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Create Your Own Cloud of Ebooks with Calibre + Calibre OPDS...

This post has been updated as of October 16, 2011.  


Apple appears to have pushed Google out of the ebookstore.  Kobo released an updated app with no buy link.  Google is randomly deleting Google Plus accounts.  Yet another ebook format has been announced.  I’m getting pretty fed up with the powers that be who run the ebook world.  The biggest weapon that readers have in their arsenal is the ability to decouple.  This means taking your books out of the cloud (the servers of Amazon, Apple, Google, BN, or Kobo) and putting them into your own cloud.  You can set up your cloud for free using open source programs and a free account at dropbox.  (alternatively you can create your own syncing system by using alternative systems discussed on Lifehacker or this great device which I am going to check out called PogoPlug).

This cloud set up allows you to have access, either by webbrowser (the Kindle 3′s browser works too) or by iPhone/iTouch, to your entire ebook catalog from anywhere you can get internet connection, whether by wifi or cellular access.   The catalog generated is incredibly feature rich.   You can browse your catalog by series, tags, author, title, and most recent additions. You can look up a book on Goodreads or check out the wikipage for an author. Take a look at these iPhone screenshots (click for bigger images):

Book viewAuthor ListBookView

More dataRecentTags

In order to create your own cloud of books, you’ll need three pieces of free software:  Calibre, Calibre OPDS & some kind of syncing software.  For this explanation, I use dropbox.

Step 1: You need a cloud.

Dropbox logo

The cloud is essentially a computer harddrive space that you can access anywhere in the world so long as you can log onto the internet. Dropbox provides a 2 GB cloud for free and works on Windows, MAC, Linux, and the iPhone. Dropbox is particularly suited for this cloudy goodness because of its automatic synching abilities. Every time your files change on your harddrive, Dropbox notes that and uploads the changed file.

So step 1 is signing up for a dropbox account. Sign up and install the software program. The software program will require you to designate a Dropbox folder on your computer. Within that Dropbox folder is where you will put your ebooks.

Step 2: Set up your ebook cloud location.

Ebook Cloud Location

In this step you are going to create a folder within the public folder of the dropbox folder. This public folder will allow you to access your ebook cloud anywhere. While the name of the folder is “public”, it is only public if you share the link (which is why mine is fake in this example) so don’t share the link. Also, you may want to use a random character generator to create a folder name to create a link that is even more secure.   Just don’t make the name too long. 8-10 letters is good.

Step 3. Download Calibre

Calibre is the best ebook software out there. The Best. Even if you don’t use Calibre to create a cloud of goodness, it is still a great management tool. I highly, highly recommend it for every ebook reader out there.

When you install Calibre, just use the standard install rather than advanced.

Step 4. Set Your Calibre Library to be in the Cloud.

Open Calibre. Click on the bookshelf button in the toolbar and then change the location of the ebooks to the “My Dropbox\Public\SECRET FOLDER” that you created in Step 2.  Note that under the newer versions of Calibre, you can maintain multiple libraries. I maintain three: one for books I’ve purchased, one for ARCs and one that contains no ebook files but generates the Dear Author coming soon catalogs.

library icon

If you already have Calibre, you will simply change your existing files to this new location.   If your database is big, go take a big break.   Calibre will copy over every file to this new location and that can take some time.

move library to new location calibre

Step 5. Download Calibre OPDS

This is an open source program written by David Pierron. It runs without adding new software to your computer or changing drivers or anything crazy like that. This is the site for Calibre OPDS.

It is based on the Open Publication Distribution System cataloguing system.

Step 6:    Download the Calibre OPDS installer

David is working to update this program all the time. The latest development are installers for both Windows and Mac.  Simply download the program and follow the ordinary installation steps.   A Calibre OPDS icon will be available.  If you are on a MAC, you may simply get a bunch of icons:

Calibre OPDS folder

OpdsOutput-2.4-SNAPSHOT.jar is the icon to click on that will open the Calibre program for you.

Double click on it and the program will open, showing a window like this (click for a larger image).   The Database Folder is where the “metadata.db” file resides which should be the folder you created in Step 2. If you have separate calibre libraries, you’ll have to change the location of the library for each catalog you want to create.     Catalog folder is where you want the catalogs to be generated.   Name it whatever you want.  The default is “_catalog” and this will make it show up at the top of the folder.
Calibre OPDS screen

There are lots of different options you can choose which will affect the way in which your catalog will look but the most important customization is “Compatibility Level”.

Compatibility level on calibre opds

  • OPDS is for general catalogs (i.e., if you are only going to access your catalogs via a web browser).
  • TROOK is for rooted nook classic devices.
  • STANZA is for Stanza App on iThing  Stanza has been killed for iOS 5.  Use OPDS if you have an iThing with IOS 5 or above.
  • Aldiko is for Android App Aldiko
If you don’t use the right compatibility level, your catalog will not work with your application.  THIS IS IMPORTANT.

STEP 7. Create the catalogs:

Once you have customized your setup, click “Generate catalogs”.  A new window should popup to show the progress:

Calibre OPDS progress screen

If you have mobi or PDF files in your catalogs, remember to go to Advanced customization features and type in your additional formats:

Calibre OPDS included formats option

Make sure that “include only one ebook file” is not checked.

Another way to double check this is to go to your SECRETFOLDER and look for a folder called _catalog.  Look for the file titled “index.html” and double click. Your browser should launch and your catalog should look something like this:


index.html for Calibre OPDS catalog


Done yet? Yes, if all you want is web access.  

This next part is adding the catalog to your iPhone.  Check out Stanza alternatives.

Step 1. Open up your favorite app on your iPhone.

Step 2.   Add a new catalog.

Enter your catalog name. It can be whatever you like.   The URL is the path to your dropbox public folder.   You can get this path by doing the following:

Go to your SECRET FOLDER and click on the “_catalog” folder created above in Step 8.   Look for the file named “index.xml“.   There will be a index.html but you want index.xml. Highlight that file.   Right click, scroll to Dropbox, and in the fly out is “copy public link“.

Once you have the public link, paste it somewhere (like in a word document or a notepad file, etc). It should look something like this:

This entire path must be typed into the URL of the iphone.


In the future, anytime you make a change to your Calibre database, you will want to update your catalogs.

As an aside, I no longer use Stanza but on the iOS platform, you can download an epub or mobi file from Safari and be presented with the “Open In” option allowing you to read the epub or mobi file in most apps (all apps except the BN app).

Another great thing is if you have Bluefire authorized with your Adobe Digital Editions account, you don’t need to strip the DRM from the epubs although if you want to, there are plugins for Calibre that help you do that. (Note that stripping DRM may be illegal in your jurisdiction or country).

Have questions? Leave them in the comments.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


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