By Sami Samhuri

Reverse-engineering the photos-navigation URL scheme on iOS

It would be cool to open up the Photos app to a specific asset on iOS, just like the Photo Shuffle lock screen.

Screenshot showing the Show Photo in Library menu item on the Photo Shuffle lock screen configuration screen

There are some references to the photos-navigation URL scheme out on the web but they all effectively just say that they have no clue how to actually use it. And the obvious guesses haven't worked for me. The only way forward was to roll up my sleeves and dive into some aarch64 assembly, which is a bit of an adventure because I don't know anything about that architecture.

Decompiling the Photos app (a.k.a. MobileSlideShow) and looking through the methods -[PhotosWindowSceneDelegate openRoutingURL:] and -[PhotosURLNavigationRequest _navigateAllowingRetry:] uncovered some candidates:

Opening up an album by name works but so far I've had no luck figuring out how to show a specific asset. And ideally it would open up in the Library tab and not the Albums tab, just like the Photo Shuffle lock screen.

An interesting tidbit I learned along the way is that there are a handful of well-known named albums and those are the only identifiers allowed for the name parameter, you can't just pass the name of any album. The known album names from -[PhotosURLNavigationRequest _albumForKnownName:orUUID:requestIsValid:] are the following:

And some other hosts / actions that seem to be supported:

It looks like these are supported for the photos: URL scheme as well but I had zero luck opening that URL at all, rather than the photos-navigation: scheme which at least opens the app in all cases.

The next step might be trying to figure out which app/framework handles the Photo Shuffle lock screen and then decompile that to figure out which URL it calls.