with relative paths is described here.

iTunes Export

Once upon a time I wrote a little tool for exporting playlists from Songbird/Nightinale. After migrating to iTunes, I was looking for a tool that provides the same functionality for iTunes. Fortunately, there already is one: iTunes Export. It’s twofold – you can either use a UI or a console version. I’m more the console type of guy, so my choice is clear. The latest release, version 2.2.2, was released in 2010, almost 5 years ago… and it still works with iTunes 12.1.2 – it’s a miracle! And it’s fast – my approximately 100 playlists are exported in less than 2 minutes.

Relative Playlist workaround

Among all those parameters of iTunes export, there is none for creating relative playlists, though. However, we can use a workaround for achieving this, by combining the musicPath and musicPathOld parameters. Here’s what the doc says:

  • musicPath
    iTunes Export will use the absolute location of your music files in the playlist. iTunes Export accepts a command line parameter that will override this default. Example:

    java -jar itunesexport.jar -musicPath="c:\My Music Directory"
  • musicPathOld
    Tunes Export will only apply the prefix to tracks stored in the directory configured in iTunes as the iTunes Music Folder location. Files stored in a different directory will not have the prefix applied.If you only wish to override a portion of the music path you can specifi the musicPathOld parameter. iTunes Export will replace this path with the musicPath parameter instead of replacing the default music path.

    java -jar itunesexport.jar -musicPathOld="c:\My Old Path"

A bit complicated, eh?!

Exporting playlists with relative paths by example

I’ll point out how we can use those parameters by a small example. Imagine the following folder structure

D:\Music\
  Playlists\
  Artist1\ 
    Song1.ext
  Artist2\
    Album\
      Song2.ext
  iTunes
    iTunes Library.xml

If we had a playlist call playlistX that contained Song1 and Song2 (anyone remember a band called Blur? 🙂 ) and we would export it without further parameters to the Playlists folder, it would look like this:

D:\Music\Artist1\Song1.ext
D:\Music\Artist2\Album\Song2.ext

What we’re going to do is replace the absolute part with a relative one (in respect to the destination folder for playlists). In our example: Replace “D:\Music” by “..” because it’s the parent folder of “D:\Music\Playlists“. That’s exactly what the parameters mentioned above are for! musicPathOld is the the part that is going to be replaced by musicPath. Speaking of which, our call to iTunesExport looks like this:

java -jar itunesexport.jar -library="D:\Music\iTunes\iTunes Library.xml" -outputDir="D:\Music\Playlists" -musicPath=".." -musicPathOld="D:\Music"

and results in the file D:\Music\Playlists\playlistX.m3u

..\Artist1\Song1.ext
..\Artist2\Album\Song2.ext
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Migrating from Songbird/Nightingale to iTunes

TL;DR; If you still use Songbird or Nightingale and want to migrate your music database to iTunes, start reading here.

Bye-bye Songbird, bye-bye Nightingale

Is anyone out there still using Nightingale or even Songbird? I started using Songbird in 2009 (or even earlier) and switched to Nightingale in 2013. All that time I loved the open source approach of both applications and even contrtibuted a bit myself. However, there also were a lot of drawbacks like performance, incompatibilities of addons after each new version, etc. Speaking of addons – the idea of a modular media player that is extensible just like Firefox or Thunderbird is wonderful. However, it seems to me there’s not much of a community left that releases addons for Nightingale. One of my favorites used to be MLyrics, which was last released in 2013 and doesn’t work properly anymore in the current version of Nightingale (at least for me). Still, there seems to be some development going on. Same goes for the core media player software itself: We all know that Songbird was discontinued in 2013 and the last release of Nightingale was published in January, 2014. Even though there also seems to be some development going on, I lost hope that there will be better usability at some point. So I finally decided with a heavy heart to move on. Nevertheless, I’d like to say thank you to all the Nightingale developers for their strong efforts to keep the dream of a real open source alternative for iTunes alive.

Is there a better alternative to Nightingale? That question I cannot answer properly. My reasons for migrating to iTunes are that it has been maintained by a huge company for years and it’s one of the most popular media players around. So hopefully, it might get along better with my rather huge media library in terms of performance. Plus it is the only tool that is capable of feeding my iPod Nano 6 :-/

Technical approaches of migrating to iTunes

Leaving sentimentality behind – how to migrate from Songbird/Nightingale to iTunes?

One of the nice things about Songbird/Nightingale is their SQLite database. I already worked with it before when creating a playlist exporter for Songbird using the java programming language. It’s always a good idea not to reinvent the wheel. So after extracting the database wrapper into a separate project – songbirdDbApi4j (right now, I really wonder why I named it like this 😮 ) – we’re halfway done with the Songbird to iTunes migration. Almost.

The other half – importing to iTunes was a bit more challenging. iTunes stores its database in an XML file. So one approach is to access this XML directly, just like tools such as iTunesExport. However, this file is generated by iTunes merely for the purpose of exporting, the actual database is stored in the ITL file. It would be possible to recreate the ITL from the XML, but this approach is not very convenient. So a different approach might be more suitable here: on Windows, iTunes offers a COM Interface. It’s poorly documented but fortunately, the developers of COM4j implemented it as one of their sample projects. In order to ease the use of this API, I create a very basic Java wrapper for iTunes’ COM API (itunes4j).

Almost done! What’s missing is a bit of glue logic that reads all files, some of their attributes and all playlists from songbird using songbirdDbApi4j and adds them to iTunes via iTunes4j.

Migrating to iTunes

After a lot of empirical studies and nightly test migrations, I’m proud to present a tool for migrating from songbird to iTunes: songbird2itunes. In case there happen to be any other Nightingale survivors out there that run on Windows and would like to migrate their music database to iTunes, you might just give it a go!

I did my best to make it a resilient migration tool. Still, there might be errors. So:

  1. Double check if you really want to leave Nightingale behind
  2. Make sure to read the wiki first. If you’re sure you want to do this, start the migration as described there.
  3. When the migration is done, check if the statistics show any warnings.
  4. If so, look for WARN in the songbird2itunes.log and see if those are not critical for you.
  5. In case of error, please fix it and contribute 🙂
  6. Manually check your new iTunes library, making sure everything is as expected