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This section presents totally optional command line utilities that might be helpful when working with digital files for your collection.

Utilities for Working with Objects

Preparing your digital collection objects often involves needing to transform batches of files, such as making filenames lowercase or changing file extensions. This section outlines some helpful command line utilities to solve these issues.

Get List of Filenames

It is often helpful to have a list of filenames for all your objects as a starting point for your metadata CSV for CB-GH and CB-CSV projects. There are a couple ways to do this depending on your operating system.

Windows Explorer:

  1. Open the folder containing all your objects in Windows Explorer (in GH this is likely the “objects” directory in your project repository).
  2. Select all the files (you can use Ctrl + A).
  3. Hold Shift and right click in the selected files, then select the “Copy as path” option (alternatively, click Home tab at top of Explore and select the “Copy as path” option).
  4. Paste (Ctrl + V) into a column in a spreadsheet or a text file.
  5. This provides Windows style file paths for all select files, e.g. “C:\Users\username\Documents\collectionbuilder-demo\objects\demo_004.jpg”. You will next want to use Find & Replace or split column to remove the Windows path, cleaning the value to just the filename with extension, e.g. “demo_004.jpg”.

Mac Finder:

  1. Open the folder containing all your objects in Finder (in GH this is likely the “objects” directory in your project repository).
  2. Select all the files (you can use Command + A)
  3. Copy the files (use Command + C, or right click > Copy)
  4. Paste into the column of a spreadsheet using Command + Shift + V or into a text file using Command + V (or right click > Paste). (Note: if you use Command + V when pasting into the spreadsheet, you’ll find that you’ll paste in the actual files themselves instead of the filenames. If this happens, try Command + Shift + V instead.)

Using command line:

  1. Open a terminal in the folder containing all your objects (likely the “objects” directory in your project repository)
  2. Type the command ls > list.txt (“ls” lists all files, “>” directs the output into a text file)
  3. Open the new “list.txt” file with your editor and delete any lines that are not objects in your collection (i.e. “”, “list.txt”, etc).
  4. Copy the whole block of remaining filenames (there will be one on each line in the file), then paste into a spreadsheet in the “filename” column. Each filename should automatically fill in the value on one row.
  5. Fill out the rest of the metadata starting from the “filename”!

Rename Files to All Lowercase

Bash (on Windows Git Bash and Linux) and ZSH (on Mac) have built in functions to change the case of strings. You can use it in a cp command to make a copy of your files with lowercase filenames and extensions.

On Bash (on Windows Git Bash, most Linux distros, and old versions of Mac OS):

  1. Open a terminal in the folder containing all your objects (likely the “objects” directory in your project repository)
  2. Type pwd to make sure your terminal is in the correct folder location!
  3. Type the command mkdir renamed to create a new folder for the renamed files.
  4. Type the command for f in *.*; do cp "$f" "renamed/${f,,}"; done to copy all files in the current directory to the new folder, while making the names and extensions all lowercase. You can copy specific file types by swapping *.* for an extensions, like *.jpg.
  5. Look in the “renamed” folder to ensure you have the intended output. If all is good, delete the originals from “objects”, then copy the renamed versions out of “renamed” and into “objects”.

If you encounter an error, try the older tr version, like: for f in *.*; do cp "$f" "renamed/$( tr '[:upper:]' '[:lower:]' <<<"$f" )"; done.

ON ZSH (on Mac OS, and some Linux): follow the same steps, but use the command for f in *.*; do cp "$f" "renamed/${file:l}"; done.

Tip: If you want to use a GUI try Advanced Renamer or FileRenamer. And the Linux Files app has GUI renaming support built in.

Extract Embedded Metadata with ExifTool

ExifTool is a command line utility that can reliably work with metadata embedded in files.

You might want to extract embedded metadata because:

  • Images taken by modern cameras and phones often contain useful embedded metadata such as GPS coordinates.
  • PDF, video, and audio files can also sometimes have embedded metadata fields that may be of interest added by their creators or devices.
  • Some organizations may embed descriptive or rights metadata into their objects.

