Migrating from Songbird/Nightingale to iTunes

TL;DR; If you still use Songbird or Nightingale and want to migrate your music database to iTunes, start reading here.

Bye-bye Songbird, bye-bye Nightingale

Is anyone out there still using Nightingale or even Songbird? I started using Songbird in 2009 (or even earlier) and switched to Nightingale in 2013. All that time I loved the open source approach of both applications and even contrtibuted a bit myself. However, there also were a lot of drawbacks like performance, incompatibilities of addons after each new version, etc. Speaking of addons – the idea of a modular media player that is extensible just like Firefox or Thunderbird is wonderful. However, it seems to me there’s not much of a community left that releases addons for Nightingale. One of my favorites used to be MLyrics, which was last released in 2013 and doesn’t work properly anymore in the current version of Nightingale (at least for me). Still, there seems to be some development going on. Same goes for the core media player software itself: We all know that Songbird was discontinued in 2013 and the last release of Nightingale was published in January, 2014. Even though there also seems to be some development going on, I lost hope that there will be better usability at some point. So I finally decided with a heavy heart to move on. Nevertheless, I’d like to say thank you to all the Nightingale developers for their strong efforts to keep the dream of a real open source alternative for iTunes alive.

Is there a better alternative to Nightingale? That question I cannot answer properly. My reasons for migrating to iTunes are that it has been maintained by a huge company for years and it’s one of the most popular media players around. So hopefully, it might get along better with my rather huge media library in terms of performance. Plus it is the only tool that is capable of feeding my iPod Nano 6 :-/

Technical approaches of migrating to iTunes

Leaving sentimentality behind – how to migrate from Songbird/Nightingale to iTunes?

One of the nice things about Songbird/Nightingale is their SQLite database. I already worked with it before when creating a playlist exporter for Songbird using the java programming language. It’s always a good idea not to reinvent the wheel. So after extracting the database wrapper into a separate project – songbirdDbApi4j (right now, I really wonder why I named it like this 😮 ) – we’re halfway done with the Songbird to iTunes migration. Almost.

The other half – importing to iTunes was a bit more challenging. iTunes stores its database in an XML file. So one approach is to access this XML directly, just like tools such as iTunesExport. However, this file is generated by iTunes merely for the purpose of exporting, the actual database is stored in the ITL file. It would be possible to recreate the ITL from the XML, but this approach is not very convenient. So a different approach might be more suitable here: on Windows, iTunes offers a COM Interface. It’s poorly documented but fortunately, the developers of COM4j implemented it as one of their sample projects. In order to ease the use of this API, I create a very basic Java wrapper for iTunes’ COM API (itunes4j).

Almost done! What’s missing is a bit of glue logic that reads all files, some of their attributes and all playlists from songbird using songbirdDbApi4j and adds them to iTunes via iTunes4j.

Migrating to iTunes

After a lot of empirical studies and nightly test migrations, I’m proud to present a tool for migrating from songbird to iTunes: songbird2itunes. In case there happen to be any other Nightingale survivors out there that run on Windows and would like to migrate their music database to iTunes, you might just give it a go!

I did my best to make it a resilient migration tool. Still, there might be errors. So:

  1. Double check if you really want to leave Nightingale behind
  2. Make sure to read the wiki first. If you’re sure you want to do this, start the migration as described there.
  3. When the migration is done, check if the statistics show any warnings.
  4. If so, look for WARN in the songbird2itunes.log and see if those are not critical for you.
  5. In case of error, please fix it and contribute 🙂
  6. Manually check your new iTunes library, making sure everything is as expected
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Songbird/Nightingale: Exporting playlists

The playlist problem

As mentioned in my previous post I have been using Songbird/Nightingale for quite some time, in spite of the drawback mentioned in the post.

No matter if using Songbird or Nightingale, one of my main problem still remained the same: The playlists are trapped somewhere inside the library with no way to export as playlist files. Absolutely no way? That’s not the whole truth, however, as there are (or were) addons like Playlist Export Tool, Export My Playlists or FolderSync. Thanks to the developers, by the way – those addons were really useful to me!

Unfortunately, with every new songbird release, all addons stopped working. In other words: Whenever I made the mistake of updating updated, I wasn’t able to export playlists anymore. I actually don’t even know if there are any addons left, that are compatible to the most recent version of Songbird.

The playlist solution

One more good thing about Songbird (and Nightingale as well), is that it uses an SQLite database. This allows for accessing the Songbird database from a variety of programming languages without getting your hands dirty and makes way for a “third-party” tool, that is capable of exporting playlists from the Songbird database and doesn’t depend on the Songbird version. I developed an exporter in Java and been using it some time to make my Songbird playlists available on my NAS.

As I thought this exporter might be useful to others, I refactored the quick and dirty source code and published it on GitHub. So now, I’m proud to present songbirdDbTools a Java-based playlist exporter for Songbird/Nightingale that was just released in its very first version. Hopefully, it will be of use for somebody else, who was missing this functionality as much as I did 🙂

 

The name is a bit of an exaggeration at this point, as the tool provides only the export functionality. However, I put some effort in designing songbirdDbTools to be as extensible as possible. I have a couple of things in mind that would be useful.
For example synchronizing playlists. That is, exporting not only the playlist but copy the member files as well. This might come handy for effectively synchronizing files to mobile devices.
Or finding zombies and ghosts (like the Excorcist used to do, three years ago). Another neat feature might be to find out all playlists a file belongs

If only I had more time!

So, just in case you’re interested in contributing: Fork songbirdDbTools on GitHub!