Apple Notes Backup

I was moved to post this by @MacSparky’s aside on MPU episode #734 about using Obsidian import as an Apple Notes backup technique.

I back up my Mac’s data using a combination of Time Machine, Backblaze, and, maybe unwittingly, iCloud. Comments on various podcasts about the need for an intentional, separate backup strategy for iCloud data have always nagged me, but I’ve never done anything about it. Reading various horror stories here before posting this has amplified my disquiet.

I understand that my Apple Notes are stored as a collection of files and a SQLite database index on my Mac, but I’m not sure I can rely on every Note being synchronised to local storage on my Mac. Furthermore, I presume that damage to the Notes database caused on other devices or iCloud itself would also propagate to my Mac with synchronisation. I’m therefore not confident in Time Machine’s or Backblaze’s ability to help me recover from data loss.

I believe that non-automated or untested backup strategies are likely useless.

So, do I need to do anything more than I already do?

If so, what’s the best way to maintain an automatic backup of my Apple Notes, and how would I test that the restore works?

I want to restore my Apple Notes to their original state, so PDF export is unattractive. I’m not sure Obsidian will help me in this regard either.

This is a really interesting issue, with a lot of subtle questions.

I think there are three options:

Stay wholly within Apple eco-system - that means using only Apple provided or sanctioned tools to synchronize and backup data. Means trusting and relying on Apple.

Go outside Apple and use 3rd party apps/tools - losing a lot of the tight integration, but tools for backup, duplication, restore, do not have those limitations or additional risks.

Go behind Apple’s back and use unsanctioned methods and tools - preserves the benefits of staying within Apple eco-system, but introduces other risks.

Using Obsidian as a backup for Notes and relying on its ability to parse SQLlite etc. is the third choice.

Somewhat related, but the above is one of the reasons I keep my main photo collection in a catalog/backup system that isn’t Apple photos. There is no perfect choice.


Watching this with great interest. Yesterday I spent hours trying to fix a broken database. I had copied the contents of an excel spreadsheet into Notes, at which point iOS clients and iCloud web started to crash 10 to 15 seconds after being opened. Mac became increasingly unresponsive and could not open the new note. I managed to fix it by disabling iCloud sync everywhere, then copied all notes but the offending one on the Mac to a local Notes database, deleted all iCloud storage, and copied everything on the Mac back to iCloud.

That made we wonder how I could more effectively recover from such a disaster. Not sure how a local backup would interact with iCloud storage?

In the latest ATP episode, John discusses his disappointment with Apple’s ‘download’ of Notes contents. I forget where it is, but it was described as “similar to Google’s Takeout feature”. The result was very slow in arriving and very rudimentary. All plain text and unedited image files.

That’s the Apple-sanctioned way, unfortunately.

I’m not using Notes very actively except for some non-crucial notes (such as saving tips and tricks, terminal commands and such), mostly due to Notes’ inability to export to meaningful formats without additional software.

As a sidenote, I have already learned the lock-in lesson by using OneNote for over ten years – while neither Apple nor Microsoft will go away and shut down their products overnight without an export option, I’m no longer willing to accept that risk and regret having my Master’s data, readings and research in OneNote (sadly Obsidian was not yet a thing a couple of years ago, it launched just as I was finishing my dissertation).

But, I have just searched a bit and there are AppleScripts floating around that will export everything from Notes, and they can certainly be automated. Have you tried any of these? Also, perhaps the Exporter app can be scripted or automated, perhaps using KM?

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I’m in the same boat. I just don’t trust the ‘locked in’ aspects of Apple Notes. It doesn’t have to be markdown and text, but it needs to be more reliable and easier to export into other apps.

I remember Marco Arment saying on ATP a couple years ago that he uses Apple Notes, but then he said something along the lines of “don’t trust it for things you can’t lose”.


One of the marketed features of KeepIt is that everything is just files in your filesystem. It’s sad that data portability becomes a differentiator, meaning it’s simply not available for many apps.

“You can view and recover notes in the Recently Deleted folder for up to 30 days before they’re permanently removed from all your devices.”

If I were an Apple Notes user I would export all my data frequently.

The non-existent backup feature for Apple Notes kept me looking for other options. But there’s something about Apple Notes that keeps drawing me back. I now have a shortcut that copies all my notes from Apple Notes to a local Notes folder. For me that works well enough as a backup (for now). I accept that moving to another notes app won’t be that simple.

I think @Bmosbacker is running a regular backup of Apple Notes, possibly as markdown to DT? Hopefully they’ll offer some advice.

I am aware of the risks with Apple Notes, am not running a backup outside Apple ecosystem, and really do have the intention of not storing important things in Apple Notes. But it’s just so darn easy to drop a quick note in there and forget about it… For me, introducing a new app to replacing an existing one isn’t usually that painful (the habit already exists, I’m just changing the app). But for some reason, I am just incapable of leaving Apple Notes. Even though DT and Drafts are right there on all my devices and are my “approved” tools, and even though I know it’s not “safe” and I need a better backup strategy!

That is correct. As shown, I import Apple Notes to DEVONthink each month. This works well. The notes are imported as “formatted notes” but can be converted individually or in bulk to other formats, including markdown.

