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Tiny Deathstars of Foulness

When you click on About This Mac and then click on More Info… you see the Apple System Profiler.  This tool, dating back to the Classic OS (prehistory so-to-speak) can be used to access a wide variety of information about your system, including installed hardware, software and some settings.  Some of this information can also be obtained through other tools.  For example, the networksetup command can obtain a wide variety of information about various network settings.  But it helps to have one tool to query for any information you may need about a computer (well, much of the information you may need).  

While it is fairly straight forward to sit down and and open Apple System Profiler and look for information, this can be fairly tedious to do en masse.  Luckily, there is a command line version of the Apple System Profiler, aptly named system_profiler.  This command can be used to view any of the information from the Apple System Profiler, which you can then parse and use in scripts in a variety of ways.  This allows you to, for example, go far beyond what Apple Remote Desktop can provide in terms of reports and even write relevant information from systems into an out-of-band database, common in enterprise environments looking to centralize asset management for Macs into an existing Windows or Linux solution.

Using the system_profiler command is fairly straight forward.  If you just run system_profiler then it will show you far more information than you can likely use.  Essentially, every field from Apple System Profiler will be displayed, including installed Frameworks, Fonts, Extensions, etc.  Therefore, a healthy dose of grep can help immensely.  But what do you grep for?  Well, find a field in Apple System Profiler and note the section it’s in under the Contents column of the application.  Then, run the following command:

system_profiler -listdatatypes

You should see an output similar to the following (notice the similarity with the items from the GUI):

SPHardwareDataType

SPNetworkDataType

SPSoftwareDataType

SPParallelATADataType

SPAudioDataType

SPBluetoothDataType

SPDiagnosticsDataType

SPDiscBurningDataType

SPFibreChannelDataType

SPFireWireDataType

SPDisplaysDataType

SPHardwareRAIDDataType

SPMemoryDataType

SPPCCardDataType

SPPCIDataType

SPParallelSCSIDataType

SPPowerDataType

SPPrintersDataType

SPSASDataType

SPSerialATADataType

SPUSBDataType

SPAirPortDataType

SPFirewallDataType

SPNetworkLocationDataType

SPModemDataType

SPNetworkVolumeDataType

SPApplicationsDataType

SPExtensionsDataType

SPFontsDataType

SPFrameworksDataType

SPLogsDataType

SPManagedClientDataType

SPPrefPaneDataType

SPStartupItemDataType

SPUniversalAccessDataType

Now if you match up the item from the Contents section of the graphical app to the one most closely resembling it from this list you should have where that information is going to be stored.  For example, let’s say that we want to know which computers have a 3rd party (non-Apple) System Preference pane installed.  Well, we can pull this from the SPPrefPaneDataType and then constrain our search to those containing the string 3rd.  Therefore, if the results of the following command show you anything at all then you have a third party System Preference Pane installed:
system_profiler SPPrefPaneDataType | grep 3rd
From here you can get far more detailed.  If you are running this en masse you’ll likely want to include the computer name, part of SPSoftwareDataType.  Then let’s say we wanted to know which systems had Flip4Mac installed – we could run the following:
system_profiler SPSoftwareDataType | grep “Computer Name”; system_profiler SPPrefPaneDataType | grep Flip4Mac 

With regular expressions we can actually get really detailed information out of system_profiler and then normalize the data for inclusion into our database; perhaps adding a , for a delimiter, etc.

April 3rd, 2009

Posted In: Mac OS X, Mass Deployment

Tags: , , , , ,