iPhone serial port hack may be useful for network engineers

Computerworld ("The Voice of IT Management!") posts about the iPhone serial port hack, which apparently enables network engineers to use their iPhones in server rooms instead of laptops or terminals. The magazine posted a HOWTO with images. I like the basketball in the corner. From Computerworld:
According to Chris Pollock at io Networks: "the real benefit in all of this is that there are so many console packages for iPhone in Cydia now that you can have a fully functional computer, as useful as a linux box, but without carrying around a laptop".
"The great iPhone serial port hack" (Thanks, Ken Goldberg!)


  1. iPhone? Who wants to console without a keyboard?

    Also, that rack looks a lot like a $20 “Lack” table from ikea…

  2. You could do this 10 years ago with a Palm Pilot.. the big advantage being the palm pilot had a real serial port on it, so you could skip the big ugly adapter. Just install the terminal program, get the cable, and hook up to your server/switch.

    Good for basic work, any serious shell usage was quite painful however.

    1. You could do this five years ago with an iPod.

      I’m an Apple Fanboi, but even I’m disturbed at the the trend towards control over convenience that has been ascending in Cupertino.

  3. looks like you might spend quite a bit of effort on that, so you can then say you’ve forced an iphone to do was it wasn’t supposed to do..
    n900 can do at least as much by design, no hacking required, yet iphone still gets all the attention… but hey, who said life was fair?

  4. I love the IKEA rack… we shall call the table Raxcor.

    I use a dell mini 9 that I bought specifically for this type of stuff – it’s amazingly portable, exports data to/from USB keys (useful for firmware uploads & data logging), and also works great with USB-emulated serial ports.

    1. Yep, a friend of mine has one in his living room modified into a rack for stereo equipment and rack mount equipment. Functional and very pretty compared to the metal behemoth he had in the past. He calls it his “LACK rack.”

      I gave him an extra set I had of the CAPITA stainless legs; they look great on the rack.

  5. I dare say it’s not much of a hack. He’s more or less recreated a USB to serial adaptor.

    And yes, you can get those for less then 80 bucks. Unless you really want that bulk casing for the adaptor…

  6. As soon as I saw this, my thought was that Apple really should jump on this. It can be tricky to find a laptop these days with a serial port, so being able to hook on an iPhone/iPod with an adapter like this instead of keeping an old laptop around would be pretty nice. There’s definitely a market here. But of course, Apple will drop the ball and ignore it.

    1. In my bag is a 10″ netbook with an ethernet port and a USB to Serial adapter. I get a serial console *and* a wifi & ethernet tester, scanner and sniffer, all-in-one. And my iPhone is free to take calls.

  7. So, with determination and hard work he made an iPhone do what an android phone can do out of the box? Kudos!

  8. back when laptops all cost over $2000, i had to do final configs on a routers stuck in the backs of office closets. instead of lugging a desktop to the closet, i used a palm 3 with its terminal app and serial cable. terminal through graffiti interface was a bit tedious but worth not lugging a crt+desktop+keyboard+power over and back.

    if i still did networks, i might carry one. but i think a netbook would be even better. or how about bluetooth to serial dongle?!

  9. I always though little usb monitors shaped kind of like ping pong paddles would be cool, both for server room use and for holding up to show people in adjacent cubes interesting things you found on the web.

  10. I guess I don’t see what’s so amazing. Using a PDA as a console has been around forever. Back when Cisco routers were beige I used an Atari Portfolio to configure them. Later I had a Palm for similar usage, but as joshhaglund says, graffiti was painful. And the Sharp Zaurus did the same thing early in this decade, and gave you a true unix underneath to boot. I guess what’s more amazing to me is the level of effort required to do this with an Iphone, and that the resulting hack is considered so awesome. You mean you bought a PDA that couldn’t do it out of the box?

  11. This would be awesome except that it’s a phone (visible to the world). I think it would be a hugely bad idea for for a network engineer to hook their iPhone up to the servers.

    Essentially that’s equivalent of hooking up a world-visible/accessible computer up to your firewall-protected network.

    The first person in the organization to do this should get a very public warning. The second and following persons should be terminated.

    Would I do this at home? Probably. Would I do it at work? I wouldn’t even consider it. I refuse to even use usb sticks on my laptop at work. At home, I can impact me and my family. At work, I can screw over more than a 100,000 co-workers and their families.

    I *ASSUME* my phone is compromised. Everyone should.

  12. In my bag is a 10″ netbook with an ethernet port and a USB to Serial adapter. I get a serial console *and* a wifi & ethernet tester, scanner and sniffer, all-in-one. And my iPhone is free to take calls.


    Also: did the designers of the Ikea “Lack” really miss the fact that their prodect’s name is 1 letter away from the word “rack” (which, as computing terms generally are, is surely used worldwide) and that the legs are perfectly spaced to fit rack components in there? Seems like too much of a coincidence to me.

    Now I just wish I had stuff to network!

  13. Wow. this is REALLY AWESOME… This type of stuff will fortunately do our work much better without any laptop handling,these might really as useful as a linux box that we’re using right now… we might probably use it soon… curiosity… if it’s really work without harming anything.

  14. I use a serial to wi-fi adapter from serialio.com and a free telnet app. The wi-fi lets me put the device in a rack and then go sit down, rather than stand in a row of racks the whole time. The Serial IO device is plug and play for the iPhone and iPad, and very tiny. I power it from a USB battery pack, which has enough to power it for a few days but is still very small.

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