Emacs: Denote version 2.3.0

Denote aims to be a simple-to-use, focused-in-scope, and effective note-taking and file-naming tool for Emacs.

Denote is based on the idea that files should follow a predictable and descriptive file-naming scheme. The file name must offer a clear indication of what the contents are about, without reference to any other metadata. Denote basically streamlines the creation of such files or file names while providing facilities to link between them (where those files are editable).

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.

Below are the release notes.

Version 2.3.0 on 2024-03-24

This release brings a host of user-facing refinements to an already stable base, as well as some impressive new features. There is a lot to cover, so take your time reading these notes.

Special thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for the numerous refinements to parts of the code base. Some of these are not directly visible to users, but are critical regardless. In the interest of brevity, I will not be covering the most technical parts here. I mention Jean-Philippe’s contributions at the outset for this reason. Though the Git commit log is there for interested parties to study things further.

Check out the denote-explore package by Peter Prevos

This package provides several neat extensions that help you make better sense of your knowledge base, while keeping it in good order. The denote-explore package has commands to summarise the usage of keywords, visualise connections between notes, spot infrequently used keywords, and jump to previous historical entries.

Now on to Denote version 2.3.0!

Link to a heading inside a Denote Org file

Denote creates links to files by using their unique identifier. As Org provides the CUSTOM_ID property for per-heading identifiers, we now leverage this infrastructure to compose links that point to a file and then to a heading therein. This only works for Org, as no other plain text major mode has a concept of heading identifiers (and it is not Denote’s job to create such a feature).

I demonstrated the functionality in a video: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2024-01-20-emacs-denote-link-org-headings/

Technically, the denote: link type has the same implementation details as Org’s standard file: and has always had this potential to jump to a section inside the given file.

The denote-org-store-link-to-heading user option

The user option denote-org-store-link-to-heading determines whether org-store-link links to the current Org heading (such links are merely “stored” and need to be inserted afterwards with the command org-insert-link). Note that the org-capture command uses the org-link internally if it has to store a link.

When its value is non-nil, org-store-link stores a link to the current Org heading inside the Denote Org file. If the heading does not have a CUSTOM_ID, it creates it and includes it in the heading’s PROPERTIES drawer. If a CUSTOM_ID exists, org-store-link use it as-is.

This makes the resulting link a combination of the denote: link type, pointing to the identifier of the current file, plus the value of the heading’s CUSTOM_ID, such as:

  • [[denote:20240118T060608][Some test]]
  • [[denote:20240118T060608::#h:eed0fb8e-4cc7-478f-acb6-f0aa1a8bffcd][Some test::Heading text]]

Both lead to the same Denote file, but the latter jumps to the heading with the given CUSTOM_ID. Notice that the link to the heading also has a different description, which includes the heading text.

The value of the CUSTOM_ID is determined by the Org user option org-id-method. The sample shown above uses the default UUID infrastructure.

If denote-org-store-link-to-heading is set to a nil value, the command org-store-link only stores links to the Denote file (using its identifier), but not to the given heading. This is what Denote was doing in all versions prior to 2.3.0.

Thanks to Kristoffer Balintona for discussing with me how org-capture interfaces with org-store-link. I updated the documentation accordingly. This was done in issue 267: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/267.

Insert link to an Org file with a further pointer to a heading

As part of the optional denote-org-extras.el extension that comes with the denote package, the command denote-org-extras-link-to-heading prompts for a link to an Org file and then asks for a heading therein, using minibuffer completion. Once the user provides input at the two prompts, the command inserts a link at point which has the following pattern: [[denote:IDENTIFIER::#ORG-HEADING-CUSTOM-ID]][Description::Heading text]].

Because only Org files can have links to individual headings, the command denote-org-extras-link-to-heading prompts only for Org files (i.e. files which include the .org extension). Remember that Denote works with many file types.

This feature is similar to the concept of the aforementioned user option denote-org-store-link-to-heading. It is, however, interactive and differs in the directionality of the action. With that user option, the command org-store-link will generate a CUSTOM_ID for the current heading (or capture the value of one as-is), giving the user the option to then call org-insert-link wherever they see fit. By contrast, the command denote-org-extras-link-to-heading prompts for a file, then a heading, and inserts the link at point.

Refinements galore to minibuffer prompts

All commands that affect file names conform with denote-prompts

The scope of the denote-prompts user option is broadened to make it more useful. In the past, this variable would only affect the behaviour of the denote command. For example, the user would make the command prompt for a subdirectory, then keywords, then a title. But all other commands were not following this setting, as they were hardcoding the prompts for title and keywords.

