Denote (denote.el)

Simple notes for Emacs with an efficient file-naming scheme

This manual, written by Protesilaos Stavrou, describes the customization options for the Emacs package called denote (or denote.el), and provides every other piece of information pertinent to it.

The documentation furnished herein corresponds to stable version 2.3.0, released on 2024-03-24. Any reference to a newer feature which does not yet form part of the latest tagged commit, is explicitly marked as such.

Current development target is 3.0.0-dev.

If you are viewing the version of this file, please note that the GNU ELPA machinery automatically generates an Info manual out of it.

Table of Contents


Copyright (C) 2022-2024 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with the Front-Cover Texts being “A GNU Manual,” and with the Back-Cover Texts as in (a) below. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License.”

(a) The FSF’s Back-Cover Text is: “You have the freedom to copy and modify this GNU manual.”

2. Overview

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 consistent way makes their filtering and retrieval considerably easier. Denote provides relevant facilities to rename files, regardless of file type.

Denote is based on the following core design principles:

File names must follow a consistent and descriptive naming convention (The file-naming scheme). The file name alone should offer a clear indication of what the contents are, without reference to any other metadatum. This convention is not specific to note-taking, as it is pertinent to any form of file that is part of the user’s long-term storage (Renaming files).
Be a good Emacs citizen, by integrating with other packages or built-in functionality instead of re-inventing functions such as for filtering or greping. The author of Denote (Protesilaos, aka “Prot”) writes ordinary notes in plain text (.txt), switching on demand to an Org file only when its expanded set of functionality is required for the task at hand (Points of entry).
Notes are plain text and should remain portable. The way Denote writes file names, the front matter it includes in the note’s header, and the links it establishes must all be adequately usable with standard Unix tools. No need for a database or some specialised software. As Denote develops and this manual is fully fleshed out, there will be concrete examples on how to do the Denote-equivalent on the command-line.
Do not assume the user’s preference for a note-taking methodology. Denote is conceptually similar to the Zettelkasten Method, which you can learn more about in this detailed introduction: Notes are atomic (one file per note) and have a unique identifier. However, Denote does not enforce a particular methodology for knowledge management, such as a restricted vocabulary or mutually exclusive sets of keywords. Denote also does not check if the user writes thematically atomic notes. It is up to the user to apply the requisite rigor and/or creativity in pursuit of their preferred workflow (Writing metanotes).
Denote’s code base consists of small and reusable functions. They all have documentation strings. The idea is to make it easier for users of varying levels of expertise to understand what is going on and make surgical interventions where necessary (e.g. to tweak some formatting). In this manual, we provide concrete examples on such user-level configurations (Keep a journal or diary).

Now the important part… “Denote” is the familiar word, though it also is a play on the “note” concept. Plus, we can come up with acronyms, recursive or otherwise, of increasingly dubious utility like:

  • Don’t Ever Note Only The Epiphenomenal
  • Denote Everything Neatly; Omit The Excesses

But we’ll let you get back to work. Don’t Eschew or Neglect your Obligations, Tasks, and Engagements.

3. Points of entry

There are five main ways to write a note with Denote: invoke the denote, denote-type, denote-date, denote-subdirectory, denote-template, denote-signature commands, or leverage the org-capture-templates by setting up a template which calls the function denote-org-capture. We explain all of those in the subsequent sections. Other more specialised commands exist as well, which one shall learn about as they read through this manual. We do not want to overwhelm the user with options at this stage.

3.1. Standard note creation

The denote command will prompt for a title. If a region is active, the text of the region becomes the default at the minibuffer prompt (meaning that typing RET without any input will use the default value). Once the title is supplied, the denote command will then ask for keywords. The resulting note will have a file name as already explained: The file naming scheme

The denote command runs the hook denote-after-new-note-hook after creating the new note.

The file type of the new note is determined by the user option denote-file-type (Front matter).

The keywords’ prompt supports minibuffer completion. Available candidates are those defined in the user option denote-known-keywords. More candidates can be inferred from the names of existing notes, by setting denote-infer-keywords to non-nil (which is the case by default).

Multiple keywords can be inserted by separating them with a comma (or whatever the value of the crm-separator is—which should be a comma). When the user option denote-sort-keywords is non-nil (the default), keywords are sorted alphabetically (technically, the sorting is done with string-lessp).

The interactive behaviour of the denote command is influenced by the user option denote-prompts (The denote-prompts option).

The denote command can also be called from Lisp. Read its doc string for the technicalities.

In the interest of discoverability, denote is also available under the alias denote-create-note.

3.1.1. The denote-prompts option

The user option denote-prompts determines how the denote command will behave interactively (Standard note creation).

Commands that prompt for user input to construct a Denote file name include, but are not limited to: denote, denote-signature, denote-type, denote-date, denote-subdirectory, denote-rename-file, denote-dired-rename-files.

The value of this user option is a list of symbols, which includes any of the following:

  • title: Prompt for the title of the new note (The denote-history-completion-in-prompts option).
  • keywords: Prompts with completion for the keywords of the new note. Available candidates are those specified in the user option denote-known-keywords. If the user option denote-infer-keywords is non-nil, keywords in existing note file names are included in the list of candidates. The keywords prompt uses completing-read-multiple, meaning that it can accept multiple keywords separated by a comma (or whatever the value of crm-separator is).
  • file-type: Prompts with completion for the file type of the new note. Available candidates are those specified in the user option denote-file-type. Without this prompt, denote uses the value of denote-file-type.
  • subdirectory: Prompts with completion for a subdirectory in which to create the note. Available candidates are the value of the user option denote-directory and all of its subdirectories. Any subdirectory must already exist: Denote will not create it.
  • date: Prompts for the date of the new note. It will expect an input like 2022-06-16 or a date plus time: 2022-06-16 14:30. Without the date prompt, the denote command uses the current-time.

    The denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date option.

  • template: Prompts for a KEY among the denote-templates. The value of that KEY is used to populate the new note with content, which is added after the front matter (The denote-templates option).
  • signature: - Prompts for an arbitrary string that can be used to establish a sequential relationship between files (e.g. 1, 1a, 1b, 1b1, 1b2, …). Signatures have no strictly defined function and are up to the user to apply as they see fit. One use-case is to implement Niklas Luhmann’s Zettelkasten system for a sequence of notes (Folgezettel). Signatures are not included in a file’s front matter. They are reserved solely for creating a sequence in a file listing, at least for the time being. To insert a link that includes the signature, use the command denote-link-with-signature (Insert link to file with signature).

The prompts occur in the given order.

If the value of this user option is nil, no prompts are used. The resulting file name will consist of an identifier (i.e. the date and time) and a supported file type extension (per denote-file-type).

Recall that Denote’s standard file-naming scheme is defined as follows (The file-naming scheme):


If either or both of the title and keywords prompts are not included in the value of this variable, file names will be any of those permutations:


When in doubt, always include the title and keywords prompts.

Finally, this user option only affects the interactive use of the denote or other relevant commands (advanced users can call it from Lisp). In Lisp usage, the behaviour is always what the caller specifies, based on the supplied arguments.

3.1.2. The denote-history-completion-in-prompts option

The user option denote-history-completion-in-prompts toggles history completion in all denote-prompts-with-history-as-completion.

When this user option is set to a non-nil value, Denote will use minibuffer history entries as completion candidates in all of the denote-prompts-with-history-as-completion. Those will show previous inputs from their respective history as possible values to select, either to (i) re-insert them verbatim or (ii) with the intent to edit them further (depending on the minibuffer user interface, one can select a candidate with TAB without exiting the minibuffer, as opposed to what RET normally does by selecting and exiting).

When this user option is set to a nil value, all of the denote-prompts-with-history-as-completion will not use minibuffer completion: they will just prompt for a string of characters. Their history is still available through all the standard ways of retrieving minibuffer history, such as with the command previous-history-element.

History completion still allows arbitrary values to be provided as input: they do not have to match the available minibuffer completion candidates.

Note that some prompts, like denote-keywords-prompt, always use minibuffer completion, due to the specifics of their data.

[ Consider enabling the built-in savehist-mode to persist minibuffer histories between sessions.]

3.1.3. The denote-templates option

The user option denote-templates is an alist of content templates for new notes. 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. Below we show some concrete examples.

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

The denote-prompts option.

Convenience commands for note creation.

Templates can be written directly as one large string. For example (the \n character is read as a newline):

(setq denote-templates
      '((report . "* Some heading\n\n* Another heading")
        (memo . "* Some heading

* Another heading


Long strings may be easier to type but interpret indentation literally. Also, they do not scale well. A better way is to use some Elisp code to construct the string. This would typically be the concat function, which joins multiple strings into one. The following is the same as the previous example:

(setq denote-templates
      `((report . "* Some heading\n\n* Another heading")
        (memo . ,(concat "* Some heading"
                         "* Another heading"

Notice that to evaluate a function inside of an alist we use the backtick to quote the alist (NOT the straight quote) and then prepend a comma to the expression that should be evaluated. The concat form here is not sensitive to indentation, so it is easier to adjust for legibility.

