Beyond storage and search-The Value of DEVONthink

Most of the discussion I’ve read about DT centers on storing, finding and retrieving information. There is value in DT that goes far beyond those functions.

I have found one of the most useful features is the ability to convert a text-based file to Markdown. Below is an example of an article I purchased from Cambridge University Press, Plato on Virtuous Leadership: An Ancient Model for Modern Business. Because I use Obsidian for all of my research files I convert nearly everything to MD. The ability to import a PDF into DT and have it automatically OCRed and then the ability to convert the PDF to MD is an extremely helpful feature.

I don’t use DT to store information. I primarily use it as a powerful utility – an expensive one–but effective!

In this screenshot you can see the OCRed and the MD versions.


Welcome to the real DEVONthink :slight_smile:

I always encouraged folks to think of DEVONthink not as an expensive box, but as a very lively hub for interacting with your data, and integrating with all the other aspects of your personal app suite. You pointed out just one of those aspects – conversion – but even that is relatively minor.

To me, the main affordance is DEVONthink’s automation capabilities – with scripting (perhaps the largest scripting dictionary of any macOS app), smart rules, URL scheme, share sheets, Automator, etc. Last time I checked, my personal inventory of scripts I’ve written to automate handling my DEVONthink database and linking the data in them to my own app environment is approaching 500 scripts.

No one needs to be as weird about automation, but the point is that there’s rarely a case for handling and using files that DEVONthink cannot be adapted to address. It’s the main reason that DEVONthink has been open on my desktop for 15 years, since “DEVONthink Professional 1” came along.

Some here will report that DEVONthink has failed them miserably. Can’t forget that. It’s just software.


You are the Guru, I’m not even at the Neanderthal stage on automation! :grinning:

I’ve seen the reports but I’m not sure what you mean by that statement, can you clarify? What do you mean “Can’t forget that”?

Also, do you index or import your files?

I mean that is important to respect that not all users of this (or any) software have a great experience.

I index and import. When and why – depends on the circumstance. I have no guiding principle for that feature.


May I ask one more question? Is there a way to get DT to automatically update the indexed folder upon launch and again when closing DT or does it already do so? I always manually update the index

I avoid indexing when I realize that changes I make in DT will/may be reflected at the Finder level and I know that this is not my desire. An example is the culling of resources over a few decades. I have a Finder volume that I have imported. I do not want to destroy the (cluttered) organization in the source at the Finder level. But I do want to cull the clutter “off-line” in a manner of speaking.

I have enough data storage that importing (and creating an extra copy) is not a bother anymore.

But … I am learning a limitation on importing. Consider again the above project that I have to cull / sort through / assess my lecture notes and files from a few decades. I cannot always depend on importing as a way to help me find direct associations with related files. A specific example: I create my homework assignments in LaTeX and export to PDF. Suppose that I find a PDF file that contains a problem about X. When I have imported the files, the folder structure at the Finder level is not preserved. I have to search separatl tyo find the source LaTeX .tex file that I used to generate the PDF file.


I think I lean toward indexing so that I don’t end up with different files in different places. Right now I’m indexing my Obsidian research vault. This seems to be working well. The only thing I’m still trying to figure out is how to get DT to automatically update the indexed folders upon opening DT and closing it. Right now, I’m doing this manually.

Searching “ automatically update index on open” on the DEVONthink forum gives some hits which look promising for you to pursue. And there are experienced experts there.

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From …

DEVONthink Help

Updating indexed files: In general use, DEVONthink can usually detect filesystem changes of indexed folders and will update the indexed group in the database. However, there are two things to be aware of regarding automatic updating of indexed files.

Files synced by other applications: If you are indexing files in a folder synced by another application, e.g., iCloud or Dropbox, you may need to use the File > Update Indexed Items command to manually update the indexed group. DEVONthink does this to avoid causing a discrepancy in the data for the other application. Also, a particular process may not generate a filesystem event for DEVONthink to detect a change has occurred.

Individually indexed files: While it’s certainly feasible to index individual files, be aware these files won’t be updated automatically. This is due to the potential overhead of watching many individual files versus watching one folder. In this case, you can also use the File > Update Indexed Items command or the file will be updated when you select it again.

Note: If for some reason you’d like to control whether DEVONthink updates existing or deconsolidates new files, there are two [articles] regarding the behavior of indexing:

DisableAutomaticUpdatingOfIndexedItems and DisableAutomaticDeconsolidation.

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Just bought a Pro license for the wife so I guess i’m in for a penny …in for a pound.

Thank you #Winterfest2021 please keep it going.

The onus is now upon me to make sure my wife can get value out of trying to go paperless more.

Opportunely timed, coming as I’m ONCE AGAIN rethinking how I use DEVONthink. I have a tendency to go all in on it – use it as a Finder replacement for all my working documents – and then stepping back and realizing I’m using DT for tasks it’s just not appropriate for. Then I tend to abandon DT for a while. Then I come back to it. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now I’m at the beginning of a “backing out” cycle, but trying to be more deliberate about it.

@SpivR How do you use DevonThink in a way that is different from what you can do in the Finder?

@anon41602260 I’d love to hear about how you’re using DT, in whatever level of detail you are willing to share. I’ll do some searching here and on the DT forums, but I would also be grateful for any pointers you can provide, such as links to comprehensive posts you’ve done on the past.

@MitchWagner – thank for the kindness. I really wouldn’t know where to start selecting posts from the DEVONthink forum – I wrote over 7,000 posts there over a very long period, and I have no favorite children :slight_smile:

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I took a look through this forum and found some nice tidbits you wrote here.

If you feel moved to write some notes on how you use DT, I will be grateful to read them.

For starters, what kind of work do you do? What kind of projects and information do you store in DevonThink?

Some of quorm’s greatest DevonThink hits (the reader will want to scroll up and down a bit in these threads):


These links are also a bit of a hall of shame of my DevonThink ambivalence. :slight_smile:


I have been a Devonthink user for a couple of years and I still think I am only scratching the surface of what it can do…

I agree that DT has some great utility features (I also like the annotation tools for PDFs, they have much improved in DT3). But the classification feature is hands down the key feature that keeps me dedicated to DT. I know that sounds boring, but if you happen to get inundated with PDFs daily, which need to be organized into various folders it is excellent for this purpose. I know a lot of people use Hazel and other apps for this but DT is the only app that could scratch this itch for me. I used to spend countless hours just trying to maintain basic folder organization. Now I can process hundreds of PDFs into their folders in a single sitting.