Take the denote-subdirectory command as an example. It would first prompt for a subdirectory to place the new note in, then for a title, and then for keywords. Whereas now, it prepends the subdirectory prompt to the list of denote-prompts. So if the user has configured their denote-prompts to, for example, ask for a signature and a file type, the denote-subdirectory will do just that with the addition of the subdirectory prompt.

Same idea for all commands that either create or modify file names, wherever conformity with denote-prompts makes sense. For example, the denote-rename-file will never ask for a subdirectory because our renaming policy is to always rename in place (to avoid mistakes—you can always move the file afterwards).

This also means that the denote-rename-file and its multi-file counterpart, denote-dired-rename-files, will only prompt for a signature if it is part of the denote-prompts. Whereas in the previous version this was unconditional, thus burdening users who do not need the SIGNATURE file name component (more about renaming further into the release notes).

Lots of Git commits went into this redesign, per my initiave in issue 247: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/247. Thanks to Vedang Manerikar for the changes to the convenience wrappers of the denote command (like denote-subdirectory), which were done in pull request 248: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/248.

Vedang has assigned copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

Also thanks to Max Brieiev for joining the technical discussion therein.

The renaming commands are more intuitive now, which addresses a discussion point raised by user babusri in issue 204: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/204.

A simple tweak for more informative minibuffer prompts

The text of each prompt now has all capital letters for the word referencing its scope of its application, like TITLE, KEYWORDS, SIGNATURE. The idea is to make it easier to quickly scan the text, especially while working through multiple prompts. For example, the prompt for a title now reads:

New file TITLE:

This paradigm is followed by all prompts. It is a small yet effective tweak to get a better sense of context.

The file prompt uses relative names once again

In previous versions of Denote, the minibuffer prompt to pick a file (such as a file to link to) would show relative file names: the name without the full file system path. The functionality depended on the built-in project.el library, which did not allow us to do everything we wanted with our prompts, such as to have a dedicated minibuffer history or to easily enable the workflow of commands like denote-open-or-create.

In the previous version, I made the decision to remove the project.el dependency and the concomitant presentation of relative names in order to add the functionality we want. I did it with the intention to find a better solution down the line. Et voilá! Relative file names are back. We now have all the functionality we need. Sorry if in the meantime you had to deal with those longer names! It was a necessary intermediate arrangement for the greater good.

For the technicalities, refer to the source code of the function denote-title-prompt.

Completion using previous inputs is now optional

All our minibuffer prompts have their dedicated history (you can persist histories with the built-in savehist-mode). They store previous values, giving the user easy access to their past input values. Some of our commands not only record a history, but also leverage it to provide completion. These commands are named in the variable denote-prompts-with-history-as-completion. As of this writing, they are:

  • denote-title-prompt
  • denote-signature-prompt
  • denote-files-matching-regexp-prompt

Users who do not want to use completion for those can set the new user option denote-history-completion-in-prompts to a nil value.

Renaming files got better all-round

One of the pillars of the denote package is its ability to rename any file to use the efficient Denote file-naming scheme (makes file names predictable and easy to retrieve even with rudimentary tools). To this end, we provide several commands that affect file names, beside the commands that create new files.

As noted above, the commands which rename files to follow the Denote file-naming scheme now conform with the user option denote-prompts, but there is more!

A broadened scope for the denote-rename-no-confirm option

The implementation of this user option is redone (i) to save the underlying buffer outright if the user does not want to provide their confirmation for a rename each time and (ii) to cover all relevant commands that perform a rename operation. The assumption is that the user who opts in to this feature is familiar with the Denote renaming modalities and knows they are reliable.

The default is still the same: Denote always asks for confirmation before renaming a file, showing the difference between the old and new names, as well as any changes to the file’s contents. In this light, buffers are not saved to give the user the chance to further inspect the changes (such as by running diff-buffer-with-file).

Commands that will now skip all confirmation prompts to rename the file and, where relevant, save the corresponding buffer outright:

  • denote-rename-file
  • denote-dired-rename-files
  • denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords
  • denote-rename-file-using-front-matter
  • denote-rename-add-keywords
  • denote-rename-remove-keywords
  • denote-rename-add-signature (new, more below)
  • denote-rename-remove-signature (new, more below)

Rename a file by adding or removing a SIGNATURE component

The SIGNATURE is an optional free-form field that is part of a Denote file name. A common use-case is to write sequence notes with it, though Denote does not enforce any particular convention (you may prefer to have it as a special kind of keyword for certain files that simply stands out more due to its placement).

