In Linux you can run lsusb on the command line to list all currently connected USB devices but you may find a number of the entires give a pretty generic or blank name for the device.

This is simply because those devices aren't listed in your copy of the USB ID database, this database can be easily updated with USBUtils update-usbids.

Awesome problem solved... So what's the problem? You will notice that if you run update-usbids and then run it again right away you will download the database twice.. but I already have an upto date copy of the database...

The USB ID Database

Where Is It?

The USB ID database is stored locally, at least on Ubuntu, as a text file located here: /var/lib/usbutils/usb.ids.

How Does It Update?

When you call update-usbids literally all that happens is a backup is made of your current database and then the lastest copy of the database is downloaded from http://www.linux-usb.org/usb.ids.

HTTP Headers

If you inspect the headers returned when you issue a GET request for http://www.linux-usb.org/usb.ids you'll see both Last-Modified and Etag headers but not only that you'll also see an Expires header to!

We have all we need to check if our database is upto date with linux-usb.org rather than just blindly downloading it every time.

The New update-usbids

I put together a little bash script that can be used in place of update-usbids that makes use of the caching headers that are exposed to us, you can get a copy from GitHub here

How it works

  • Make a HEAD request for the compressed version of the database http://www.linux-usb.org/usb.ids.gz.
  • Check if the returned Etag header matches the Etag we stored from last time we requested an update.
  • If it does match great! Nothing more required and it cost us only a couple hundred Bytes!
  • If it doesn't match there's something new in the database!
  • Create a backup of our current copy of the database just in case.
  • Download the new version of the database.
  • Keep a note of the Etag of this database.

Also it'll draw pretty progress bars for you courtesy of pv


I'm a little suprised this hasn't already made it into the source of usbutils, seems kind of an obvious optimisation... It allows you to always have an upto date USB device list, esspecially if you alias lsusb to update-usbids && lsusb!

While it's true the whole database once Gzip has finished with it is, at the time of writing, 246kB there's not much bandwidth or time to be saved, at least not from the users point of view.

What about from the servers point of view? Then it's a numbers game. I couldn't find a number of Ubuntu users in the world but say for the sake of argument it's 20 million. If just 5% of these people ran update-usbids once a week that's over 234GB of bandwidth required on the server end every week. I have no idea how often the database ubdates but given the Expires header is set to 3 days in the future, you could at least half that 234GB number and save time and bandwith for the users to!

This is only going to become more pronouced as the number of people using USBUtils grows and the number of entries in the database grows...

It's Open Source.. So Why Not Submit It?

In short I have no idea how.. I had a Google and found the source for USBUtils but found no way of contributing my code...