DEV NOTE: We do not provide more examples at this point, though feel welcome to ask for help if the information provided herein is not sufficient. We shall expand the manual accordingly.

3.1.4. Convenience commands for note creation

Sometimes the user needs to create a note that has different requirements from those of denote (Standard note creation). While this can be achieved globally by changing the denote-prompts user option, there are cases where an ad-hoc method is the appropriate one (The denote-prompts option).

To this end, Denote provides the following interactive convenience commands for note creation. They all work by appending a new prompt to the existing denote-prompts.

Create note by specifying file type

The denote-type command creates a note while prompting for a file type.

This is the equivalent of calling denote when denote-prompts has the file-type prompt appended to its existing prompts. In practical terms, this lets you produce, say, a note in Markdown even though you normally write in Org (Standard note creation).

The denote-create-note-using-type is an alias of denote-type.

Create note using a date

Normally, Denote reads the current date and time to construct the unique identifier of a newly created note (Standard note creation). Sometimes, however, the user needs to set an explicit date+time value.

This is where the denote-date command comes in. It creates a note while prompting for a date. The date can be in YEAR-MONTH-DAY notation like 2022-06-30 or that plus the time: 2022-06-16 14:30.

The denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date option.

This is the equivalent of calling denote when denote-prompts has the date prompt appended to its existing prompts.

The denote-create-note-using-date is an alias of denote-date.

Create note in a specific directory

The denote-subdirectory command creates a note while prompting for a subdirectory. Available candidates include the value of the variable denote-directory and any subdirectory thereof (Denote does not create subdirectories).

This is the equivalent of calling denote when denote-prompts has the subdirectory prompt appended to its existing prompts.

The denote-create-note-in-subdirectory is a more descriptive alias of denote-subdirectory.

Create note and add a template

The denote-template command creates a new note and inserts the specified template below the front matter (The denote-templates option). Available candidates for templates are specified in the user option denote-templates.

This is the equivalent of calling denote when denote-prompts has the template prompt appended to its existing prompts.

The denote-create-note-with-template is an alias of the command denote-template, meant to help with discoverability.

Create note with a signature

The denote-signature command first prompts for an arbitrary string to use in the optional SIGNATURE field of the file name and then asks for a title and keywords. Signatures are arbitrary strings of alphanumeric characters which can be used to establish sequential relations between file at the level of their file name (e.g. 1, 1a, 1b, 1b1, 1b2, …).

This is the equivalent of calling denote when denote-prompts has the signature prompt appended to its existing prompts.

The denote-create-note-using-signature is an alias of the command denote-signature intended to make the functionality more discoverable. Write your own convenience commands

The convenience commands we provide only cover some basic use-cases (Convenience commands for note creation). The user may require combinations that are not covered, such as to prompt for a template and for a subdirectory, instead of only one of the two. To this end, we show how to follow the code we use in Denote to write your own variants of those commands.

First let’s take a look at the definition of one of those commands. They all look the same, but we use denote-subdirectory for this example:

(defun denote-subdirectory ()
  "Create note while prompting for a subdirectory.

Available candidates include the value of the variable
`denote-directory' and any subdirectory thereof.

This is equivalent to calling `denote' when `denote-prompts' is
set to '(subdirectory title keywords)."
  (declare (interactive-only t))
  (let ((denote-prompts '(subdirectory title keywords)))
    (call-interactively #'denote)))

The hyphenated word after defun is the name of the function. It has to be unique. Then we have the documentation string (or “doc string”) which is for the user’s convenience.

This function is interactive, meaning that it can be called via M-x or be assigned to a key binding. Then we have the local binding of the denote-prompts to the desired combination (“local” means specific to this function without affecting other contexts). Lastly, it calls the standard denote command interactively, so it uses all the prompts in their specified order.

Now let’s say we want to have a command that (i) asks for a template and (ii) for a subdirectory (The denote-templates option). All we need to do is tweak the let bound value of denote-prompts and give our command a unique name:

;; Like `denote-subdirectory' but also ask for a template
(defun denote-subdirectory-with-template ()
  "Create note while also prompting for a template and subdirectory.

This is equivalent to calling `denote' when `denote-prompts' is
set to '(template subdirectory title keywords)."
  (declare (interactive-only t))
  (let ((denote-prompts '(template subdirectory title keywords)))
    (call-interactively #'denote)))

The tweaks to denote-prompts determine how the command will behave (The denote-prompts option). Use this paradigm to write your own variants which you can then assign to keys, invoke with M-x, or add to the list of commands available at the denote-command-prompt (Choose which commands to prompt for).

3.1.5. The denote-save-buffers option

[ As part of 3.0.0-dev, the user option denote-save-buffer-after-creation is renamed to denote-save-buffers. ]

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

The default behaviour of commands such as denote (or related) is to not save the buffer they create (Points of entry). 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 note (The denote-save-buffer-after-creation option).

This option also applies to notes affected by the renaming commands (denote-rename-file and related).

If this user option is set to a non-nil value, such buffers are saved automatically. The assumption is that the user who opts in to this feature is familiar with the denote-rename-file operation (or related) and knows it is reliable (Renaming files).

3.1.6. The denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date option

By default, Denote uses its own simple prompt for date or date+time input (The denote-prompts option). This is done when the denote-prompts option includes a date symbol and/or when the user invokes the denote-date command.

Users who want to benefit from the more advanced date selection method that is common in interactions with Org mode, can set the user option denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date to a non-nil value.

3.2. 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 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. This command is part of the optional denote-org-extras.el extension, which is part of the denote package. It is loaded automatically as soon as one of its commands is invoked.

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

If the heading has any tags, they are used as the keywords of the new note. If the Org file has any #+filetags they are taken as well (Org’s #+filetags are inherited by the headings). If none of these are true and the user option denote-prompts includes an entry for keywords, then denote-org-extras-extract-org-subtree prompts for keywords. Else the new note has no keywords (Add or remove keywords interactively).

If the heading has a PROPERTIES drawer, it is retained for further review.

If the heading’s PROPERTIES drawer includes a DATE or CREATED property, or there exists a CLOSED statement with a timestamp value, use that to derive the date (or date and time) of the new note (if there is only a date, the time is taken as 00:00). If more than one of these is present, the order of preference is DATE, then CREATED, then CLOSED. If none of these is present, the current time is used. If the denote-prompts includes an entry for a date, then the command prompts for a date at this stage (also see denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date).

For the rest, it consults the value of the user option denote-prompts in the following scenaria:

  • To optionally prompt for a subdirectory, otherwise it produces the new note in the denote-directory.
  • To optionally prompt for a file signature, otherwise to not use any.

The new note is an Org file regardless of the user option denote-file-type.

3.3. Create note using Org capture

For integration with org-capture, the user must first add the relevant template. Such as:

(with-eval-after-load 'org-capture
  (add-to-list 'org-capture-templates
               '("n" "New note (with Denote)" plain
                 (file denote-last-path)
                 :no-save t
                 :immediate-finish nil
                 :kill-buffer t
                 :jump-to-captured t)))

[ In the future, we might develop Denote in ways which do not require such manual intervention. More user feedback is required to identify the relevant workflows. ]

Once the template is added, it is accessed from the specified key. If, for instance, org-capture is bound to C-c c, then the note creation is initiated with C-c c n, per the above snippet. After that, the process is the same as with invoking denote directly, namely: a prompt for a title followed by a prompt for keywords (Standard note creation).

Users may prefer to leverage org-capture in order to extend file creation with the specifiers described in the org-capture-templates documentation (such as to capture the active region and/or create a hyperlink pointing to the given context).

IMPORTANT. Due to the particular file-naming scheme of Denote, which is derived dynamically, such specifiers or other arbitrary text cannot be written directly in the template. Instead, they have to be assigned to the user option denote-org-capture-specifiers, which is interpreted by the function denote-org-capture. Example with our default value:

(setq denote-org-capture-specifiers "%l\n%i\n%?")

Note that denote-org-capture ignores the denote-file-type: it always sets the Org file extension for the created note to ensure that the capture process works as intended, especially for the desired output of the denote-org-capture-specifiers.

3.4. Create note with specific prompts using Org capture

This section assumes knowledge of how Denote+org-capture work, as explained in the previous section (Create note using Org capture).

The previous section shows how to define an Org capture template that always prompts for a title and keywords. There are, however, cases where the user wants more control over what kind of input Denote will prompt for. To this end, we provide the function denote-org-capture-with-prompts. Below we explain it and then show some examples of how to use it.

The denote-org-capture-with-prompts is like denote-org-capture but with optional prompt parameters.

When called without arguments, it does not prompt for anything. It just returns the front matter with title and keyword fields empty and the date and identifier fields specified. It also makes the file name consist of only the identifier plus the Org file name extension.

The file-naming scheme.

Otherwise, it produces a minibuffer prompt for every non-nil value that corresponds to the TITLE, KEYWORDS, SUBDIRECTORY, DATE, and TEMPLATE arguments. The prompts are those used by the standard denote command and all of its utility commands.