[ Besides, the denote-sort-dired command lets you filter and sort files while putting them in a fully fledged Dired buffer, so manually sequencing notes via their signature may not be needed. ]

We now provide two commands to add or remove a signature from file names:

  • The denote-rename-add-signature prompts for a file and a signature. The default value for the file prompt is the file of the currently open buffer or the file-at-point in a Dired buffer. The signature is an ordinary string, defaulting to the selected file’s signature, if any.

  • The denote-rename-remove-signature uses the same file prompt as above. It performs its action only if the selected file has a signature. Otherwise, it does nothing.

Files that do not have a Denote file name are renamed accordingly. Though for such cases it is better to use denote-rename-file or denote-dired-rename-files as they are more general.

Use the denote-after-rename-file-hook for optional post-rename operations

All renaming commands run the denote-after-rename-file-hook after a successful operation. This is meant for users who want to do something specific after the renaming is done.

More optional features of the denote-org-extras.el

I already covered the denote-org-extras-link-to-heading, though the file denote-org-extras.el has some more optional goodies for those who work with Org files.

Create a note from the current Org subtree

In Org parlance, an entry with all its subheadings and other contents is a “subtree”. Denote can operate on the subtree to extract it from the current file and create a new file out of it. One such workflow is to collect thoughts in a single document and produce longer standalone notes out of them upon review.

The command denote-org-extras-extract-org-subtree (part of the optional denote-org-extras.el extension) is used for this purpose. It creates a new Denote note using the current Org subtree. In doing so, it removes the subtree from its current file and moves its contents into a new file.

The text of the subtree’s heading becomes the #+title of the new note. Everything else is inserted as-is.

Read the documentation string of denote-org-extras-extract-org-subtree or consult the manual for further details.

Convert denote: links to file: links

Sometimes the user needs to translate all denote: link types to their file: equivalent. This may be because some other tool does not recognise denote: links (or other custom links types—which are a standard feature of Org, by the way). The user thus needs to (i) either make a copy of their Denote note or edit the existing one, and (ii) convert all links to the generic file: link type that external/other programs understand.

The optional extension denote-org-extras.el contains two commands that are relevant for this use-case:

  • Convert denote: links to file: links: The command denote-org-extras-convert-links-to-file-type goes through the buffer to find all denote: links. It gets the identifier of the link and resolves it to the actual file system path. It then replaces the match so that the link is written with the file: type and then the file system path. The optional search terms and/or link description are preserved.

  • Convert file: links to denote: links: The command denote-org-extras-convert-links-to-denote-type behaves like the one above. The difference is that it finds the file system path and converts it into its identifier.

The Denote Org dynamic blocks are now in denote-org-extras.el

As part of this version, all our dynamic blocks are defined in the file denote-org-extras.el. The file which once contained these block definitions, denote-org-dblock.el, now only has aliases for the new function names and dipslays a warning about its deprecation.

There is no need to require the denote-org-extras feature because all of Denote’s Org dynamic blocks are autoloaded (meaning that they work as soon as they are used). For backward compatibility, all dynamic blocks retain their original names as an alias for the newer one.

We will not remove denote-org-dblock.el anytime soon to avoid any potential breakage with people’s existing notes. Though if you are new to this functionality, you better avoid the deprecated symbols.

Org dynamic block to only insert missing links

The denote-missing-links block is available with the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-missing-links. It is like the denote-links block (documented at length in the manual), except it only lists links to files that are not present in the current buffer. The parameters are otherwise the same:

#+BEGIN: denote-missing-links :regexp "YOUR REGEXP HERE" :sort-by-component nil :reverse-sort nil :id-only nil


Remember to type C-c C-x C-u (org-dblock-update) with point on the #+BEGIN line to update the block.

This brings back a feature that was deprecated in version 2.2.0, but makes changes to it so that (i) it is more limited in scope and (ii) available as a standalone Org dynamic block.

Thanks to Stephen R. Kifer, Peter Prevos, and Elias Storms for the discussion which made it clear to me that users do have a need for such functionality. This was done in the now-defunct mailing list: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/%3C1db2104e-70bd-47f9-a7ed-b8d4bb370a7f%40app.fastmail.com%3E.

Also thanks to Vedang Manerikar for fixing an edge case bug. This was done in pull request 260: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/260.

