Bob Ippolito (@etrepum) on Haskell, Python, Erlang, JavaScript, etc.

iPod model detection


For various reasons, I have a need to determine the version of an iPod. Previously, I only needed to know if an iPod was "firmware version 2" or later (aka "Dock-connector"), and there's a whole slew of obvious ways to determine that (presence of a Notes folder would be the most obvious). There are also ways to grab iPod information with SPI (via COM on win32 or the private iPod.framework on Mac OS X), but I like to avoid that whenever possible.

So far, the most reliable method I've found was with a little parsing of the SysInfo file. This file is located at "$(IPOD_VOLUME)/iPod_Control/Device/SysInfo". The iPod_Control folder is going to be hidden on either platform, so you may not have noticed it before. Many examples of SysInfo files can be found by googling for some of the keys, such as buildID, visibleBuildID, boardHwName, etc. The most complete resource I've found is the on the iPodLinux forums.

As-is, the SysInfo files don't make any of the useful information very obvious. However, with a little reverse-engineering of the iPod Updater for Mac OS X, it was relatively easy to figure out what it was using to determine the iPod model.

In the Resources folder of any iPod Updater, you'll find a lot of interesting things. The most interesting bits are UpdaterVersions.plist and the Updates folder.

UpdaterVersions.plist is a typical XML property list with a single root key: Versions. Under this key you'll find a dictionary that maps updaterFamily to a dictionary of information about the iPods in that updaterFamily, not unlike the information you will find in a SysInfo. The dicts with a displayInAbout key with a true value are the most interesting, all of the other entries are simply variations on the theme (i.e. the iPod U2 Special Edition or the various colors of iPod Mini). When using this filter, you should have exactly one entry per unique iPodFamily value.

The Updates folder is interesting because it contains icons for each iPod, as well as the firmware images. The icons are named either DeviceIcon-$(iPodFamily).icns or DeviceIcon-$(iPodFamily)-$(iPodColor).icns. I'm relatively certain that the color can be determined from the last three characters of the pszSerialNumber, but I don't have enough iPods around to test that theory.

With all of this information, it would almost be easy to determine the model of an iPod. However, it's not quite that simple. Not all SysInfo files contain an iPodFamily key, and some that do incorrectly report 0! The only reliable identifier for an iPod family is the following (given a dict from either the UpdaterVersions.plist or from a SysInfo file):

def buildPair(dct):
    buildID = dct.get('buildID', 0)
    visibleBuildID = dct.get('visibleBuildID') or dct.get('VisibleBuildID', 0)
    # grab these bits: 0xFF000000L
    return (buildID >> 24, visibleBuildID >> 24)

What I'm doing here is pulling the "major" version out of the version keys. It appears that the versioning convention is: 0x0ABC8000 where the firmware version is pretty-printed as "A.B.C", trimming "C" and possibly "B" if they are 0. This is similar to the hex-version-convention you see in gestaltSystemVersion ('sysv') and other places. It would be a little less ugly if the UpdaterVersions.plist used the same case as the SysInfo files for the visibileBuildID key! The reason that we need both the buildID and the visibleBuildID is that the iPod Mini and "3G iPod" both report a buildID major version of 2, however the iPod Mini has a visibleBuildID major version of 1.

Parsing the SysInfo file in a manner that will grab the information in the right way is pretty trivial, but perhaps not so obvious:

import os
def infoForMountedPod(path):
    path = os.path.join(path, u'iPod_Control', u'Device', u'SysInfo')
    lines = file(path).read().splitlines()
    d = {}
    for line in lines:
            key, value = line.split(': ', 1)
        except ValueError:
            value = long(value.split(None, 1)[0], 0)
        except (ValueError, IndexError):
        d[key] = value
    return d

infoForMountedPod simply looks for all lines that look like a key-value pair (containing a ": "). For each of these lines, it will set the key-value pair in the returned dictionary. For lines whose first "word" (split on whitespace) is parseable as an integer (typically as hex), it will be set as an integer. Otherwise, it is set to the string value of that line (i.e. pszSerialNumber).

Parsing UpdaterVersions.plist is pretty trivial too:

import plistlib
def parseUpdaterVersions(path):
    # this is Python 2.4 plistlib API
    # in 2.3 you can use plistlib.Plist.fromFile
    versions = plistlib.readPlist(path)
    buildPairs = {}
    families = {}
    for k,v in versions['Versions'].iteritems():
        # only pick out unique iPodFamily dicts
        if v['displayInAbout']:
            fam = v['iPodFamily']
            # skip pre-2.x iPods and iPod Shuffle.
            # This is specific to my use case, you may
            # not want this filter.
            if 1 < fam < 128:
                assert fam not in families
                families[fam] = v
                pair = buildPair(v)
                assert pair not in buildPairs
                buildPairs[pair] = v
    return buildPairs, families

Note that all of this code is cross-platform, but you'll need an UpdaterVersions.plist or equivalent from somewhere, and you'll need to pick up from Python's src/Lib/plat-mac dir if using it on some other platform. Alternatively, you could use ElementTree to parse the plist XML. Its iterparse documentation has an excellent example of how easily it can be used to parse these files.