Points of entry.

When returning the contents that fill in the Org capture template, the sequence is as follows: front matter, TEMPLATE, and then the value of the user option denote-org-capture-specifiers.

Important note: in the case of SUBDIRECTORY actual subdirectories must exist—Denote does not create them. Same principle for TEMPLATE as templates must exist and are specified in the user option denote-templates.

This is how one can incorporate denote-org-capture-with-prompts in their Org capture templates. Instead of passing a generic t which makes it hard to remember what the argument means, we use semantic keywords like :title for our convenience (internally this does not matter as the value still counts as non-nil, so :foo for TITLE is treated the same as :title or t).

;; This prompts for TITLE, KEYWORDS, and SUBDIRECTORY
(add-to-list 'org-capture-templates
             '("N" "New note with prompts (with denote.el)" plain
               (file denote-last-path)
                (lambda ()
                  (denote-org-capture-with-prompts :title :keywords :subdirectory)))
               :no-save t
               :immediate-finish nil
               :kill-buffer t
               :jump-to-captured t))

;; This prompts only for SUBDIRECTORY
(add-to-list 'org-capture-templates
             '("N" "New note with prompts (with denote.el)" plain
               (file denote-last-path)
                (lambda ()
                  (denote-org-capture-with-prompts nil nil :subdirectory)))
               :no-save t
               :immediate-finish nil
               :kill-buffer t
               :jump-to-captured t))

;; This prompts for TITLE and SUBDIRECTORY
(add-to-list 'org-capture-templates
             '("N" "New note with prompts (with denote.el)" plain
               (file denote-last-path)
                (lambda ()
                  (denote-org-capture-with-prompts :title nil :subdirectory)))
               :no-save t
               :immediate-finish nil
               :kill-buffer t
               :jump-to-captured t))

3.5. Create a note with the region’s contents

The command denote-region takes the contents of the active region and then calls the denote command. Once a new note is created, it inserts the contents of the region therein. This is useful to quickly elaborate on some snippet of text or capture it for future reference.

When the denote-region command is called with an active region, it finalises its work by calling denote-region-after-new-note-functions. This is an abnormal hook, meaning that the functions added to it are called with arguments. The arguments are two, representing the beginning and end positions of the newly inserted text.

A common use-case for Org mode users is to call the command org-insert-structure-template after a region is inserted. Emacs will thus prompt for a structure template, such as the one corresponding to a source block. In this case the function added to denote-region-after-new-note-functions does not actually need aforementioned arguments: it can simply declare those as ignored by prefixing the argument names with an underscore (an underscore is enough, but it is better to include a name for clarity). For example, the following will prompt for a structure template as soon as denote-region is done:

(defun my-denote-region-org-structure-template (_beg _end)
  (when (derived-mode-p 'org-mode)
    (call-interactively 'org-insert-structure-template)))

(add-hook 'denote-region-after-new-note-functions #'my-denote-region-org-structure-template)

Remember that denote-region-after-new-note-functions are not called if denote-region is used without an active region.

3.6. Open an existing note or create it if missing

Sometimes it is necessary to briefly interrupt the ongoing writing session to open an existing note or, if that is missing, to create it. This happens when a new tangential thought occurs and the user wants to confirm that an entry for it is in place. To this end, Denote provides the command denote-open-or-create as well as its more flexible counterpart denote-open-or-create-with-command.

The denote-open-or-create prompts to visit a file in the denote-directory. At this point, the user must type in search terms that match a file name. If the input does not return any matches and the user confirms their choice to proceed (usually by typing RET twice, depending on the minibuffer settings), denote-open-or-create will call the denote command interactively to create a new note. It will then use whatever prompts denote normally has, per the user option denote-prompts (Standard note creation). If the title prompt is involved (the default behaviour), the denote-open-or-create sets up this prompt to have the previous input as the default title of the note to-be-created. This means that the user can type RET at the empty prompt to re-use what they typed in previously. Commands to use previous inputs from the history are also available (M-p or M-n in the minibuffer, which call previous-history-element and next-history-element by default). Accessing the history is helpful to, for example, make further edits to the available text.

The denote-open-or-create-with-command is like the above, except when it is about to create the new note it first prompts for the specific file-creating command to use (Points of entry). For example, the user may want to specify a signature for this new file, so they can select the denote-signature command.

Denote provides similar functionality for linking to an existing note or creating a new one (Link to a note or create it if missing).

3.7. Maintain separate directory silos for notes

The user option denote-directory accepts a value that represents the path to a directory, such as ~/Documents/notes. Normally, the user will have one place where they store all their notes, in which case this arrangement shall suffice.

There is, however, the possibility to maintain separate directories of notes. By “separate”, we mean that they do not communicate with each other: no linking between them, no common keywords, nothing. Think of the scenario where one set of notes is for private use and another is for an employer. We call these separate directories “silos”.

To create silos, the user must specify a local variable at the root of the desired directory. This is done by creating a .dir-locals.el file, with the following contents:

;;; Directory Local Variables.  For more information evaluate:
;;;     (info "(emacs) Directory Variables")

((nil . ((denote-directory . "/path/to/silo/"))))

When inside the directory that contains this .dir-locals.el file, all Denote commands/functions for note creation, linking, the inference of available keywords, et cetera will use the silo as their point of reference. They will not read the global value of denote-directory. The global value of denote-directory is read everywhere else except the silos.

Use custom commands to select a silo.

In concrete terms, this is a representation of the directory structures (notice the .dir-locals.el file is needed only for the silos):

;; This is the global value of 'denote-directory' (no need for a .dir-locals.el)
|-- 20210303T120534--this-is-a-test__journal_philosophy.txt

;; A silo with notes for the employer
|-- .dir-locals.el
|-- 20210303T120534--this-is-a-test__conference.txt

;; Another silo with notes for my volunteering
|-- .dir-locals.el
|-- 20210303T120534--this-is-a-test__activism.txt

It is possible to configure other user options of Denote to have a silo-specific value. For example, this one changes the denote-known-keywords only for this particular silo:

;;; Directory Local Variables.  For more information evaluate:
;;;     (info "(emacs) Directory Variables")

((nil . ((denote-directory . "/path/to/silo/")
         (denote-known-keywords . ("food" "drink")))))

This one is like the above, but also disables denote-infer-keywords:

;;; Directory Local Variables.  For more information evaluate:
;;;     (info "(emacs) Directory Variables")

((nil . ((denote-directory . "/path/to/silo/")
         (denote-known-keywords . ("food" "drink"))
         (denote-infer-keywords . nil))))

To expand the list of local variables to, say, cover specific major modes, we can do something like this:

;;; Directory Local Variables.  For more information evaluate:
;;;     (info "(emacs) Directory Variables")

((nil . ((denote-directory . "/path/to/silo/")
         (denote-known-keywords . ("food" "drink"))
         (denote-infer-keywords . nil)))
 (org-mode . ((org-hide-emphasis-markers . t)
              (org-hide-macro-markers . t)
              (org-hide-leading-stars . t))))

As not all user options have a “safe” local value, Emacs will ask the user to confirm their choice and to store it in the Custom code snippet that is normally appended to init file (or added to the file specified by the user option custom-file).

Finally, it is possible to have a .dir-locals.el for subdirectories of any denote-directory. Perhaps to specify a different set of known keywords, while not making the subdirectory a silo in its own right. We shall not expand on such an example, as we trust the user to experiment with the best setup for their workflow.

Feel welcome to ask for help if the information provided herein is not sufficient. The manual shall be expanded accordingly.

3.7.1. Use custom commands to select a silo

[ As part of version 2.1.0, the contents of this section are formally provided in the file denote-silo-extras.el. We keep this here for existing users. Otherwise consult the new entry in the manual (The denote-silo-extras.el). ]

We implement silos as directory-local values of the user option denote-directory. This means that all Denote commands read from the local value if they are invoked from that context. For example, if ~/Videos/recordings is a silo and ~/Documents/notes is the default/global value of denote-directory all Denote commands will read the video’s path when called from there (e.g. by using Emacs’ dired); any other context reads the global value.

Maintain separate directory silos for notes.

There are cases where the user (i) wants to maintain multiple silos and (ii) prefers an interactive way to switch between them without going through Dired. Since this is specific to the user’s workflow, it is easier to have some custom code for it. The following should be added to the user’s Denote configuration:

(defvar my-denote-silo-directories
    ;; You don't actually need to include the `denote-directory' here
    ;; if you use the regular commands in their global context.  I am
    ;; including it for completeness.
  "List of file paths pointing to my Denote silos.
  This is a list of strings.")

(defvar my-denote-commands-for-silos
  "List of Denote commands to call after selecting a silo.
  This is a list of symbols that specify the note-creating
  interactive functions that Denote provides.")

