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Emacs: denote version 0.5.0

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.

The general theme of this release is to refine what we already offer. As I explained in some discussions, Denote is feature-complete. We can always improve the code or add some ancillary function/command/variable, though all the main ideas have already been implemented. Additional functionality can be provided by other packages: I remain at the disposal of anyone willing to write such a package.

The present release covers more than 150 commits since version 0.4.0 on 2022-07-25.

All release notes: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote-changelog.

Templates for new notes

We now provide the denote-templates user option. A “template” is arbitrary text that Denote will add to a newly created note right below the front matter.

Templates are expressed as a (KEY . STRING) association.

  • The KEY is the name which identifies the template. It is an arbitrary symbol, such as report, memo, statement.

  • The STRING is ordinary text that Denote will insert as-is. It can contain newline characters to add spacing. The manual of Denote contains examples on how to use the concat function, beside writing a generic string: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:f635a490-d29e-4608-9372-7bd13b34d56c.

The user can choose a template either by invoking the new command denote-template or by changing the user option denote-prompts to always prompt for a template when calling the denote command.

Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for refinements to this facility. Done in pull request 77 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/77.

[ Jean-Philippe has assigned copyright to the Free Software Foundation. ]

Revised format for Org #+filetags entry

Denote used to format tags in Org files by separating them with two spaces:

#+filetags:  tag1  tag2

While this worked for some obvious use-cases, it is not supported by Org. The Org documentation stipulates that tags be separated by the colon sign. The above would then be written thus:

#+filetags:  :tag1:tag2:

Denote now conforms with Org’s specifications. To help users update their existing notes, we provide the denote-migrate-old-org-filetags command. It will perform the conversion in all Org files that had the old notation. As with all Denote operations that rewrite file contents, it DOES NOT SAVE BUFFERS. The user is expected to review the changes, such as by using diff-buffer-with-file. Multiple buffers can be saved with save-some-buffers (check its doc string).

This command is provided for the convenience of the user. It shall be deprecated and eventually removed from future versions of Denote.

If you need help with any of this, please do not hesitate to contact me either in private or in one of Denote’s official channels (mailing list, GitHub/GitLab mirror).

Thanks to Alan Schmitt for bringing this matter to my attention: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3C871qu0jw5l.fsf%40protesilaos.com%3E. Also thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for commenting on it as it helped me decide to include the command in denote.el: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/83#issuecomment-1210167133.

Revised format for Markdown+YAML tags: entry

This is the same idea as above. Before, we were making the mistake of using incorrect YAML notation:

tags:  tag1  tag2

Now we do:

tags:  ["tag1", "tag2"]

This is how the TOML variant always worked.

For the user’s convenience, we provide a command to migrate from the old to the new syntax: denote-migrate-old-markdown-yaml-tags.

Changes to file renaming and front matter rewriting

Denote adds “front matter” to newly created notes which includes data such as the title and keywords/tags of the document. Strictly speaking, the front matter is not required by Denote. It is provided for the user’s convenience, such as for readability or if they want to use the note with other programs (e.g. Org export, a blog with Hugo/Jekyll, …).

Denote provides commands which help the user rename their notes, by changing the file name’s TITLE and/or KEYWORDS components (per Denote’s file-naming scheme). These commands also operate on the front matter to keep the data between file name and file contents in sync (again, for the user’s convenience).

For this release we have consolidated and refined our offerings in order to improve their ergonomics. All changes are the result of fruitful discussions on the mailing list and the issue tracker of the GitHub mirror:

Thanks to (A-Z) Hanspeter Gisler, Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay, and Peter Prevos for their participation.

Also thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for relevant code contributions (please consult the Git log for the minutiae):

Renaming a single file

The commands denote-dired-rename-file-and-add-front-matter and denote-dired-rename-file are deprecated and superseded by the new denote-rename-file. Please update any key bindings in your setup.

