Thunderbird Sync With iPhone/iPod touch

I’ve gotten quite a few emails over the past several months from people who want to know how to sync their iPhone (or iPod touch) with Thunderbird. Quite a few are disappointed to find mozPod doesn’t support these newer devices. It’s not quite my fault as I’ve yet to see any indication that it’s practical to implement.

I should note I do not own either device, but from what I’ve read, it doesn’t matter. Hopefully by 2nd or 3rd generation when I’m on the market Apple will have come to their senses.

The problem is that Apple hasn’t provided a good method for anyone to provide sync with the iPod. Even on older devices it wasn’t pretty, but it was workable. There is no real sync API outside of iSync, which is Mac only and not a public API. Instead what was done is mount the iPod file system and send it your data. While not awesome, this has been workable and provided many Thunderbird users with mobile data.

On the iPhone and iPod touch it’s not even possible to easily mount the filesystem. The best method I’ve heard of is hacking it so you can mount your phone using sshfs with something like FUSE. I know myself and some Linux and Mac users (horray for MacFUSE!) could manage, but I wouldn’t dare try to explain to someone how to do that. From what I’ve read the iPhone manages data using SQLite 3. Therefore it seems possible to use mozStorage to interface with it. Perhaps someone with more experience with mozStorage and db’s generated outside mozStorage would know better about any potential compatibility issues.

Calendar:
/var/root/Library/Calendar/Calendar.sqlitedb

Address BookL
/var/root/Library/AddressBook/AddressBook.sqlitedb
/var/root/Library/AddressBook/AddressBookImages.sqlitedb

Seems to me Apple could turn this into an API pretty easily by re-creating the old iPod style USB storage device mounting and give us access to these files.

In my mind the ideal implementation would be for Apple to just have a iTunes embed a mini web server locally accessible (obviously) and create a REST api to work with all data on the device. That would open up a whole new way of interacting with the device. Essentially you would interact with 127.0.0.1:[port#] and GET/POST your way through the interface. Perfect for Calendar, Address Book, Notes, or whatever else Apple comes up with.

To get a vCard for someone:

  GET /contact/vcard/?last_name=Jones HTTP/1.1
  Host: localhost
  User-Agent: mozPod/0.3

vcard can also be done as xml (ooh DOM parsing for iPhone!), so there’s lots of possibilities.

To add a contact:

  POST /contact/add/ HTTP/1.1
  Host: localhost
  User-Agent: mozPod/0.3
  Content-Length: 450
  Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded

  fname=John&lname=Doe&address=1%20Large%20Road...

Though it would likely make sense to go with a more vcard like naming structure.

For calendar iCalendar or vCalendar would make most sense:

 GET /calendar/ical/?start=1-1-1970&end=1-19-2038 HTTP/1.1
  Host: localhost
  User-Agent: mozPod/0.3

You get the idea. Dead simple access. You could then use something likecurl to manipulate the iPhone’s address book via your existing application. It would be only accessible locally, so it’s as secure as your system. It would actually make things more secure since it would be one less reason for tinkering on the actual device, and it would open up a whole new market of iPod/iPhone software to go with all those accessories that have helped boost Apple’s market share. SyncML is cool, but SyncML is also a beast and reminds me of SOAP, WSDL etc.