What's your favorite DevonThink feature (other than search and "see also")

I used DevonThink a couple of months last year and then I decided I really wasn’t getting a lot of value from it. I could just use the Finder and Files (I thought) and save myself the overhead of using another app.

I tried it again this year. I’ve been using it a month or two and once again coming to the same conclusion.

Before I (mostly) give up DevonThink, I’m throwing it open to the groupmind: What do you love about DevonThink? Other than search and “see also,” which many people do like, but which I don’t get a lot of value out of.

What do you do with DevonThink that you can’t do just as well with the Finder on Mac, and Files app on iOS?

One thing that DevonThink is good for is as an archive of interesting articles from the web, and RSS feeds. But I’m thinking I could use it for those things while doing the main part of my work in the Finder/Files.

Help me decide!


I wrote about some of mine here:

DT’s unique file IDs have helped me in a couple of creative ways. Most recently I used it to maintain a study/flash card system as I studied for PhD comprehensive exams. I continually use files stored in DT as resources for automation, too, e.g., as templates for populating journal entries or notes or whatever.

I also keep a lot of references in DT. I find the search rewarding if you put a little bit of effort in. It takes no time to pull together a variety of items about a given topic from many folders/groups. A colleague recently asked me for some topics and I was able to push a dozen simple papers to them from years ago without much ardor.

One more for good luck: I have put together an auto tagging system with DT3’s smart rules that adds 10 Finder-compatible tags to every new file based on the DT-proprietary concordance keywords related to the file. I’m scheming to find similar uses of smart rules…


This is a bit hard to define.
I keep software receipts and license keys in a database. That’s just where they go (because I’ve done this for several years). These artifacts are actually stored in the database. They feel safe there.

I like this ability to store some things in DT’s databases, and have it index other things. In general, the things that are immutable (software licenses) get stored in the database. Things that are mutable, such as the source code for my CV are indexed. When I look at the list of things in DT, the fact that these are two different means of seeing the items falls away. I don’t have to think about it.

In DT3, the ability to search across databases has been added, but in DT2, I created a couple of databases that had redundant items so that they would be grouped together. For example, my Bookends PDF store was indexed in a database, as were my zettelkasten for some of those papers. This allowed See Also to find papers related to my notes, and vice versa, though the papers were stored on iCloud, and the notes on my local drive.

I like the way tagging is done in DT, and it seems easier than in Finder.

The view in DT is constrained to items that belong in a database. For me, that means things like personal pictures and movies don’t get in the way.

Smart groups are nice.

Auto-classify is something I’ve just started using, but it looks like it will be very handy. It’s already learned what my software licenses and receipts look like, so I can just ^C to move them to the right folder. And speaking of, the Inboxes are nice too. This is where you can put things to sort later, without plowing through the whole file system right now to figure out where something goes.

The ability to create a new file of some type from the menu is handy. So to create a quick markdown file, it’s two clicks, and you’re typing. Rather than using LaunchBar to open Typora, typing in stuff, going to the save menu, navigating the file system, typing in the name, and clicking save.

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Answering my own question, at least partly: I was just now reviewing a document in DevonThink and thought of something I need to do with it, but I don’t have time to do it now. It only took a moment to write a reminder to myself in Things, add a link to DevonThink, and save it for safekeeping.

Please keep the ideas coming: Anything that helps us get more from this complex tool is welcome.


How did you set up the finder compatible auto tagging?

That is a pretty cool capability

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Wouldn’t the other way around make more sense? Things that are mutable change – by definition – and your DT index would then be out of date. And are the indexed items available from iOS? Or is that not an issue?

Does that work across databases? I need to try that out.

That’s a big plus for DevonThink for me, even though it seems like a small thing. DT’s Markdown support is disappointing even in DT3, but the rich text editor is great, for me at least. And maybe I can learn to deal with DT’s Markdown deficiencies, particularly in combination with an external markdown editor.

I index absolutely everything in DT. You can grab and write to indexed files on DTTG on iOS with no trouble. Sometimes a little round-tripping is necessary if, say, I edit an iCloud document on iOS outside of DTTG and my Mac isn’t on. It is a little frustrating but worth the hassle for universally linkable files, for me.


Not sure I understand this but I can experiment to figure it out.

And I just tried doing some writing in the DevonThink markdown editor. It seems to lack code highlighting – or if it has it I haven’t figured out how to enable it. But it was fine. So that’s one plus for DevonThink!

