Managing Audacity Projects

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All editing in Audacity is done in a project. A project is stored in a file with an aup3 extension, for example my-project.aup3.

A project can be saved using the File > Save Project > Save Project command.

A saved Audacity Project can be opened and used only by Audacity. It is not readable or playable by any other application.

  • To make an audio file (such as WAV or MP3) for playing on your music player, or for use in other applications, use one of the Export Audio commands, available from the File > Export menu.
The benefits of saving an Audacity Project are:
  • Saving a project lets you save unfinished work and re-open it later in Audacity exactly as it was, with all edits and recorded/imported tracks preserved. Note carefully that the Undo history is not saved with the project and so the project history starts afresh when you re-open the project later.
  • Audio data is always preserved in lossless quality. This is useful if you have already exported to a lossy audio format like MP3 but decide to edit the project further. Editing and re-exporting the project saves the additional quality loss of re-editing the previously exported MP3.
  • No need to re-import or re-record files
Tip You are strongly advised NOT to save your active project to an external USB stick/disk, networked storage or cloud storage as it is unlikely to be fast enough for satisfactory recording and editing.
  • Audacity blocks you from using FAT/FAT32 disks for saving project files as they are limited to a maximum 4GB per single file and this can easily be exceeded when editing.

Contents

  1. Structure of an Audacity project
  2. Saving an Audacity Project
  3. Saving copies of projects
  4. Opening an Audacity Project
  5. Exit from Audacity - Compaction of Audacity Project
  6. Moving or sending an Audacity project
  7. Backing up Audacity projects
  8. Deleting an Audacity project
  9. Automatic Crash Recovery
  10. Disk space usage
  11. Temporary work files


Structure of an Audacity project

The Audacity Project Format stores all Audacity tracks and clips, labels, amplitude envelope points, gain and pan data, together with other project data. The audio can be a recording, imported files, generated audio or a mixture of any of those.

Each Audacity project is stored in its own file with the extension aup3, for example: my-project.aup3.

Audacity's project format is not compatible with and cannot be opened in any other audio application.


Saving an Audacity Project

Save Project

Accessed by: File > Save Project > Save Project saves a standard project as an AUP3 project file (a file with ".aup3" after its name).

As with saving any type of file, certain characters cannot be used in the name of the AUP3 file if they are reserved for the operating system. See our information on forbidden characters. When saving an Audacity project it is normally easiest to use the File > Save Project command, which has a default shortcut of Ctrl + S (or ⌘ + S on Mac). If you save a project again having made further changes to it, "Save Project" then updates the AUP3 file silently without bothering you with prompts.

Long projects contain a lot of data.
  • Ensure the project is fully saved before exiting Audacity or shutting down the computer.
  • If there is a progress dialog for saving the project, wait for it to complete before shutting down.
  • The Status Bar at the bottom shows a message when the project has been saved.

There is no need to Save a project, unless required, as it is possible to work with temporary project files and then just use File > Export > Export Audio... to export the required audio files. If the project is not saved, the necessary audio data is stored in the temporary folder specified in the Directories section of Preferences until you exit the application. At that point, Audacity offers the choice of saving a project or not.

Advice A project in the new AUP3 format cannot be opened in versions of Audacity prior to 3.0.0.
Tip You are strongly advised NOT to save your active project to an external USB stick/disk, networked storage or cloud storage as it is unlikely to be fast enough for satisfactory recording and editing.
  • Audacity blocks you from using FAT/FAT32 disks for saving project files as they are limited to a maximum 4GB per single file and this can easily be exceeded when editing.
  • It is also advisable not to save an active project to a drive that is compressed or encrypted as that may also slow Audacity and may cause dropouts when recording.


Saving copies of projects

Backup Project

Accessed by: File > Save Project > Backup Project...

This saves a copy of the current project as an AUP3 file, but with a new name. It is the safe and recommended way to make a safety backup copy of a project as you work on it.

  • This could serve either as a single backup copy of the project, or as one of several incremental copies of the project in the state it had at a particular date and time.
  • Unlike "Save Project As..." using this command will leave your current project open enabling you to continue working on it.
Tip You are strongly advised to make backup versions of your project at key stages in your project so you can return to that stage if you mess up.

Save Project As

Accessed by: File > Save Project > Save Project As...

  • This is a way to make a copy of a project with a new name or location. If you "Save Project As" with a new name, the project window then displays the project name you just "saved as".
  • The project window displaying the project as previously named is closed in its last saved state, but can be reopened as required.
Tip You can losslessly compress an AUP3 project with standard utilities such as ZIP, WinZip or 7-Zip.


Opening an Audacity project

When opening an Audacity project always use File > Open or File > Recent Files to open the "my_project.aup3".

Audio which was not saved as an Audacity Project will need to be imported using File > Import or by dragging the file in. The Import command is used to import audio data into an already open project.

Older Projects:

Audacity can usually open AUP files created in older 2.x.x versions of Audacity , but saving the project will prevent it opening again in Audacity versions prior to 3.0.0.

