How to Fix iTunes When It’s Not Syncing with iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch

Jun 30, 2013 - 39 Comments

iOS is obviously going in the direction of not needing iTunes at all, but in the meantime you still need to sync an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to copy over music libraries, videos, media, perform local backups, apps, and more. Typically iTunes will sync with an iOS device without incident, but sometimes things go awry, and iTunes just won’t sync at all. If you find yourself in that frustrating situation, here is what you can do to fix it and get the iPhone, iPod, or iPad syncing with iTunes on a Mac or PC again.

Fix iTunes when it won't sync

We’re going to cover a variety of troubleshooting tricks to fix the syncing problem here, try each in descending order until the problem is resolved. Do note this guide is aimed at resolving actual syncing problems (ie: the transfer of data between iTunes and the computer), not at problems with detecting the devices themselves. If iTunes won’t even find an iOS device, refer to this guide to resolve detection related problems.

Before Beginning: Update to the Newest iTunes

Before trying anything else, be sure you have the newest version of iTunes on the computer. This applies to both Mac OS X and Windows. Sometimes just updating to the newest version of iTunes is enough to resolve all syncing problems, particularly if the desktop software hasn’t been updated in a while. You can always download the newest version of iTunes directly from Apple by clicking here. Update iTunes before proceeding.

1: Quit & Relaunch iTunes, Then Perform a Manual Sync

Simply quit out of iTunes, then relaunch the app, and try syncing again. Sometimes this is enough to get things working again.

1b: Syncing Works But No Music / Movies / Apps Copy Over to iOS?

If syncing now works but no content, music, apps, or movies is moving over to the iPhone, iPad, or iPod, check the following:

  • Under the “Summary” tab, check if “Manually manage music and videos” is enabled or not, if it is then try toggling it off and on again then manually drag a song or movie over to the iOS device to force manual syncing
  • Look under the “Music”, “Movies”, “Apps”, “TV Shows” or respective tabs and be sure that “Sync Music”, “Sync Movies” etc is checked and enabled
  • Try checking and unchecking those boxes, then hit the “Sync” button again

These content and media transfer issues are often just a misunderstanding of how those preferences work. Personally, I prefer to manually sync my music and media, so I have all of the individual content sync features disabled and sync everything myself through drag & drop.

2: Re-Authorize iTunes & the Computer

If syncing fails, the Sync button is greyed out and not available at all, or if you try to sync and nothing transfers over to the iPhone, iPod, or iPad, you may simply need to authorize the computer with iTunes:

  • Open iTunes with the iOS device attached to the computer through USB
  • Pull down the “Store” menu and choose “Deauthorize This Computer”
  • Now go back to the Store menu and choose “Authorize This Computer”
  • Fill in the Apple ID and password information, then choose “Authorize”

Authorize the Computer with iTunes to Sync

This is a surprisingly common problem and it’s extremely easy to resolve. iTunes Authorization basically tells Apple that the apps, music, and media you have purchased belong to you, and that you have the rights to them and thus that media can be copied and synced to your iOS devices.

If you encounter authorization specific problems related to the 5 device limit, you may need to deauthorize other machines before you are able to sync the iOS device with the current one.

2: Reboot the iOS Device

Restarting an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch is just a matter of Holding down the Power button and Home button simultaneously until the device restarts. Technically, that approach is called a Hard Reboot because it forcibly restarts the iOS device, but in situations where things are acting up, crashing, or just not behaving properly, it’s usually more effective to force reboot than to use the standard power-off approach.

Force reboot an iPad

Once the iOS device has been restarted, try syncing again.

3: Restart the Computer

Yes restarting the computer can be annoying, but sometimes just restarting a Mac or PC is enough to resolve the problem and get things syncing again. This is particularly true if the issue has to do with a malfunctioning daemon like the iTunesHelper Service or the AppleMobileDevice Helper process.

4: Try the Opposite Syncing Method: Wi-Fi or USB

Typically use Wi-Fi Syncing? Try using a USB cable instead. Usually use a USB cable? Try using Wi-Fi syncing instead to see if that works. USB syncing is usually the most reliable method, and it’s not terribly uncommon for wi-fi sync to be a bit more picky.

4b: Wireless Syncing Randomly Stopped Working

If you find wireless sync to suddenly stop working, you typically just have to toggle the feature on and off again to get it functioning again, which must be done by connecting the iPhone, iPad, or iPod to the computer by USB and rechecking the “Sync over Wi-Fi” option again under the Summary tab. This is basically like enabling it again for the first time, and only takes a moment:

Toggle wireless syncing on and off

With wireless syncing, be sure that both the iOS device and the computer are on the same wireless network. It will not work if they are not joined to the same network.

If USB syncing isn’t working but Wi-Fi syncing is working, then you may have a faulty USB cable, or there may be an issue with the USB port you are attempting to use, and that leads us to the next troubleshooting tip.

5: Try a Different USB Port & USB Cable

Sometimes USB ports go bad, and though it’s pretty rare it’s very easy to rule out. All you need to do is switch the USB cable from one port to another and see if it works.

