Getting iTunes WiFi Sync to Work

If you store and manage your music library on your computer using iTunes, getting music to your iPhone/iPad/iPod is much less annoying if you use WiFi Sync. Assuming you have a decent WiFi network, WiFi syncing is much faster than it is over USB. And once you set up WiFi Sync, you never have to connect your iDevice to your computer to sync again. For that matter, if you have a newer iPhone with wireless charging and you use Bluetooth headphones, you never have to plug anything into your phone again! No more replacing worn out Lightning cables, no more replacing expensive iDevices because of Lightning port rot, no more searching for lost dongles…. Life is good!

Yes, when WiFi Sync works, it’s great. The problem is that WiFiSync doesn’t work reliably. And unfortunately, Apple is more interested in locking you into their profitable online services by getting you to store everything in “the cloud” than they are in fixing WiFi Sync. Apple’s official Sync support page provides no help at all. But through trial and error, I’ve learned a few things that can help.

Here are a few basic principles (Note: I run iTunes on Windows. The principles are the same for Mac users, but the details may be different.):

  • Make sure iTunes on your computer and iOS on your device are both up to date. (Earlier versions might require jumping through different hoops to get sync to work.)
  • Make sure your device and your computer are both on the same local network.
  • Make sure your device has a good WiFi connection. If you have a 5GHz connection available, use it (2.4GHz connections are often noisy and unreliable, especially in urban areas).
  • You’ll be better off using Ethernet to connect your computer to the local network if possible.
  • DO NOT install iTunes for Windows from the Microsoft Store. Download the installer directly from Apple.
  • Enable ipv6 support on your local network if possible. WiFi sync can work without ipv6, but I’ve found that iTunes is much more likely to find my devices with it turned on. A DNSServiceResolve error appears much more often when ipv6 is not available:

You have to do the initial set up for WiFi Sync with iTunes using a USB cable. First, connect your iOS device to your computer with the cable, then open iTunes and click the device icon to select your device. (If your device doesn’t appear, Apple has some tips)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is see-devices.jpg

Then click Summary on the left side of the iTunes window, select the “Sync with this [device] over Wi-Fi” checkbox, and click “Apply”.

Afterward, the iOS device should appear in iTunes even if it’s not connected via cable as long as the computer and the iOS device are on the same local network. (If iTunes can’t see the device, you can’t sync.)

Once everything is set up, you can start WiFi Sync from either your device or iTunes. I find it best to attempt to sync from my device first. In my experience, if I can start the sync from my device, it almost always works.

UPDATE: In iOS 13, Apple has removed the ability to start WiFiSync from your device. (Contact Apple to tell them how stupid this was.) If you have problems with sync, the only thing you can do now is restart iTunes.

(Note:  Apple’s documentation says, “The iOS device syncs automatically whenever it’s plugged in to power and iTunes is open on the computer.” I have NEVER seen this happen. I’ve always had to start WiFi Sync manually.)

If you have version 12 (or earlier) of iOS, to start WiFi Sync from your device, first make sure your computer isn’t asleep, and then on your device go to Settings->General->iTunes Wi-Fi Sync. You should see something like this:

Click on “Sync Now” to… well, you know.

If you open iTunes Wi-Fi Sync and “Sync Now” is greyed out:

…sometimes if you wait a few seconds, your device will find the computer and you can proceed. But usually you’ll have to go to your computer and try to start the sync from there.

To start WiFi Sync from your computer, open iTunes, select your device from the device icon, select “Summary” on the left side of the iTunes window (if it’s not already highlighted), then click on the “Sync” button. One of three things usually happens:

  • Your device syncs successfully with iTunes. Hurrah!
  • You get to step 2 of the sync process (“Copying diagnostic information”), then it stops. A triangular error alert appears:

If you see the alert, go back to your device and open “iTunes WiFi Sync”. You will probably see this:

Click on “Cancel Sync” and you’ll typically see “Sync Now” again. Click on that, and now your device will usually sync successfully.

  • iTunes searches for your device, but fails to find it. When that happens, the device disappears from iTunes’ device list. When this occurs, exit from iTunes, then start it up again. Wait a little while, until the device icon appears and you can see your device. Then try to sync again (preferably from your device).

If you can’t exit from iTunes, or if iTunes won’t restart, open up Task Manager, select “More details”, select the “Processes” tab, find “iTunes” in the list of processes, right-click on “iTunes”, and select “End Task”. Now you should be able to restart iTunes and proceed normally. (Mac users can do something similar using “Activity Monitor”)

If all else fails, try restarting your computer and your device, or go back to syncing via cable. But it’s been quite a while (knock on wood) since I’ve had to do that, now that I have ipv6 enabled on my network. I still have to jump through a few hoops regularly, but at least I can almost always get WiFi Sync to work.

What’s your experience with WiFi Sync? Did this post help? Let me know in the comments!

Contact me if you need help you with iTunes or any other computer issues!

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