How to Rebuild the iPhoto Library

Table of Contents

iPhoto library

[Updated December 18, 2014]

Most of us agree that iPhoto sucks, but for many of us it’s a necessary evil. As time goes on and your iPhoto database grows, it can start to experience issues. These issues can include missing photos, missing thumbnail images, and the database being completely unreadable.

iPhoto will prompt you to repair the database if things get really bad, but if they’re just annoying you can repair the database yourself. If you’re stuck using iPhoto you might as well make it work as smoothly as possible, so here’s how to fix most common iPhoto issues by rebuilding the iPhoto library.

Opening iPhoto

If iPhoto is open, quit the application by selecting it and hitting Command + Q. If it’s being testy with you, you may have to Force Quit it by going to the Apple Menu, selecting Force Quit, then choosing iPhoto.

Next, open up the Applications folder and find iPhoto. Hold down Command + Option and open iPhoto. Keep holding the buttons down as iPhoto loads, until you see the Rebuild dialog box appear.

Note: This will look different based on the version of iPhoto you have. This is being written with version 9.5.1.


Depending on the specific issue you’re experiencing choose one of the four options. (On earlier versions there are 6 options)

Fixing the iPhoto Library

The four or six options you should now see run the gamut of iPhoto library fixes. They are organized from simplest to most obtrusive. None of these require any more or less work from you, but they do progressively more work on the database. It’s smart to only work on a database as much as necessary and no more. Use these guidelines from Apple to decide which you should use:

  • Repair Permissions – This should be the first fix that you try. If iPhoto isn’t opening or if you get an error telling you certain photos can’t be edited, use the Repair Permissions feature to fix them.
  • Rebuild Thumbnails – This pretty much speaks for itself. If your thumbnails in iPhoto aren’t showing correctly or if gray boxes are showing instead of them, use this option.
  • Repair Database – Using the repair feature is a little less obtrusive than rebuilding it, and should be used if you believe you’re missing images or if iPhoto as a whole isn’t working well.
  • Rebuild Database – Use this as a last resort if the others fail to fix your issues. This is useful if iPhoto quits unexpectedly, won’t load at all, or freezes in loading.

For older versions of iPhoto (before version 9.3) check out Apple’s help documentation here.

The Results

Each of these options will take varying amounts of time to complete, with rebuilding thumbnails and the database itself taking the most time. Once they’re done however, you should be up and running as smoothly as possible.

iPhoto might not be the best app out there, but if you need it to sync photos to your iPhone correctly or anything else, try the fixes above and see if they can make iPhoto behave a little better.

Update: If you are running iPhoto 9.3 or higher, you will see the Photo Library First Aid image shown above when you hold down Command+Option when starting the software. If you are running an older version of iPhoto, the “first aid” options will look like the image below.


As you can see, this screen has several options that differ somewhat from the instructions mentioned above. The functionality is pretty straight forward however, and mostly self explanatory. If you are having issues with your version of iPhoto, the “Rebuild the iPhoto Library Database from automatic backup” option is the one that will fix just about anything, although depending on the nature of the problem, any one of the other options might work as well, and will certainly take less time.

If you’re missing photos from your library, the “Recover orphaned photos in the iPhoto Library folder” may solve the issue, and reintegrate those photos. Selecting this option will tell the software to look for image files in the library folder that are not already a part of iPhoto, and then re-add them to the database. If you find many files are missing, and it continues to be a problem, rebuilding the database file is an option to help fix this problem as well.

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Kossi Adzo

Kossi Adzo is a technology enthusiast and digital strategist with a fervent passion for Apple products and the innovative technologies that orbit them. With a background in computer science and a decade of experience in app development and digital marketing, Kossi brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to the Apple Gazette team.

4 thoughts on “How to Rebuild the iPhoto Library

  1. Hi, I tried the last step to rebuild my photo library. It is saying that all the photos I have have been restored (ie x Versions restored). However, the loading bar continuously moves and does not show any progress. If I leave this will it eventually work and restore all of my photo library? It has been stuck at this same stage for approximately three hours now. Thanks!

    1. Since fully rebuilding the library is the last and most difficult step to fix an issue, there may very well be another underlying issue that is plaguing your iPhoto. The process to do this is fairly easy, so you should see a result that works within the 3 hour window. You might want to restore back and see what went wrong.

  2. I tried all 4 steps and I still get the iPhoto is damaged error message. On my desktop, i have a running slideshow as my wallpaper so I know the photos are still there somewhere. What else could I do to solve this?

  3. My iPhoto is missing all of the pictures I’ve uploaded onto it for the past 3 years. I tried the “Repair Database” AND the “Rebuild Database” options, and even after doing that my missing photos are still missing 🙁 What else can I do?

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