Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)

Many free software fans, if they were like me, breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Android operating system hit the market. Before receiving my first smartphone (a Samsung Blackjack running Windows Mobile 5.5, I believe, that I had to update to through a torturous combination of installing Windows XP on a partition, installing the phone drivers, then running an update program), I was a steadfast "PDA-and-cell" guy who proudly carried both devices on my belt like a pair of six-shooters. But that Blackjack showed me how nice it is to carry one device, and since receiving my first Android device (an original Droid I still use to this day), I can't imagine using a device with another mobile OS. Linux kernel, Java-based apps—these are all right up my alley.

But, like many great consumer Linux products (I'm talking to you, Sharp Zaurus), manufacturers assume in nearly every case that your "other" computer will run Windows. Now, it's easy enough to install Windows either on a separate partition to dual-boot or in a VM to run within Linux. But this is a bit like killing the proverbial fly with a bazooka. Web-based applications and "the cloud" alleviate some of these difficulties, yet it's still not an "out-of-the-box-after-a-quick-install-from-CD" process like it is for Windows users.

The good news is, with the installation or configuration of a few programs, it's pretty easy to get your Android device (all the steps in this article are equally applicable to phones and tablets unless stated otherwise) to play nice with your Linux boxen. In this article, I focus on files and a few approaches for making sure you always have an up-to-date copy of that spreadsheet or source file on your mobile device.

In the Cloud

The cloud computing movement has done a great deal to promote platform agnosticism, from consistent (Web-based) UIs to cross-platform APIs that allow applications to synchronize data. And with most users being constantly connected via 3/4G, Wi-Fi or wired networks to the Internet, cloud services have been one of the most hassle-free ways to make your data available across devices.

Dropbox

Of the free file-sharing services out there, Dropbox is arguably the most popular, perhaps because it's the simplest—no bells and whistles, no long, complicated feature list, just good old-fashioned cloud storage. And with support for both Android (via the application in Google Play at https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.dropbox.android&hl=en) and Linux, either for GNOME and other GTK-centric desktops (using the the Nautilus plugin from Dropbox shown in Figure 1 and available at https://www.dropbox.com/install?os=lnx), or KDE (via the excellent KFilebox—at the time of this writing, the project's home page lists 0.4.7 as the most recent version, http://kdropbox.deuteros.es, but the SourceForge page, http://sourceforge.net/projects/kdropbox, lists a version 0.4.8 that works very well—shown in Figure 2).

Figure 1. Nautilus Context Menu

Figure 2. KFileBox Menu and Config Window

Pointing each of the above at the same folder tree will help keep all your important folders close at hand. However, it's important to note the "official" Dropbox app above keeps an list of your files, but it doesn't actually sync up the files themselves—that is, if you upload a revised file to Dropbox from your Linux box, then later go off-line with your mobile device, the Android gadget will know that file changed, but you won't be able to view or edit it until you go back on-line. However, a free app called DropSync (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ttxapps.dropsync&hl=en) will do this for you (Figure 3). In addition, Dropbox is supported internally by a wide variety of individual Android apps, which will let you edit files directly from or save files directly to your Dropbox account. An example of this on my Transformer Prime is Epistle (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kooklab.epistle&hl=en), a very elegant Markdown editor, which automatically updates the list of files in its folder to a folder on Dropbox.

Figure 3. DropSync Config Screen

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Android Phone Online Store's picture

I am not using Linux as an OS for my laptop and even to my smartphone because not all applications are compatible with it, and I am not familiar with the Linux.

Android User

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I do like my android phone, especially plugging it into my computer usb port, and easy access to material saved on my phone. I really enjoyed this article, thank you.

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Using Debian 7.0 and

lyemium's picture

Using Debian 7.0 and installing mtpfs and mtp-tools from the package manager gives a nice plug and play capability when connecting Android 4.1 devices.

All that is needed is to connect the device and use the thunar file to take care of all the drag and drop functionality, no complaints so far.

Like Android

Online Website Tutorials's picture

I lke linux and android, I hope this is also suppport my gadget

Samba server app

Anonymous's picture

you can make use of Samba server app for Local connection ;)

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For KDE install kio-mtp

Anonymous's picture

At least in the Fedora repos the package kio-mtp is available for the KDE desktop.

Android device is automatically detected when plugged into usb connector. Pop-Up options include view folders in Dolphin or Krusader.