(defun my-denote-pick-silo-then-command (silo command)
  "Select SILO and run Denote COMMAND in it.
  SILO is a file path from `my-denote-silo-directories', while
  COMMAND is one among `my-denote-commands-for-silos'."
   (list (completing-read "Select a silo: " my-denote-silo-directories nil t)
         (intern (completing-read
                  "Run command in silo: "
                  my-denote-commands-for-silos nil t))))
  (let ((denote-directory silo))
    (call-interactively command)))

With this in place, M-x my-denote-pick-silo-then-command will use minibuffer completion to select a silo among the predefined options and then ask for the command to run in that context.

Note that let binding denote-directory can be used in custom commands and other wrapper functions to override the global default value of denote-directory to select silos.

To see another example of a wrapper function that let binds denote-directory, see:

Extending Denote: Split an Org subtree into its own note.

3.7.2. The denote-silo-extras.el

The denote-silo-extras.el provides optional convenience functions for working with silos (Maintain separate directory silos for notes). Start by loading the relevant library:

(require 'denote-silo-extras)

The user option denote-silo-extras-directories specifies a list of directories that the user has set up as denote-directory silos.

The command denote-silo-extras-create-note prompts for a directory among denote-silo-extras-directories and runs the denote command from there.

Similar to the above, the command denote-silo-extras-open-or-create prompts for a directory among denote-silo-extras-directories and runs the denote-open-or-create command from there.

The command denote-silo-extras-select-silo-then-command prompts with minibuffer completion for a directory among denote-silo-extras-directories. Once the user selects a silo, a second prompt asks for a Denote note-creation command to call from inside that silo (Points of entry).

3.8. Exclude certain directories from all operations

The user option denote-excluded-directories-regexp instructs all Denote functions that read or check file/directory names to omit directories that match the given regular expression. The regexp needs to match only the name of the directory, not its full path.

Affected operations include file prompts and functions that return the available files in the value of the user option denote-directory (Maintain separate directory silos for notes).

File prompts are used by several commands, such as denote-link and denote-subdirectory.

Functions that check for files include denote-directory-files and denote-directory-subdirectories.

The match is performed with string-match-p.

For developers or advanced users.

3.9. Exclude certain keywords from being inferred

The user option denote-excluded-keywords-regexp omits keywords that match a regular expression from the list of inferred keywords.

Keywords are inferred from file names and provided at relevant prompts as completion candidates when the user option denote-infer-keywords is non-nil.

The match is performed with string-match-p.

3.10. Use Denote commands from the menu bar or context menu

Denote registers a submenu for the menu-bar-mode. Users will find the entry called “Denote”. From there they can use their pointer to select a command. For a sample of how this looks, read the development log:

The command denote-menu-bar-mode toggles the presentation of the menu. It is enabled by default.

Emacs also provides support for operations through a context menu. This is typically the set of actions that are made available via a right mouse click. Users who enable context-menu-mode can register the Denote entry for it by adding the following to their configuration file:

(add-hook 'context-menu-functions #'denote-context-menu)

4. Renaming files

Denote provides commands to rename files and update their front matter where relevant. For Denote to work, only the file name needs to be in order, by following our naming conventions (The file-naming scheme). The linking mechanism, in particular, needs just the identifier in the file name (Linking notes).

We write front matter in notes for the user’s convenience and for other tools to make use of that information (e.g. Org’s export mechanism). The renaming mechanism takes care to keep this data in sync with the file name, when the user performs a change.

Renaming is useful for managing existing files created with Denote, but also for converting older text files to Denote notes. Denote’s file-naming scheme is not specific to notes or text files: it is relevant for all sorts of items, such as multimedia and PDFs that form part of the user’s longer-term storage. While Denote does not manage such files (e.g. doesn’t create links to them), it already has all the mechanisms to facilitate the task of renaming them.

All renaming commands run the denote-after-rename-file-hook after a succesful operation.

Apart from renaming files, Denote can also rename only the buffer. The idea is that the underlying file name is correct but it can be easier to use shorter buffer names when displaying them on the mode line or switching between then with commands like switch-to-buffer.

Automatically rename Denote buffers.

4.1. Rename a single file

[ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev to respect the user options denote-rename-confirmations and denote-save-buffers. ]

The denote-rename-file command renames a file and updates existing front matter if appropriate. It is possible to do the same with multiple files (Rename multiple files interactively).

It always renames the file where it is located in the file system: it never moves it to another directory.

If in Dired, it considers FILE to be the one at point, else it prompts with minibuffer completion for one. When called from Lisp, FILE is a file system path represented as a string.

If FILE has a Denote-compliant identifier, it retains it while updating components of the file name referenced by the user option denote-prompts (The denote-prompts option). By default, these are the TITLE and KEYWORDS. The SIGNATURE is another one. When called from Lisp, TITLE and SIGNATURE are strings, while KEYWORDS is a list of strings.

If there is no identifier, denote-rename-file creates an identifier based on the following conditions:

  1. If the denote-prompts includes an entry for date prompts, then it prompts for DATE and takes its input to produce a new identifier. For use in Lisp, DATE must conform with denote-valid-date-p.
  2. If DATE is nil (e.g. when denote-prompts does not include a date entry), it uses the file attributes to determine the last modified date of FILE and formats it as an identifier.
  3. As a fallback, it derives an identifier from the current date and time.
  4. At any rate, if the resulting identifier is not unique among the files in the variable denote-directory, it increments it such that it becomes unique.

In interactive use, and assuming denote-prompts includes a title entry, the denote-rename-file makes the TITLE prompt have prefilled text in the minibuffer that consists of the current title of FILE. The current title is either retrieved from the front matter (such as the #+title in Org) or from the file name.

The command does the same for the SIGNATURE prompt, subject to denote-prompts, by prefilling the minibuffer with the current signature of FILE, if any.

Same principle for the KEYWORDS prompt: it converts the keywords in the file name into a comma-separated string and prefills the minibuffer with it (the KEYWORDS prompt accepts more than one keywords, each separated by a comma, else the crm-separator).

For all prompts, the denote-rename-file interprets an empty input as an instruction to remove that file name component. For example, if a TITLE prompt is available and FILE is then it renames FILE to If a file name component is present, but there is no entry for it in denote-prompts, keep it as-is.

[ 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 2024-02-13 08:08 +0200. ]

When renaming FILE, the command reads its file type extension (like .org) and preserves it through the renaming process. Files that have no extension are left without one.

As a final step, ask for confirmation, showing the difference between old and new file names. Do not ask for confirmation if the user option denote-rename-confirmations does not contain the symbol modify-file-name (The denote-rename-confirmations option).

If FILE has front matter for TITLE and KEYWORDS, ask to rewrite their values in order to reflect the new input, unless denote-rename-confirmations lacks rewrite-front-matter. When the denote-save-buffers is nil (the default), do not save the underlying buffer, thus giving the user the option to double-check the result, such as by invoking the command diff-buffer-with-file. The rewrite of the TITLE and KEYWORDS in the front matter should not affect the rest of the front matter.

If the file does not have front matter but is among the supported file types (per denote-file-type), add front matter to the top of it and leave the buffer unsaved for further inspection (Front matter). Save the buffer if denote-save-buffers is non-nil (The denote-save-buffers option).

This command is intended to (i) rename Denote files, (ii) convert existing supported file types to Denote notes, and (ii) rename non-note files (e.g. PDF) that can benefit from Denote’s file-naming scheme.

For a version of this command that works with multiple files one-by-one, use denote-dired-rename-files (Rename multiple files interactively).

4.1.1. The denote-rename-confirmations option

[ As part of 3.0.0-dev the denote-rename-no-confirm is deprecated and superseded by the more flexible denote-rename-confirmations. ]

The user option denote-rename-confirmations controls what kind of confirmation renaming commands ask for (Renaming files). Its value is a list of symbols.

The value is either nil, in which case no confirmation is ever requested, or a list of symbols among the following:

  • modify-file-name means that renaming commands will ask for confirmation before modifying the file name.
  • rewrite-front-matter means that renaming commands will ask for confirmation before rewritting the front matter.
  • add-front-matter means that renaming commands will ask for confirmation before adding new front matter to the file.

The default behaviour of the denote-rename-file command (and others like it) is to ask for an affirmative answer as a final step before changing the file name and, where relevant, inserting or updating the corresponding front matter.

Specialized commands that build on top of denote-rename-file (or related) may internally bind this user option to a non-nil value in order to perform their operation (e.g. denote-dired-rename-files goes through each marked Dired file, prompting for the information to use, but carries out the renaming without asking for confirmation (Rename multiple files interactively)).

4.2. Rename a single file based on its front matter

In the previous section, we covered the more general mechanism of the command denote-rename-file (Rename a single file). There is also a way to have the same outcome by making Denote read the data in the current file’s front matter and use it to construct/update the file name. The command for this is denote-rename-file-using-front-matter. It is only relevant for files that (i) are among the supported file types, per denote-file-type, and (ii) have the requisite front matter in place.

