Importing contacts from OSX Addressbook to Emacs BBDB

A major aspect of using Emacs is that it is more than a text editor – it is more of an application platform – some would call it an Operating System – that allows a host of applications to run within the same context and session – and vastly enrich the user experience. This is in fact a primary reason why many Emacs users spend their entire computer interaction via Emacs.

This unique aspect of Emacs is made possible by the availability of Emacs Lisp as a first class scripting/programming interface for the editor – and has made possible application packages such as W3 (a web browser), Gnus (the NNTP and mail reader), Eshell (a lisp based shell), Wanderlust (a very capable email client), and the Insidious Big Brother Database – aka BBDB – which is a contact manager and the subject of this post.

(BTW, the list of application is only a very small fraction of what is actually available on Emacs – see www.emacswiki.org for a ton of other packages).

As EmacsWiki points out, BBDB is:

“A complete address book for nearly every email and news client written for Emacs, and its functionality supports (by default) making entries in the address book automatically when reading email or posts by people, and easy lookup of addresses while composing messages.”

In essence, it is an always available address book that works with other packages such as mail, Gnus and org-mode to provide a easy to access repository of contact information. The repository itself is a plain text lisp file which by default is stored as ~/.bbdb.

However, as with any contact manager, the problems are usually with:

  1. Initial data import, and
  2. Synchronization with other repositories and devices

For my platform (Apple OSX), the first problem above translates to data import from my primary OS level address book – the AddressBook.app. The second problem is not much of an issue for me since I use AddressBook.app as the primary contact list elsewhere and sync my devices to that. For keeping BBDB in sync, I have a cron job to automate the scripts below.

The contacts import to BBDB requires a data conversion of the address from custom format in which AddressBook.app stores the contacts to the BBDB lisp format. The steps required are as follows:

  1. Extract the records from AddressBook.app
  2. Parse and reformat the relevant fields that BBDB requires, and
  3. Output the reformatted records in the BBDB lisp format

Luckily, for step # 1, an open source command line utility already exists – appropriately called contacts. It is available from http://gnufoo.org/contacts/ and is a svelte 194KB download. This utility allows querying of the OSX Address book and extraction of specific fields and records. The output is a simple CSV text file.

For step # 2 and #3, additional scripting is required. I have written a simple Ruby script called contacts2bbdb.rb to run the contacts utility and output the BBDB repository file:

#!/usr/bin/env ruby -w
#
# Filename: contacts2bbdb.rb
# Description: Converts addresses from OSX Addressbook.app to BBDB format
# Author: Anupam Sengupta (anupamsg ... A-T ... G - M - A - I - L )
# Maintainer: Anupam Sengupta
#
# (c) 2007-2016 Anupam Sengupta.
#
# Created: Fri May 25 15:53:22 2007
# Version: 1.0
# Last-Updated:
#           By: Anupam Sengupta
#     Update #: 733
# URL: http://slashusr.wordpress.com
# Keywords: `BBDB’, ‘OSX’, ‘contacts’, ‘convert’
# Compatibility: GNU Emacs 21 and above
#
#--------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# Commentary:
#
#  Converts the addresses and contacts from Apple OSX’s system addressbook
#  format (Addressbook.app) to Emacs’ BBDB format.
#
#  Requires the following additional software:
#
#  1. Ruby V1.8 and above (http://www.ruby-lang.org/)
#  2. Big Brother Database (BBDB) package for Emacs (http://bbdb.sourceforge.net/)
#  3. The ‘contacts’ program to read Addressbook’s contacts
#     (http://gnufoo.org/contacts/)
#
# Usage:
#
#  1. Install Ruby, BBDB and contacts, if not already present
#  2. Backup the OSX Address book (export the addresses as addressbook archive)
#  3. Run this Ruby script to generate the converted records in BBDB format in the STDOUT
#  4. Save the STDOUT output of this script to bbdb.new
#
#     $ ruby contacts2bbdb.rb > bbdb.new
#
#  5. Replace your .bbdb file with bbdb.new
#
#--------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# Change log:
#
#
#--------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# License: GNU GPL V2.
#
# This program is free software; you can redistribute it and/or
# modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as
# published by the Free Software Foundation; either version 2, or
# (at your option) any later version.
#
# This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
# but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
# MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.  See the GNU
# General Public License for more details.
#
# You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License
# along with this program; see the file COPYING.  If not, write to
# the Free Software Foundation, Inc., 51 Franklin Street, Fifth
# Floor, Boston, MA 02110-1301, USA.
#--------------------------------------------------------------------
#
Delim = “\t”                    # Default delimiter
ContactsProg = ‘/usr/bin/env contacts’ # The contacts program
#
ContactsProgParams = ‘-H -l’
#
# A map between the LDIF field names and the actual field name
ContactFields = {
:fn => ‘firstName’,
:ln => ‘lastName’,
:c  => ‘company’,
:nn => ‘nickName’,
:he => ‘homeEmail’,
:we => ‘workEmail’,
: oe => ‘otherEmail’,
:hp => ‘Home’,
:mp => ‘Mobile’,
:Mp => ‘Main’,
:wp => ‘Work’,
}
#
ContactFormatOpts = ContactFields.keys #  Options to pass to the contacts program
ContactsProgFormat =  “‘%” + ContactFormatOpts.inject { |s, f| s.to_s + “#{Delim}%#{f.to_s}” } + “‘“
ContactsFullExec = “#{ContactsProg} #{ContactsProgParams} -f #{ContactsProgFormat}”
#
output = `#{ContactsFullExec}`.split(/\n/) # Read the output of contacts program
#
# Start parsing the contacts output
records = output.map do |line|
record = Hash.new(nil)
line.chomp.split(Delim).each_with_index { |f, i| record[ContactFields[ContactFormatOpts[i]]] = f.strip unless f =~ /^\s*$/ }
record
end
#
# Start outputing the details to STDOUT
puts <<END
;; -*-coding: utf-8-emacs;-*-
;;; file-version: 6
END
#
for r in records do
r[‘nickName’] = nil           # No need for the nick names.
outs = %w{ firstName lastName nickName company }.inject(“[“) { |s, f| s + (r[f] ? “\”#{r[f]}\” “ : “nil “) }
outs = %w{ Home Main Mobile Work}.inject(outs + “(“) { |s, f| r[f] ? s + “[\”#{f}\” \”#{r[f].strip}\”] “ : s } + “) “
outs = %w{ homeEmail workEmail otherEmail }.inject(outs + “ nil (“) { |s, f| r[f] ? s + “\”#{r[f]}\” “ : s } + “) “
outs += “((creation-date . \”2009-02-08\”) (timestamp . \”2009-02-08\”)) nil]”
puts outs
end
# End of contacts2bbdb.rb script

