Tags – almost there

My previous entry about tags generated quite a few comments. It is one of these areas where “things are happening”, where standards are here, libraries are usable and their integration into end user applications is on its way.

Tags are a very powerful tool to organize your images and search through them. Tags contain much more information than anything you could do with “clever filenames” so it is a very important last step in the photographic workflow.

On the other hand, tagging is a long and tedious process (to say the least). So it would be handy not to have to redo it from scratch every 3 months because we picked the wrong standard last time… Tagging should be a function offered by the image viewer / manager, but that is obviously not the only task of an image viewer.

Tag standards

  • XMP (wiki) – is a relatively new standard developed by Adobe. It can be directly included in the file or its datas can be added in a .xmp file (sidecar file). Because of its extensible XML nature, it can contain extra information such as RAW files development settings (used by Adobe in Lightroom).
  • IPTC (wiki) – this is the historical metadata system. It is only supported by JPEG files.
  • application specific

As Hub pointed, the logical choice today  is to go the XMP road. But since it is not supported in all applications, we will also take a look at IPTC – a conversion is doable in an automated way if necessary. I don’t see any good reason to go for an application specific tagging system.

Libraries are available for both IPTC and XMP support: libiptcdata (IPTC), libexempi (XMP) and  libexiv2 (both)

Application support

For this entry, I have tried to see how XMP and IPTC tags are supported in the most advanced (in this field) photo viewers / managers. To get an idea of the applications capabilities, I put a JPG file with both IPTC_test_tag (as IPTC format) and XMP_test_tag and one TIF file with XMP_test_tag. For each application, I see if I can see the tag(s) and if I can write one and whether it is then recognized as IPTC or XMP (or if it is an application specific format).

I wouldn’t claim this to be the upper scientific test, but it seems good enough to see what program can do what.

I also include a screenshot and a few words of comment for each application


JPG IPTC read: yes

JPG IPTC write: yes

no XMP support

Jbrout is a python / gtk image viewer. The tagging / metadata side is in pretty good shape with a particular mention of the tags management (grouping) but the rest of the viewer is not quite there yet.

GThumb (2.8.10 compiled with libiptc)

JPG IPTC read: yes

JPG IPTC write: yes

no XMP support

I am so used to GThumb that I have recompiled a version with IPTC which I use for now (waiting for XMP) – to me GThumb does really well all one could expect from an image viewer, and even a bit more. Still my current favorite.

GThumb (SVN version)

JPG IPTC read: yes

JPG XMP read: yes

TIF XMP read: yes

Tag writing would crash GThumb

My GThumb fanboyism is showing up again: I compiled GThumb from SVN and would be using it daily if it wasn’t for this crash on any attemp to write any type of tag. Fair enough, that is a development version…


JPG IPTC read: yes

JPG XMP read: yes

TIF XMP read: yes

Tag writing is currently a Geekie special format.

Geekie has a special place in my heart since it is based on the GTKView codebase, my first ever Linux image viewer. It is good to see an older project picking up some renewed interest, and I am indeed looking forward to the day the “save tags in XMP” item on their TODO list is implemented. I may even get used again to the single click navigation and use Geekie as my main image viewer, who knows??


JPG IPTC read: yes

JPG XMP read: yes

TIF XMP read: yes

JPG XMP write: yes

TIF XMP write: no

Now that I have found a way to have f-spot NOT copying my files around (thanks FX), I am starting to appreciate it although I don’t quite feel at ease with its emphasis on “simplicity”. F-Spot is probably the most complete image manager currently available on Gnome when it comes to tags support.


JPG IPTC read: yes

JPG XMP read: yes

TIF XMP read: yes (experimental)

JPG XMP write: yes

TIF XMP write:yes (experimental)

Believe it or not, Mapivi is the most feature complete tool when it comes to tags management. I would use it in a breeze if it wasn’t for a GUI that looks like it is coming from the last millennium…

Gwenview + Digikam

At the time of writing, Ubuntu Hardy doesn’t install the KDE4 version of these two. Both currently support IPTC writing and reading via a kipi plug-in. But support for XMP is there in the new KDE4 version which is getting more and more usable every day…

Here is what the kipi IPTC plugin looks like under Gwenview:

And a few others…

Hub Figuiere is also working on Niepce Digital which could turn into a nice piece of software. Sagittarius, from Vivosz also aims to offer seamless metadata management (including XMP & IPTC). There is also XMP_manager which aims to offer right click xmp access in Nautilus.


It’s coming. My guess is that the next release most of these applications will support XMP tagging as a standard. That will be one more box ticked on the Linux and Photoraphy list. In the meantime, we have to make-do somehow. My choice is to use IPTC tags and then find a way to convert IPTC to XMP (via exiv2)

The closing image is a black and white from Paris:


20 Responses to Tags – almost there

  1. Jorge says:

    Nice post. Very interesting. We’re getting there…

  2. jcornuz says:

    Thanks Glenn.

