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iPhoto and libraries on removable media Apps
A friend called up a bit confused over the behavior of iPhoto. He had originally set up his iPhoto library on his removable FireWire drive (using this hint). All was working well until one day when he connected his camera to the Mac while the FireWire drive was powered down. My friend knew the drive was off, so he wasn't surprised that iPhoto didn't show his existing library and albums. He imported the new images and then quit iPhoto.

Later, with the FireWire drive connected again, he relaunched iPhoto and was surprised to find that while his "new" images showed up, his older library and albums were nowhere to be seen. He could see that they were still on the FireWire drive, but iPhoto didn't seem to know anything about them. He called me with two questions. First, out of curiosity, where were the new photos stored, as he couldn't find them using Sherlock or the Finder? Second, and much more important, how could he get the original library and albums to show up in iPhoto again?

Those of you who are familiar with the way OS X operates probably have already figured out what happened. For those of you who don't know what the problem was and would like to know, read the rest of the article for the cause of the problem and the relatively easy solution -- although I will admit I was stumped for a few minutes myself until doing a bit of sleuthing in the Terminal!

The problem my friend ran into is basically that the system did what it needed to do to get the job done. So when he connected his camera, iPhoto launched and checked its preferences for where to find the image library. In the prefs file, the location had been altered to point to the now-missing FireWire drive. For ease of example, let's assume that they were stored in a folder named images on a partition named Media on the FireWire drive. In this example, the prefs file for iPhoto ( in ~/Library/Preferences) would contain these lines:
When iPhoto goes to open this location, it finds that it doesn't exist (since the FireWire drive isn't mounted). So the system simply creates a new folder structure matching the specified path in /Volumes, and iPhoto launches as usual.

This answers question number one - where did the new imports go? They were all sitting in the newly created (but invisible from the normal Finder) /Volumes/Media/images folder structure. To see them, I had my friend use Go -> Go to Folder (command-tilde) in the Finder and enter /Volumes as the destination. This opens a window to the Volumes directory (which contains all mounted drive volumes). In that window, there were several volume icons (disks with globes on top of them) along with one lone folder icon for "Media", which then contained another folder for "images", which then contained his newly created iPhoto library.

To make sure we saved the 'new' images, I had him select all of them from within iPhoto and export them to the desktop. Once that was done, it was time to tackle problem number two - how to get iPhoto working normally again.

The reason that iPhoto continues to see the same "newly imported" images each time it is run is because that's where the Prefs file is telling it to look. Remounting the FireWire drive does not solve the problem because the FireWire drive will actually now mount with a new name. Since "Media" in the Volumes folder is now already used (by the newly created folders), when the FireWire drive comes online it is named "Media 1". This name does not match the iPhoto prefs, so nothing from the drive is displayed. You can see if you have this problem by simply looking at the Volumes folder in the Finder - there shouldn't be any folder icons, and you should not have a "1" after your drive names unless you put it there yourself.

To get the old library and albums back, it's a relatively straightforward process:
  1. Quit iPhoto if it's running (and make sure you have any images from the 'bad' location exported to a safe location).
  2. Unmount the FireWire drive if it's running by ejecting any mounted partitions and unplug it.
  3. In the Finder, use command-tilde and enter /Volumes to display the drives window.
  4. Drag the 'bad' folder ('Media' in our example) to the trash. Do not drag anything with the drive/globe icon to the trash, only drag out the item with a folder icon!
  5. Empty the trash if you're paranoid.
  6. Reconnect the FireWire drive.
  7. Relaunch the iPhoto application
All should now be back to normal, since the FireWire drive will have mounted again at "Media" instead of "Media 1". iPhoto will be able to find all the images and files it needs to display the original library and albums.

Although this explanation is overly detailed, I tried to provide some explanation of not just how to fix the problem, but why it happened in the first place. The moral of the story? If you keep your iPhoto library on a removable drive, make sure the drive is mounted prior to launching iPhoto. Also keep a heads-up for other programs that may have hard-coded path preferences pointing to removable drives, as this could happen with other applications as well.
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report to apple!
Authored by: dfbills on Mar 20, '02 12:36:04AM

This is exactly the type of "problem" that needs to brought to apple's attention. MacOSX should be smarter than this- iPhoto should be smarter than this. Please send feedback to the macosx page on apple's site!

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Hack vs. feature
Authored by: robg on Mar 20, '02 01:34:36AM

The thing I've asked Apple for already via the feedback mechanism is an officially supported method of moving your library file. The problem with the current method is that it's a hack -- Apple never told us to modify the prefs file to change the library location.

If there were an officially supported pref for "Library location", it would clearly be better than the current solution. The problem with the current method is that it hard codes a path into a prefs file, and there's obviously no code in the app to handle a situation where the path no longer exists, since the program wasn't expecting its library to be anywhere other than the default location. A programming oversight or a design decision? Who knows ... but hopefully they'll add library location management to the next release.


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Re: Hack vs. feature
Authored by: sjk on Mar 21, '02 02:10:16AM

Yep, I wonder if single-library support in iPhoto 1.0 was a choice intended to create less confusion for "beginners" than with more savvy folks who'd discover workarounds. Hard to believe the developers of what was certain to be a high-visibility product were naive enough to blindly omit multi-library support. Then again, other Apple products already have that capability...

Seems we often enjoy the banter of speculation more than knowing the truth. :-)

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iPhoto Library Manager to the Rescue!
Authored by: kerim on Mar 20, '02 10:43:31AM
This little freeware application takes care of all my problems. It is wonderfully designed, simple and easy to use. It allows you to have an endless amount of iPhoto libraries stored in different locations. I find that if I put all my photos in a single library it gets very slow and difficult to use on my iBook (white), but this way I can have much more flexibility and control. Give it a try (it is free):


[Editor's note: I replaced the VersionTracker link with the direct URL, as VersionTracker seems to be having some issues today...]

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iPhoto web output
Authored by: teknovision on Mar 21, '02 03:23:36AM

alternative web output formats and destination for iPhoto.. .

I would like to share my photos directly to my website - any ideas if this can be done/has been done [my thinking being that if it can log on to iTools then it shouldn't be too big a match to redirect it to a specified server - or am i being silly here?]?

The output format to web is a bit 'simple' any ideas whether more 'complex' options have been created?

any help/thoughts would be truly appreciated.. .

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Alternative to deleting /Volumes/iPhoto-created-folder
Authored by: jasonharrison on Jul 16, '02 02:01:08PM

As has been suggested, iPhoto Library Manager (available from version tracker) can redirect iPhoto to any folder. I too have been bitten by the interaction between iPhoto and removable media: photos from four days of a five week vacation in one library, the rest in another.

I did not find that it was necessary to export the photos from the iPhoto created folder in /Volumes (except to attempt to reunite them with the rest of the photos). Instead, you can just copy/move the folder to a most visible location using the finder or terminal:

% mv /Volumes/iPhoto-created-folder ~/Desktop

and then unmount, unplug, and then remount the removeable media.

Personally, I have found using iPhoto Library Manager to be very helpful, and have learned (the hard way) to check /Volumes before pluging in my firewire drive, confirm the direction that iPhoto is using, confirm that I'm using the correct iPhoto library AND THEN start the photo import with the "erase after import" box UNCHECKED. This procedure prevents me from making mistakes due to iPhoto "Hacks" and OS X's strange media mounting behaviour, and doesn't destroy any information until I'm sure that everything is working correctly.

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