Emacs: Denote version 3.0.0

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 3.0.0 on 2024-06-30

This major release comes about two years after the first version of Denote, which was published on 2022-06-27. A lot of technicalities have changed in the meantime, though the core idea remains the same. In fact, the original video presentation I did is still relevant, especially for those looking to get started with Denote (but remember to consult the latest documentation for up-to-date information—and ask me if you have any questions).

Version 3 iterates on refinements that we made over the life cycle of version 2. Existing users will find that their workflow remains the same, though they now have even more options at their disposal.

As usual, my release notes are detailed. Please take your time to read them: they are here for you.

Special thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay, a long-time contributor to the project, for working on some of the items covered herein. I am not covering everything, as many important changes are not user-facing. Please consult the Git log for further details.

File name components can be written in any order

[ Relevant blog post: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2024-05-19-emacs-denote-reorder-file-name-components/.]

Users can now change the variable denote-file-name-components-order to affect how Denote file names are constructed. By default, file names are written using this scheme (consult the manual for the details):


An optional SIGNATURE field can be added, thus:


By modifying the denote-file-name-components-order, users can produce file names like these:


Note that when the DATE is not the first component, it gets the @@ prefix to (i) remain unambiguous and (ii) make it easy to target it directly for search purposes.

Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for the contribution in pull request 360: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/360.

We discussed the possible delimiters for the IDENTIFIER in issue 332: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/332. Thanks to Jean-Philippe, Nick Bell, Maikol Solis, and mentalisttraceur for their insights. Our concern was to use characters that are stylistically fine, while they are not special symbol in regular expressions (as those make searching a bit less convenient).

Please remember that the file-naming scheme is the cornerstone of Denote. If you do change how your notes are named, make sure to be consistent throughout, otherwise you will likely make it harder for yourself to find what you need.

Exclude certain files from all prompts

Sometimes users keep files in their denote-directory that they do not want to interactive with. These can, for example, be what Org produces when exporting to another file format or when archiving a heading.

The user option denote-excluded-files-regexp makes is possible to omit all those files from the relevant Denote prompts.

This is in response to requests for such a user option done by Samuel W. Flint and zadca123 in issues 376 and 384, respectively:

[ Please let me know if you need this feature but do not know how to write a regular expression. I can include concrete examples in the manual, though I need to know about them first. ]

Links in plain text and Markdown files are buttonised differently

Before we were using the function denote-link-buttonize-buffer, which would create “buttons” for all the denote: links it would. Users probably had something like this in their configuration:

;; DEPRECATED method
(add-hook 'text-mode-hook #'denote-link-buttonize-buffer)

We now provide an approach that is technically better by using Emacs’ fontification mechanism. All the user needs is to add this to their configuration:

(add-hook 'text-mode-hook #'denote-fontify-links-mode-maybe)

The notion of “maybe” in the symbol of that function is because this will take care to be activated only in the right context.

Thanks to Abdul-Lateef Haji-Ali for the contribution in pull request 344 (further changes by me): https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/344.

Abdul-Lateef has assigned copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

How to make Org export work in a Denote silo

[ Relevant blog post: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2024-06-18-emacs-denote-silos-org-export/. ]

This is not a change in Denote per se, though I have added the relevant details in the manual. Basically, the Org export machinery dismisses directory-local variables, thus breaking how Denote silos work. We can work around this by having an extra #+bind directive in the front matter of each file. The manual, or the aforementioned blog post, describe the technicalities.

Org headings can have their own backlinks

[ Relevant blog: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2024-04-21-emacs-denote-heading-backlinks/. ]

Denote could already link to an Org heading directly. Now it can also generate a backlinks buffer for the current heading, using the command denote-org-extras-backlinks-for-heading.

This is part of the optional extension denote-org-extras.el (it is part of the Denote package, but not loaded by default if you use something like (require 'denote)).

I am providing this as an option for those who absolutely need it, though in my opinion it is better to have atomic notes, such that each file contains information that is relevant as a whole. In this workflow, individual headings can be added or removed, but the big picture idea of the file remain intact.

At any rate, this change is possible due to the requisite refactoring of the code that handles the backlinks. We can technically produce backlinks to any pattern in files, though this may be more of interest to developers rather than foreshadow future features in core Denote.

Finer control over confirmations while renaming

The denote-rename-no-confirm is deprecated and superseded by the more flexible user option denote-rename-confirmations.

The command denote-rename-file (and others like it) prompts for confirmation before changing the name of a file and updating its front matter. The user option denote-rename-confirmations controls what the user is prompted for, if anything. Please consult its documentation for the technicalities.

Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for the contribution in pull request 324: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/324.

The user option denote-save-buffer-after-creation is renamed to denote-save-buffers

Please update your configuration accordingly, if you were using the old name.

The commands denote-keywords-add and denote-keywords-remove are replaced by denote-rename-file-keywords

The new command can add or remove keywords. It does this by prepopulating the minibuffer prompt with the existing keywords. Users can then use the crm-separator (normally a comma), to write new keywords or edit what is in the prompt to rewrite them accordingly. An empty input means to remove all keywords.

[ NOTE: Please check with your minibuffer user interface how to provide an empty input. The Emacs default setup accepts the empty minibuffer contents as they are, though popular packages like vertico use the first available completion candidate instead. For vertico, the user must either move one up to select the prompt and then type RET there with empty contents, or use the command vertico-exit-input with empty contents. That Vertico command is bound to M-RET as of this writing on 2024-06-30 10:37 +0300. ]

Technically, denote-rename-file-keywords is a wrapper for denote-rename-file, doing all the things that does.

