The Pyrite Project
Integrating Your Palm Handheld with Your Linux Desktop

Andrew Blais, Ph.D.
David Mertz, Ph.D.
Unindicted Co-Conspirators, Gnosis Software, Inc.
May 2001

The Pyrite Project has created several related tools to allow Python programmers to access and control PalmOS handheld devices. Pyrite is used to communicate with and manage the data help on Palm devices; Pyrite Publisher is used to create and distribute Doc format e-books to Palm devices. This article discusses David's experience in working with Pyrite tools, their underlying architecture, and tips for effective use of the Pyrite tools.

What Is The Pyrite Project?

We suppose our reader is like us in the following three ways. You have a brand new PalmOS handheld that promises to do all sorts of neat things. Your OS of choice is Linux. And, you want to transform documents that you can access from within your Linux environment into documents that you can access with your PalmOS handheld, and maybe even programmatically manipulate the record database on your Palm. The Pyrite Project provides this set of tools; we will focus, in this article, on the portion dubbed Pyrite Publisher that deals with document conversions.

While the Pyrite Project has some promise, and addresses some important needs, it unfortunately still has a lot of rough edges. We will try to walk you through the problems you are likely to encounter.

What You Will Need

Pyrite Publisher is written in Python, and depends on some code provided by yet another pair of packages called Pilot-Link and Pyrite. Consequently, you will need the following five things.

1. Python 1.5.2, or greater.
2. The development headers for Python.
3. A C compiler -- gcc worked for us.
4. The pilot-link library, 0.8.11 or greater.
5. The header files from pilot-link.
6. The development headers from pyrite

We will assume that you don't need help with (1), (2) or (3). There are two ways to get (4) and (5). Both methods will get you the needed header files and libraries.

The first method employs RPM. Goto, and download the RPMs for pilot-link and pilot-link-devel. If you're using RedHat 7.0, these two links should take you to precisely what you need. The first will get you the headers, and the second will get you the libraries. See the Resources section below for links to these RPMs.

The second method is for those of you who don't have access to, or don't want to use RPM. Simply, download pilot-link, and install by hand. Download the source (see Resources). Use the standard procedures to install, namely:

bash session for installing pilot-link source
$ tar zxvf pilot-link.0.9.3.tar.gz
$ cd pilot-link.0.9.3
$ ./configure
$ make
$ make intsall

To get the development headers from Pyrite first download the source (see Resources). Next, do the following:

bash session for installing Pyrite source
$ tar zxvf pyrite-0.9.3.tar.gz
$ cd pyrite-0.9.3
$ ./configure
$ make

One of the Makefile's has an error, so use your favorite editor to open 'i18n/Makefile. On line 26, change:

Required fix for Makefile error
# mkdir -p $(DESTDIR)$(LOCALEDIR) ;
mkdir -p $(DESTDIR)$(LOCALEDIR) ; \

Otherwise, you will get the following error message:

make[1]: Entering directory
if [ "yes" = "yes" ]; then \
mkdir -p /usr/share/locale ;
/bin/sh: -c: line 2: syntax error: unexpected end of file
make[1]: *** [install] Error 2
make[1]: Leaving directory `/root/PAPERS/palm-stuff/pyrite-0.9.3/i18n'
make: *** [install] Error 2

Finally, run make install.

You now have all the header files and libraries that you need to install Pyrite Publisher.


We encountered several problems installing the Pyrite libraries and headers on our Mandrake 7.1 system. These issues are not directly Pyrite's fault, but you might find you have to install a few dependencies on your system. First, configure complained that it couldn't find the python config makefile. We downloaded a suitable python-dev RPM, which we downloaded and installed with no trouble (see Resource).

Next, configure complained that it couldn't find the pilot-link library. We knew that pilot-link was installed, and that we had /usr/lib/ and /usr/lib/ But, we didn't have a generic libpisock. This was resolved by creating the following link in /usr/lib:

Creating an non-numbered link
$ ln -s

Subseqently, configure complained that it couldn't find the pilot-link library. So, we searched rpmfind for the appropriate pilot-link-devel-*.rpm. However, we encountered the infamous "only packages with major numbers <= 3 are supported by this version of RPM". So, we used the force: we got the source (see Resource). Then, we did the following:

bash session for installing pilot-link headers
$ tar zxvf pilot-link-0.9.3.tar.gz
$ pilot-link/include
$ cp * /usr/local/include

Finally, configure was happy. And make ran fine. We thought that we were on our way, but make install died because of the already mentioned typographical error in pyrite-0.9.3/i18n/Makefile. We made the change described above, and even make install worked.

