Emacs: Denote now optionally supports file name signatures (Folgezettel)

First a bried introduction for the uninitiated and then the announcement of the new feature.

Denote is a simple note-taking tool for Emacs. 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.

Denote’s file-naming scheme is not limited to “notes”. It can be used for all types of file, including those that are not editable in Emacs, such as videos. Naming files in a constistent way makes their filtering and retrieval considerably easier. Denote provides relevant facilities to rename files, regardless of file type.

Watch the video demo that was produced before version 0.1.0 of the package.

I just pushed the following commit and want to share with you the commit message further below:

commit 62c6853480d62b00e4c838e148730d1fedf6235f
Merge: 94a3ffd d7dc32c
Author: Protesilaos Stavrou <info@protesilaos.com>
Date:   Mon Mar 20 11:23:24 2023 +0200

    MAJOR UPDATE towards version 2.0.0: Merge branch 'signature'

 README.org | 148 ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++-------------
 denote.el  | 152 +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++----------------
 2 files changed, 231 insertions(+), 69 deletions(-)

Signatures are an optional extension to Denote’s file-naming scheme. They are arbitrary strings of alphanumerical characters that can be used to establish sequential relations between files at the level of their file name (e.g. 1, 1a, 1b, 1b1, 1b2, …).

Files that have the signature follow this scheme (though read the documentation of ‘denote-prompts’ for possible permutations):


As a reminder, Denote’s default file-naming scheme is:


[ Denote can be used to rename any file, not just to create notes. As such, the file-naming scheme is a powerful, yet low-tech invention to facilitate searching and filtering. ]

For the time being, signatures are not added to a file’s front matter and are not shown anywhere else beside the file name. This is done on purpose to simplify the implementation and make sure we define clear use-cases for this feature (it is easier to add new functionality than refactor/break existing one).

Users can create files with signatures either by (i) modifying the ‘denote-prompts’ user option to affect the standard ‘denote’ command, or (ii) by generating such files on demand with the command ‘denote-signature’ (alias ‘denote-create-note-using-signature’).

Signatures are treated as quasi-identifiers when renaming files that include them. This means that they are not touched by Denote. The user must manually update the signature which, in theory, should not be done if notes already have a predefined sequence.

Signatures are backward-compatible, meaning that existing users are not impacted by their inclusion.

The signature extension was discussed at length on the GitHub mirror in issue 115: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/115. Thanks to Stefan Thesing, Mirko Hernandez, Noboru Ota (nobiot), Xiaoxing Hu, nbehrnd, Elias Storms, and 101scholar for helping me reason about this feature, understand its scope, and prototype its implementation.

The inclusion of the ‘signature’ branch into ‘main’ does not mean that we are done with the development of this feature. We are simply making it available to more users while preparing for the release of version 2.0.0 of Denote.

Watch the video series “Denote as a Zettelkasten” produced by Stefan Thesing, which makes use of these signatures: https://www.thesing-online.de/blog/denote-as-a-zettelkasten.