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Apple iPod Shuffle storage bug

Now that I can work from home on my brand new MacBook Pro, and that I’ve been using my iPod Nano in the car for months, my iPod Shuffle doesn’t get used too much, not even when I’m out jogging. So what to do with my first generation iPod Shuffle? Well, with it sporting one gigabyte of storage, it’s pretty good for shuttling stuff to & from work. Sounds like a great idea, yeah? Not quite.

I’m currently working on a new website for a client, which needs me to copy both the web files (.php, .css, .js, .gif, .jpg) and the actual work files (.txt, .doc, .psd, .ai, .xls) onto the iPod Shuffle.

First time I did this, all seemed fine. Then the second time, I got the files open at work and I found that certain folders & files had been made upper case.

So instead of: “layers.css” I got: “LAYERS.CSS” which seemed just like an annoyance more than anything. With that in mind, I renamed the folders & files accordingly.

I went live with the website over Thursday night and all was working great. I got a friend to have a look at the website to make sure all was well in as many different web browsers as possible.

I paid particular attention to the gallery feature, which was quite an intricate lump of code taken from elsewhere. However, to my dismay, Carl only saw a graphic loaded into an empty window when he clicked on one of the thumbnails.

Thing is, earlier in the day, someone else saw the self same problem. So that got me thinking.

Then I remembered the renaming nonsense, at which point I then realized there was a pattern. And out of that, the solution became clear to me, and the bug in the first generation iPod Shuffle emerged.

You see, the folders & files that were being renamed were all made of up names equal to or less than eight characters. And specifically in the context of files, they were of the 8.3 DOS file name formatting, which means a file name of eight or less characters, a period separator followed by a 3 character suffix.

The reason this happens is because the iPod Shuffle’s flash drive is formatted as the FAT32 file system:

“File Allocation Table (FAT) is a partially patented file system developed by Microsoft for MS-DOS and is the primary file system for consumer versions of Microsoft Windows up to and including Windows Me. FAT as it applies to flexible/floppy and optical disk cartridges (FAT12 and FAT16 without LFN support) has been standardized as ECMA-107 and ISO/IEC 9293.”

However, because Unix-based file systems are typically case-sensitive, a file called: “layers.css” is not the same as: “LAYERS.CSS”, which was the cause of the problem.

So for me, problem solved. However, as for Apple, that’s a job for their engineers to sort out. In the meantime, I’ll be compressing my files as archives from now on…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.

2 replies on “Apple iPod Shuffle storage bug”

I think it would be a bit unfair to call it a bug with the Shuffle.

As you note, it is related to the format of the hard drive, using FAT, which is the cause of the problem, rather then the Shuffle itself.
Reformatting the Shuffle to a Mac format would remove any problems with case.
Apple ship most iPods with FAT formatted hard drives to provide access from both Windows and Apple OS, but you can change it to the format of your choosing from within your OS, without causing any problems using your iPod.

Hi Carl!

Having tried reformatting it for the Mac, it’s now unusable with iTunes in any way, shape or form.

Additionally, most seasoned Mac users will not know anything of weird file system foibles. Nor should they. either.

I’d call that a bug.

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