Also, try using a different USB cable entirely, whether it’s another Lightning cable or the old-fashioned 30-pin adapters. Some of the cheaper third party cables are notorious for not working properly and leading to syncing problems, and even some of the Apple branded cables can malfunction after they’ve been in use for a long time, especially if you see a weird kink in the cable itself or any fraying in the physical cable.

6: Reset & Restore the iOS Device

Still having problems? Try resetting and restoring the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. The best way to do this is through a three step process to preserve your data through a backup, then reset it to as new, then restore from a backup:

  • Create a new fresh backup of the iOS device, either to iTunes or to iCloud
  • After the backup is complete, reset to factory defaults from the device itself by going to Settings > General > “Erase All Content and Settings” – this will erase everything on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod and return it to the factory defaults as if the device was brand new, which is why it’s important to have created a backup first
  • Now restore the iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch by using the backup you just created, this can be restored through iTunes or iCloud from the initial setup menus

Restore from a Backup

Backing up to iCloud and restoring from iCloud is often the most simple process, but it can be slightly slower than using iTunes because it must transfer all of the data over the internet rather than a local USB connection. On the other hand, if you have a faulty USB connection, then the iTunes method will not be possible and you’ll have to use iCloud instead. Both ways work basically the same, so it’s really a matter of preference as to what you choose.

Resetting and restoring is the last troubleshooting step you should take yourself, and if things still are not working properly then go ahead and contact the official Apple support line or visit a Genius Bar to get things sorted out.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

39 Comments

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  1. David says:

    I did everything on this list and all that happened is everything that I had on my iPhone that was not purchased got deleted and some songs I did purchase were taken off. Apple needs to stop toying with iTunes and just keep it the way it was, it’s complete durken now.

  2. michael says:

    does not sync at all
    i get error message: The iPod “michael’s iPod” could not be synced because the sync session failed to start.
    i have the newest version and i dont have a backup cause thats what im trying to make.

  3. HP says:

    I was having issues with a new iPhone 5c not syncing to my computer. iTunes kept telling me my computer wasn’t authorised, but when I authorised it again it said it was already authorised. Tried restarting both devices and nothing worked.

    It managed to complete the back up stage of syncing before the error message appeared, so I took a small risk and restored my iPhone, then restored using the backup that had (thankfully) been created. Then everything synced perfectly.

    Not sure why it happened but thanks to this website it’s now fixed :)

    • Scott says:

      Thanks for this tip HP, I had the same problem with my computer telling me it wasn’t authorised when it was. Followed your tip on restoring iphone to original settings and then restored with the back up on iTunes and now syncing fine. Bit complicated with apple settings. No wonder so many people change…

  4. camille says:

    I tried everything on the list and the final option worked. I restored my IPOD and IPHONE to factory setting and it worked. Thank you

  5. Geoff says:

    Had to remove all my music from my iPhone, before it would finally start to sync again.
    new phone, new iMac, you think they would work flawless.

  6. Tom says:

    The solution that worked for me was to touch and hold a app on the iPhone screen until it jiggled. This allows you the option of deleting the app on the phone. I deleted all the apps off the phone that could be deleted in this way . The iPhone now syncs perfectly and all the apps were then reloaded from my iTunes library.
    Hope this helps

  7. Charlie says:

    Like pretty much every other comment here none of this worked for me.

  8. b9b9b9 says:

    for me (ipad2-ios704) was enough to perform a backup and then restore… ipad rebooted and it synced automatically!!

    thanks!

  9. Richard Muster says:

    Hi i have also sync problems with my iPad 2.

    The music pieces are from an original CD. They show up in iTunes on the PC. After syncing they are on the iPad but grey and I cannot play them. There is also a red square on the line.

    Has anybody experienced the same ?

    Regards

    Richard

  10. John H says:

    My sync only goes in one direction, from iPhone 5 to the PC. I have synced every which way but I can’t get the songs on the PC to my iPhone. What am I missing?

  11. Carter T says:

    My iPhone5 was failing to sync songs and new playlists. I tried most of these suggestions but had to resort to the the full Reset and Restore before seeing Music brought up to date. Many of my third-party apps are still getting loaded one hour after this processed started, my net connection is one of the slower ones.

    Still, thanks very much for this page.

  12. Carter T says:

    Oops, just realized my 747 songs are still getting loaded too, that’s why those apps are loading so slowly.

  13. Anita says:

    My problem was apps on my iPad would not sync to iTunes. A simple backup and restore on iTunes (without completing restoring the iPad) worked for me. Thank you for the insights!

  14. Rae says:

    I tried all the options and once I did the “reset” option, I managed to back up my songs but now that my ipod returned to it’s factory settings, all the songs that were erased won’t re-sync. A window keeps popping up saying ” The ipod “RaeRae’s ipod” cannot be synced. You do not have the privileges to make these changes.” and it also said I could not copy my disc ( my ipod ), apparently I don’t have the privilege to make those changes either.

    What now?

  15. ChrissyMM says:

    Thank you so much! Just the simple tip of quitting and restarting iTunes fixed it.

