Sep 26, 2013

FAT32 driver in python

Wrote a driver for still common FAT32 recently, while solving the issue with shuffle on cheap "usb stick with microsd slot" mp3 player.

It's kinda amazing how crappy firmware in these things can be.

Guess one should know better than to get such crap with 1-line display, gapful playback, weak battery, rewind at non-accelerating ~3x speed, no ability to pick tracks while playing and plenty of other annoying "features", but the main issue I've had with the thing by far is missing shuffle functionality - it only plays tracks in static order in which they were uploaded (i.e. how they're stored on fs).

Seems like whoever built the thing made it deliberately hard to shuffle the tracks offline - just one sort by name would've made things a lot easier, and it's clear that device reads the full dir listing from the time it spends opening dirs with lots of files.


Most obvious way to do such "offline shuffle", given how the thing orders files, is to re-upload tracks in different order, which is way too slow and wears out flash ram.

Second obvious for me was to dig into FAT32 and just reorder entries there, which is what the script does.

It's based off example of a simplier fat16 parser in construct module repo and processes all the necessary metadata structures like PDRs, FATs (cluster maps) and directory tables with vfat long-name entries inside.

Given that directory table on FAT32 is just an array (with vfat entries linked to dentries after them though), it's kinda easy just to shuffle entries there and write data back to clusters from where it was read.


One less obvious solution to shuffle, coming from understanding how vfat lfn entries work, is that one can actually force fs driver to reorder them by randomizing filename length, as it'll be forced to move longer entries to the end of the directory table.

But that idea came a bit too late, and such parser can be useful for extending FAT32 to whatever custom fs (with e.g. FUSE or 9p interface) or implementing some of the more complex hacks.


It's interestng that fat dentries can (and apparently known to) store unix-like modes and uid/gid instead of some other less-useful attrs, but linux driver doesn't seem to make use of it.

OS'es also don't allow symlinks or hardlinks on fat, while technically it's possible, as long as you keep these read-only - just create dentries that point to the same cluster.

Should probably work for both files and dirs and allow to create multiple hierarchies of the same files, like several dirs where same tracks are shuffled with different seed, alongside dirs where they're separated by artist/album/genre or whatever other tags.

It's very fast and cheap to create these, as each is basically about "(name_length + 32B) * file_count" in size, which is like just 8 KiB for dir structure holding 100+ files.

So plan is to extend this small hack to use mutagen to auto-generate such hierarchies in the future, or maybe hook it directly into beets as an export plugin, combined with transcoding, webui and convenient music-db there.

Also, can finally tick off "write proper on-disk fs driver" from "things to do in life" list ;)

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