The difference between the old commands and the new denote-rename-file is that the latter will now insert front matter to supported file types (per denote-file-type) if they have none. This basically means that, e.g., renaming a generic Org/Markdown/Plain text file with denote-rename-file will update its file name to comply with Denote’s file-naming scheme and also add the appropriate front matter (it “converts” it to a Denote note). If front matter exists, this command will rewrite it to reflect the changes to the file name’s TITLE and/or KEYWORDS.

Consult the manual for the details: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:7cc9e000-806a-48da-945c-711bbc7426b0.

Or, if the new version of the GNU ELPA package is installed, evaluate:

(info "(denote) Rename a single file")

The user option denote-dired-rename-expert is obsolete. Denote always asks for confirmation when renaming a single file. This is because the user can rely on batch-renaming commands which ask for confirmation only once per batch.

Renaming multiple files at once

The command denote-dired-rename-marked-files-and-add-front-matter is deprecated and its functionality is absorbed by the existing denote-dired-rename-marked-files command. The deprecated command was used to insert front matter to supported file types (per denote-file-type) that had none. We now handle this internally, thus streamlining the experience for the user.

Refer to the manual for the details: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:1b6b2c78-42f0-45b8-9ef0-6de21a8b2cde

Assuming the latest Info manual is installed, evaluate:

(info "(denote) Rename multiple files at once")

Renaming a single file based on its front matter

Introduced the denote-rename-file-using-front-matter command. This is new functionality we provide which uses the front matter as input to perform a rename of the file. The aforementioned offerings prompt for input via the minibuffer and propagate the changes firstly to the file name and subsequently to the front matter. Whereas with the command denote-rename-file-using-front-matter, the user can edit the front matter manually and then invoke the command to pass the changes to the file name, subject to a confirmation. Relevant entries are the title and tags/filetags (depending on the file type). The date and the identifier are not pertinent. Identifiers in file names are NEVER rewritten by Denote.

Consult the manual: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:3ab08ff4-81fa-4d24-99cb-79f97c13a373.

With the latest package, evaluate:

(info "(denote) Rename a single file based on its front matter")

Renaming multiple files based on their front matter

The command denote-dired-rename-marked-files-using-front-matter completes the set of features we provide for syncing between file name and front matter. It applies to all marked files in a Dired buffer.

Read the manual to understand how the command works and what it does exactly: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:ea5673cd-e6ca-4c42-a066-07dc6c9d57f8.

Or evaluate:

(info "(denote) Rename multiple files based on their front matter")

Add missing front matter on demand

Sometimes the user may have incomplete front matter, perhaps due to a mistake that was saved on disk. The command denote-add-front-matter appends a new front matter block to the current note.

Read: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:54b48277-e0e5-4188-ad54-ef3db3b7e772

Or evaluate:

(info "(denote) Regenerate front matter")

Faces for Denote links

We provide the denote-faces-link and the denote-faces-broken-link. The latter is only relevant for Org, as Emacs’ standard button mechanism does not have a way to apply a face dynamically.

This is a change for themes/tinkerers who need to differentiate denote: links from other links. Otherwise, the presentation is the same as before.

Thanks to Peter Prevos for asking about it on the mailing list: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3C03618bb20d3eaba78c32cd0cb63bfc71%40prevos.net%3E.

Use of XDG path in denote-directory

The default value of the denote-directory user option used to be ~/Documents/notes (subject to some conversion via Elisp). Denote now conforms with the freedesktop.org specifications by using the XDG directory for DOCUMENTS instead of ~/Documents: https://www.freedesktop.org/wiki/Software/xdg-user-dirs/.

Users who already bind the denote-directory are not affected by this change. Same for those who do not tinker with XDG environment variables and/or do not use some exotic setup.

Thanks to Philip Kaludercic for the patch: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/patches/34561#%3C20220809115824.43089-1-philipk@posteo.net%3E

Bespoke major-mode for the backlinks’ buffer

The backlinks’ buffer now uses the denote-backlink-mode instead of the generic special-mode. The former derives from the latter. It binds keys to move between links with n (next) and p (previous). These are stored in the denote-backlink-mode-map (use M-x describe-mode (C-h m) in an unfamiliar buffer to learn more about it).