Install ExifTool

  • Windows: download the “Windows Executable”
    • Unzip the package.
    • Inside you will find a file named “exiftool(-k).exe”. Rename it to exiftool.exe.
    • Copy “exiftool.exe” into the folder “C:\Windows” (this will require admin privileges). Alternatively, add it to your Git Bash root.
  • Mac: download the “MacOS Package” (.dmg file) and install.
  • Linux: install ExifTool as the Perl library from your distro repository, e.g. on Ubuntu sudo apt install libimage-exiftool-perl

Check the official install docs for more details.

Extract Embedded Metadata as CSV

Once you have exiftool on your system, open a terminal in the folder containing all your objects (likely the “objects” directory in your project repository).

You might start out by checking the embedded metadata in one image to see what is available in your objects. The command exiftool followed by a filename will print out all available information:

exiftool example.jpg

ExifTool has built in batch and CSV export functions. To extract all embedded metadata in all JPG files in the folder use:

exiftool -csv *.jpg > embedded_metadata.csv

Exactly what metadata is available varies widely between camera manufacturers. Most fields will be highly technical information that will probably not be of interest for your collection. Change *.jpg to different extensions to extract from different file types.

Once you know what types of fields your files have embedded, you might want to only extract specific metadata tags. Look up the possible Tag Names in the documentation for the guidelines.

For example, a batch of GPS tags from phone images can be extracted using:

exiftool -gpslatitude -gpslongitude -csv *.jpg > embedded_locations.csv

Writing Embedded Metadata

You may want to add embedded metadata to the image files in your collection to provide lasting attribution or source information. This can also be done as a batch with ExifTool.

For example, this command will add embedded fields to all JPGs in the current folder:

exiftool -Title="Example Collection" -Copyright="Photo courtesy of the Example Collection, University of X." -XMP-dc:Source="Example Collection, SPEC, University of X." *.jpg

Note, although there are lots of possible ways to embed metadata, not many are actually readable to commonly used applications. If you want the metadata to be visible in Window’s file properties stick to common tags such as Title, Authors, and Copyright. Full XMP DC elements are not commonly read by applications. IPTC metadata has a ~30 character limit.

Batch Convert Video Formats with FFmpeg

Video formats are complex–they involve combinations of video encoding, audio encoding, and containers–it all gets really confusing fast… But generally speaking, MP4 is the most widely supported format on the web.

If you have video files in other formats, you may want to convert them for compatibility or smaller file sizes. FFmpeg is a powerful command line tool that can do these types of conversions in batches.

Install FFmpeg

  • Windows install with downloaded installer:
  • Mac install using Homebrew: brew install ffmpeg
  • Ubuntu install from repository: sudo apt install ffmpeg

FFmpeg is a command line application, so to use it:

  • open your terminal and navigate to the directory containing your videos (or open the terminal in that folder!)
  • type your FFmpeg commands, starting with ffmpeg

For full information check FFmpeg docs.

Convert AVI to MP4

To losslessly copy your AVI video into the MP4 container (i.e. without re-encoding the video stream), use the command:

ffmpeg -i input-video.avi -c:v copy -c:a copy -y output-video.mp4

This command uses the options -c:v copy and -c:a copy to copy the video and audio streams without changing the encoding into the new MP4 container.

If you want to do a whole folder of AVI videos, you can use a Bash loop, like:

for f in *.avi; do ffmpeg -i "$f" -c:v copy -c:a copy -y "${f%.avi}".mp4; done

This loop goes through all AVI files in the current folder (*.avi), copies each one to a new MP4 file, and names it using the same base filename swapping out the extension ("${f%.avi}".mp4 removes “.avi” and adds “.mp4” to the filename).

If you get an error using the copy method, it probably means your AVI contains encodings that are not compatible with MP4. To just get it to work with the default options, just remove the -c flags, using just:

ffmpeg -i input-video.avi -y output-video.mp4


for f in *.avi; do ffmpeg -i "$f" -y "${f%.avi}".mp4; done

This might not be the optimal conversion, but it should work!

If you want to take more care, use ffprobe -i input-video.avi to learn more about the video and audio encodings embedded in your AVI. Then use specific encodings in the -c flags to control your output file.