If you’ve spent any time hosting an instance of Plex Media Server, you undoubtedly understand the time and effort that goes into maintaining the look and feel of your media collection. From custom movie posters to collections, playlists, and thumbnails, there’s a lot of metadata being collected and generated in the background – both by server admins and the software itself – that currently doesn’t have an easy way to back up or restore itself in the event of data corruption or server migration.
In this tutorial, I’m going to walk through the process of manually backing up the Plex metadata on Windows 10 and restoring it in Unraid. To do so, we’ll be backing the Plex metadata up to an external hard drive and copying it over to the new operating system.
What if I’m migrating to/from a different operating system?
I’ve chosen Windows 10 and Unraid not only because it’s a switch I recently made myself and the steps are fresh in my mind, but also because I notice a fair amount of people online asking about the steps to migrate away from Windows 10.
Aside from the Plex metadata folder locations, these steps are the same should you need to replace Unraid or Windows 10 with different operating systems – you’ll just need to use different tools to move the files on/off the external hard drive.
The basic outline of the tutorial is as follows – as long as you know how to perform these steps within your respective operating systems, you should be good to go:
- Disable the “Empty trash automatically” setting in Plex
- Shutdown/kill the Plex Media Server process on the old operating system
- Find the Plex metadata folder and copy it onto an external hard drive
- Install, run, and log in to Plex on the new operating system (so it can generate the Plex folder structure including the new metadata folder)
- Disable the “Empty trash automatically” on the new Plex install
- Shutdown/kill the Plex Media Server process on the new operating system
- Find the Plex metadata folder on the new operating system and copy the files from the old operating system on your external hard drive into the new folder
- Start Plex on the new operating system and re-map your drives
- Re-enable the “Empty trash automatically” setting if you want that functionality moving forward
For a more in-depth tutorial, continue to the next section…
What We’ll Need
Below is a list of the services and applications I’ll be referencing in this guide. By default, I’ll assume you already have Unraid installed and the basics configured (user shares, hard drives, etc.).
- An instance of Plex running on Windows 10
- An external hard drive large enough to hold your metadata (usually not larger than a couple hundred gigabytes – if even that much)
- The Unassigned Devices plugin for Unraid. (If you’re using another operating system, just make sure it can read external hard drives formatted as NTFS.)
- A file management application on the new operating system (for this tutorial on Unraid, I’ll be using binhex’s Krusader container) or a solid grasp on moving files via the command line if you’re migrating to a Linux-based operating system
Important Note: Before you start the following steps, ensure you have an adequate amount of server uptime to perform the data migration. Even if your Plex metadata folder isn’t large, it still contains thousands of small files that can take upwards of a couple hours to copy and paste.
Disabling “Empty trash automatically” in Plex
Before you start the migration process, you’ll need to disable the “Empty trash automatically” setting in the Plex installation on your old operating system if you have it enabled.
The reason we need to do this is because after we copy your settings and metadata to the new instance of Plex on your new operating system, the media library folders will need to be re-mapped as your library locations will change on your new operating system.
If the option to empty trash automatically is enabled, as soon as you restart the Plex Media Server process on your new system after the metadata is copied, it will delete the metadata for files it can’t find – which will be all of them because your libraries haven’t been mapped yet.
Disabling the empty trash setting will give us to time to re-map our library folders before Plex discards metadata for items it can’t find.
I’ll cover this in more detail when further on in the tutorial, but for the time being, navigate to
Plex > Settings > Library
and uncheck “Empty trash automatically after every scan”.
Backing Up Plex Metadata on Windows
To start, plug your external hard drive into your Windows system and format it as NTFS. There may be other formats you can use, but NTFS is a safe option because it can be read by both Windows and Unraid.
Next, open the Task Manager and kill any instances you can find of “Plex Media Server”. This will free the metadata files from use and will allow us to copy them without receiving permission errors.
Then, navigate to the following folder (replacing <username> with your Windows username):
and note the folder located within titled “Plex Media Server”. This is the metadata folder.
When ready, copy the “Plex Media Server” onto your external hard drive. As mentioned earlier, there are a lot of files within the folder that can take hours to copy and paste. Some people use third-party tools or the command prompt to help expedite the process, but I used the normal Windows File Explorer and didn’t experience any issues outside of long wait times.
Accessing the External Hard Drive in Unraid
If you’re using Unraid, we’ll need a plugin to access files on external drives, which is where we’ll use Unassigned Devices plugin. If you haven’t used it before, Spaceinvader One has a great YouTube tutorial on how to install it and access external drives.
Regardless of whether you’re using Unraid or another operating system, plug in the external hard drive to your new server operating system and verify the contents and the “Plex Media Server” folder are still there.
Your operating system may not require an additional plugin/service to access files on external hard drives, so feel free to skip this step if this is the case.
Installing Plex Media Server on the New Operating System
Before we copy the files of the external hard drive folder over, we need to install and run Plex on the new system so it can generate the folder tree that will house the new “Plex Media Server” metadata folder.
Go ahead and install Plex (I use binhex-Plex on Unraid but you’re free to use any of the other available Plex containers) and sign in to the web interface after the installation finishes.
The only setting you need to change after installing Plex is to go into the settings once again and uncheck the “Empty trash automatically” setting on this install as well. Everything else can be left unchanged.
Exit Plex and stop the container/service.
Copying the Files From the External Hard Drive to the New Metadata Folder
The next stop is to locate the new “Plex Media Server” metadata folder and copy/paste the metadata from the external hard drive into the new folder.
To do this in Unraid, I used the binhex-Krusader container, which gives us a graphical interface to access files and folders. As usual, Spaceinvader One has a great YouTube tutorial on how to install and use the container.
If you’re migrating to Unraid, the new metadata folder will be stored in the following folder:
user/appdata/binhex-Plex/Plex Media Server
Once you’ve located the folder, copy and paste the files from the external hard drive into the “Plex Media Server” folder.
Luckily, Unraid is a lot quicker at copying and pasting than Windows 10 and the process took significantly less time to complete – but your mileage may vary.
Starting and Configuring Plex in the New Operating System
Once the metadata folder has finished copying, go ahead and start the Plex Media Server process/application on your new operating system.
When you log in, you’ll notice all of your old libraries and metadata start populating, but the thumbnails will have the trashcan icon on them as if Plex can’t find them. This is because the old metadata does not know where to find the media libraries and files on your new system.
Click the “Actions” menu (three vertical dots) next to your media library, highlight “Manage Library”, and select “Edit”. In the window that appears, click the “Add folders” tab and add the path to the folder with that library’s items.
Note: I wouldn’t remove the old library location reference under “Add folders” until you’ve re-mapped your new locations and the metadata syncs. This is probably just me being paranoid – but I didn’t want to take the chance of messing anything up.
With the new library folders correctly mapped, your metadata should resync and you should find your Plex library in the same state you had left it on your old operating system – posters, collections, settings, users, and all!
Re-enable the “Empty trash automatically” Setting
If you’d like Plex to resume emptying your metadata trash automatically again, head back in to the settings and check the “Empty trash automatically” box.
Hopefully you found the tutorial above helpful. There’s nothing worse than having to rebuild the metadata of your Plex library after data loss (trust me, I’ve done it), and so even though this may take a few hours to complete (most of that sitting and waiting for files to copy), it should be well worth the time saved from having to rebuild everything from scratch.
As usual, let me know if you have any questions or feedback in the comments, or if you have a tip or way of doing something better than I’ve outlined above.
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