Open source note taking with Joplin Listed and Distributed

Joplin

Article from Issue 223/2019
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If you are looking for an open source alternative to Evernote, why not switch to Joplin?

Long before the digital age, it was commonplace to quickly jot something down, perhaps on a yellow sticky note. Today, there are countless electronic note-taking apps for every operating system. Some even reproduce the yellow stickies visually, while others offer additional functions such as to-do lists or reminders.

Well-integrated programs of this kind exist for the popular Linux desktops. However, exchanging data between different systems is often problematic. For example, the Xfce Notes app does not save changes immediately. If you synchronize the file with the notes at the wrong time, errors are inevitable. Furthermore, mobile operating systems are usually ignored.

Everyone has a different understanding of what makes a perfect notes app, but some basic features, like ease of use, are considered important by most. Ideally, the program supports the ability to attach images and other media. In addition, it should be easy to share the notes across devices with different operating systems, with automatic synchronization and conflict resolution added into the bargain. Last, but definitely not least, privacy must be guaranteed.

The note-taking king of the hill, Evernote, meets many of the requirements mentioned above. However, Evernote requires you to register with the vendor, and then only the basic functions are freely accessible. In addition, Evernote is not open source, and it lacks a native Linux client.

Joplin, a free note and to-do list app, offers an open source alternative to Evernote.

Architecture

Joplin is implemented in JavaScript. All data except images and other attached resources are stored in a SQLite database. The program's guiding principle is "local first" – the application works completely independently of a cloud; all notes are available on the computer at all times. In terms of content, the application organizes notes and to-do lists in nesting notepads.

For desktop systems, Joplin provides Web Clipper, an add-on for Chrome/Chromium or Firefox. Once installed in the browser, Web Clipper sends a web page's content to Joplin at the touch of a button – a real killer feature, because Web Clipper saves the page's text, not just a link or a screenshot. Since the notes within the software are accessible for full text searches, this makes a decisive difference.

Finally, the Joplin architecture provides synchronization. Joplin supports a whole range of possibilities, from simple network drives to WebDAV servers to OneDrive or Dropbox. Since the data can be stored on external servers, the software offers the possibility to encrypt the contents before synchronization.

Installation

Besides the source code, binaries for various platforms are available on the Joplin website [1]. The Android version is available directly from Google Play. Under Linux, you can alternatively download and run a script, which has the advantage of updating an existing Joplin installation. Since Joplin's developers are very active, there are sometimes only a few days between new versions.

If you use AppImage, you will find the Joplin.AppImage file located in the .joplin/ directory below your home directory. To launch automatically at startup, simply create an entry in the Autostart folder (Listing 1). For Xfce, you need to place this file in the $HOME/.config/autostart/ directory. The installation program also stores a desktop file in .local/share/applications/joplin.desktop, which creates a menu entry.

Listing 1

Automatic Startup

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Joplin for Linux
Comment=Joplin Notes App
Exec=$HOME/.joplin/Joplin.AppImage
Icon=false
Terminal=false
Type=Application
StartupNotify=false
X-GNOME autostart-enabled=true

After the first launch, you will see an empty window with a note on how to create your first notebook (Figure 1). Before you do this, however, you will want to configure various settings using the entries in the Tools menu.

Figure 1: After the first start, Joplin offers to create a notepad directly, but it is worth configuring some basic settings first.

Configuration

The Tools menu contains three options: Webclipper Options, Encryption Options and General Settings. If you want to use Web Clipper, enable it via the corresponding option. In this dialog, you will find links to the browser extensions for Firefox and Chrome.

Encryption Options contains only an activation button and a link to the Joplin documentation.

General Settings, in contrast, offers various options, most of which are self-explanatory (Figure 2). If you are working on a high-resolution display, it may be worth your while to increase the zoom level. You can also define the type of synchronization in this dialog if required.

Figure 2: In General Settings you can adjust synchronization intervals, and change font preferences, among other things.

All in all, you can set up the software for local operation within a very short time. Under Android, the configuration dialog is even more compact – here it is especially important to fill out the parameters for synchronization.

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