Thanks to Philip Kaludercic for the patch: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/patches/34561#%3C20220809115824.43089-2-philipk@posteo.net%3E

Changes to the manual

  • Documented all of the aforementioned. Improved how information is presented and, generally, iterated on an already comprehensive document.

  • Introduced a node which explains how to tweak the front matter: https://protesilaos.com/emacs/denote#h:7f918854-5ed4-4139-821f-8ee9ba06ad15. Or evaluate:

    (info "(denote) Change the front matter format")
  • Updated the reference to consult-notes. This is a package that uses the consult interface to provide access and search facilities for notes. It can integrate with Denote. Thanks to Colin McLear for the change in pull request 70 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/70.

    [ The change is below the ~15 line threshold and thus does not require copyright assignment to the Free Software Foundation. ]

Internal restructuring

  • All Denote code is consolidated in denote.el. We no longer maintain separate files like denote-link.el, denote-dired.el, etc. Users who had require calls to such libraries must remove them and only keep:

    (require 'denote)
  • User options that have an entry in the manual will now provide a link to it via their Help buffer and/or the Custom UI. This is done by adding the :link attribute to their declaration.

    Furthermore, user options and faces now specify the version of Denote that last affected their value (e.g. denote-directory, which was mentioned above for the XDG spec, now informs the user that it changed for version 0.5.0).

    [ I learnt these by developing the modus-themes. ]

  • The variables denote-last-title, denote-last-keywords, denote-last-buffer, and denote-last-front-matter are all obsolete. These were used prior to version 0.1.0 to help with development but are now deemed surplus to requirements.

  • Lots of changes were made to private functions, variables, doc strings, and comments, in the interest of simplifying the code and/or ensuring consistency in how operations are carried out. Though everything is the same for the end-user.

Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for the numerous contributions on the GitHub mirror. They are important for Denote, though the user does not need to know what is happening internally (consult the Git log for the details):


Encrypting Denote notes

Paul van Gelder asked about this on the mailing list. I provided guidelines on what can be done, though did not record anything in the manual: I prefer to elicit more feedback from users. The gist is that Emacs already has all the requisite functionality, though encryption per se is outside the scope of Denote: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3C1123434736.64290.1658954014673%40kpc.webmail.kpnmail.nl%3E.

Denote’s relevant internal mechanisms will recognise files ending in .gpg (e.g. for fontification in Dired).

Visualise usage of Denote keywords

Peter Prevos shared a proof-of-concept way to visualise keywords in the denote-directory and show usage statistics: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3Ce9e5d6ae85984b51067b47f4d8e134fa%40prevos.net%3E.

We do not include this information in the manual, as we wait for the fully fledged code. Though do give it a try if you are interested and, perhaps, share your thoughts for Peter’s consideration.

Conflict between denote-dired-mode and diredfl-mode

Hilde Rhyne shared a workaround they have to disable diredfl-mode in the buffers where denote-dired-mode is enabled. The conflict between the two is a known issue that is acknowledged in the manual: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3Cm0tu6q6bg0.fsf%40disroot.org%3E.

I think we need a proper solution in the code we provide, so this workaround is not mentioned in the manual.

Why doesn’t Denote provide a search facility?

There was a discussion started by Fourchaux, with the participation of basaran and Andre0991 on the GitHub mirror: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/71.

The gist of my answer is that Denote does not need to provide such a facility because notes are ordinary files: whatever the user already has for them should apply to Denote. If the user has nothing to search through files, they anyhow need something that works outside the confines of Denote: a denote-SEARCH command is not an adequate solution.

Emacs has numerous built-in commands, such as grep (lgrep and rgrep), project-find-regexp, find-grep-dired, ibuffer-do-occur, … Furthermore, there are lots of high quality packages that have their own wrappers or extensions for searching file contents, such as the ivy and helm completion frameworks, as well as consult (the commands consult-grep and consult-ripgrep), consult-notes, rg, deadgrep, deft, and probably plenty more that do not come to mind right now.

I strongly encourage the user to find a universal search solution to the problem of searching file contents.