On our Slackware 7.1 system, python-dev was installed by default, but pilot-link was not. Pilot-link needed to be configured with the --without-cpp option. Our glibc and gcc had been upgraded from the 7.1 default, which may or may not have led to this option being required.

Aside On Pyrite

Pyrite-0.9.3 provides a library that can be used to write Python code that will communicate with a PalmOS device. If you are a Palm user who has made it to this document, you will more likely than not also be a user who will eventually want to write such code. If so, you will be in luck, because you will have the resources to do it.

One valuable source of information is to be found in pyrite-0.9.3/doc/prg/html/book1.html, which is the root of the Pyrite Programmers Guide. Pyrite depends on another library called Sulfur, and there is helpful documentation to be found in pyrite-0.9.3/Sulfur/doc/html/book1.html, which is the root of the Sulfur Programmers Guide. The relation between Pyrite and Sulfur can be better understood by noting that as Rob Tillotson developed Pyrite, he found that he had also been developing code that was useful outside the context of palm applications. This code became Sulfur.

In or under pyrite-0.9.3, you will find the following five Python modules with their various classes.

1. Block, Record, AppBlock, CategoryAppBlock, SortBlock, Resource, and PrefBlock
2. Database, Slice, and CategoryIterator
3. Store/ BaseStore and Store
4. Application/ Application, PyriteState, and PyriteCLIAppContext
5. Conduit/ Conduit

Blocks and Database are imported along with Pyrite, but Store, Application and Conduit are not., There are also additional modules, classes and methods, but the listed ones received the vast majority of the attention in the documentation. In this context, we will only summarize these modules and some of their methods.

Block objects represent and transform data to and from PalmOS and Python readable states. For example, Python stores the time in a tuple, and a palm stores the time in the form of two packed bytes. Suppose we want the time 10 hours, 30 minutes, and 0 seconds. Then,

Python code for creating a Palm date

from Pyrite import Blocks
time_tuple = (10, 30, 0)
palm_time = Blocks.tuple_to_palm_date(time_tuple)

will put 4032 in palm_time, which is the way that a Palm internally represents the time.

A Database object is an accessable database with an .append() method, a .new_record() method, a .delete() method, and a .next_record() method. This is all quite interesting stuff, but it also goes quite beyond our aim here. We refer our readers to the above cited resources.

Installing Pyrite Publisher

Of course, begin by downloading the source (see Resource). Then, do the following:

bash session for installing Pyrite Publisher
$ tar zxvf pyrite-publisher-1.99.0.tar.gz
$ cd pyrite-publisher-1.99.0
$ python install

One would hope that this is all that you needed to do. Unfortunately, this is not true. There are several more poblems with Pyrite Publisher. Here is how we resolved them.

Some More Fixes

Again, Pyrite Publisher promises to transform documents into files that can be uploaded to and read on a PalmOS handheld. Unfortunately, Pyrite Publisher doesn't do what it is supposed to do right out of the box. We found that we needed to make several fixes before we could get it working. For someone with no knowledge of Python, this is really a big problem. The following code changes will allow you to fix Pyrite Publisher just enough to transform a document such as an html document into a form that can be uploaded to a PalmOS handheld, and then read them conveniently on a train or in a cafe.

Several changes are needed to PyritePublisher/ In Plugin.eof(), on line 79, change:

Required fix for (1)
# self.fmt.add_flowing_data(p.anchorlist[x])

On line 99 (same class), change:

Required fix for (2)
# DocToolkit.entitydefs import entitydefs
PyritePublisher.entitydefs import entitydefs

The next fix is to PyritePublisher/ On line 32, change:

Required fix for
# DocToolkit import metrics
PyritePublisher import metrics

Apparently, these changes were necessary since the authors of this project failed to remember that they had changed the name of their project big time ouch.

The next fix is to PyritePublisher/ In DocWriteStream.close(), on line 135, change:

Required fix for
# db.setRecord(0x40, uid, 0, bookmark_pack(t,p))
db.setRecord(0x40, uid, 0, 'THIS IS A TEST STRING')

This last fix is undoubtably a really ugly hack, but our goal here is not to beutify code. Our fix has the strange side effect of inserting odd looking bookmarks into our pdb files, which appear as a series of y's with umlauts. Apparently, the function bookmark_pack() is intended to create Palm-style bookmarks, but the function is missing, and we are not sure of the exact format. With this hack you can transform documents on your Linux machine into documents that you can read on your PalmOS handheld. Hopefully the authors will create or restore the needed function.