  • Note that this will leave behind the old AUP file and its associated _data folder which you will probably want to delete to recover disk space.
  • Audacity version 3.x should be able to open projects from Audacity 1.1 onwards - but not from 1.0
    • The workaround, if that fails, is to open the 1.x project in Audacity 2.x, save it as a 2.x project and then open the 2.x version of the project in Audacity 3.x.
  • See Audacity 2.x AUP Projects for more details.


Closing an Audacity Project - Compaction of Audacity Project

When you close an Audacity project (with File > Close) or Exit from Audacity (with File > Exit (or Audacity > Quit on Mac)), Audacity will remove all the temporary space, used to store the Undo history, from the project file, usually making the closed file smaller than it was when it was open.

You will observe a progress dialog informing you about the compaction progress.

Tip You can, if you wish, compress your project, as you edit, by removing the temporary storage with:
  1. File > Save Project
  2. File > Exit
  3. Relaunch Audacity
  4. File > Open...

But note carefully that this will remove your Undo History and the contents of your Audacity clipboard.


Moving, renaming or sending an Audacity project

Moving, renaming or copying Audacity projects, or sending them to others, is simple now that Audacity has a unified project structure in a single AUP3 file.

Advice Do not use your Operating System's file manger to move, rename or copy any open projects, only do this with closed projects.

See also Sending your work to others.


Backing up Audacity projects

Tip If you have just made a recording it is strongly recommended that you immediately export your audio using File > Export > Export Audio... to WAV or AIFF (ideally to an external drive) as a safety copy before you start editing the project.

Regular backups should if possible be made to one or two devices other than the device the current project is stored on, as computer hard drives can fail, destroying all data. For example, backups could be made to another internal drive on the computer, or ideally to an external USB drive or uploaded to an online (cloud) storage service.

Use: File > Save Project > Backup Project... to save a backup copy of your project in its current state. This saves a copy of the current project as an AUP3 file, but with a new name. It is the safe and recommended way to make a safety backup copy of a project as you work on it.

Tip You can losslessly compress an AUP3 project with standard utilities such as ZIP, WinZip or 7-Zip.
Tip The wise user also knows that hard drives can crash destroying all data and makes regular backups to external storage.
  • The cautious user makes duplicate backups to at least two different external storage devices.
  • The extremely cautious user ensures that at least one of those backups is held off-site.


Deleting an Audacity project

There is no File > Delete Project command in Audacity.

Therefore to delete a project to free up disk space it is necessary to make the deletion manually. You just need to delete the AUP3 file.

This will not remove the listing of your project under File > Recent Files.... After deleting the project you can choose the AUP3 entry for that project in the Recent Files list in order to remove the entry.


Automatic Crash Recovery

Following an Audacity crash:

  • Audacity will attempt automatic recovery of projects (open and unsaved) the next time you relaunch the application.
  • This is normally robust and successful, although you may lose the very last thing you were doing to a project.

Please see Automatic Crash Recovery for more details.


Disk space usage

This can be particularly important if you are editing a large project.

Audacity references the original audio material until you actually perform some kind of edit on it, such as cutting a piece away or using any effect on it. So if you Edit > Duplicate a selection, this does not actually increase the disk space usage. Edit > Copy though, for example, does increase the the size of the project file but this is so these files can be retained separately on the Audacity clipboard for Edit > Paste.

Once you perform an edit, the original unchanged audio is retained, along with the changed audio. This is so you can use Edit > Undo and Edit > Redo to try out edits and undo them if they do not sound as you wanted.

If you edit just a small selection in a track, only that small selection of changed data is written to disk. Nonetheless, this still represents a doubling of disk space usage for that selection, and a further edit on that selection (unless you first undo the previous edit) adds the same amount again, and so on. For example, a five minute stereo recording at default quality settings takes 100 MB of space. If you edit the whole length of that recording, disk space usage will increase to 200 MB.

Note that once you close the project by using File > Close or exiting Audacity, the audio data needed for Undo/Redo is discarded, so as to make project storage as economical as possible.

Disk space usage when recording

Examples of disk space usage when recording and editing at different quality settings:
  • 44,100 Hz, 32-bit, stereo = 20 MB of space per minute. 44,100 Hz and 32-bit are Audacity's default quality settings
  • 44,100 Hz, 16-bit, stereo = 10 MB per minute. CD quality
  • 22,050 Hz, 8-bit, mono = 1.25 MB per minute. This would be generally acceptable for speech recordings from lower quality sources

For more details see Recording length.


Temporary work files

In addition to the single database project file the database also creates two temporary work files WAL & SHM files. For example My-Project.aup3-wal and My-Project.aup3-shm. On Mac there is only the WAL file.

These are deleted on closure of the project or on exit from Audacity.

Advice Do not delete them or move these temporary files while the project is open as this will destroy the project.

Windows blocks you from doing this but macOS and Linux do not.