Homepage    |    GitHub    |    API    |    FAQ

Why I'm leaving Joplin (for now)

I made a serious effort starting late last year to switch to Joplin, but after much frustration I’m returning to, ugh, Evernote. Despite the wonderful advantages of Joplin, notably its enthusiastic developers and regular updates, I concluded that the Joplin isn’t quite where it needs to be to completely replace my Evernote-based workflow. Before I leave, I owe everyone a little explanation.

By far my biggest requirement for note-taking software is what I call “Get out of Dodge”. You must be able to painlessly abandon ship at any time, leave the platform and take your notes elsewhere.

Ironically, I’m finding that for my purposes Evernote does a better job at that than Joplin.

  1. Thanks to the large Evernote community, there are many excellent open-source tools to wrangle the Evernote ENEX format.
  2. Evernote (web) links can be read from Joplin, but not vice versa. When switching to Joplin, it’s either all or nothing.

Joplin, despite being mostly Markdown, betrays my Get Out of Dodge requirement:

  1. Tags and other metadata are always separate from the note. Even the title is kept, not in the note itself, but in the Joplin database.
  2. Resources are kept in one giant folder, with inscrutable Joplin-generated IDs as names.
  3. Images and attachments, besides having those proprietary names, are specified with a non-standard Markdown code. Instead of [photo](path/to/photo), Joplin requires [photo](:weirdlongsequenceofnumbersandletters)

Although Joplin lets you export to both markdown and html, metadata like tags and dates are missing, and the title is simply appended to the top without indication that it’s a title. There are probably workarounds to these limitations, and of course I always have the option of writing my own extension or post-processor to make it fit my workflow. Or — for now at least — I conclude that the extra effort isn’t yet worth the trouble.

No note-taking software is perfect for everyone, and I realize that some of what I call a limitation may be thought by others to be a feature. Ultimately it always comes down to a personal choice that inevitably includes tradeoffs. I’m still excited about Joplin more than other Evernote alternatives, so I’ll continue to watch the community, ready to undergo the painful switch when/if Evernote finally becomes completely intolerable. Until then, rather than silently disappear on you, I hope this feedback will offer some useful perspective on what I still believe is the best open source note-taking software out there.

4 Likes

Although Joplin lets you export to both markdown and html, metadata like tags and dates are missing

And where should tags and dates go in HTML or Markdown? It's been discussed before but there's no standard note export format, so Joplin does the next best thing and export in HTML, Markdown or RAW format, as well as provide a plugin API that can be used to create custom export formats.

1 Like

I would prefer a YAML header for markdown, comments field or a custom tag for HTML. My markdown reader can handle YAML, and it’s easy to strip either way. I’m sure this is easily done in an extension, but a default might be better because the first rule of export is don’t lose data.

3 Likes

JEX and RAW has all that data. So you don't lose anything.

3 Likes

This is not markdown standard. Others would call something like this "locking one in".

This is rather subjective, isn't it? Most people want to import their data without having to strip something away.

3 Likes

I agree the way notes are stored now is hardly open and I find it inexcusable. It is a missed opportunity. Storage could be completely file system based with a single root folder and a human readable structure. This could be easy, with each note being one folder with resources, named after the note's title. That would be open and portable.

1 Like

I'm sorry, I think you mix up storage with something else.

The way how data is stored has nothing to do with how it is exported. The storage of the data could be binary or whatever. As a user you are not supposed to use the data with anything other than the app. Or are you using a database engine and complain that the data is not in text files? Do you use a hex editor on the tablespace containers to try to decipher the rows in a table? I doubt it.

If you want a file system structure, you'll have to use your operating system's indexing and an editor. Joplin is a note taking applcation, not an indexer for your markdown files on your hard disk.

4 Likes

I would add that the way data is stored in Joplin is actually quite open since it's using SQLite. You can open this with any SQLite editor, run queries, easily extract data any way you want. There's no vendor locking.

You probably can't say that about Evernote and other commercial note taking apps, which usually store their data in proprietary binary blobs.

8 Likes

You are missing the point. We are talking openness and independence. I would rather not depend on what Joplin has to offer in terms of portability, I would rather have my data be open by nature so I can back it up using my backup tool of choice and other software can easily import it for whatever purpose.

Currently it is just not very inviting for third parties to interface with notes created with Joplin and it is not trivial to just slap the note files in an editor and copy-paste them to a destination of choice. If that were the case, I would feel a lot more comfortable.

Yes, I would still use your editor but when it or you would start to annoy me for some reason I would want an easy way out without needing the app, which may be pulled or impose restrictions on what I can do with my data.

In my view SQLite is only needlessly complicating things. So you chose to have at least two different storage mechanisms for a fricking notes application. Performance should not be an issue. An RDBMS should not be needed at all.

1 Like

Ok, there's so much wrong in what you write about that it's hard to know where to start. I guess it would help if you had a clue about what you're talking about.

12 Likes

If you want to backup an SQLite database it's trivial - I backup several every night, together with 2 MariaDB databases.

As for a database needlessly complicating things - occasionally, yes, but not in this case. It's a very efficient way of storing, manipulating and indexing small files. It's also one of the best ways of handling versioning, particularly if previous versions are to be kept.

