Ye Olde iPhone Backup Server

Toolboth Tavern 04 by Shadowgate, on FlickrDo you have an old smart phone, tablet, or computer in a drawer or a closet somewhere that you never got around to selling or giving away? You might consider setting it up as a development server as Jason describes here. You can also set it up to act as an extra layer in your backup strategy.

This is what I decided to do with an old iPhone 3GS that still worked, except a testy headphone connection, that had a nice 32GB of space on it. I wanted an extra place to backup my mail and dump larger files quickly for transfer to other devices that might connect to my local network (including guests who visit). While I won’t go into all the steps in complete detail, here is basically what was required to get this up and running (I’m writing here from perspective of using an iPhone and connecting to it from other OS X devices):

  1. If you have an iPhone or iPad (rather than an Android or other mobile operating system) you will need to first Jailbreak it in order to allow it to perform its new duties. Amy Cavender and Ethan Watrall have written more about what that means here at ProfHacker here and here. Depending on your version of iOS and which device you have, this may take a little googling about how to download the necessary software and perform the jailbreak.
  2. Once your device is jailbroken, you will likely have to install one of the standard “Networking” packages in Cydia called “OpenSSH.”
  3. Plug your old device in and leave it somewhere with a good connection to your local home network.
  4. Find out the IP address of your device. You will use this to connect to your device and copy files. On the iPhone or iPad go into “Settings > wifi > your connection” and look under the IP address listed there.
  5. Now you should be able to connect to your device with SSH or SFTP. Use an FTP application (such as cross-platform FileZilla, or Fetch and CyberDuck on OS X), configure it to use SFTP, and connect to your device with the IP address you took note of. Your main user on the iPhone should be the “root” account so use that for username (any tips out there for best way of creating new users on a jailbroken iPhone to use instead?) and the default password is “alpine.” This absolutely must be changed to stand any chance at security. To change it, connect via SSH connect to the phone and change the password of root to something else. You may wish to look into further ways to restrict access to the machine to only other computers on the local network.

Optional: If you know you will be connecting a lot to your backup server from various applications, it can be annoying to remember the IP address. You can call it something else by modifying a kind of a personal phone book called your “hosts” file. Editing this file you can, for example, change the less than memorable to something like “oldman.” Then, when you connect to it, you need only enter the latter into the server address.

Bonus: In OS X can also connect to your phone directly from the Finder if you install one of various packages for jailbroken phones that enable connections through “AFP.”

For More Seasoned Hackers: Get lighthttpd or Apache web server up and running on your iPhone to use it as a kind of home network home page, serving information to your guests about their home or a standard set of files (“house-FAQ.pdf” or “guide-to-getting-shower-temperature-just-right.pdf” anyone?). Or, get standard development tools and languages running on the iPhone. As with hosting any web servers or servers on a local machine, this comes with additional security risks so be sure to keep this in mind and learn about how you can restrict access and “harden” your installations.

Gold Hacker Medal: Replace iOS completely with Linux and give your iPhone a new life.

Has anyone else found useful things to do with old smartphones and tablets they have?

Creative Commons licensed photo by Shadowgate

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