Joseph Jude

I'm replacing Evernote with Joplin, a multi-platform, open source note taking application

With Joplin, I am finally ditching Evernote

Joplin App

I have been using Evernote for close to a decade now. It has notes from all the books I have read, best paras from the articles I liked, and even reasons for investing in specific stocks. With about 2000 notes, it serves as my external brain.

Evernote has a fantastic ecosystem. I can email note, I can send an article from Pocket, and I can clip a webpage from Firefox. I can use the app on every platform. I can use Evernote even under Linux, using a 3rd party application.

Ever since the future of Evernote became uncertain, I started looking for an alternative. My expectations are simple (at least I like to think so):

  • It should work on Mac, Android, and Linux, the platforms I use
  • It should store data locally. If an app becomes my external brain, I better have access to the data all the time and have a backup too.
  • It would be a bonus if it stored data in plaintext because text format will stay for decades.
  • It should have browser integration so I can clip interesting webpages

I searched far and wide and tried many of the “coolest” apps. But nothing came close to Evernote. Even after all these years, Evernote is still the undisputed king of note-taking.

Recently, I came across an interesting open-source application called Joplin. Joplin is the first application that ticks every expectation I have.

I have been using Joplin for a week now diving deep into all the features it has—including its terminal application. In Joplin, I might have found the application to replace Evernote finally.

Here are some of the positives and negatives of Joplin.

Positives

  • It has almost all the features of Evernote that I care - notebooks, notes, tags, images, web clipping, sync, and apps for multi-platform.
  • It stores everything locally in text files. So even if Joplin vanishes, I will still have access to my notes.
  • Search in the desktop app is reasonably fast and accurate.
  • You can import all your notes from Evernote. I imported around 2000 notes from Evernote.
  • Joplin can support Dropbox, OneDrive, etc. for sync. I used Dropbox, and the sync is fast.
  • I can link to other notes with Joplin, which means I can create a wiki within Joplin. If I’m writing a book, this is handy.
  • Joplin comes with a web clipper equivalent to Evernote. Surprisingly it works without a flaw. This one feature might tie me to Joplin.

Negatives

  • Biggest negative for me is that the user experience of the apps is not very appealing like Evernote.
  • Evernote import was not that clean. Had to go in and edit many of the imported notes.
  • Initial sync took a lot of time. I left it for the night to complete. Tags took even longer time to sync. Maybe because there were 2000 notes.
  • It doesn’t have a highlight feature as in Evernote
  • Desktop app is slow even in rendering the preview of the notes
  • Mobile app doesn’t have “pull to refresh” feature
  • Mobile app has “all notes” feature. The desktop apps miss this feature, leading to a cognitive gap when switching between mobile and desktop.
  • Tried export to pdf on Mac. It leaves out many lines. It is not complete and hence, unusable.
  • In Evernote, I can share a note with others. Sharing a note is not possible with Joplin.
  • There is no integration with spell check. When you are typing fast, you tend to make a lot of mistakes. There is a way around, though. There is an option to invoke an external editor. So you can configure to edit your notes in your favorite editor, even if it is vim.
  • When I delete a note that has an image, the image in the _resource directory is not deleted. This leads to orphan images and heavy storage requirement.
  • It doesn’t have a ‘Recycle bin,’ so in case you accidentally deleted a note, you lost it completely. If you enable autosave in external editors, they usually delete the existing note and create a new note. This will cause Joplin to delete the note and create a new “untitled” note.

Even though there are many negatives, Joplin meets all my fundamental expectations. I am going to use it for at least six months.

How can you get started?

The homepage of the application has clear instructions to install applications on all platforms. I followed the given instructions for Evernote export and import too.

If you have a lot of Evernote notes, then initial sync will take a long time. Better to leave it for the night.

While you are at it, install the web clipper too. It is awesome.

Bonus (git repo with notes)

Though you type in plaintext, Joplin uses SQLite internally to organize notes. But it has an export option. You can combine it with a git repository. Now you have version control for your notes. Here are the steps:

  1. Create a repository in Gitlab / Github
  2. Clone the repository locally
  3. Install Joplin terminal application (if you have installed the GUI application via brew then brew won’t create shortcut links when you install the terminal application. You should alias it)
  4. Create the following script and run it whenever needed (don’t forget to change the directories!)
BACKUP_DIR="~/joplin"
JOPLIN_BIN="/usr/local/Cellar/joplin/1.0.141_1/bin/joplin"
NOW=$( date '+%F_%H:%M:%S' )

rm -rf $BACKUP_DIR/notes
$JOPLIN_BIN --profile ~/.config/joplin-desktop/ export --format md $BACKUP_DIR/notes
cd $BACKUP_DIR
git add .
git commit -m "update-$NOW"

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