Suppose you have an .org file with this front matter (Front matter):

#+title:      My sample note file
#+date:       [2022-08-05 Fri 13:10]
#+filetags:   :testing:
#+identifier: 20220805T131044

Its file name reflects this information:

You want to change its title and keywords manually, so you modify it thus:

#+title:      My modified sample note file
#+date:       [2022-08-05 Fri 13:10]
#+filetags:   :testing:denote:emacs:
#+identifier: 20220805T131044

At this stage, the file name still shows the old title and keywords. You now invoke denote-rename-file-using-front-matter and it updates the file name to:

The renaming is subject to a “yes or no” prompt that shows the old and new names, just so the user is certain about the change.

If called interactively with a prefix argument (C-u by default) or from Lisp with a non-nil NO-CONFIRM argument, this “yes or no” prompt is skipped and the renaming is done outright.

If called interactively with a double prefix argument (C-u C-u by default) or from Lisp with a non-nil SAVE-BUFFER argument, the buffer is saved after the front matter is updated and the file is renamed.

If the user option denote-rename-no-confirm is non-nil, it is interpreted the same way as a combination of NO-CONFIRM and SAVE-BUFFER (The denote-rename-no-confirm option).

The identifier of the file, if any, is never modified even if it is edited in the front matter: Denote considers the file name to be the source of truth in this case, to avoid potential breakage with typos and the like.

4.3. Rename multiple files interactively

The command denote-dired-rename-files (alias denote-dired-rename-marked-files) renames the files that are marked in a Dired buffer. Its behaviour is similar to the denote-rename-file in that it prompts for a title, keywords, and signature (Rename a single file). It does so over each marked file, renaming one after the other.

Unlike denote-rename-file, the command denote-dired-rename-files does not ask to confirm the changes made to the files: it performs them outright (same as setting denote-rename-confirmations to a nil value). This is done to make it easier to rename multiple files without having to confirm each step. For an even more direct approach, check the command denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords.

4.4. Rename multiple files at once by asking only for keywords

The denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords command renames marked files in Dired to conform with our file-naming scheme. It does so by writing keywords to them. Specifically, it does the following:

  • retains the file’s existing name and makes it the TITLE field, per Denote’s file-naming scheme;
  • sluggifies the TITLE and adjusts its letter casing, according to our conventions;
  • prepends an identifier to the TITLE, if one is missing;
  • preserves the file’s extension, if any;
  • prompts once for KEYWORDS and applies the user’s input to the corresponding field in the file name, rewriting any keywords that may exist while removing keywords that do exist if KEYWORDS is empty;
  • adds or rewrites existing front matter to the underlying file, if it is recognized as a Denote note (per the denote-file-type user option), such that it includes the new keywords.

[ Note that the affected buffers are not saved, unless the user option denote-rename-no-confirm is non-nil. Users can thus check them to confirm that the new front matter does not cause any problems (e.g. with the diff-buffer-with-file command). Multiple buffers can be saved in one go with the command save-some-buffers (read its doc string). ]

[ The following two commands are part of 3.0.0-dev. ]

For more specialized versions of this command that only add or remove keywords, use denote-dired-rename-marked-files-add-keywords and denote-dired-rename-marked-files-remove-keywords, respectively.

4.5. Rename multiple files based on their front matter

As already noted, Denote can rename a file based on the data in its front matter (Rename a single file based on its front matter). The command denote-dired-rename-marked-files-using-front-matter extends this principle to a batch operation which applies to all marked files in Dired.

Marked files must count as notes for the purposes of Denote, which means that they at least have an identifier in their file name and use a supported file type, per denote-file-type. Files that do not meet this criterion are ignored, because Denote cannot know if they have front matter and what that may be. For such files, it is still possible to rename them interactively (Rename multiple files interactively).

4.6. Rename a file by changing only its file type

The command denote-change-file-type-and-front-matter provides the convenience of converting a note taken in one file type, say, .txt into another like .org. It presents a choice among the denote-file-type options.

The conversion does NOT modify the existing front matter. Instead, it prepends new front matter to the top of the file. We do this as a safety precaution since the user can, in principle, add arbitrary extras to their front matter that we would not want to touch.

If in Dired, denote-change-file-type-and-front-matter operates on the file at point, else the current file, else it prompts with minibuffer completion for one.

The title of the file is retrieved from a line starting with a title field in the file’s front matter, depending on the previous file type (e.g. #+title for Org). The same process applies for keywords.

As a final step, the command asks for confirmation, showing the difference between old and new file names.

4.7. Rename a file by adding or removing keywords interactively

[ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev to respect the user options denote-rename-confirmations and denote-save-buffers. ]

The commands denote-keywords-add and denote-keywords-remove streamline the process of interactively updating a file’s keywords in the front matter and renaming it accordingly.

The denote-keywords-add asks for keywords using the familiar minibuffer prompt (Standard note creation). It then renames the file (Rename a single file based on its front matter).

Similarly, the denote-keywords-remove removes one or more keywords from the list of existing keywords and then renames the file accordingly.

Both commands respect the values of denote-rename-confirmations and denote-save-buffers:

Furthermore, both commands call the denote-after-rename-file-hook as a final step after carrying out their task.

Aliases for these commands are: denote-rename-add-keywords and denote-rename-remove-keywords.

4.8. Rename a file by adding or removing a signature interactively

[ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev to respect the user option denote-rename-confirmations. ]

The commands denote-rename-add-signature and denote-rename-remove-signature streamline the process of interactively adding or removing a signature from a given file (The file-naming scheme).

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.

Both commands respect the value of denote-rename-confirmations (The denote-rename--confirmations option). They also both take care to reload any Dired buffers and run the denote-after-rename-file-hook as a final step.

4.9. Faces used by rename commands

These are the faces used by the various Denote rename commands to style or highlight the old/new/current file shown in the relevant minibuffer prompts:

  • denote-faces-prompt-current-name
  • denote-faces-prompt-new-name
  • denote-faces-prompt-old-name

5. The file-naming scheme

Notes are stored in the denote-directory. The default path is ~/Documents/notes. The denote-directory can be a flat listing, meaning that it has no subdirectories, or it can be a directory tree. Either way, Denote takes care to only consider “notes” as valid candidates in the relevant operations and will omit other files or directories.

Every note produced by Denote follows this pattern by default (Points of entry):


The DATE field represents the date in year-month-day format followed by the capital letter T (for “time”) and the current time in hour-minute-second notation. The presentation is compact: 20220531T091625. The DATE serves as the unique identifier of each note and, as such, is also known as the file’s ID or identifier.

File names can include a string of alphanumeric characters in the SIGNATURE field. Signatures have no clearly defined purpose and are up to the user to define. One use-case is to use them to establish sequential relations between files (e.g. 1, 1a, 1b, 1b1, 1b2, …).

Signatures are an optional extension to Denote’s file-naming scheme. They can be added to newly created files on demand, with the command denote-signature, or by modifying the value of the user option denote-prompts.

The TITLE field is the title of the note, as provided by the user. It automatically gets downcased by default and is also hyphenated (Sluggification of file name components). An entry about “Economics in the Euro Area” produces an economics-in-the-euro-area string for the TITLE of the file name.

The KEYWORDS field consists of one or more entries demarcated by an underscore (the separator is inserted automatically). Each keyword is a string provided by the user at the relevant prompt which broadly describes the contents of the entry.

Each of the keywords is a single word, with multiple keywords providing the multi-dimensionality needed for advanced searches through Denote files. Users who need to compose a keyword out of multiple words such as camelCase/CamelCase and are encouraged to use the denote-file-name-slug-functions user option accordingly (Sluggification of file name components).

The EXTENSION is the file type. By default, it is .org (org-mode) though the user option denote-file-type provides support for Markdown with YAML or TOML variants (.md which runs markdown-mode) and plain text (.txt via text-mode). Consult its doc string for the minutiae. While files end in the .org extension by default, the Denote code base does not actually depend on org.el and/or its accoutrements.


The different field separators, namely -- and __ introduce an efficient way to anchor searches (such as with Emacs commands like isearch or from the command-line with find and related). A query for _word always matches a keyword, while a regexp in the form of, say, "\\([0-9T]+?\\)--\\(.*?\\)_" captures the date in group \1 and the title in \2 (test any regular expression in the current buffer by invoking M-x re-builder).

Features of the file-naming scheme for searching or filtering.

The denote-prompts can be configured in such ways to yield the following file name permutations:


When in doubt, stick to the default design, which is carefully considered and works well (Change the order of file name components).

While Denote is an Emacs package, notes should work long-term and not depend on the functionality of a specific program. The file-naming scheme we apply guarantees that a listing is readable in a variety of contexts. The Denote file-naming scheme is, in essence, an effective, low-tech invention.

5.1. Change the order of file name components

[ Part of 3.0.0-dev. ]

Our standard file-naming scheme prescribes a specific order for the file name components (The file-naming scheme). Though we provide the user option denote-file-name-components-order to let the user reorder them as they see fit.

