AirDroid, a handy Android app for managing your phone from Linux

AirDroid

In a previous article I explained how I installed and used the Windows application MyPhoneExplorer in WINE to manage the phone book (contacts list) in my HTC Desire mobile phone. Well, today I found out about AirDroid, a clever and useful Android application that can do the same thing, as well as the other tasks that MyPhoneExplorer can do, such as transfer files between my laptop and my phone, typing SMS on the laptop to send from the phone, and so on.

Last week I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note II and I needed to transfer a lot of large PDF files from my laptop to the new phone. Now, with my HTC Desire I could simply connect the phone to my laptop with a USB cable, mount the phone in KDE as a storage device, and drag the files across from one Dolphin file manager window to another. But the Samsung phone uses MTP for file transfers and, when the phone is connected to my laptop with a USB cable I can browse the phone’s file directories in Dolphin, but I cannot copy files from the laptop to the phone. Applications that use MTP for file transfer do exist for Windows and OS X (in fact Samsung provides Kies for this purpose), but my laptop runs Linux. I had not got around to installing the latest version (1.8.4) of MyPhoneExplorer to check if it works with the HTC Desire, let alone with a Samsung phone. So I searched the Web to see if there was a Linux application that uses MTP for general file transfer (i.e. not one of the dedicated music players in Linux that do support MTP for transferring music files only).

And that is how I learned about AirDroid, which allows you to “wirelessly manage your Android from your favourite browser.” The AirDroid Web site and the Android Play Store page for AirDroid explain the features of the application and both have a video showing it in operation.

From the AirDroid Web site:

What is AirDroid?

AirDroid is a fast, free app that lets you wirelessly manage & control your Android devices (phone & tablet) from a web browser. It’s designed with the vision to bridge the gap between your Android device and web browser, on desktop computers or tablet devices, on Windows, Mac/iOS, or Linux.

What can I do with AirDroid?

You can use AirDroid to send/receive SMS (text messages, if supported by the device), install/uninstall apps, transfer files between Android device and computer/tablet, and manage contacts, photos, music, videos, and ringtones, etc., all in a web browser. Install AirDroid on your Android device and open your favorite web browser to experience it yourself.

I immediately used Play Store on my phone to install AirDroid. I launched AirDroid, launched Firefox on my laptop and opened http://web.airdroid.com/, and was able to connect the laptop and phone quickly and easily. I block-selected the eighty files in the Dolphin window that I wanted to copy to the phone and dragged them to the phone’s Download directory window in the Firefox window. One by one the files were copied to the phone, with a little progress bar against each one. However, for some reason a few of the files were not copied so I dragged those across individually after the copying of the others had completed.

AirDroid in Firefox on my laptop

AirDroid in Firefox on my laptop

The above snapshot of my laptop’s screen shows the AirDroid desktop inside the maximised Firefox window. The window with the yellow folder icons inside it is actually an AirDroid window which I opened by clicking on the blue folder named ‘Files’ on the left side of the AirDroid desktop. These windows can be dragged around the AirDroid desktop in the browser window, and can even be resized.

A connection problem, and a solution

When I tried to connect the phone and laptop again later, an error message was displayed in the browser window on the laptop:

Failed to connect. Make sure your device is connected to a same WiFi network.

I was sure that the two devices were on the same WiFi network but, no matter what I tried, I could not get the laptop and phone to connect again. I looked through the AirDroid forums and found a thread indicating that this is a common problem.

Some users who posted in that thread were able to connect after they disabled the firewall on the PC, and others were able to connect by deleting the cookies in the browser. However, I think the fundamental cause of the problem is IPTables in Android Jelly Bean (see this comment). Anyway, taking all these factors into consideration, here is the way I got around the problem when it occurred:

On the laptop

1. Make sure the firewall is disabled.

As I use UFW on my laptop, all I need to do is:

# ufw disable

2. Launch Firefox and delete all cookies.

3. Open http://web.airdroid.com/

On the phone

1. Power down the phone, then power it up again.

2. Disable ‘Mobile data’ so that the phone cannot connect to the Internet via the mobile network, only via WiFi.

3. Enable WiFi.

4. Launch AirDroid.

From then on use AirDroid as usual, i.e. click on ‘Start’ and then either click on the camera icon and point the camera at the QR Code on the AirDroid page in the brower window or type the 6-character passcode displayed on the phone in the passcode box in the browser window and click ‘Login’.

That’s it!

AirDroid is a novel and useful application that now enables me to manage my Android phone from within Linux without needing to use WINE. Nice! :-)

(My thanks to Gentoo Forums user Q-collective in the thread [Workaround] Syncing Galaxy S3: What mediaplayer is capable? for mentioning AirDroid, otherwise I would never have known about it.)

EDIT November 5, 2012: I have used AirDroid on my home network and a public network, both using DHCP, not static IP addresses. I think AirDroid does not work if you use static IP addressing, so if you still run into trouble after following all the steps listed above, also check if you have a static IP address specified in the phone and router, and set them to use dynamic IP addressing instead.

EDIT November 26, 2012: Apparently some people — even those using static IP addresses — can get AirDroid working in their home network simply by rebooting their home router, so that’s something else you could try.

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About Fitzcarraldo
A Linux user with an interest in all things technical.