Read / write access is as fast as usb will go - tested with Nexus 7.

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Android is Linux -- why no better inter-operation

Saint DanBert's picture

Linux and the several *nix systems have wonderful, LAN and NET based tools for inter-connection and inter-operation -- especially where file sharing and related operations are involved. This dates back to UUCP when modems were $1,000, were leased from telco, and were periodically connected because leased lines were extremely expensive.

I'm astonished that these tools have not become available for connecting
Android systems with Linux systems.

~~~ 8d;-Dan

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Connecting Android device to desktop Linux via USB

philip ramsey's picture

I run openSUSE on my laptop and Android 4.0 on the HTC Amaze. I discovered a number of USB tools that allows the browsing of USB storage devices. By installing USBView and USBprog, it allows the HTC Amaze to be seen as an USB storage device. It also works with the Samsung Galaxy Nexus running Android 4.1. The transfer speeds are the same as any other USB device - transfer 1 GB in minutes. The entire Android file system is accessible from the Linux laptop.

git-annex assistant

Shock's picture

you should check out git annex assistant. open source, runs on linux and has android app. it also supports sync via box.net

direct cable connection

Daniel Barlow unregistered's picture

It may not be the most user-friendly option in a GUI sense, but I've found that the simplest way to get files onto the device over a USB cable is to use "adb push"

play with linux? i think you mean work-around linux

er0ck's picture

the vast majority of the article is about platform agnostic solutions. this is great. was just surprised. :-)
i too am dismayed at how poor MTP operates under linux. it seems to work great from macOSX.
i use sshdroid (still a bit finicky including no way when i checked to upload entire folders) and sftp (isn't this root only?) as well. linux cron jobs notice when my phone is on my network and initiates some rsync stuff for mostly pics/clips, but also my evernote stuff.

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Where is Epistle?

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I keep hearing about this great note taking app Epistle, but whenever I follow the links or search in the google play store I'm told that the page isn't there and don't find any search results.

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Epistle

Anonymous's picture

I used Epistle but it is no longer supported, but an app called Denote is a great substitute that does the same thing. I use it to sync notes to my Ubuntu desktop with a program called PS Notes.

You forgot OwnCloud

Paraplegic Racehorse's picture

Android (OwnCloud - https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.owncloud.android&featu....) and [many] linux distros include native OwnCloud clients. Several online archive/backup/share service providers have switched to OwnCloud to ease their internal administration issues. You can, in theory, have your cake and eat it too.

The problem is 3rd-party app support of OwnCloud on Android. There are lots of apps that talk back and forth with DropBox and Box but very very few, if any, that talk to an OwnCloud server, so if you need this, those files should be kept at those hosting sites. On the upside, your DropBox folder can be mirrored on your OwnCloud server so you don't need to worry overmuch about losing your files should DropBox ever fail for you. :)

go-mtpfs

John M Cooper's picture

Hi,

I have found go-mtpfs https://github.com/hanwen/go-mtpfs to be a really fast and stable way to access my MTP android. You have to do a bit of leg work to get it installed but after that it works great. Lets hope somebody packages soon.

john

Missed one

Kevin Seise's picture

You missed the Android side client for SSH mounting. SSHFSAndroid allows you to create mount points for your linux hosted files and treat them like sshfs mounts. Rooting is required to insert the fuse module, but it works really well on my tablets and phone. Great article by the way!.

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.chaos9k.sshfsandroid&h...

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Useful apps

Robin's picture

Two apps help greatly with the transfer of data from mobile to linux, which should also get mentioned. AirDroid permits a connection by WLAN to any computer capable of running a browser, copying files to and fro is one of the main features, though not the only one; and Bump permits the transfer of data to other mobile devices literally by bumping them against each other, and here, too, any computer running a browser and having a keyboard can be the target. You bump the space key.

Agreed on AirDroid. With my

Anonymous's picture

Agreed on AirDroid. With my Motorola Electrify M running Jelly Bean 4.1.2, plugging it into the computer results in a USB mass storage device being made available which contains the Motorola driver downloader for MS Windows. Once that driver is installed on a Windows machine the driver manages to disable the USB mass storage device and provides MTP access. This does not seem to be possible on Linux as of yet. I tried the go-mtpfs program above, but it cannot find an MTP device (it's one of several such programs I've tried.

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