How to sync your cellphone data in Linux


Updated: December 5, 2009

We rely heavily on our cellphones. We keep critical data stored on them. This data must be backed up often. In Windows, people use all sorts of synchronization suites to backup their cellphone data to hard disk. Most often, these suites are slow, bloated, poorly coded and work only with specific cellphone models. Oh, and they only work in Windows.

What about Linux users? How can Linux users back their cellphone data?

Teaser

In this tutorial, I will show you how you can backup your mobile devices to hard disk, simply and easily. You will learn how to sync your data, so that if your device gets damaged, you will not lose important information.

Let's do it.

Right tools for the right task

There are many tools that offer the same functionality. My experience is focused on Wammu, a powerful, friendly phone manager utility, which is, btw, also available for Windows.

Wammu is the graphical interface for gammu, the tool that does the actual work. Wammu works with a broad range of devices, including many Nokia, Siemens, Sony, Motorola, Symbian phones, and AT-compatible phones. The manager offers full support for contacts, to-do lists, calendar, and can also backup SMS messages. It's exactly what we want!

Wammu is included in most repositories of popular Linux distributions, so you won't have any trouble installing it.

Using Wammu

Now, we need to start using Wammu. The first time you launch it, it will complain about no configuration file being found and suggest launching a setup wizard.

No config

The wizard will guide you through all aspects of the configuration. It's very simple to follow. Of course, you need to follow the instructions.

Wizard

Connect your phone

The first think you need to do is connect you device, using either a serial or USB cable, Infrared or Bluetooth. I will use the last option. Now, you may be wondering how to setup Bluetooth on your Linux. Well, it's rather simple and I have written about it in detail in a number of articles, including my Ubuntu and Fedora articles, as well as the Bluetooth security tutorial. Nevertheless, we'll do a short rehearsal here.

Fire up the Bluetooth wizard - right-click on the icon in the system area, choose Setup new device. Later on, after you are connected, you may also use Send files and Browse files for simple copy of data on the cellphone, but this will not work with the information stored in the phone memory.

Setup device

Anyhow, a wizard will launch. It will scan for any existing Bluetooth-capable devices in the proximity and display them for you.

Select device

Input the PIN code into your cellphone and there you go! Job done!

Connected

Now, we can go back to working with Wammu.

Connection type

Choose the connection type. How is your phone connected. We have just paired using Bluetooth.

Connection

Phone type

Choose your phone type (manufacturer, if you will):

Type

Connection type

This one can be tricky, but the best choice is to go with the default. You can always go back and change the protocol.

Protocol

Which driver to use

Again, this can be tricky. Personally, I had no idea what to select, so I chose the first option. Later on, I tried several other options. They all worked well, by the way. Wammu is rather forgiving when it comes to using the right drivers for your device.

Driver

Phone port

This is the most difficult part of the task. What the hell is phone port. And how do you get the Bluetooth address of your phone?

Port

Luckily for you,you have me. What we need to do here is find the Bluetooth would-be IP address. Just like IP-based communication over Ethernet, Bluetooth uses its own syntax for marking devices, very similar to MAC addresses. You do not need to fully understand how the various radio protocols work. You just need to grab the right value and input it into the phone port field in the Wammu wizard.

Obtaining the Bluetooth address is not a simple thing. You will have to invoke a command line utility, called hcitool, which will scan the visible, connected Bluetooth devices and return their addresses.

To get the Bluetooth address for your phone (in our case, one called Dedo):

hcitool scan

hcitool

Copy the long string, delimited by colons into the wizard.

Connection test

If you've configured everything correctly, the phone configuration wizard will perform a short test.

Success

Configuration done

The last step before completing the wizard is to name your phone.

Name

Using Wammu

Now, we can start using Wammu in earnest.

Wammu is very simple to use. You have the side bar on the left side, where you can expand the different categories. The Phone menu allows you to switch between different devices you've configured. Retrieve allows you to pull data off the phone into Wammu, including contacts, messages and other details. Backup lets you save the data to a file on your hard disk.

Using

You can also read all your messages, including oligophrenic snippets sent by your friends:

Using 2

Backup

Once you've retrieved the important information you need, just back it up to a safe location. From this moment on, even if you misplace your device, your data is stored on a second device.

Backup

Mission accomplished!

Other sync tools

There are other tools you may want to consider trying, although I must admit I've had most success with Wammu, plus it was the easiest to setup and use.

BitPim

This tool offers similar capabilities to Wammu, but I did not manage to sync it using Bluetooth. The fault may be entirely mine, but the average user will probably not fare much better than I did.

Furthermore, BitPim did not have a separate entry for Nokia, which is a bit surprising. There's this mention of CDMA technology, so I guess it has something to do with that.

BitPim

Wizard

Xgnokii

This funny-sounding utility is a frontend for the gnokii toolbox, an open-source replacement for the Nokia Cellular Data Suite, specially designed to work with Nokia phones. Like BitPim, Xgnokii was less cooperative than Wammu. Like BitPim, it insisted on a wired connection via cable and would not sync using Bluetooth. Since I have long lost my sync cable, this proved to be a major showstopper.

Xgnokii

Conclusion

Everyone has a cellphone nowadays. Whether you're using an old, plain thingie capable of just storing contact information and phoning other people or one of the new shiny things with web camera, Bluetooth, Internet access, and the answer to life, the Universe and everything, you are using a mobile communication device, with lots of data stored on it.

Cellphones have become shrines of information, with tens and hundreds of contact details, messages, memos, names, addresses, media files, and tons of other data stored into the tiny chip. It's because the cellphones go everywhere we go; they are the first digital gadget to be exposed to new experiences and new people we meet. Later, at your own convenience, you may copy some of the stuff stored on your mobile device onto a desktop hard disk or something along those lines. But that almost never happens.

What people forget is that their cellphones are in fact tiny computers, limited in what they can do, but computers nonetheless. And every now and then, they tend to malfunction. On top of that, they are easily stolen, people are in habit of losing them, getting them drowned in beer, dropping them from the fourth floor onto the innocent bystander below, or kicked to death at a party. Eventually, sooner or later, your cellphone will die or vanish.

The only question that remains is: will you have an up-to-date backup of your cellphone data or will you lose everything?

Hopefully, by having read this article, you have learned the importance and mastered the tools required for the job. What more, we just did that on the dreaded operating system called Linux!

Today, you have the means to sync your mobile devices on Linux. Wammu is the code name here. The utility is very simple to use. The configuration wizard is easy to follow, yet powerful. Best of all, Wammu works well with cable, Infrared and Bluetooth.

Have fun and spread the word!

Cheers.

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