Editor’s note: this is an old post that I’ve published now. I’ve since found that CPBitmap files do contain a binary plist at the end, but it was not in the exact location described by most blog posts. I’ve got a bit of code written, but I’m not 100% happy with it yet, so it hasn’t been published!

For a long while, I’ve been using a photo of my cat Zooey as my iPhone’s background image. Recently, I wanted to replace it with a different one, but the picture of Zooey wasn’t anywhere on my phone. iOS doesn’t come with a way to save the background picture, but I figured it couldn’t be that difficult. It had to be somewhere on the phone, or in a backup, in some reasonable format—after all, my phone has to display it!

My first step was to start looking for where the file is on iOS—turns out it’s in /var/mobile/Library/Springboard/LockBackground.cpbitmap by default. If your phone is jailbroken, there are tools you can use to access the file, but my phone is not, so that was right out.

Luckily, with an unencrypted iTunes backup (iTunes backups preserve background images!), and a handy tool called iExplorer, I was able to find and extract LockBackground.cpbitmap. With this in hand, I set out to find what the format was, so that I could retrieve my image of Zooey.

The first thing I ran into was a reference to a converter service that someone had published years ago at http://cpbitmap.cleverbyte.com.au/. This is no longer up, but the same person had published the code to a CodeProject article. I downloaded the code, fired up Visual Studio, ran it, and attempted to run it on my file. It crashed, and the file format didn’t seem to match at all.

The next thing I found was many variations on a Python script that used the Python Image Library to extract the image, after skipping what the script claimed to be a binary plist header. None of these worked either—they almost all crashed after producing nonsensical image sizes (they were reporting image sizes 40-60k pixels per side, iPhone 7 background images are 750x1334).

After this, I started to look at the raw data itself, hoping to divine some patterns. The first thing I saw was that the file was not any container format. There was no magic number at the beginning—it was not a BMP, PNG, JPG, TIFF, binary plist, or anything that I or file(1) recognized. I started wondering if maybe this was not raw RGB data—in retrospect, I should have thought of this earlier: iOS would prefer to blit this file to GPU memory as fast as possible, and decoding a graphics format would just be a waste of time.

After some playing around with our Workbooks product, I discovered that what I had on my hands was RGB data—BGRA32 data, to be precise. Yet when I created images from it, they were…wrong. You can see the broken image here—it’s immediately obvious there’s some sort of “misread” in the pixels.

I’m not a seasoned graphics pro, so it wasn’t immediately obvious to me, but I tweeted about it and almost immediately got a message from Larry that my issue was likely a row stride mismatch somewhere (shortly followed by another Larry delivering the same message via tweet). After some discussion, Larry Ewing suggested that the image might be 8-byte aligned w/ some 0-padding for easy blitting to GPU/SIMD. I had been using a stride of 3000 (4*750)—I adjusted it to 3008 (the next multiple of 8), and got the correct image!

A sharp observer might point out now that the image was already 8-byte aligned before—after all, 750*4 is 375*8. My guess is that they’re padded not only for alignment purposes, but also because iOS may not always be storing 750-pixel wide images here. There may be a case where Apple is using the padding to both indicate the end of a row and to pad it for easy manipulation, with no visible changes (the extra 2 pixels won’t show up on screen).

I’m hoping to throw together a little bit of publishable code to decode known CPBitmap formats into something useful, so I would love to get my hands on more samples of CPBitmap files—it would be interesting to see if/how the format has changed with iOS version. If you happen to have an older iOS version installed and can dump the files, please upload them somewhere and send me the link!