I’m not sure there’s anything I do regularly in DevonThink that I couldn’t do as easily in the Finder with a little creative thinking. But a few years ago I was working on a project that had me handling a lot of PDFs that had no text layer. So my original reason for buying DevonThink was for the built-in OCR, which gave me an easy way to convert all of those PDFs to searchable documents, and it gave me an excuse to manage that whole project as a DevonThink database to see how I liked using the application. I did, so I’ve kept using it for that original project as well as several others.

The feature that I guess I would call my favorite is workspaces. This allows you to save a particular view so that you can return to it instantly. This is useful in a program like DevonThink that gives you so much flexibility in how you set up the way you view anything. Instead of having to manually rearrange the panes or windows to get back to the view you like for any given task, you can save that view as a workspace, and then you can return to that view instantly with a keyboard shortcut or by choosing it in DT’s “Go” menu, like a perspective in OmniFocus (which is a description that I’m borrowing from this post about workspaces by Gabe Weatherhead at MacDrifter).

And if you ever want to tweak your setup of any one of those workspaces, there’s an “Update” command in the “Go” menu that makes it really easy to do. I have eight workspaces. Depending on how you use DT, workspaces can take a lot of the friction out of getting started on whatever you’re trying to accomplish. It does for me, anyway.


I’ll try to elaborate, as I spent my last weekend refining my system for this (and yes, I know how that sounds).

I keep all my notes in Markdown .md files. Last week I hit a bit of a break in deadlines and got tired of having notes in Agenda, Ulysses, and loose files, so I decided to consolidate. I wanted my files to (1) be next to other relevant files in project-based folders; (2) to be free from proprietary lock-in, and (3) to be able to be automated using AppleScript, Hazel, DT3, and Shortcuts as necessary.

So I don’t want to leave things in DT tools. With Indexing, I point DT3 at a folder and it represents each file in that folder in DT3. If I use a cloud-based storage provider’s folder for this, the file is synced and can be edited in three places: the desktop filesystem, the cloud storage provider (e.g., dropbox.com), and inside DT3.

In general, things sync so quickly between these three places that the file is figuratively edited in all three places simultaneously. If I make a change on the file system, DT3 recognizes and updates its representation of the indexed file, and the cloud storage app syncs the change up to the cloud. Vice versa for any other direction of sync.

On iOS, however, DEVONthink To Go (DTTG; DEVONtechnologies’ iOS app) does not index the iPhone/iPad’s filesystem. It syncs DT3’s representation of the indexed files. A file synced via another cloud storage provider is a representation of the desktop filesystem’s version of the indexed file. So if I open-in a Dropbox file that is also indexed by DT3, DTTG has no way of noticing that update from DT3 until your Mac picks up the change, updates the indexed file, and syncs that to DTTG. This is the round trip.

If you edit an indexed file in DTTG it works the same way. Gotta sync it to DT3 before the change will be represented on the desktop filesystem or in the cloud.

It sounds awful, but it isn’t. I have yet to observe a conflict, perhaps because I’m a little careful. It should get better as more apps use iOS’ Files to enable “Open in…” features with DTTG as a file provider.

An unnecessary but perhaps informative detour: I adopted iA Writer as my “core” Markdown editor because it can edit files in-place. In fact, it has a nifty Library Locations feature on iOS that allows you to point it at a given file directory for in-place file creation, opening, and syncing. Unfortunately, this only fully works with iCloud, Working Copy (iOS), and a few other providers—no Dropbox. So I moved all of my files to iCloud /documents and have been fine with that. (No big collaboration needs yet…) So, If I’m writing on iOS I open iA Writer and edit from there.


That’s a very interesting setup. Thank you.

I tried iaWriter on Mac but have found it slow. Plenty of other options though. I like Ulysses.

I think it’s possible to set up code syntax highlighting for Markdown in DevonThink, but I have not been able to make it work. I have a query on that on the DevonThink forums:

If anyone here has an answer to that, and passes it on, I’d be grateful!

@SteveU75 It’s a new thing for me, so it’s very much a work in progress. Here’s a screenshot of the Smart Rule:
Find the relevant scripts and some explanations here. (My first GitHub upload in… five years! Holy.)

@tonycraine I should use Workspaces more! If I remember correctly, they also save where you were in a Database, so a Workspace can rearrange the panes and take you to a particular group, smart group, whatever.

(Sorry, I’m all over this thread.)

Something else cool that I haven’t used. Thanks for mentioning it.

Grab a link to a specific page of a PDF

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@MitchWagner what do/did you use DT for and what did you expect/hope to get from it? I am not sure if asking us for the most loved DT feature is going to make it clear to you if DT is right for you.