    I knew I had read somewhere that it was possible (?!) but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

  3. David says:

    I’m with Glenn. I use a set of shell scripts based on Exiftool. The first script specifies Country, City, Location, Keywords and Comments (not sure if these come under IPTC, XMP, Exif, or what), using Zenity as a GUI input.
    The second script creates a textfile with the complete metadata from each raw file. These textfiles are then copied to a central folder, which serves as the database.
    The third script copies the tags from raw files to their corresponding jpeg file, though it excludes the orientation tag, since I used to end up with strangely rotated jpegs.

    The benefit of this system is that it doesn’t require anything any specialist or complex software; only grep, which is ubiquitous across gnu/linux distros. Text files are also small and easily portable, and the image file need not be kept on the same machine; very useful as your image collection begins to number tens of thousands.

    It took a bit of thinking to get it working and has gone through a few iterations over the last year and a half, but I’ve got the process streamlined to the point that I can have a folder of 100 images tagged, archived and searchable in less than 5 minutes.

  4. Francis says:

    Another program for tagging and much more (it is supposed to be some open source aperture/lightroom – should appeal to the Linux user. It is called blueMarine (http://bluemarine.tidalwave.it/).
    It is still work in progress and still have not released an alpha version. But as far I know it is the only viable alternative to aperture/lightroom that works on Linux systems.

  5. HDave says:

    What about Picasa from Google…it runs great on Ubuntu…does it read/write XMP?

  6. jcornuz says:

    Hi Dave,

    Good call – I never tried Picasa… Apparently it does IPTC but only reads XMP – don’t quote me on that though.

    Check http://groups.google.com/group/PicasaSomethingBroken/browse_thread/thread/5178c241cfc45b62 for a discussion about that.

    Take care,


  7. Ted Miller says:

    Hoped you would cover KPhotoAlbum. Best application for tagging that I could find when I was starting my indexing. Am curious how it is keeping up.

  8. jcornuz says:

    Hi Ted,

    I am basically a Gnome person so it is true that I don’t review KDE tools as much as I should. I have something in mind about KDE, though…

    Take care,


  9. Georg says:

    The closing image has a most breathtaking composition :-O WOW!
    (esp. as I’ve been in the vicinity and taken home nothing but tourist snaps :-S)

  10. jcornuz says:

    Georg, thank you very much. I have had the privilege to go to Paris several times, so this probably helps…

    Take care,


  11. David Mail says:

    We are close to release the first Linux version of our Java-based workflow management tool for the stock photographers. Among other useful stuff, ProStockMaster reads EXIF and reads+writes IPTC and XMP data in JPG images. You can search local DB for the keywords you added, sell your images online through supported stock agencies etc.
    Free version is available, limited to 5 uploads daily (no time limitations – use as long as you want) – good to start with for anyone, who wants to try out stock photography.

    We also welcome beta-testers for the upcoming Linux release. Drop me an email to support(at)prostockmaster(dot)com

  12. Paolo says:

    I’m not sure how these IPTC and XMP standards are actually implemented in the software that you’ve mentioned and tested…

    Today I tried them and found the following:
    – tagged a picture in F-Spot (supposedly with XMP, as that’s the only “write” one in your article) with a rating, tag and comment
    – opened the picture from gThumb and the tags were not displayed (probably as I was using the “stock” version) so I tagged another picture with category and comment
    – opened first and second picture from Geeqie (that you mispell as Geekie) but neither the tags or comments from the first or second software are recognised, while giving me the option to tag and comment them again…

    I played with tagging on Windows software before and at least they seemed to use the standards as expected, even giving details about the specific IPTC and XMP keyword being written/read. Plus they would allow me to geo-tag them via Google Earth !

    I just fully moved to Linux so am still trying out a few combinations for a practical desktop but I’d appreciate your feedback on my issues…


  13. Sune Jensen says:

    Hi, great article.

    The “(thanks FX)” link under F-Spot is broken. Anyway you can add a new link link?


  14. David says:

    Quick update for all who are interested, Geeqie beta 1 is out, and it now allows tags to be saved as XMP sidecars, even for raw files. I’m in the process of moving to a position of using this as my central organisation tool!

  15. Milan Knizek says:

    Thanks for the overview of photo management software, even that a bit out-dated today.
    I have been using MaPiVi for a long since it really is effective when it comes to tagging images (especially mass tagging and smart update of existing tags).
    Recently, I started using digiKam 1.0.0 – tagging with keywords and commenting works nicely and effectively, too.
    However, digiKam still cannot mass tag IPTC location and even search within it – what a shame!
    So the interim solution is that I continue to use MaPiVi for IPTC location tags and digiKam for the rest…

  16. Georg says:

    Thank you for this helpful overview!

  17. Georg says:

    the link for jBrout has changed to http://jbrout.manatlan.com/

  18. Georg says:

    F-Spot and Shotwell ( http://yorba.org/shotwell/ ) can now read and write XMP metadata. Even to/from PNG files and sidecar files.

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