The one downside is that documents attached to an individual note are imported to a separate attachments folder in DT. This is fine for my purposes because my main use of AN is for text notes. I don’t use Apple Notes as a database of files, i.e., as some use Obsidian or Evernote. I use DEVONthink as my primary document storage app. Apple Notes is for notes and related links.



Same thing I do. Only thing I don’t like is it duplicates notes if you use smart lists and a note appears more than once. But I just keep a separate DT database of note backups by date as well.

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Exporter, DEVONthink, Obsidian… all preserve your information. But they don’t backup in such a fashion that you can use the info to restore your Apple Notes. That’s the shortcoming; Apple would capture many more notetakers if there were menu items to backup and restore from backup. Or, even if it was simple and reliable (possible) to restore from Time Machine. @Bmosbacker - you minimize the issue because you store your “attachments” in DEVONthink, separately as part of your normal processes. If your Apple Notes corrupted I think your recovery back to Notes would be less onerous (maybe?).

About two months ago I migrated back to Evernote (a user since 2008) (~ 2000 notes). With a collection of text, images, and many .pdfs, I am more comfortable using Evernote than I am using Apple Notes in the same manner. Some of my singular notes might have 10 attachments. One Reddit user in an Apple Notes vs Evernote discussion put it this way, “I do often feel like I’m “hacking” Notes by using it in a way (i.e. archiving documents and heavy-duty storage) that it wasn’t really designed for and one day this is going to bite me in the ass and I’ll be trapped.” I export Evernote notebooks occasionally - restoration is as easy as double-clicking. I use ExportNote (app) weekly from which, if the need arose, I would manually restore the delta from my last .enex export.

If Apple “fixed” Notes so you can backup and restore, I would probably switch back in short order! (When I switched to Evernote, I hedged my bet by copying my iCloud notes to On My Mac, which I hope will make restoration easier should I decide to do that.). I like using Apple Notes, on Mac & iOS &iPadOS - Apple got the user interface right. I also wouldn’t mind losing the Evernote fee!


Perhaps, but I’ve never tried because I don’t anticipate a need to do so. Here is how I handle my Apple Notes:

  1. I write my work notes based on an academic year (August-July).
  2. Each month throughout the academic year, I export my AN to DEVONthink.
  3. At the end of July, I delete any notes in AN that I do not need ready access to for the coming year. If I need to reference one of those notes, I have the text and any related documents in DT.
  4. I follow a similar process for my personal notes.

I do not use AN for long-term storage. I use it for short to medium-term notes, primarily meeting and project notes and general personal reference notes. These personal notes are also relatively short-term, e.g., gift ideas, vehicle information, travel tickets and reservations, and the like. I keep financial records, manuals, receipts, research documents, archived presentations and articles, and more in DT.

The advantage to this approach is two-fold:

  1. I keep the AN database relatively light (I currently have 962 notes in AN).
  2. I have a backup of my notes in DT, which is also backed up via BackBlaze and on two external drives (one at home and one at the office).

It is a bit of a shame that AN does not have a real backup function. I think the Obsidian Importer does a stellar job in creating “backup”. However, I failed so far to automate using it. If anybody managed, please let me know. Exporter and DT seem to fail to preserve links. Otherwise I could use DT for automated imports.

I love the ability to share AN easily. My non-techy spouse would most likely not use any complicated setup. But without backup possibility, I am worried that I will have issues one day.

Does obsidian maintain Apple notes links?

It does. Also, Importer is open source in typescript. So there should be a way.

Thank you for your replies, everyone.

I hoped I missed something, but it seems I haven’t.

I’ve tried Obsidian and DEVONthink, but I don’t like either. They seem designed to help me achieve something more ambitious than I want, and the extra features that brings make the apps too complex to use for my taste. In contrast, Apple Notes has almost no friction and is much more pleasant to use despite its more modest capabilities.

The backup situation still worries me. Maybe I’ll look into the possibility of some automation for export to Obsidian.

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Agree 95% with this! While I think both are great software products, I do not use either (for now). I used Notebooks for a while. And theoretically, it ticks all the boxes of a rather simple but powerful app with a nice responsive dev who seems to care about his product. But I ended up, almost never writing a new note. I have no idea why. Apple Notes is actually pretty good. And it has a lot of advanced features many apps do not offer. Such as smart groups on mobile. So my only argue about the more modest capability :slight_smile: .

So I ended up transferring most of my notes into AN a few days back. Will use Obsidian as “backup”. Please let me know if you succeed in automating it. I think a lot of MPUs will appreciate it.

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I’ve come to the conclusion, after much research, that the SQLite database stored in ‘’ is actually a very robust method for automatically backing up iCloud Notes. Assuming a consistent system backup strategy with something like Time Machine or Carbon Copy Cloner, you will have multiple iterations of the database stored within your snapshot archives. These archived versions of the ‘’ folder can be used to completely restore Notes from a known good version should data loss or corruption ever occur.

I wrote a post about my full methodology for anyone interested in this topic: A Comprehensive Guide for Backing Up Apple Notes on Your Mac