The value of this user option is a list of the following symbols:

  • identifier: This is the combination of the date and time. When it is the first on the list, it looks like 20240519T073456 and does not have a component separator of its own due its unambiguous format. When it is placed anywhere else in the file name, it is prefixed with @@, so it looks like @@20240519T073456.
  • signature: This is an arbitrary string that can be used to qualify the file in some way, according to the user’s methodology (e.g. to add a sequence to notes). The string is always prefixed with the == to remain unambiguous.
  • title: This is an arbitrary string which describes the file. It is always prefixed with -- to be unambiguous.
  • keywords: This is a series of one or more words that succinctly group the file. Multiple keywords are separated by an underscore prefixed to each of them. The file name component is always prefixed with __.

All four symbols must appear exactly once. Duplicates are ignored. Any missing symbol is added automatically.

Some examples:

(setq denote-file-name-components-order '(identifier signature title keywords))
;; =>

(setq denote-file-name-components-order '(signature identifier title keywords))
;; =>

(setq denote-file-name-components-order '(title signature identifier keywords))
;; =>

(setq denote-file-name-components-order '(keywords title signature identifier))
;; =>

Also see how to configure the Denote prompts, which affect which components are actually used in the order specified herein (The denote-prompts option).

Before deciding on this, please consider the longer-term implications of file names with varying patterns. Consistency makes things predictable and thus easier to find. So pick one order and never touch it again. When in doubt, leave the default file-naming scheme as-is.

5.2. Sluggification of file name components

Files names can contain any character that the file system permits. Denote imposes a few additional restrictions:

  • The tokens “=", =__ and -- are interpreted by Denote and should appear only once.
  • The dot character is not allowed in a note’s file name, except to indicate the file type extension. Denote recognises two extensions for encrypted files, like .txt.gpg.

By default, Denote enforces other rules to file names through the user option denote-file-name-slug-functions. These rules are applied to file names by default:

  • What we count as “illegal characters” are removed. The constant denote-excluded-punctuation-regexp holds the relevant value.
  • Input for a file title is hyphenated. The original value is preserved in the note’s contents (Front matter).
  • Spaces or other delimiters are removed from keywords, meaning that hello-world becomes helloworld. This is because hyphens in keywords do not work everywhere, such as in Org. Plus, hyphens are word separators in the title and we want to keep distinct separators for each component to make search easier and semantic (Features of the file-naming scheme for searching or filtering).
  • Signatures are like the above, but use the equals sign instead of hyphens as a word separator.
  • All file name components are downcased. Further down we document how to deviate from these rules, such as to accept input of the form helloWorld or HelloWorld verbatim.

Denote imposes these restrictions to enforce uniformity, which is helpful long-term as it keeps all files with the same predictable pattern. Too many permutations make searches more difficult to express accurately and be confident that the matches cover all files. Nevertheless, one of the principles of Denote is its flexibility or hackability and so users can deviate from the aforementioned (User-defined sluggification of file name components).

5.3. User-defined sluggification of file name components

The user option denote-file-name-slug-functions controls the sluggification of file name components (Sluggification of file name components). The default method is outlined above and in the previous section (The file-naming scheme).

The value of this user option is an alist where each element is a cons cell of the form (COMPONENT . METHOD). For example, here is the default value:

'((title . denote-sluggify-title)
  (signature . denote-sluggify-signature)
  (keyword . denote-sluggify-keyword))
  • The COMPONENT is an unquoted symbol among title, signature, keyword, which refers to the corresponding component of the file name.
  • The METHOD is a function to format the given component. This function must take a string as its parameter and return the string formatted for the file name. Note that even in the case of the keyword component, the function receives one string representing a single keyword and returns it formatted for the file name. Joining the keywords together is handled internally by Denote.

One commonly requested deviation from the sluggification rules is to not sluggify individual keywords, such that the user’s input is taken as-is. This can be done as follows:

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

The identity function simply returns the string it receives, thus not altering it in any way.

Another approach is to keep the sluggification but not downcase the string. We can do this by modifying the original functions used by Denote. For example, we have this:

;; The original function for reference
(defun denote-sluggify-title (str)
  "Make STR an appropriate slug for title."
  (downcase (denote--slug-hyphenate (denote--slug-no-punct str))))

;; Our variant of the above, which does the same thing except from
;; downcasing the string.
(defun my-denote-sluggify-title (str)
  "Make STR an appropriate slug for title."
  (denote--slug-hyphenate (denote--slug-no-punct str)))

;; Now we use our function to sluggify titles without affecting their
;; letter casing.
(setq denote-file-name-slug-functions
      '((title . my-denote-sluggify-title) ; our function here
        (signature . denote-sluggify-signature)
        (keyword . denote-sluggify-keyword)))

Follow this principle for all the sluggification functions.

To access the source code, use either of the following built-in methods:

  1. Call the command find-library and search for denote. Then navigate to the symbol you are searching for.
  2. Invoke the command describe-symbol, search for the symbol you are interested in, and from the resulting Help buffer either click on the first link or do M-x help-view-source (bound to s in Help buffers, by default).

Remember that deviating from the default file-naming scheme of Denote will make things harder to use in the future, as files can/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.

5.4. Features of the file-naming scheme for searching or filtering

By default, file names have three fields and two sets of field delimiters between them:


When a signature is present, this becomes:


Field delimiters practically serve as anchors for easier searching. Consider this example:


You will notice that there are two matches for the word denote: one in the title field and another in the keywords’ field. Because of the distinct field delimiters, if we search for -denote we only match the first instance while _denote targets the second one. When sorting through your notes, this kind of specificity is invaluable—and you get it for free from the file names alone! Similarly, a search for =1 will show all notes that are related to each other by virtue of their signature.

Users can get a lot of value out of this simple yet effective arrangement, even if they have no knowledge of regular expressions. One thing to consider, for maximum effect, is to avoid using multi-word keywords as those can get hyphenated like the title and will thus interfere with the above: either set the user option denote-allow-multi-word-keywords to nil or simply insert single words at the relevant prompts.

6. Front matter

Notes have their own “front matter”. This is a block of data at the top of the file, with no empty lines between the entries, which is automatically generated at the creation of a new note. The front matter includes the title and keywords (aka “tags” or “filetags”, depending on the file type) which the user specified at the relevant prompt, as well as the date and unique identifier, which are derived automatically.

This is how it looks for Org mode (when denote-file-type is nil or the org symbol):

#+title:      This is a sample note
#+date:       [2022-06-30 Thu 16:09]
#+filetags:   :denote:testing:
#+identifier: 20220630T160934

For Markdown with YAML (denote-file-type has the markdown-yaml value), the front matter looks like this:

title:      "This is a sample note"
date:       2022-06-30T16:09:58+03:00
tags:       ["denote", "testing"]
identifier: "20220630T160958"

For Markdown with TOML (denote-file-type has the markdown-toml value), it is:

title      = "This is a sample note"
date       = 2022-06-30T16:10:13+03:00
tags       = ["denote", "testing"]
identifier = "20220630T161013"

And for plain text (denote-file-type has the text value), we have the following:

title:      This is a sample note
date:       2022-06-30
tags:       denote  testing
identifier: 20220630T161028

The format of the date in the front matter is controlled by the user option denote-date-format. When nil, Denote uses a file-type-specific format:

  • 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..

6.1. Change the front matter format

Per Denote’s design principles, the code is hackable. All front matter is stored in variables that are intended for public use. We do not declare those as “user options” because (i) they expect the user to have some degree of knowledge in Emacs Lisp and (ii) implement custom code.

[ NOTE for tinkerers: code intended for internal use includes double hyphens in its symbol. “Internal use” means that it can be changed without warning and with no further reference in the change log. Do not use any of it without understanding the consequences. ]

The variables which hold the front matter format are:

  • denote-org-front-matter
  • denote-text-front-matter
  • denote-toml-front-matter
  • denote-yaml-front-matter

These variables have a string value with specifiers that are used by the format function. The formatting operation passes four arguments which include the values of the given entries. If you are an advanced user who wants to edit this variable to affect how front matter is produced, consider using something like %2$s to control where the Nth argument is placed.

When editing the value, make sure to:

  1. Not use empty lines inside the front matter block.
  2. Insert at least one empty line after the front matter block and do not use any empty line before it.

These help with consistency and might prove useful if we ever need to operate on the front matter as a whole.

With those granted, below are some examples. The approach is the same for all variables.

;; Like the default, but upcase the entries
(setq denote-org-front-matter
  "#+TITLE:      %s
#+DATE:       %s
#+FILETAGS:   %s

;; Change the order (notice the %N$s notation)
(setq denote-org-front-matter
  "#+title:      %1$s
#+filetags:   %3$s
#+date:       %2$s
#+identifier: %4$s

;; Remove the date
(setq denote-org-front-matter
  "#+title:      %1$s
#+filetags:   %3$s
#+identifier: %4$s

;; Remove the date and the identifier
(setq denote-org-front-matter
  "#+title:      %1$s
#+filetags:   %3$s

Note that setq has a global effect: it affects the creation of all new notes. Depending on the workflow, it may be preferrable to have a custom command which let binds the different format. We shall not provide examples at this point as this is a more advanced feature and we are not yet sure what the user’s needs are. Please provide feedback and we shall act accordingly.

