DevonThink question for the experts

I am wondering if someone with more experience with DevonThink can help me with an organizational question.

I have created a database for archiving my emails, which I will sent over to DT via the mail plugin and with the Devon-supplied AppleScript depending on the context.

I have 5 different emails that I need to follow; 2 personal and 3 work related for 3 different jobs/purposes.

My first pass was to create a series of SmartRules that watch the global inbox. For any emails that arrive in the Inbox, there is a rule that will move the email to a group within the MailArchive database, based on whether it was a received or sent email and which mailbox it came from. The rules figure this out using the To and From criteria for the email.

This works fine. However, I have been wondering if this is really worthwhile. Another approach would be to just create one group in the database for “All Mail” and create the appropriate SmartGroups filtering on the same criteria.

It seems to me that in the end I will wind up with similar results in this case, since my main use case is going to be to search the database in its entirety for an email that I need to review.

If I understand searching correctly, I could restrict the search to, for instance, just my personal emails by having a group called Personal that contains just those emails, or search the entire database, but if I used SmartGroups, the downside would be that I could not search just those emails classified into a Personal SmartGroup, so if I want the ability to restrict searching to a subset of emails on this basis I should use groups and use the SmartRules to sort emails, while if I don’t care about that I could just use SmartGroups instead.

Can anyone with more experience with DT provide some insight as to when groups vs SmartGroups make more sense, particularly in this use case?


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“Expert” I don’t know! I use DEVONthink a lot though and for a long time. It is hard to advise somebody else’s workflow. I have found DEVONthink becomes very ‘personal’. There are so many parameters that anybody’s use is likely to vary from any other ones for all kinds of reasons, even contingent ones or arbitary ones, including how you start off and contingent habits. DEVONthink though is, I think, all about AI

My own approach, I developed after years of creating Groups and so on, has evolved into really making use of what DEVONthink has: that is “AI”. Use Smart Groups, otherwise you are keeping a dog and barking yourself. Having said that I do use Groups. A lot of that is legacy I think and habits I am not ready to break. Using tags too can cause complications that one can avoid by just using the AI, that is smart groups and searches, off the bat as it were. It can feel a bit nerve wracking at first though and one needs to bite the bullet. In other words I advise, in your case if I get it right, Smart Groups only. Just dump them in a database and use Smartgroups and searches with the finder. The OCR, search capacities and smart groups of DEVONthink are more powerful than we first realize.

I would be interested to hear other views on this. Don’t forget the AI can usually look into content and metadata.

I am moving towards just having a dump almost of everything and sorting it with Smart Groups, or even creating them when needed. I have several databases and I sort of know roughly where a lot of things are. It is more like the piles of papers approach of the paper era. But fail safe if you know what I mean? I found folders tedious to be honest with you and they never worked that well for me. That was one reason I was attracted to DEVONthink in the first place though.

Thanks! I appreciate the advice.

As I have read a bit more, one concern is that SmartGroups do NOT appear to play well with DTTG. That is not, however, much of a big deal in that I am very unlikely to spend much time searching emails in DTTG, and when I do I can just search the entire archive if needed.

SmartGroups attached to a specific database do seem to sync to other computers, which is important to me as I use DT on both laptop and desktop.

I have not yet figure out, however how to restrict a search to only the contents of a SmartGroup. I found online directions to do this, but they did not work (and date to DT version 2, so maybe this is different in DT3).

Once downside to SmartRules is that it is a pain to keep them in sync between laptop and desktop as they do NOT sync along with other database information, which to me is a good reason NOT to create a complex workflow dependent on SmartRules. Just having one to detect ALL emails and dump them into the MailArchive database and let SG’s within the database do the sorting might make the most sense.

Still planning with the concepts…

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The AI works pretty well. As you drag things from inbox to the groups and databases they belong to, the AI learns. After a training period, the suggestions the AI make will be mostly correct, and it’s just a matter of clicking the button or pressing the keystroke.
I think you can select several items and auto-classify them too, though I don’t do that.
So if you don’t have a large number of emails to triage, it might be as easy and reliable to use the AI to classify them.

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I don’t quite get you? To search a Smart Group you would edit it and extend the search criteria in some way, or just use another unsaved search for what you need? A Smart Group is really just a saved search? I know that makes it feel kind of ethereal. But all objects and files on computers are like that really? The UI just makes you feel they are filed in a more familiar way. The Search Operators outlined if you look in help for that term are very powerful.
It is worth mentioning though that though I have the mail functions in DEVONthink I have hardly used it. I haven’t found it any better than Apple Mail myself. I have a very similar set of conditions to you too funny enough. I have a strong idea in my mind as to when a mail was received, before or after such and such and can usually find anything very quick now! So what I say is a bit ironic once I thought about it. Let us know what you decide on though, it is interesting and informative.