The commands denote-rename-file-title and denote-rename-file-signature

These are like the denote-rename-file-keywords we just covered. There are wrappers of the denote-rename-file command, which are used to change on the file name component they reference.

If that component exists, its text is included in the minibuffer. The user can then modify it accordingly. If there is no text, the user is adding a new one. An empty input means to remove the title/signature from the file altogether (again, check your minibuffer for how to provide an empty input).

More commands to add/remove keywords in bulk from Dired

Two new specialised commands are available to help users add or remove keywords from many files at once. These are:

  • denote-dired-rename-marked-files-add-keywords
  • denote-dired-rename-marked-files-remove-keywords.

They complement the denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords, which we have had for a long time already, and which rewrites all the keywords (instead of only adding/removing from the list).

All three of those commands operate only on the KEYWORDS component of the file name, leaving everything else as-is (while respecting the aforementioned denote-file-name-components-order).

Thanks to Vedang Manerikar for the contribution in pull request 316: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/316. Vedang has already assigned copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

The denote-org-extras-convert-links-to-file-type can return relative paths

The previous implementation would always return an absolute file path, ignoring the Org user option org-link-file-path-type. Whereas now it will return a relative path if that user option is set to a value of either 'adaptive or 'relative.

Thanks to Alexandre Rousseau for the contribution in pull request 325: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/325. The change is small, meaning that Alexandre does not need to assign copyright to the Free Software Foundation.

For developers or advanced users

The denote-add-prompts is made public

This is used to let bind any additional prompts that should be used by the denote command. Check the source code for how we are using this function.

The denote-select-linked-file-prompt is now public

This is used internally but the commands denote-find-link, denote-find-backlink. Refer to the implementation of those commands to get an idea of how to use this prompt.

The denote-retrieve-title-or-filename is just a wrapper

It simply calls the denote-retrieve-front-matter-title-value or denote-retrieve-filename-title. We do not want it to return the file-name-base, as it used to, because this will duplicate the text of the file name when there is no TITLE component, as demonstrated by duli in issue 347: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/347.

The denote-file-prompt is more robust

We have made this function show relative file paths for the convenience of the user, but we take care to internally return and store the full file path (which is unambiguous). Thanks to Alan Schmitt for noting that the history was not working properly. This was done in issue 339: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/339. A series of commits dealt with the implementation details, including a contribution by Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay in pull request 342: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/342. Also read 353 for a further set of tweaks from my side: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/discussions/353.

As part of these changes, the denote-file-prompt now takes a NO-REQUIRE-MATCH argument. It also respects the aforementioned user option of denote-excluded-files-regexp.

Relevant functions conform with the denote-rename-confirmations

These include the denote-rename-file-prompt and denote-rewrite-front-matter, as well as the new denote-add-front-matter-prompt.

This has the meaning of what I mentioned above. Commands that need to deviate from the user option denote-rename-confirmations can let bind it accordingly: we even do this for some commands in denote.el, because certain prompts do not make sense there.

All file name components can be let bound

We define a new series of variables which can be set to a lexically scoped value to control what the denote function parses. These are:

  • denote-use-date
  • denote-use-directory
  • denote-use-file-type
  • denote-use-keywords
  • denote-use-signature
  • denote-use-template
  • denote-use-title

Employ those for custom extensions you may have.

Thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for adding those in pull request 365: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/pull/365.


  • All the Org dynamic blocks defined by Denote in the optional denote-org-extras.el are now autoloaded. This means that evaluating such a code block will work even if the user has not explicitly used something like (require 'denote-org-extras). Thanks to Julian Hoch for asking for a relevant clarification in issue 337: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/337. Thanks to Kolmas for reporting some missing autoloads in issue 371: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/371.

  • The value of the user option denote-link-backlinks-display-buffer-action is slightly modified to (i) make the buffer dedicated to its window and (ii) try to preserve its size during automatic recombinations of the frame’s layout.

  • There was a regression in version 2.3.0 relative to 2.2.0 where the denote-link command would fail in Org capture buffers. Thanks to Sven Seebeck for reporting this bug in issue 298: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/298.

  • The denote-filetype-heuristics function no longer chokes if it gets a nil value (such as in Org capture buffers).

  • The denote-journal-extras-directory (part of the optional denote-journal-extras file) falls back to denote-directory if its value is nil. This is what the user option denote-journal-extras-directory promises in its doc string.

  • All prompts should have their scope of application in all capital letters, such as Select TEMPLATE key. The idea is to make it easier for the user to quickly spot for the prompt is about.

  • The user option denote-link-description-function is documented in the manual. Thanks to Sven Seebeck for noticing that we did not document this for the 2.3.0 release. Thanks to Jean-Philippe GagnĂ© Guay for helping me refine the code. This was all done in issue 298: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/298.

  • As part of internal changes to how our various “rename” commands work, Kolmas reported a regression with wrongly assigned file extensions. This was done in issue 343: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/343.

  • In the denote-org-extras.el we now always jump to the correct Org heading line, instead of missing it by 1 under certain conditions. Thanks to kilesduli for bringing this matter to my attention in issue 354: https://github.com/protesilaos/denote/issues/354.

Policy for the aftermath of this release

The next few days or weeks are reserved for bug fixes. We first want to make sure that the current code base is rock solid, before making any further changes. Any bugs will be addressed outright and new point releases will be published (though those are not accompanied by a change log entry).

Git commits

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

~/Git/Projects/denote $ git shortlog 2.3.0..3.0.0 --summary --numbered
   169  Protesilaos Stavrou
    52  Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay
     3  Al Haji-Ali
     2  Alan Schmitt
     1  Alexandre Rousseau
     1  Jianwei Hou
     1  Vedang Manerikar