6.2. Regenerate front matter

Sometimes the user needs to produce new front matter for an existing note. Perhaps because they accidentally deleted a line and could not undo the operation. The command denote-add-front-matter can be used for this very purpose.

In interactive use, denote-add-front-matter must be invoked from a buffer that visits a Denote note. It prompts for a title and then for keywords. These are the standard prompts we already use for note creation, so the keywords’ prompt allows minibuffer completion and the input of multiple entries, each separated by a comma (Points of entry).

The newly created front matter is added to the top of the file.

This command does not rename the file (e.g. to update the keywords). To rename a file by reading its front matter as input, the user can rely on denote-rename-file-using-front-matter (Renaming files).

Note that denote-add-front-matter is useful only for existing Denote notes. If the user needs to convert a generic text file to a Denote note, they can use one of the command which first rename the file to make it comply with our file-naming scheme and then add the relevant front matter.

7. Linking notes

Denote offers several commands for linking between notes.

All links target files which are Denote files. This means that they have our file-naming scheme. Files need to be inside the denote-directory or one of its subdirectories. No other file is recognised.

The following sections delve into the details.

7.1. Adding a single link

The denote-link command inserts a link at point to a file specified at the minibuffer prompt. Links are formatted depending on the file type of the current note. In Org and plain text buffers, links are formatted thus: [[denote:IDENTIFIER][DESCRIPTION]]. While in Markdown they are expressed as [DESCRIPTION](denote:IDENTIFIER).

[ We optionally support links to Org headings (The denote-org-store-link-to-heading user option). Other file types do not have the features of Org, so we cannot generalise this. ]

When denote-link is called with a prefix argument (C-u by default), it formats links like [[denote:IDENTIFIER]], regardless of file type. The user might prefer its simplicity.

By default, the description of the link is determined thus:

  • If the region is active, its text becomes the description of the link. In other words, the region text becomes the link.
  • If the region is active but has no text, the description is empty and so the link is formatted the same way as if using the C-u prefix argument.
  • If there is no region active, the description consists of the target file’s signature and title (Insert link to file with signature). The title is retrieved either from the front matter or the file name.
  • If the target file has no signature, the title is used.

Inserted links are automatically buttonized and remain active for as long as the buffer is available. In Org this is handled by the major mode: the denote: hyperlink type works exactly like the standard file: type. In Markdown and plain text, Denote performs the buttonization of those links. To buttonize links in existing files while visiting them, the user must add this snippet to their setup (it already excludes Org):

(add-hook 'find-file-hook #'denote-link-buttonize-buffer)

The denote-link-buttonize-buffer is also an interactive function in case the user needs it.

Links are created only for files which qualify as a “note” for our purposes (Linking notes). Users who need to link to Denote files from anywhere, can write a simple command to that effect:

(defun my-denote-link-global (file file-type description &optional id-only)
  "Like the `denote-link', but works in any buffer.
The FILE, FILE-TYPE, DESCRIPTION, and ID-ONLY have the same meaning as
in `denote-link'."
   (let* ((file (denote-file-prompt nil "Link to FILE"))
          (file-type (denote-filetype-heuristics buffer-file-name))
          (description (when (file-exists-p file)
                         (denote--link-get-description file))))
     (list file file-type description current-prefix-arg)))
  (unless (file-exists-p file)
    (user-error "The linked file does not exists"))
  (let ((beg (point)))
    (insert (denote-format-link file description file-type id-only))
    (unless (derived-mode-p 'org-mode)
      (make-button beg (point) 'type 'denote-link-button))))

Links are styled with the denote-faces-link face, which looks exactly like an ordinary link by default. This is just a convenience for the user/theme in case they want denote: links to remain distinct from other 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 aforementioned buttonization. Interested users can refer to the function denote-link-markdown-follow for the implementation details.

7.2. 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 versions prior to 2.3.0.

Note that the optional extension denote-org-extras.el defines the command denote-org-extras-link-to-heading, which always links to a file+heading regardless of the aforementioned user option (Insert link to an Org file with a further pointer to a heading).

[ This feature only works in Org mode files, as other file types do not have a linking mechanism that handles unique identifiers for headings or other patterns to jump to. If org-store-link is invoked in one such file, it captures only the Denote identifier of the file, even if this user option is set to a non-nil value. ]

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

As part of the optional denote-org-extras.el extension, 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 (The file-naming scheme).

This feature is similar to the concept of the user option denote-org-store-link-to-heading (The denote-org-store-link-to-heading user option). 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.

Just as with files, it is possible to show backlinks for the given heading (Backlinks for Org headings). [ Part of 3.0.0-dev. ]

7.4. Insert links matching a regexp

The command denote-add-links adds links at point matching a regular expression or plain string. The links are inserted as a typographic list, such as:

- link1
- link2
- link3

Each link is formatted according to the file type of the current note, as explained further above about the denote-link command. The current note is excluded from the matching entries (adding a link to itself is pointless).

When called with a prefix argument (C-u) denote-add-links will format all links as [[denote:IDENTIFIER]], hence a typographic list:

- [[denote:IDENTIFIER-1]]
- [[denote:IDENTIFIER-2]]
- [[denote:IDENTIFIER-3]]

Same examples of a regular expression that can be used with this command:

  • journal match all files which include journal anywhere in their name.
  • _journal match all files which include journal as a keyword.
  • ^2022.*_journal match all file names starting with 2022 and including the keyword journal.
  • \.txt match all files including .txt. In practical terms, this only applies to the file extension, as Denote automatically removes dots (and other characters) from the base file name.

If files are created with denote-sort-keywords as non-nil (the default), then it is easy to write a regexp that includes multiple keywords in alphabetic order:

  • _denote.*_package match all files that include both the denote and package keywords, in this order.
  • \(.*denote.*package.*\)\|\(.*package.*denote.*\) is the same as above, but out-of-order.

Remember that regexp constructs only need to be escaped once (like \|) when done interactively but twice when called from Lisp. What we show above is for interactive usage.

Links are created only for files which qualify as a “note” for our purposes (Linking notes).

7.5. Insert link to file with signature

The command denote-link-with-signature prompts for a file among those that contain a ==SIGNATURE and inserts a link to it. The description of the link includes the text of the signature and that of the file’s title, if any. For example, a link to the following file:


will get this link: [[denote:20230925T144303][abc My first signature note]].

For more advanced uses, refer to the doc string of the denote-link function (Adding a single link).

7.6. Insert links from marked files in Dired

The command denote-link-dired-marked-notes is similar to denote-add-links in that it inserts in the buffer a typographic list of links to Denote notes (Insert links matching a regexp). Though instead of reading a regular expression, it lets the user mark files in Dired and link to them. This should be easier for users of all skill levels, instead of having to write a potentially complex regular expression.

If there are multiple buffers that visit a Denote note, this command will ask to select one among them, using minibuffer completion. If there is only one buffer, it will operate in it outright. If there are no buffers, it will produce an error.

With optional ID-ONLY as a prefix argument (C-u by default), the command inserts links with just the identifier, which is the same principle as with denote-link and others (Adding a single link).

The command denote-link-dired-marked-notes is meant to be used from a Dired buffer.

As always, links are created only for files which qualify as a “note” for our purposes (Linking notes).

7.7. Link to an existing note or create a new one

In one’s note-taking workflow, there may come a point where they are expounding on a certain topic but have an idea about another subject they would like to link to (Linking notes). The user can always rely on the other linking facilities we have covered herein to target files that already exist. Though they may not know whether they already have notes covering the subject or whether they would need to write new ones. To this end, Denote provides two convenience commands:


Create new note in the background and link to it directly.

Use denote interactively to produce the new note. Its doc string or this manual explains which prompts will be used and under what conditions (Standard note creation).

With optional ID-ONLY as a prefix argument (this is the C-u key, by default) create a link that consists of just the identifier. Else try to also include the file’s title. This has the same meaning as in denote-link (Adding a single link).

IMPORTANT NOTE: Normally, denote does not save the buffer it produces for the new note (The denote-save-buffer-after-creation option). This is a safety precaution to not write to disk unless the user wants it (e.g. the user may choose to kill the buffer, thus cancelling the creation of the note). However, for this command the creation of the note happens in the background and the user may miss the step of saving their buffer. We thus have to save the buffer in order to (i) establish valid links, and (ii) retrieve whatever front matter from the target file.

This command is like denote-link-after-creating except it prompts for a note-creating command (Points of entry). Use this to, for example, call denote-signature so that the newly created note has a signature as part of its file name. Optional ID-ONLY has the same meaning as in the command denote-link-after-creating.

Use denote-link on TARGET file, creating it if necessary.

If TARGET file does not exist, call denote-link-after-creating which runs the denote command interactively to create the file. The established link will then be targeting that new file.