Org dynamic blocks are a powerful feature which also showcases how far we can go with Denote’s efficient file-naming scheme.

Quality-of-life improvements

Here I include other changes we made to existing functionality.

BREAKING User-defined sluggification of file name components

In the previous version, we introduced the user option denote-file-name-letter-casing. This was used to control the letter casing of file name components, but was ultimately not flexible enough for our purposes. We are thus retiring it and replacing it with the more powerful, but also more advanced, user option denote-file-name-slug-functions.

For existing users of the deprecated functionality, you can still preserve the input of a prompt verbatim with something like this:

(setq denote-file-name-slug-functions
      '((title . denote-sluggify-title)
        (keyword . identity)
        (signature . denote-sluggify-signature)))

The manual explains the details and shows ready-to-use code samples.

Remember that deviating from the default file-naming scheme of Denote will make things harder to use in the future, as files will have permutations that create uncertainty. The sluggification scheme and concomitant restrictions we impose by default are there for a very good reason: they are the distillation of years of experience. Here we give you what you wish, but bear in mind it may not be what you need. You have been warned.

Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for introducing this variable, among other tweaks, in pull request 217: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/217. Jean-Philippe has assigned copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

Option to automatically save the buffer of a new note

The user option denote-save-buffer-after-creation controls whether commands that create new notes save their buffer right away.

The default behaviour of commands such as denote (or related) is to not save the buffer they create. This gives the user the chance to review the text before writing it to a file. The user may choose to delete the unsaved buffer, thus not creating a new file on disk.

If denote-save-buffer-after-creation is set to a non-nil value, such buffers are saved automatically and so the file is written to disk.

The denote-menu-bar-mode and the placement of the Denote submenu

The command denote-menu-bar-mode toggles the inclusion of the submenu with the Denote entries in the Emacs menu bar (which is on display when menu-bar-mode is enabled).

This submenu is now shown after the Tools entry.

Thanks to Joseph Turner for sending me the relevant patches. Joseph has assigned copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

The C-c C-o works in markdown-mode for Denote links

In files whose major mode is markdown-mode, the default key binding C-c C-o (which calls the command markdown-follow-thing-at-point) correctly resolves denote: links. This method works in addition to the RET key, which is made available by the buttonization that we also provide. Interested users can refer to the function denote-link-markdown-follow for the implementation details.

Thanks to user pmenair for noting a case where this was breaking general Markdown linking functionality. This was done in issue 290: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/290.

More fine-grained control of Denote faces for dates/identifiers

We now define more faces for fine-grained control of the identifier in Dired. Thanks to mentalisttraceur for suggesting the idea in issue 276: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/276.

Before you ask, no, none of my themes will cover those faces because extra colouration is something only the user can decide if they want or not. In the above link I provide a sample with a screenshot (apart from the modus-themes, my ef-themes and standard-themes have similar functionality):

(defun my-modus-themes-denote-faces (&rest _)
     `(denote-faces-year ((,c :foreground ,cyan)))
     `(denote-faces-month ((,c :foreground ,magenta-warmer)))
     `(denote-faces-day ((,c :foreground ,cyan)))
     `(denote-faces-time-delimiter ((,c :foreground ,fg-main)))
     `(denote-faces-hour ((,c :foreground ,magenta-warmer)))
     `(denote-faces-minute ((,c :foreground ,cyan)))
     `(denote-faces-second ((,c :foreground ,magenta-warmer))))))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-post-load-hook #'my-modus-themes-denote-faces)

New convenience command for users of the optional denote-journal-extras.el

The command denote-journal-extras-link-or-create-entry links to the journal entry for today or creates it in the background, if missing, and then links to it from the current file. If there are multiple journal entries for the same day, it prompts to select one among them and then links to it. When called with an optional prefix argument (such as C-u with default key bindings), the command prompts for a date and then performs the aforementioned. With a double prefix argument (C-u C-u), it also produces a link whose description includes just the file’s identifier.

Thanks to Alan Schmitt for contributing this command, based on previous discussions. It was done in pull request 243: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/243.

For developers or advanced users

These has new parameters or are new symbols altogether. Please read their respective doc string for the details.

  • Function denote-convert-file-name-keywords-to-crm.
  • Function denote-valid-date-p.
  • Function denote-parse-date.
  • Function denote-retrieve-title-or-filename.
  • Function denote-get-identifier.
  • Function denote-signature-prompt.
  • Function denote-file-prompt.
  • Function denote-keywords-prompt.
  • Function denote-title-prompt.
  • Function denote-rewrite-front-matter.
  • Function denote-rewrite-keywords.
  • Function denote-update-dired-buffers.
  • Function denote-format-string-for-org-front-matter.
  • Function denote-format-string-for-md-front-matter.
  • Variable denote-link-signature-format.
  • Function denote-link-description-with-signature-and-title.
  • Variable denote-link-description-function.


