Ringtones are one of the easiest ways of personalising your iPhone: with a little help, anyone can turn a song they own in iTunes into a ringtone for their iPhone. (Feeling creative? Here's how to create your own ringtone for your iPhone.)

Aside from the fun factor, ringtones serve a useful purpose: if you don't own an Apple Watch they are the best way of telling you who's calling without taking your phone out of your pocket. Simply allocate specific songs to your favourite contacts and you'll instantly know when they ring.

The process of setting a song as a ringtone doesn't require any great technical skill but it got slightly more difficult with the launch of iTunes 12.7 in September 2017, when Apple quietly removed the ringtone section (as well as iOS apps) from the program.

In this tutorial we explain how to turn a song from your iTunes music library into a custom ringtone and load it on to your iPhone using iTunes 12.7 or later - it can still be done, it's just slightly less intuitive. We've also got our older and frankly easier advice on how to do it in previous versions of iTunes, for those who are still running that software. (The video above shows the older process.)

Select and edit a song

Select and edit a song

The first thing we'll need to do is choose a song in iTunes to use as a ringtone. We're only going to use part of the song, so right-click on it, choose Song Info (or Get Info), then click the Options tab.

Put a tick next to the Start and Stop fields and enter times to define the section you want to use as the ringtone. (In fact you only need to tick the Stop field if you decide to use the beginning of the track.) This involves some trial and error to find the best timestamps: remember to put the song on repeat so you can hear how well it meshes when looped.

Now highlight the song, go up to File at the top of the screen and select Convert > Create AAC version (in older versions of iTunes the process was File > Create New Version > Create AAC version). iTunes will duplicate the track, but if you look closely you'll see that the new version is only 10 seconds (or whatever) long. That's the one we'll use for our ringtone.

Remember to go back to the original track now and untick the Start and Stop options, otherwise the track will only play that short section.

Change the file type

Change the file type

Highlight the short version of the song, then right-click and select Show in Finder. Now you'll see the two versions of the song.

The duplicate may have a 1 at the end of the name to differentiate it; more importantly, its file size will be smaller, and it will be an .m4a file. We've also found that the duplicated file often loses the artwork associated with the other files in the album. Essentially, you're looking for the odd man out in the album folder.

To use it as a ringtone we'll need to convert the file type from .m4a to .m4r. Click on the name once to highlight it, then once again to edit the name so we can change the last three letters.

Finder will then ask you if you are sure you want to use the new file type. Choose 'Use .m4r' in the pop up box to confirm. Leave the Finder window open for now, as we'll use it again in a moment.

Delete the shorter track

Delete the shorter track

Return to iTunes and delete the short version of the track, remembering to check the length carefully before you do so. Right-click and select Delete or Delete from Library, then (if prompted) confirm Delete Song.

However, it's very important that we only delete the file from your iTunes library, not from your Mac's hard drive, so when you see a message asking if you want to move the file to the trash, click Keep File.

Copy the ringtone to your iPhone (iTunes 12.7 and later)

Copy the ringtone to your iPhone (iTunes 12.7 and later)

To get the ringtone file from a folder in Finder on to your iPhone, you'll still need to use iTunes. Plug your iPhone into the Mac, then click on the device's icon in the lefthand menu.

You'll see a little bell icon, labelled Tones - it's the sixth one down, below Music, Films, TV Programmes, Books and Audiobooks. Click this to open the Tones folder on your iPhone.

Now you simply have to drag-and-drop the ringtone file from the Finder window into this screen. Once it's finished copying across, eject your iPhone.

How to find old ringtones (iTunes 12.7 and later)

How to find old ringtones (iTunes 12.7 and later)

If you made custom ringtones in the old days, before you upgraded to iTunes 12.7, you're probably wondering where they've gone, since the Tones section of iTunes has vanished. But don't worry: they haven't been deleted.

The best thing to do is run a Spotlight search for "tones", which ought to help you find the correct folder. But if this brings up too many results for comfort, try exploring a similar Finder path to this one (the names of some of the folders can vary a little, depending on software versions):

[username] > Music > iTunes > iTunes Music > Tones

You'll see the ringtones you made in that folder, safe and sound. Now you just have to drag them on to your iPhone's Tones section in iTunes, as outlined above.

If you'd like to know how to set this tone for calls, texts or specific contacts, jump down a couple of sections; next we'll show how to install ringtones using earlier versions of iTunes.

Import the track to iTunes as a ringtone (older versions of iTunes)

Import the track to iTunes as a ringtone (older versions of iTunes)

Let's go back and repeat the process of transferring a ringtone from your Mac to your iPhone, but this time we'll assume you're on a version of iTunes before 12.7.

After deleting the track (but remembering to select Keep File), go back to the Finder window and double-click the shorter file. Rather disconcertingly it will disappear from the box. It may start playing in the background if you haven't got anything else playing.

Don't worry, it isn't really gone.

Return to iTunes, go to the dropdown menu at the top left which offers Music, Movies, TV Shows and so on, and select Tones. (In older versions of iTunes, go to the row of icons in the top left corner and click on the three dots. This brings up more options, one of which is Tones. Click this.) You'll see that the short version of the song is now a ringtone.

Sync the ringtone with your iPhone (older versions of iTunes)

Sync the ringtone with your iPhone (older versions of iTunes)

Connect your iPhone to iTunes and click on the little phone icon just to the right of the Music/Movies/Tones etc dropdown menu (or just to the right of the three dots, in older versions of iTunes). This will bring up the iTunes panel for your phone, from which you want to select Tones in the left hand column.

Once inside, click Sync Tones > Selected tones, then the track you've created. Finally go to the bottom righthand corner and click Apply.

Set the new ringtone (all versions)

Set the new ringtone (all versions)

Regardless of the version of iTunes you're running, you should now have an iPhone with one or more new custom ringtones on it. All you need to do now is go to Settings on your iPhone, then Sounds & Haptics (or just Sounds).

You'll see a list of events - a new mail, a new voicemail, a text, a call (ringtone) and so on - and the tone that is associated with each. To change your Text Tone, for example, tap that entry.

Now you can see a range of tones to choose from; the custom tones just added will probably be at the top of the list and separated off by a darker line. Tap one and the sound will play. If you're satisfied, tap Sounds & Haptics at the top left to go back, and the new tone will be selected (there's no 'done' or other confirmation); if not, tap another and see if that's more to your liking.

Set different ringtones for different people

Set different ringtones for different people

It's easy (and handy) to allocate different ringtones to different people.

On your iPhone go to the Contacts app, find and select the person, then tap the Edit option in the top right corner. One of the options that will be brought up at this point is Ringtone, which will most likely be set to Default at the moment.

Tap on this and the full menu will appear, allowing you to select whichever ringtone you deem appropriate.

Now whenever that person rings, you'll know it's them.