Move your libraries to an external drive without messing things up

0130 principle internal external hdd

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After reading Move your libraries to a second drive or partition, D.R. Sams, Jr. asked if he could move them to an external hard drive.

It’s easy to understand why people would want to do this. With today’s mobile PCs and the proliferation of SSDs, internal storage capacity is shrinking for the first time since the invention of personal computers. People simply can’t keep all of their music, photos, and videos inside their PCs anymore.

Technically, you can do what I described in that earlier article, telling Windows to look for the library on an external drive. But doing so would be a really bad idea.

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First of all, when the external drive is plugged in, your PC could slow down immensely-- especially if you’re using a USB 2.0 connection. Loading a large file could be an excuse for a coffee break.

But things get worse when the external drive is not plugged in. You’ll have no access to your files, but you will be treated to a lot of error messages.

Luckily, there’s a compromise solution:

Each Windows library can have more than one folder. In fact, they all default to two folders--yours and Shared. You can easily set up a third one.

First, plug in the external drive and create some folders for your new library locations. I recommend you give the folders names that describe their off-board locations, such as External Documents.

Next, move some files and folders from the existing libraries to these new locations. Pick items that you’re not using regularly at the present time, such as old and completed projects, music you don’t listen to all that often, and photos and videos that you’re not currently showing off to friends and family.

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Finally, add these folders to the libraries. In Windows Explorer, right-click Documents in the Libraries section of the Navigation pane (on the left) and select Properties. Don't right-click the Documents folder in the main Explorer window and select Properties there—that will bring you to an entirely different dialog box.

0130 library include a folder

In the correct dialog box, click the Include a folder button.  Then select the external folder. 

Repeat for any other libraries you want to move partially.

How will Windows behave afterwards? When the external drive is attached, opening a library will display all of that library’s locations. In the correct dialog box, click the Include a folder button.  Then select the external folder. No files will be moved after you click OK.

0130 external library result

When it’s not attached, Windows will display only the parts of the library that it can access. 

0130 external library result unattached

The others will be acknowledged with a simple and quiet message: “This folder is unavailable.” That seems like a reasonable compromise to me.

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