18 Responses to AirDroid, a handy Android app for managing your phone from Linux

  1. Pingback: Editing from a Linux PC the phone book (contacts list) in an Android phone « Fitzcarraldo's Blog

  2. irenicus09 says:

    Hmm…looks like a very useful app indeed. I’ll have to try that out cos I’ve also faced issues getting my phone to work properly.

  3. fixmybrokepc says:

    For the life of me, I can’t get this to work in FF/Chrome/IE in Windows or in FF/Chrome in Linux (Fedora 18). Even with your suggestions. I’m stumped. I am absolutely connected to the same network, there is no firewall on the Fedora computer and the phone isn’t rooted.

    • Fitzcarraldo says:

      My phone isn’t rooted either.

      I’ve tried AirDroid using Gentoo Linux with Firefox, and using Windows 7 with Firefox and IE9. And on two different networks using DHCP: my home WiFi network and a public WiFi network at an airport. In my case AirDroid works fine with Firefox in both OSs, but not with IE9 in Windows 7 (the phone says it’s connected, but the IE9 window does not complete loading the AirDroid desktop, and an AirDroid window in IE9 displays a message from the developer stating that AirDroid supports Firefox, Chrome and Safari and cannot guaranteed results with other browsers).

      I wonder if the version of Android has something to do with your problem. My Samsung Galaxy Note II is running Android 4.1.1. What version of Android does your phone use?

      Are you using your home network? Are you using static or dynamic IP addressing? There is a post in the AirDroid Forum mentioning changing from static to dynamic IP addressing, so you could check that to see what is currently configured in your phone, laptop and router. Can you ping your phone from your laptop, and vice versa (install the Android application Fing)?

      • fixmybrokepc says:

        My HTC One S is running 4.0.4 currently. Home network, every device is static-assigned an IP based on it’s MAC address. Ironically, I can’t even ping my phone’s LAN IP address either. Ironically, It works on my school’s multimillion dollar Enterprise WiFi network though. And that is a Firewalled LAN.

        • Fitzcarraldo says:

          Presumably your school’s large WiFi network uses DHCP? If I understand correctly the AirDroid Forum administrator’s reply in the thread IP Address Management, AirDroid does not work with static IP addressing. You could check that by configuring your phone and your laptop to use DHCP, instead of a static IP address, and configuring your router’s device list to not have a static IP address for those two particular devices and instead use DHCP in their case.

  4. fixmybrokepc says:

    I’ll try this when I get home. It seems rather stupid though that it doesn’t work w/ static IP address and I can find no logical reason why it would be this way. (Not complaining so much as making an observation.)

    • Fitzcarraldo says:

      It’s my guess that AirDroid currently doesn’t support static IP addressing, but I don’t know enough about how AirDroid communicates to know whether or not static IP addressing would be possible. Even if my guess is correct, perhaps support for static IP addresses is something the developers could add in future, but perhaps there’s a good technical reason for not doing it. Anyway, let us know how you get on. I’ve added a note to my blog post, telling people to try disabling static IP addressing if they still have trouble connecting after trying the other steps mentioned in my blog post. If I understand correctly how AirDroid works, the communications chain is not phone–laptop or phone–router–laptop, it’s phone–router–AirDroid server on the Web–router–laptop, so there is a data security implication! Copying photos between your phone and laptop is one thing, but you might want to consider whether or not you would want to copy highly personal data this way (although I do notice the AirDroid browser page has an ‘Express’ mode and a ‘Secure’ mode, so perhaps the latter might allay people’s fears).

  5. fixmybrokepc says:

    OK, so after some testing, I didn’t change my static assignments at home, but when I connect to my phone via AirDroid on my laptop while at school, it does indeed work. So it does look like it’s the static assignments is what was fouling me up. Thanks for the help, much obliged. :)

  6. hmmm. odd. I am using Ubuntu and have used Aidroid for around 6 months since I acquired my HTC One S. I have always used static IP addresses for devices on my network and not encountered a problem until I updated to Quantal Quetzal last month. Now I have the same issue as described. One my droid I use Fing to see whats on my network and the phone shows up fine, but the ubuntu box doesn’t show, even after I disabled the firewall using your instructions. I think the problem lies with the PC rather than with the phone/airdroid or the static IP addresses issue. Eitherway I have followed oyours and other ideas but I still have the same problem – and sorry dynamic IP addresses are not an option for me. So if it turns out that they are the issue its byebye Airdroid, which would be a huge shame as it is an excellent app

  7. The simplest solutions are often the most effective. I rebooted my router. Works. All addresses I use on my 192.168.x.x network are static.

    Good luck in resolving your issues.

  8. Andy Field says:

    Thanks for pointing me at this app works fine for me on a dhcp small wireless network(using ip address, not site address which may use dns). I have checked while working and all transfers appear to be direct from laptop to phone(checked using wireshark). Nice to find such a useful free app.

  9. humpty says:

    Airdroid cannot be uninstalled.

  10. Steve says:

    That blog isn’t much of a recommendation! I certainly wouldn’t try Airdroid after reading that! Too bad there isn’t some way to connect to an Android device with Linux that works properly!

  11. Steve says:

    This app wants access to everything on the phone! Who wrote this the NSA? By the way humpty, it can be uninstalled easily, just click on Remove. At least I think it’s gone but you never know I guess.

  12. Caz says:

    Thank you Fitz, after days of pulling my hair out with my new phone, I found your post, it works great with the Samsung Galaxy S4 :)

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