In reality, unless you store everything as text (preferably in something like UTF-8), you're dependent on manipulation from a software layer at some point. Images, video and sound are prime examples of this. Without software these files are just chunks of useless binary data. You can store them in something like Base-64 so that they change to text, but they're not useful text. Joplin does a pretty good job of helping you manipulate notes whilst making it easy to export if that's what you want. Tags are metadata and there are few standards for handling it without heading towards Dublin Core which doesn't really fit with any of the MarkDown "standards". Personally I'm not wild about the way Joplin handles images but I do understand that a choice had to be made, and I also appreciate why this was the selected solution. I've taken a different approach with software I've designed and found that it's usually less flexible in specific areas.

If you don't like Joplin that's fine, don't use it. Try other note taking apps and maybe you'll find one that works better for you. For me Evernote was as disaster so I moved away - Joplin is the third application that I've tried after that and so far it's working for me.

5 Likes

For me Joplin is the best taking notes app. I have used Evernote for years, but sometime is overcomplicated. On top of that, it doesn't have encryption, so there is no doubt. The only problem of joplin is that it doesn't support linux-32bit machines, so I had to move to Turtle. That was a sad decision (and when I left a post about it, my message has been cancelled, that was odd)

2 Likes

I understand the original authors dilemma:

I too wish that tags would be embedded inside the markdown file. Perhaps an easier way to achieve it is to make a plugin for it that parses these kind of entries e.g. in the way Obsidian does it:

tags: #supertag #tag #anothertag

# Here is the first header
bla bla bla. I am happy that my plugin reads in the tags.

Joplin is an amazing piece of software, and it is free. Thanks authors for doing the work!

1 Like

while it's not a parser (it will not process all your notes retroactively, yet), for future notes the "inline tags" plugin does exactly that. adopting the style you proposed above will add the corresponding Joplin tags to the note, while preserving them as plain text.

in addition, the "go to #tags..." plugin can be used for parsing the inline tags upon request. it requires selecting the text and hitting a keyboard shortcut, so it's not as quick as clicking a link, but it's still very nice.

1 Like

I see what mamaat is talking about. Joplin uses a proprietary database format and it's not easily browsable/manipulable that I'm aware of.

3 Likes

It's not proprietary - sqlite is open source

5 Likes

As a past Evernote "junkie" I can understand where this request from OP is coming from. In fact, I first switched to Joplin, then went back to Evernote once more (manually migrating the notes I had taken in Joplin during those weeks...). Only a few weeks later again did I decide that Evernote (10...) is indeed no longer usable and too laggy for about any real usage, coming back to Joplin for good.

Second, given the vast number of note-taking apps that can read ENEX, it is a de facto standard. However, I assume, it is more of a strategic question if you want to support ENEX export or not. Maybe it would be better to ensure Joplin and JEX become the de facto standard? Go tell Evernote if they want their users back (I am by far not the only one making the Evernote 10 exodus...), they will need to write a JEX importer?

I.e., leaving Joplin for Evernote because you cannot go back to Evernote is, well, let me say. peculiar, all the more considering how unusable Evernote has become and how deep it has sunk (after being considered by me and many others the most important app to have on your computer!)

Whatever, and in any case, for those in the want, there is a feature request for exactly this: [Feature request] Export to ENEX

1 Like

That's a pretty rough way to answer, isn't it?

What @sprague, MrObvious and @mamaat mean is pretty easy to understand if you take off your programmer glasses for a moment.

They want a folder based solution.

The advantage would be that you have a simple folder based structure of files that you can edit with different programs.

Good examples are iA Writer or even Lightroom from Adobe. Both do not touch the LOCATION or the NAME of the files. This way, for example, in the case of iA Writer, you can edit the Markdown files with any text editor by simply clicking on them in the file system (without going through Joplin exports). Or you can put Markdown files from other programs into this directory structure. In the case of images and Lightroom, it's the same. For example, I can use XnView to edit the same images and folders to remove duplicates, for example, and I can drop images from any source with meaningful file names into a meaningful directory structure. I can rename files even several at once and I can find them via Spotlight. And when I search for content, Spotlight doesn't show me cryptic file names that I have to open all in a row until I find the right one.

Joplin does use Markdown, but it squanders the advantage of that openness by giving Joplin's files cryptic names and packing away images completely.

This is the same behavior as e.g. "Photos" or iTunes / Music does on macOS: all pictures (or music) get cryptic names and are stored in cryptic folders. They are still pictures, but without the detour via "Photos" they are not accessible. In the case of iTunes, it destroyed one's painstakingly created folder and file name structure if one wasn't careful. Without an export you can't get out again. And the result does not have the same structure as before.

The end result is that Joplin creates a silo. While not a completely closed one, it is an added complication for daily work when working with multiple devices, programs (not just text) and operating systems.

The examples of Lightroom (also Darkroom), XnView and iA Writer show how a hybrid solution with a database, folder and file name structure can work very well. With the gift advantage that folders and files are even syncronized and backed up via iCloud without having to do anything.

Just by the way: Tags, Dates and other Meta are solved in iA also (Multi)Markdown compatible (#tag1 #tag2) and very performant.

For me, unfortunately, also a reason not to use Joplin, Ulysses, Bear, Spaces, etc., even if everything else is really great. In principle, I'd be better off with Pages or Word (argh) if I didn't love Markdown so much.

6 Likes

I suppose Laurent chose what was easier to implement at the time. Not sure about iA Writer but Lightroom probably has dozens if not hundreds of people working on it full time so it's not fair to compare it with Joplin.

2 Likes

It is not easier. In fact, it's most likely the opposite. But Kudos to @laurent for everything else. Joplin is a great peace of software.