How To Use Pyrite Publisher

Using Pyrite Publisher is relatively simple. In pyrite-publisher-1.99.0/PyritePublisher, you will find pyrpub. Supposing that the document that you want to transform into PalmOS readable form is file.html, the command is simply:

Converting an HTML file to PalmDoc
$ ./pyrpub file.html

You will find a file named file.pdb, which can be read by a Palm. The next step is how to get file.pdb on your PalmOS handheld. You can use a nifty program that comes with pilot-link called pilot-xfer. Assuming that you have connected your Palm to /dev/cua1, issue the following command:

Transfering the PalmDoc file to the Palm
$ pilot-xfer /dev/cua1 -i file.pdb

Then, press your hot-button on your craddle. Actually, you will be instructed to do this on the command line. Then, you will find file.pdb on your Palm.

A limitation of Pyrite Publisher is that it doesn't directly convert PDF or Postscipt files to pdb files. Luckily, there is a simple workaround for this. The utility pstotext can transform a Postscipt file into a text file. To generate a pdb file, first transform the ps file into a text file, and then use Pyrite Publisher to convert the text file into a pdb file. If the file that you want to transform into a pdb file is a PDF file, first use pdf2pdf to transform the PDF file into a postscript file, and then proceded as describe above. Unfortunately, this isn't a foolproof method, since pstotext and pdf2ps aren't entirely reliable, but when they work, you be able to generate pdb files.

Other Things

To find packages related to the Pyrite libraries and Pyrite Publisher, try searching Freshmeat. We think that you might want to look at some of the following packages.

* There is KVM, the K Vitural machine, and the Connected Limited Device Configuration, CLDC. This is a package that lets you write palm applications that can be run on X11.
* Kpilot makes it possible for your palm to exchange data with your Linux box. Kpilot uses plugins to exchange data between your Palm and other applications like KOrganizer or POP3/SMTP mail servers. Using Kpilot, you can read and edit documents install new programs on your palm.
* Jan Schaumann has done some interesting things with the palm within the context of the Linux OS.
* Plucker also enables the Linux user to read HTML documents offline. Plucker claims to support clickable images, italics, multiple databases, configurable display parameters and stylus options, compression, and Python conduits and parsers.
* DataViz' Documents To Go is a sophisticated document conversion package, but only for Win32 and MacOS. If you happen to use these platforms, you can convert document formats such as MS-Word, MS-Excel, Word-Perfect, PDF, and others. You can even edit documents in many of these formats on your Palm. Of course, you have to pay $50 for it.

For links to information about these packages, see Resources below.


We like the concept behind the Pyrite Project, but we are sorry that the truth is that it doesn't quite live up to its promises. Pyrite Publisher sort of works, but only if you know enough Python and system administration to fix it, and even after it is fixed to the point of doing some work, it still has an overly large collection of weird bugs. There is also the problem that Pyrite Publisher doesn't directly convert Postscript and PDF files. We are not totally negative, however, since it clearly seems to be on the cusp of fulfilling its aim. We hope that Rob Tillotson and company will continue with the Pyrite Project. Linux-using Palm owners can certainly use it.


The RPM for the libraries of pilot-link can be found at:

The RPM for the header files of pilot-link can be found at:

The source for pilot-link can be downloaded from

The source for the pyrite libraries and header files can be retrieved from here:

To download a suitable python-devel RPM, search at:

The source for Pyrite Publisher can be downloaded from:

There is a RPM of some tools that are similar to those found in Pyrite Publisher. See:

The KVM package can be found at:

Information about Kpilot can be found at

Jan Schaumann's Palm/Linux site:

Plucker can be found at

DataViz Documents To Go information can be found at:

About The Authors

Andrew Blais divides his time between homeschooling his son, writing for Gnosis, and teaching philosophy and religion at Anna Maria College. He can be reached at [email protected]

Picture of Author David Mertz worries that if the density of transistors doubles every eighteen months, then he may lose his next computer in a haystack. David may be reached at [email protected]; his life pored over at Suggestions and recommendations on this, past, or future, columns are welcomed.