By AI I include the advanced Search capacities. Sorry about that, I appreciate that some of us mean the ‘automatic’ grouping capacities only. I rely mostly on the search operators for making Smart Groups not the AI, I think of them in the same breath as it were though. Sorry if I have introduced a confusion into the discussion.

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Incidentally I use the ‘see also and classify window’ a lot but I don’t classify stuff using it. A lot of my use of DEVONthink is now ‘intuitive’ if I can put it that way and I think quite idiosyncratic. I don’t have huge amounts of stuff by the way, but that reduction of friction really that DEVONthink provides is now essential to me. Do you actualy classify using AI?

Thanks for the additional info.

I have not been using the AI features. I was a DT2 user for a while, drifted away from it, and decided when DT3 came out to resume using it, so I am really just getting started with accumulating data into DT3.

One of my main reasons for going back to DT is in fact to archive email. I hear your regarding using Mail to archive emails, but I have not found that to be as effective for me, in part because I have an unfortunate tendency to delete emails and then realize months later I should have kept them. I am thinking another solution is to simply send nearly everything of reasonable importance to DT and use the search features there to find things when needed at a later date. I know this is something of a kludge, but I’m hoping it will suffice.

I did at one time keep an extensive folder structure in Mail for storing things. My thinking is that it would be better to rely on DT’s search capabilities rather than trying to hyperorganize.

My point about searching inside SmartGroups is that if I decide to just dump all email into one group in the database and create SG’s for organization, then if I want to search for example ONLY my personal email (where Personal is an SG that finds all the emails sent to or from my personal email address), how would I accomplish that? Reading online, I found a Devon forum posting from 2 years ago that said to click the icon in the search bar and from the drop down you can select an option to search only what is currently selected, so you can select the SG you want to search and then use this feature of the search box. However, that does not seem to be the case in DT3.

I don’t think it is a good practice to modify the SG’s selection criteria each time I am searching for something and certainly not efficient.

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Just a quick note: I think you can export smart rules, if that helps “sync” them. Unfortunately I’m not at my desktop to check.

Also, DEVONtechnologies has its own Discourse-based forum! You’ll probably get more/better insights there, plus direct customer support.

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Interesting. I see where you are and agree you don’t want to me remaking a group all the time. I don’t have a lot of important mail.
There is on DT2 Date > New from Template > Smartgroups a specially designed smart group just for emails. I don’t know if it is still on DT3. That might be able to do what you want. It looks like it can. I don’t have any emails in there so I can’t try it out. If I have time later I might but now the problem is that you are on DT3 and I am on 2. I am getting ready to move but not quite yet.
I saw this thread on DEVONthink Forum. It might guide you in some direction. It involves scripting as far as I can see which is where I don’t go. I really don’t want to go down the scripting rabbit hole, which is what would happen knowing me

The expert, the real expert there, Blue Frog or whoever, did suggest in that thread a ‘strategic’ solution to this person on the lines I am talking about. Sometimes searches and SG, as you already know, require some strategic tweaks rather than brute force data attacks.
There is this too that might help. Again I think written for DT2

@ryanjamurphy: Yes, smart rules and smart groups can be exported and imported elsewhere. I found that when I did that, the smart rules did need to be re-edited for the local databases and also the trigger (which was set to “on import”) was changed when imported on another computer and had to be fixed.

I still feel that in the interest of efficiency and consistency, relying on a plethora of smart rules is not the best approach since every time I make a change anywhere I have to reproduce those changes on the other computer which will inevitably get out of sync.

SmartGroups have the advantage that they can be localized to a database or global, and the local ones do sync to other computers, which makes this an appealing way to organize the email.

If I can find a way to easily restrict a search to the contents of a given SmartGroup that will be the best approach, I think. I can also subgroup for emails I sent vs received in this manner.

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OK. The one thing I would add is that I think you might try to address the sync with another computer. As far as I know the Smart Groups should sync without change on local databases. I can see that if sync is not accurate the whole thing would be a laborious mess. I appreciate what you say. The sync can’t be working right though surely?

I only use one computer and used to use DEVONthink to go but found I didn’t really need it beyond carrying the occasional pdf with me. I will link it up again soon I think. I think the sync from mac to mac should be ‘as is’.

Yes, SmartGroups created within a database do sync between computers, while global SmartGroups do not. SmartRules are all global and so do not sync between computers. That’s part of why SG’s are a much more convenient and robust solution vs SR’s.


By the way you are an advanced or ‘expert’ user of DEVONthink by any standards. There is always something one misses or doesn’t know about, however experienced one is. Most of us, though very experienced on what we actually use it for, are not that expert in other parts or uses of the app. It is a very powerful app.

It seems that if you hit ‘enter’ after entering search terms in the search bar, you get a scope bar. If you have selected a smart group in the navigator, then that smart group appears in the scope bar, and (I think) clicking that button limits the search to the contents of the smart group. If this works as I think, it is just what I needed!


Good I am looking forward to DEVONthink 3. Not yet though.

You can do more with smart groups and rules in Devonthink 3

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