Synching the wild Palm Treo...

24 December 2008

I'm a big fan of the open source pilot-link package to back the contents of my smartphone up to offline storage on the off chance that something goes wrong and I need to buy a new phone or restore data from the last backup. Ages ago, someone figured out the protocol implemented by PalmOS for uploading and downloading data from handhelds and worked it into a command-line app that does it all for you: it backs up, restores, installs, uninstalls, and basically does everything but let you make phone calls from your laptop (though there is other software available that can let you do that). There's just one thing about the pilot-xfer utility: for all its power, it's not particularly user friendly, and no one's written a real manpage for it. I often spend a half-hour or so every time I back up my Treo re-figuring out exactly how to do it. When I first figured it out, about two years ago, I made a note for myself in my desktop sticky-note program... which I then promptly forgot about.

So, to save others (as well as myself) some time, a quick reference for how to use pilot-xfer to back up your handheld. First, plug your handheld in using the docking cradle or hotsync cable. When you start the synchronization process, two new nodes will be created under /dev, ttyUSB0 and ttyUSB1 (assuming that you have no other PalmOS devices connected at the moment). You want the latter, ttyUSB1. This will be important in a moment, as you'll see. Open a terminal and change to a directory just below your backup directory; this means that if you back your data up to /home/cwalken/palm, you'll want to do an explicit cd ~cwalken. Get your command line ready ahead of time to save yourself a few points on your blood pressure: pilot-xfer -p /dev/ttyUSB1 -s palm. Do NOT run the command yet; adjust the command line as necessary for where you back your data up to and the serial port to use. Press the Hotsync button on your cable or cradle. When your Palm device displays the message "Connecting with the desktop.." press enter to run the command. Wait - if all goes well, you'll see pilot-xfer copying data from your Treo to your computer. This could take a while, so you might want to get a cup of coffee.

When the transfer process is over unplug your handheld.

Note: Backing your handheld up to your laptop without protecting it somehow (like copying it off to removable storage and leaving the backup at home or backing up to a Truecrypt volume) can lead to sensitive information getting out if someone steals your laptop or copies the contents of the hard drive. Use common sense.