A companion shell script to automate the execution of the Ruby program and also backup the previous BBDB file is also provided. Before usage, please edit the BBDB folder and file names:

#!/bin/sh
#
# Filename: contacts2bbdb.sh
# Description: Converts addresses from OSX Addressbook.app to BBDB format
# Author: Anupam Sengupta (anupamsg@gmail.com)
# Maintainer: Anupam Sengupta
#
# (c) 2007-2016 Anupam Sengupta.
#
# Created: Fri May 25 15:53:22 2007
# Version: 1.0
# Last-Updated:
#           By: Anupam Sengupta
#     Update #: 740
# URL: http://slashusr.wordpress.com
# Keywords: `BBDB’, ‘OSX’, ‘contacts’, ‘convert’
# Compatibility: GNU Emacs 21 and above
#
#--------------------------------------------------------------------
#
# Commentary:
#
# Runs the export of OS X Address Book contacts to the Emacs BBDB file.
#
# Requires:
#   1. The contacts2bbdb.rb Ruby script
#      (http://slashusr.wordpress.com/)
#   2. The Ruby interpreter (Version 1.8 and above)
#      (http://www.ruby-lang.org/)
#   3. The Big Brother Database (BBDB) Emacs Package
#      (http://bbdb.sourceforge.net/)
#   4. The contacts command line program to extract the records
#      (http://gnufoo.org/contacts/)
#
# Usage:
#   1. Backup the Addressbook.app’s addresses
#   2. Install BBDB and ‘contacts’, if not already present
#   3. Edit the BBDBDIR and RUBYPROG variables below
#   4. Open Terminal.app and run this script
#   5. The script will also create a backup of the previous bbdb file
#
#
#
# TODO: Edit these variables to match the file locations
BBDBDIR=$HOME/.emacs.d/data     # Edit this to match location of the bbdb file
BBDBFILE=bbdb                   # Edit this to match your bbdb file name
RUBYPROG=$HOME/bin/contacts2bbdb.rb # Name and loction of the Ruby Script
#
#######################################  Do not edit beyond this point !
#
RUBYEXEC=`which ruby`
#
if [ -x ${RUBYEXEC} ]; then
cp ${BBDBDIR}/$BBDBFILE ${BBDBDIR}/bbdb.bak
${RUBYEXEC} ${RUBYPROG} > $BBDBDIR/$BBDBFILE
fi
echo “BBDB Export and conversion completed.”
#
# End of contacts2bbdb.sh

Do remember to take a backup of your existing BBDB file as well as a backup of the OSX address-book before running the scripts!

Enjoy!

Update [17th Aug 2009]: Emacs-fu has a nice bbdb tutorial at emacs-fu: managing e-mail addresses with bbdb


9 Comments on “Importing contacts from OSX Addressbook to Emacs BBDB”

  1. Keith says:

    Don’t you need outs+= in this line and those that follow:
    outs = %w{ firstName lastName nickName company }.inject(“[“) { |s, f| s + (r[f] ?

  2. evolve75 says:

    @Keith,

    Not required as the concatenation of the outs fields in the subsequent lines is being done as part of the inject method.

    The first line which populates ‘outs’ does not require the “+=” as this is the initial setting of the variable. The next two statements have:

    … }.inject(outs + “…

    which is an equivalent of “+=” in terms of the side effect, and the final line does use “+=”.

  3. Keith says:

    Oops – missed that. Thanks.

  4. […] Importing contacts from OSX Addressbook to Emacs BBDB August 20093 comments 4 […]

  5. Léo says:

    The second problem occurs to me. Does anyone know how to sync BBDB with an android device or a blackberry on linux ?

    Thanks for your post, I migth try your scripts since I’d like to use BBDB in the future.

  6. lawlist says:

    Any suggestions for OSX Mountain Lion:

    MP:bin HOME$ contacts export | rsh $host contacts add.txt
    -bash: /usr/bin/contacts: Bad CPU type in executable
    rcmd: getaddrinfo: nodename nor servname provided, or not known

  7. David H says:

    For OS X Mountain Lion use MacPorts: http://www.macports.org
    and
    sudo port install contacts

    Note, I haven’t tried it with the ruby script, but I have run the contacts utility on Mountain Lion. Works fine.

    FWIW, is there a link I missed to plain text versions of the Ruby and shell scripts above? The versions displayed on this page have “smart-quotes” and also > and < instead of > and < respectively.

  8. lawlist says:

    Thank you for the tip to use macports — I’ll give that I try in the future. Previously, I ended up using: https://github.com/renard/osx-contacts/blob/master/osx-contacts.el It had one extra field of nil that I removed with a search and replace after the import — i.e., to reduce from five consecutive nil to just four consecutive nil. It only imports the name and e-mail address through.


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