Open Source Alternatives to Roam Research (and Obsidian)


I’m using Roam Research since April 2020. It has been the most impactful discovery in terms of software for me in years. With Roam, it feels so natural to work on academic papers (or information in general) and build a graph of knowledge at the same time. It defininetely changed the way I process literature, create excerpts, process information and write papers.
I probably will keep using Roam Research as I like its features and development. Nonetheless I think it’s important that alternatives are being devolped and supported…

Why open source alternatives?

As of know my Roam-graph consists of a few hundred pages, growing day by day. It feels great to have and foster this ever growing reservoir of knowledge, which is, thanks to linking and search, retrievable, connected and usable. At the same time it seems problematic to put so much work and information in a proprietary, closed and cloud-only system. Roam offers export in different formats but it can’t be done automatically. Roam also could change their business model, specific features or terms of use at any time. For these reason it seems reasonable to me to have alternatives at hand which are open source, offer similar features and are able to import Roam-data.


  • Athens is the attempt to build an open source alternative to Roam Research. It’s in closed beta right now and according to their Project Board a lot of features are still missing. Part of the Vision is to be able to host it yourself. As I understand it, Athens stores everything in a database, like Roam.
  • Logseq is a free and open source alternative to Roam Research. The big difference is that it stores all pages as .md files in a repository on your GitHub-account. It also already supports import of Roam-graphs. I imported my whole graph and it works reasonably well – it’s a bit slow and has some quirks, but for version it’s quite ok and for sure looks promising.

Thanks for those links. You mention Obsidian in your title, but while it is not open-source, it works as much as it can with the open Markdown standard with user accessible files, which ensures that there is no real vendor lock-in either. :slightly_smiling_face:


Could probably add to that list (extension to VS Code) if you’re truly looking for OSS.

On the Obsidian front, I’ve asked the devs why they aren’t open source and it’s because it’s difficult to monetize OSS that’s in the Business-to-Consumer market. Discourse works as OSS because it’s Business-to-Business (read: you can sell services such as hosting for it). But for consumer software like Obsidian, there’s not a solid OSS business model yet. If you have any questions or concerns about the software in particular, the devs are very responsive on the forum and in their Discord channel.


Why should the Obsidian developers turn their invention to open source? I’ve seen several readers in this and other forums ask the owners why their product is not open source, which is a bit cheeky, isn’t it?

Has open source software been demonstrably beneficial for a wide swath of non-technical general public users? What are the well-known contenders for “excellent open source general use software”?


Depending on what your definition of “general use” is: Firefox, VLC, Skim, Zotero, MacDown, Handbrake, Tunneblick VPN, iTerm, LibreOffice, Virtual Box, OpenEmu, Transmission, Keepass.

But I agree, it’s totally up to the devs of Obsidian what to do with their piece of software. That’s why I want to collect some alternatives here, for those who are interested :slight_smile:


Don’t forget the granddaddy of them all: Emacs Org-mode


I totally agree. I was interested because it seemed like a good candidate in my mind but I didn’t have the B2C business model understanding they shared. I’m very okay with it being closed source.

Granddaddy indeed.


FWIW, it seems like most (all) Obsidian community plugins will be open source, which is neat!


Hey Billie Eilish, why don’t you, like, I dunno, give your music away and stuff?

I tried org-mode - tried really hard, even bought the book, but ultimately the vertical learning curve got me. I used to use Emacs a lot, and if I used it every day, perhaps.


Following on from that, i totally forgot to mention org-roam.

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There’s also vim-zettel for vim users. I’ve been enjoying using this for the last couple weeks. I tried out foam and obsidian and find electron apps mentally heavy for note taking/zettelkasten. I use ripgrep, fzf, and nerdtree to get easy searching and a clickable directory tree. The only downside I’ve found so far is I haven’t been able to figure out how to change tags to be prefixed with ”#” instead of “:“ (the default for vim wiki)

Side note: why, oh why! Does every app have to support a slightly different link format for local files/backlinks!?