Emacs: denote version 0.2.0

Denote is a simple note-taking tool. It is based on the idea that notes should follow a predictable and descriptive file-naming scheme. The file name must offer a clear indication of what the note is about, without reference to any other metadata. Denote basically streamlines the creation of such files while providing facilities to link between them.

Below are the release notes.


  • Version 0.1.0 (from 2022-06-27) was never built as a package. The reason is that the GNU ELPA machinery reads the Version: header of the main file, not the git tag. As the original commit in denote.el included Version: 0.1.0, GNU ELPA rightly tries to build the package using that reference. But because at that time I had not yet updated the Copyright header to name the Free Software Foundation, the package could not be prepared. As such, please consider this release to be the “first formal stable version”. My apologies for the delay, contrary to what was promised in the last change log entry.
  • Originally, Denote was designed to only work with notes in a flat directory. With code contributions from Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay, support for subdirectories of the user option denote-directory is now available. This covers the case of creating links between notes, following them, and viewing the backlinks’ buffer of the current entry.
  • The new denote-subdirectory command lets the user select a directory to place the new note in. Available candidates are the value of the denote-directory as well as all of its subdirectories, minus .git. In future versions, we will consider how to provide a blocklist or a regexp filter for the user to specify which subdirectories should be omitted from minibuffer completion. Please consider providing your feedback on the technicalities.
  • From 2022-06-24 to 2022-07-03, Denote provided support for links between Org notes that leveraged the id: hyperlink type. Discussions on the mailing list and the GitHub mirror revealed the longer-term problems in our implementation. In the Annex below, I provide my detailed opinion on the matter. The gist is that Denote does not—and will not—create id: links between its notes, but shall use the denote: hyperlink type instead (which works like the standard file: type). As the Annex explains, Denote is not org-roam lite and we try not to engender such false expectations.
  • The user option denote-date-format controls how the date and time is recorded in the file’s contents (what we call “front matter”). When nil (the default value), we use a file-type-specific format (also check the user option denote-file-type):

    • For Org, an inactive timestamp is used, such as [2022-06-30 Wed 15:31].

    • For Markdown, the RFC3339 standard is applied: 2022-06-30T15:48:00+03:00.

    • For plain text, the format is that of ISO 8601: 2022-06-30.

    If the value is a string, ignore the above and use it instead. The string must include format specifiers for the date. These are described in the doc string of format-time-string.

    The denote-date-format supersedes the now obsolete denote-front-matter-date-format.

    Thanks to Peter Prevos and Kaushal Modi for their feedback in issue 27 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/27.

  • All the faces we define are now declared in the denote-faces.el file. The fontification rules are shared by denote-dired-mode and the backlinks’ buffer (invoked by denote-link-backlinks and controlled by the user option denote-link-fontify-backlinks). The current list of faces:
    • denote-faces-date
    • denote-faces-delimiter
    • denote-faces-extension
    • denote-faces-keywords
    • denote-faces-subdirectory
    • denote-faces-time
    • denote-faces-title
  • Named the mailing list address as the Maintainer: of Denote. Together with the other package headers, they help the user find our primary sources and/or communication channels. This change conforms with work being done upstream in package.el by Philip Kaludercic. I was informed about it here: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/general-issues/%3C875ykl84yi.fsf%40posteo.net%3E.

  • Fixed how keywords are inferred and combined. The previous code did not work properly when the user option denote-infer-keywords was nil. It would return a list of symbols, with the parentheses, whereas the file name needs a string where each keyword is delimited by an underscore.

  • Simplified how information in the front matter is retrieved. It fixes cases where, for example, a special character at the end of the title was ignored. Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for the patch over at the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/21.

  • Rewrote parts of the manual in the interest of clarity.

Annex about discontinuing support for org-id

My thanks for their participation in the discussions go to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay, Kaushal Modi, and Shreyas Ragavan.

commit f35ef05cb451f265213c3aafc1e62c425b1ff043
Author: Protesilaos Stavrou <info@protesilaos.com>
Date:   Sun Jul 3 17:34:38 2022 +0300

    REMOVE support for 'id:' hyperlink types

    The original idea was to support the 'org-id' library on the premise
    that it makes Denote a good Emacs citizen.  However, discussions on the
    mailing list[0] and the GitHub mirror[1] have made it clear to me that
    'org-id' is not consistent with Denote's emphasis on simplicity.

    To support the way 'org-id' works, we will eventually have to develop
    some caching mechanism, just how the org-roam package does it.  This is
    because the variable 'org-id-extra-files' needs to be kept up-to-date
    whenever an operation on a file is performed.  At scale, this sort of
    monitoring requires specialised software.  Such a mechanism is outside
    the scope of Denote---if you need a db, use org-roam which is already
    great.