  • The denote-sort-dired function no longer errors out when there is no match for the given search terms. Thanks to Vedang Manerikar for the initial patch! This was done in the now-defunct mailing list: https://lists.sr.ht/~protesilaos/denote/patches/47625. Further changes by me.

  • The denote-keywords-sort function no longer tries to sort keywords that are not a list. Thanks to Ashton Wiersdorf for the patch. The change is small. As such, Ashton does not need to assign copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

  • Documented in the manual that custom convenience commands can be accessed by the denote-command-prompt. Thanks to Glenna D. for clarifying the language.

  • The denote-user-enforced-denote-directory is obsolete. Those who used it in their custom code can simply let bind the value of the variable denote-directory. Thanks to Jean-Philippe GagnĂ© Guay for making the relevant changes (the Git history is not direct here and I cannot quickly find the pull request—the commit is a48a1da).

  • The denote-link-return-links no longer keeps buffers around. Thanks to Matteo Cavada for the patch. This was done in pull request 252: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/252. The change is small and so Matteo does not need to assign copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

  • Thanks to user jarofromel (recorded in Git as “random” author) for fixing a mismatched parenthesis in denote-parse-date. This was done in pull request 258: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/258.

  • The denote-rename-buffer-mode now works as expected with non-editable files, like PDFs. Thanks to Alan Schmitt for bringing this matter to my attention and then refining the implementation details in pull request 268: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/268.

  • All the Denote linking functions can be used from any file outside the denote-directory (links are still resolved to files inside the denote-directory). Thanks to Jean-Philippe GagnĂ© Guay for the contribution in pull request 236: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/236.

  • We removed all glue code that integrated Denote with the built-in ffap, xref, and project libraries. We may reconsider how best to organise such features in the future. Thanks to Noboru Ota (nobiot), who originally contributed those extensions, for suggesting their removal from our code base. We did this by evaluating all use-cases. The discussion with Noboru happened in issue 264: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/264. Also thanks to Jean-Philippe GagnĂ© Guay and Alan Schnmitt for checking the impact of this on how we generate backlinks. The latest iteration of this was done in pull request 294, by Jean-Philippe: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/294.

  • While renaming files, signatures no longer lose consecutive spaces. Thanks to Wesley Harvey for the contribution in pull request 207: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/207. The change is within the ~15 line limit and so Wesley does not need to assign copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

  • All of the above and lots more are documented at length in the manual. This is a big task in its own right (as are release notes, by the way), though it ensures we keep a high standard for the entire package and can communicate all our knowledge to the user.

No more SourceHut

Development continues on GitHub with GitLab as a mirror. I explained my reasons here: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2024-01-27-sourcehut-no-more/.

This is a change that affects all my Emacs packages.

Forward guidance for Denote version 3.0.0

We will not any new features until mid-April or a bit later if necessary. This gives users enough time to report any potential issues with version 2.3.0. If there are any bugs, they will be fixed right away and new minor releases will be introduced (though without release notes).

Once we are done with this release cycle, we want to prepare for the next major version of Denote. The plan is to make the placement of file name components entirely customisable, among many other power user features. Though the defaults will remain intact.

For the immediate future, please prioritise bug reports/fixes. Then see you around for another round of hacking. The Denote code base is a pleasure to work with due to how composable everything is. I happy to make it even better for developers and users alike.

Git commits

Just an overview of what we did. Thanks again to everyone involved.

~/Git/Projects/denote $ git shortlog 2.2.0..2.3.0 --summary --numbered
   246	Protesilaos Stavrou
    46	Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay
     6	Vedang Manerikar
     3	Joseph Turner
     2	Alan Schmitt
     2	Max
     2	Peter Prevos
     1	Ashton Wiersdorf
     1	Glenna D.
     1	Matteo Cavada
     1	mattyonweb
     1	random
     1	wlharvey4

All contributions are valuable

I encourage you to provide feedback on any of the functionality of the Denote package. You do not need to be a developer or indeed an expert in Emacs. When you have an idea in mind on how you use Denote, or you think something could be done differently, please speak your mind. I do listen to feedback and am interested in further improving this package. Everybody is welcome!