  16. Tom says:

    Thank god I chose the simplicity and ease of use of Apple! At least, I thought that was what I did. When I first bought an iPod and downloaded iTunes years ago, it just seemed to work. Now using apple products is like working with MS 15 years ago.
    There used to be pride and value in the seamless integration and the simplicity for the user. Now we are all accepting that we need to run through checklists like the one above to get our music and tv-shows to sync, as if we were preparing to take off in a B-747.
    Can we please just get stuff that WORKS!! Turn on, plug in, plug out, watch show…

  17. jis521 says:

    Thanks. it was quite helpful.
    I fixed it.

  18. Tommy says:

    This is getting pathetic. I must of spend over 40 hrs trying to sync my music to my iPhone since os7. I’ve been using Apple product since Apple II and never been this frustrated. This stuff is just suppose to work right? Even OS X is becoming a bit of a nightmare since Mountain Lion. I now need 16mb of ram just to run Maverick with Photoshop and Lightroom where as 8 will do with Mountain lion. Just getting too tired to solve issues. No one over 50 knows how to run these products anymore. I have lost fate in Apple’s future, they are becoming just another Microsoft. Remember these are tools for streamlining life, but the tools itself now needs constant managing. Who’s got time for this?

  19. Jonathan Saltzman says:

    Another solution after restoring from backups, restore as New iPhone, etc., checking and unchecking the options under Summary, I finally went to the top iTunes menu bar > File > Home Sharing and TURNED IT OFF. (I was using it with my Apple TV.) Suddenly all 3329 videos and music files would sync to my iPhone 5S. Voodoo, man. I guess the lesson learned is don’t sync your iPhone if Home Sharing is turned ON for your Apple TV. Turn it off while syncing to the iPhone.

  20. Frankbert1 says:

    Hi, I have the latest iTunes version and having issues syncing my iPhone 4S. I have followed all the steps up to Step 3. When I attempt to sync i get the following error message:

    “Resource Not Found: Unable to load SyncUICoreLocalized.dll”

    Any support is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks in advance,

    Frank

  21. dean lear says:

    I was having major problems with syncing and I tried absolutely everything I could think of. Then I turned my iPhone off and on again, while it was plugged into the computer with iTunes open. When the device reappeared, syncing worked! Maybe someone else out there will find this method successful.

  22. Antonio says:

    Great it worked. Thank you.

  23. michel-ki says:

    3 days ago (after installing Spotify on my Iphone 4s and my Macbook Pro), Itunes doesn’t synchronize with neither my Ipad, my ipod touch, nor my iphone.
    Whenever my computer detects and loads my connected device, in the “activity monitor” a “crashreport” pops up that sucks 105% of my CPU haha. I have to eject my device in order to prevent my computer from overheating.
    The “other” section of my devices is going crazy, sometimes says I am over capacity even though I didn’t sync any new conetent on it.
    When I press sync, in the top middle of the itunes window the Synchronization wants to start and immediately stops, without any effects on my devices.
    Itunes seems to be the issue.
    Admietedly I am running still an old version 6 on my apple devices, my macbook is running on 10.6.8. … worked until 3 days ago … and as I said the only change to my systems was installing spotify …
    Any idea how to solve THAT?

    • michel-ki says:

      O, – and since I just can’t sync ANYTHING I also can not change my setting to “sync via wlan” … therefore I can’t try out that option I guess right?
      haha… damn… I believe my Itunes has an issue, not be Iphone..

  24. Lisa says:

    Anyone have a problem with there sync button being greyed out. I cannot get my phone or my pad to sync. Even option under file is greyed out.

  25. Al says:

    Ios8 and iMac 10.6.8 I think. Two weeks ago it won’t sync music or film. Let’s me choose to but soon as sync button is pressed the data bar at the bottom says “other” and the sync button is greyed out. It happens immediately. I’ve tried all the options.

  26. m~Wax says:

    The deauthorize—authorize trick did it for me.

    Thanks a lot.

  27. O Akilo says:

    My ipad 2 ios8.0 could not sync complete and keep on popping out with “my computer not authorized” so I authorize it, yet the message persisted, can somebody help me out

  28. Dennis Marauszwski says:

    The new itunes upgrade (downgrade) sucks !!!! I’ve never had more problems trying to sync my 4S.

  29. Jasper says:

    I have a problem because i just synced a file into my ipad air (im using the latest version of itunes), but when i synced it again it said i had to authorize my computer and ive authorized and de-authorized it a couple of times already. Ive restarted and resetted my ipad but nothing happened and ive done everything on the lsit but the same thing happened

  30. Dimitri says:

    Shame on Apple. They simply do not care about their customers. I love my ipod classic. It is an Apple product right Apple? iTunes will not sync with it rendering it useless because after the newest update it will not communicate with it and it corrupts the itunes files in my PC so the iPod cannot be recognized. How many times do you think your customers can wipe itunes and install it again to make it work as your pathetic support reccomends? I have to do it every time I want to add music to my library. Fix it jack!

  31. Huey says:

    none of this worked.

  32. Shawn says:

    I have more songs on my phone than on my computer, how is this even possible? I have like 1000 songs on my phone but only 200 on my iTunes on my computer. How can I make sure both are the same at 1000 songs? Sync didn’t work and neither did anything else on the list.

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