    [0] <https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3C8735fk4y1w.fsf%40hallac.net%3E#%3C877d4un73c.fsf@protesilaos.com%3E>

    [1] <https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/29>

    Quote of what I wrote on the GitHub mirror issue 29:

            [ggjp] This is what I was implying.  That we are, in fact,
            providing an option that is not viable long-term, but keeping
            the option for expert users who will be able to handle this.
            And we should warn about this clearly in the doc of that option.

        [protesilaos] What you write here @ggjp and what @shrysr explained
        tells me that those expert users will need to be real experts.  To
        put it concretely, I am an experienced Emacs user with no
        programming background, who has written several Emacs
        packages (including the modus-themes which are built into Emacs),
        but I have zero knowledge of using a db or of handling things with
        python and the like.  So if I opt in to 'denote-link-use-org-id' I
        will eventually run into problems that my non-existent skills will
        prevent me from solving.  At that point, I will just use org-roam
        which already handles this use-case in a competent way (and has a
        massive community to rely on in case I need further support).

        If each package needs to write its own optimisations and maintain
        its own cache, to me this shows that 'org-id' is not good enough for
        the time being: more work needs to be done in org.git to provide a
        universal solution.

        I wanted to support 'org-id' by default on the premise that Denote
        must be a good Emacs citizen which interoperates with the rest of
        the wider ecosystem.  But if 'org-id' leaves something to be
        desired, then that goal is not worth pursuing: we add complexity to
        our code, offer an option that we cannot genuinely/adequately
        support, and make usage of it contingent on reading the docs and
        having a high level of expertise.

        I think being a good Emacs citizen is a laudable principle.  In this
        case, the right thing to do is to recommend the use of org-roam
        instead of trying to accommodate 'org-id'.  As such, I have now
        changed my mind and think we should remove what we previously added.

        For some context here: the reason I never used org-roam is
        because (i) it is Org-specific whereas I write notes in different
        file types and (ii) I did not want to ever rely on a db or
        equivalent dependency.

        <https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/29#issuecomment-1173036924>

 README.org         | 226 ++++++++---------------------------------------------
 denote-link.el     |  99 ++++++-----------------
 denote-retrieve.el |   2 +-
 denote.el          |  14 +---
 4 files changed, 63 insertions(+), 278 deletions(-)

Followed up by my explanation:

> can we not have denote style links to be default for (de)notes - and
> explicitly supported, while if they need to, users can still link
> denote org files via org-id to any other notes/files (and vice versa)
> -- in which case performance + testing for org-id driven linking is
> not within Denote's purview at all?

The formal support for `id:` links was added shortly before the release
of version `0.1.0`.  In the days prior, we supported what you describe
via the manual.  The user could change the `denote-org-front-matter`
variable to include a `PROPERTIES` drawer.  This possibility still
exists, though yesterday I removed the relevant entry from the manual.
This way only the real do-it-yourself experts will go down that path.

My concern here is with managing expectations.  If our Org notes are
superficially the same as org-roam's, an unsuspecting user may think
that Denote is an org-roam lite.  We will thus get issues/requests, such
as those already mentioned in this GitHub repo, about migrating from
org-roam to Denote.  While there are similarities, Denote is not a
minimalist org-roam and I would not like to encourage the idea of
treating the two as interchangeable.

Doing things half-way-through is a way to create false expectations.  A
package on GNU ELPA must be usable by users of all skill levels.  If the
functionality we provide is incomplete and needs to be covered by
user-level tweaks, we are excluding a portion of the user base while
still assuming the maintenance burden.  If someone trusts Denote to,
say, write a 1000 notes, we do not want to surprise them after the fact.
Imagine if the reported issues that triggered this change happened 6
months into one's daily usage of Denote: it wouldn't be nice.

Setting the right expectations is a matter of responsibility: we let the
user make a more informed choice and show respect for their time.  It
also makes it easier for me to keep Denote's scope in check by not
supporting every little extra that Org implements.  The premier Org
extension is org-roam: we do not need another one (or, if we do, I am
not the one to implement it).

* * *

Some comments on the `denote:` hyperlink type for Org as they may be
relevant in this context:

* It is meant to work like the standard `file:` type.  This means that
  it links to a file, while it can also have additional search
  parameters, as explained in the Org manual.  Evaluate:

      (info "(org) Search Options")

* It does not read the front matter, but only the file name.  You can
  create a note as usual, delete all its contents, save it, and try to
  link to it from another note.  It works.

* Exporting now works like the `file:` type for HTML, LaTeX, Texinfo,
  and Markdown.  Technically, it also supports the ASCII backend but the
  format of the output could be tweaked further.

There may be refinements to be made, which is okay as that is part of a
maintainer's duties.