In general; if one has a bunch of “document files” (of all kinds) and want to bring in some organization with the aim to find information quickly, or build a tree of knowledge, or structure a pipeline of information to write a conclusive summary, or … you will need some means to automate/help this process. If it is just a few files, perhaps a file structure is all that is needed. If it is a lot more than a few files, DT can help.

But DT is a swiss army knife, it is many different things to many people. That is good: it brings a level of versatility that is great to fit a variety of problems. That is bad: it may be difficult to figure out how to use it or what to use it “all” for. I have used it in my roles as engineer, marketeer very succesfully and do not know of an alternative system that is as effective as DT for me. I described a bit of this here: DEVONthink 3.0 Public Beta Perhaps that gives you some more ideas what to do with it and how you can figure out what to do with it for your use cases.


For me, the critical things I love about DT are:

  • Item links (I paste these all over the place, they go in OmniFocus, calendar events, project documents of all sorts).
  • Search (I realize that Search in DT isn’t particularly unique, many tools offer similar capabilities, but I just happen to use DT).
  • Replicants. I realize you could use aliases in Finder, but the mechanism for making aliases is clumsy compared to being able to easily “replicate to…” wherever you like.

DT is a huge toolbox. Most people don’t need everything inside that tool box, and certainly many of these tools on their own are available elsewhere. But once you put together one or two of the tools in the DT toolbox, it’s hard to replicate using any other single application!


Item links (DEVONthink’s custom URL scheme) are important – and I think the real value of them is that they always work because they are UUID based not path based. DEVONthink keeps track of al UUIDs:

  1. If the linked document is moved to another database – the item link will find that database and document
  2. If the linked document is in a database that is closed – the item link will cause DEVONthink to open the database and document

The links work even if the document is trashed. The only way to make a link stop working is to delete the linked document and empty the trash.

I don’t think it’s possible to do anything like this in the file system.


I think the way it searches and presents those results is one of its major strengths.

I haven’t come across software that makes it so easy to search PDFs and then easily show and navigate to the search results within those PDFs without needing to scroll.

Along with that, the ability to link to specific pages in the PDFs (from those finely presented search results) and embeds those links in other software is very powerful and it works the same on IOS and MacOS.


DEVONthink has one of the largest and most comprehensive scripting dictionaries I am aware of. (OmniGroup’s apps are probably in the same league.) While most people do not know how – or care to know how to script, the value of DEVONthink’s exposed features via scripting is significant and anyone can take advantage of the existing scripted features. Not only in the large number of built-in scripts packaged with DEVONthink, but in the broad and deep contributed library found in DEVONthink’s forum as well as in numerous blogs.


Neat question. Here are some examples that come to mind.

(1) I use Hazel rules, the DT web clipper, and file saving hygiene to grab any paper, blog post, website I feel is at all relevant to my research and archive it in DT. I also sync my notes from various services and apps (including my Tinderbox zettelkasten). This gives me a rich foundation to crawl when I have a need or curiosity. I can search all these documents for a phrase or citation and when I find something of interest, I can “magic hat/see also” it and find things I had no idea were related. For example, a book I’d read mentioned a historical movement I was researching, but become the book wasn’t about that movement, I’d never have thought to look at it for a reference. I know you mentioned that see also isn’t working for you and maybe, given your needs, it won’t. But I can imagine a scenario where I’d feel that way, too, if I didn’t realize how to use it specifically for my needs. For example, I can take a reading note and “see also” to find relevant articles to read that I’d never known about. This is possible because I collect everything of interest to me. It wouldn’t work well if I didn’t do that part. Also, I can query every article I’ve found at all interesting for a method or topic I wasn’t even considering when I originally collected it.

(2) I can create a group of documents and search across that group for further analysis. For example, I collected a bunch of papers about technologies that focus on mindfulness. I tagged them so they’d end up in a smart group and then I searched that group for references to Jon Kabat-Zinn to see who referenced his definition of mindfulness, specifically.

(3) Another way I’ve used smart groups productively is to collect a bunch of papers, drag them into Tinderbox and map them in relationship to each other. DT and TBX work well together so when I drag an item into TBX, it appears as the first page of the PDF and the item link is preserved so it’s easy to access later.

(4) I put rosters with my students pictures and names so that when they email years from now asking for a recommendation or favor, I can remember who they were.

(5) When I have a personal or family-related health issue, I collect papers and websites and put them all in DT. I can query across them and see what commonalities “see also” reveals. Impossible to do in ad-strewn crappy med-space that is Google these days.

(6) I can read, highlight, and annotate a file across platforms and have that annotated version with me on my computer, iPad, and phone. Also, my highlights and annotations are automatically smart grouped and searchable on their own.