If TARGET file does not exist, add the user input that was used to search for it to the history of the denote-file-prompt. The user can then retrieve and possibly further edit their last input, using it as the newly created note’s actual title. At the denote-file-prompt type M-p with the default key bindings, which calls previous-history-element.

With optional ID-ONLY as a prefix argument create a link with just the file’s identifier. This has the same meaning as in denote-link.

This command has the alias denote-link-to-existing-or-new-note, which helps with discoverability.

This is like the above, except when it is about to create the new note it first prompts for the specific file-creating command to use (Points of entry). For example, the user may want to specify a signature for this new file, so they can select the denote-signature command.

In all of the above, an optional prefix argument (C-u by default) creates a link that consists of just the identifier. This has the same meaning as in the regular denote-link command.

Denote provides similar functionality for opening an existing note or creating a new one (Open an existing note or create it if missing).

7.8. The backlinks’ buffer

The command denote-backlinks produces a bespoke buffer which displays backlinks to the current note. A “backlink” is a link back to the present entry.

By default, the backlinks’ buffer is designed to display the file name of the note linking to the current entry. Each file name is presented on its own line, like this:

Backlinks to "On being honest" (20220614T130812)


When the user option denote-backlinks-show-context is non-nil, the backlinks’ buffer displays the line on which a link to the current note occurs. It also shows multiple occurrences, if present. It looks like this (and has the appropriate fontification):

Backlinks to "On being honest" (20220614T130812)

37: growing into it: [[denote:20220614T130812][On being honest]].
64: As I said in [[denote:20220614T130812][On being honest]] I have never
62: indifference.  In [[denote:20220614T130812][On being honest]] I alluded

Note that the width of the lines in the context depends on the underlying file. In the above example, the lines are split at the fill-column. Long lines will show up just fine. Also note that the built-in user option xref-truncation-width can truncate long lines to a given maximum number of characters.

Speed up backlinks’ buffer creation?

The backlinks’ buffer runs the major-mode denote-backlinks-mode. It binds keys to move between links with n (next) and p (previous). These are stored in the denote-backlinks-mode-map (use M-x describe-mode (C-h m) in an unfamiliar buffer to learn more about it). When the user option denote-backlinks-show-context is non-nil, all relevant Xref key bindings are fully functional: again, check describe-mode.

The backlinking facility uses Emacs’ built-in Xref infrastructure. On some operating systems, the user may need to add certain executables to the relevant environment variable.

Why do I get “Search failed with status 1” when I search for backlinks?

Backlinks to the current file can also be visited by using the minibuffer completion interface with the denote-find-backlink command (Visiting linked files via the minibuffer).

[ As part of 3.0.0-dev 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. ]

The placement of the backlinks’ buffer is subject to the user option denote-link-backlinks-display-buffer-action. Due to the nature of the underlying display-buffer mechanism, this inevitably is a relatively advanced feature. By default, the backlinks’ buffer is displayed below the current window. The doc string of our user option includes a sample configuration that places the buffer in a left side window instead. Reproducing it here for the sake of convenience:

(setq denote-link-backlinks-display-buffer-action
        (side . left)
        (slot . 99)
        (window-width . 0.3)
        (dedicated . t)
        (preserve-size . (t . t))))

7.8.1. Backlinks for Org headings

[ This is part of 3.0.0-dev. ]

The optional denote-org-extras.el can produce Denote links to individual headings (Insert link to an Org file with a further pointer to a heading). It is then possible to produce a corresponding backlinks buffer with the command denote-org-extras-backlinks-for-heading. The resulting buffer behaves the same way as the standard backlinks buffer we provide (The backlinks’ buffer).

7.9. Writing metanotes

A “metanote” is an entry that describes other entries who have something in common. Writing metanotes can be part of a workflow where the user periodically reviews their work in search of patterns and deeper insights. For example, you might want to read your journal entries from the past year to reflect on your experiences, evolution as a person, and the like.

The commands denote-add-links, denote-link-dired-marked-notes are suited for this task.

Insert links matching a regexp.

Insert links from marked files in Dired.

You will create your metanote the way you use Denote ordinarily (metanotes may have the metanote keyword, among others), write an introduction or however you want to go about it, invoke the command which inserts multiple links at once (see the above-cited nodes), and continue writing.

Metanotes can serve as entry points to groupings of individual notes. They are not the same as a filtered list of files, i.e. what you would do in Dired or the minibuffer where you narrow the list of notes to a given query. Metanotes contain the filtered list plus your thoughts about it. The act of purposefully grouping notes together and contemplating on their shared patterns is what adds value.

Your future self will appreciate metanotes for the function they serve in encapsulating knowledge, while current you will be equipped with the knowledge derived from the deliberate self-reflection.

7.10. Visiting linked files via the minibuffer

Denote has a major-mode-agnostic mechanism to collect all linked file references in the current buffer and return them as an appropriately formatted list. This list can then be used in interactive commands. The denote-find-link is such a command. It uses minibuffer completion to visit a file that is linked to from the current note. The candidates have the correct metadata, which is ideal for integration with other standards-compliant tools (Extending Denote). For instance, a package such as marginalia will display accurate annotations, while the embark package will be able to work its magic such as in exporting the list into a filtered Dired buffer (i.e. a familiar Dired listing with only the files of the current minibuffer session).

To visit backlinks to the current note via the minibuffer, use denote-find-backlink. This is an alternative to placing backlinks in a dedicated buffer (The backlinks’ buffer).

7.11. 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 (Insert link to an Org file with a further pointer to a heading).
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.

7.12. Miscellaneous information about links

7.12.1. Aliases for the linking commands

For convenience, the denote-link command has an alias called denote-insert-link. The denote-backlinks can also be used as denote-show-backlinks-buffer. While denote-add-links is aliased denote-link-insert-links-matching-regexp. The purpose of these aliases is to offer alternative, more descriptive names of select commands.

7.12.2. The denote-link-description-function to format links

The user option denote-link-description-function takes as its value the symbol of a function. This is used to format the text of the link. The default function inserts the title. If the file has a signature, it includes that as well, prepending it to the title.

The function specified accepts a single FILE argument and returns the description as a string.

8. Choose which commands to prompt for

The user option denote-commands-for-new-notes specifies a list of commands that are available at the denote-command-prompt. This prompt is used by Denote commands that ask the user how to create a new note, as described elsewhere in this manual:

The default value includes all the basic file-creating commands (Points of entry). Users may customise this value if (i) they only want to see fewer options and/or (ii) wish to include their own custom command in the list (Write your own convenience commands).

9. Fontification in Dired

One of the upsides of Denote’s file-naming scheme is the predictable pattern it establishes, which appears as a near-tabular presentation in a listing of notes (i.e. in Dired). The denote-dired-mode can help enhance this impression, by fontifying the components of the file name to make the date (identifier) and keywords stand out.

There are two ways to set the mode. Either use it for all directories, which probably is not needed:

(add-hook 'dired-mode-hook #'denote-dired-mode)

Or configure the user option denote-dired-directories and then set up the function denote-dired-mode-in-directories:

;; We use different ways to specify a path for demo purposes.
(setq denote-dired-directories
      (list denote-directory
            (thread-last denote-directory (expand-file-name "attachments"))
            (expand-file-name "~/Documents/vlog")))

(add-hook 'dired-mode-hook #'denote-dired-mode-in-directories)

The user option denote-dired-directories-include-subdirectories specifies whether the denote-dired-directories also cover their subdirectories. By default they do not. Set this option to t to include subdirectories as well.

The faces we define for this purpose are:

  • denote-faces-date
  • denote-faces-delimiter
  • denote-faces-extension
  • denote-faces-keywords
  • denote-faces-signature
  • denote-faces-subdirectory
  • denote-faces-time
  • denote-faces-title

For more control, we also provide these:

#+vindex denote-faces-year #+vindex denote-faces-month #+vindex denote-faces-day #+vindex denote-faces-hour #+vindex denote-faces-minute #+vindex denote-faces-second

  • denote-faces-year
  • denote-faces-month
  • denote-faces-day
  • denote-faces-hour
  • denote-faces-minute
  • denote-faces-second

For the time being, the diredfl package is not compatible with this facility.

The denote-dired-mode does not only fontify note files that were created by Denote: it covers every file name that follows our naming conventions (The file-naming scheme). This is particularly useful for scenaria where, say, one wants to organise their collection of PDFs and multimedia in a systematic way (and, perhaps, use them as attachments for the notes Denote produces if you are writing Org notes and are using its standand attachments’ facility).

10. Automatically rename Denote buffers

The minor mode denote-rename-buffer-mode provides the means to automatically rename the buffer of a Denote file upon visiting the file. This applies both to existing Denote files as well as new ones (Points of entry). Enable the mode thus:

(denote-rename-buffer-mode 1)

Buffers are named by applying the function specified in the user option denote-rename-buffer-function. The default function is denote-rename-buffer: it renames the buffer based on the template set in the user option denote-rename-buffer-format. By default, the formatting template targets only the TITLE component of the file name (The file-naming scheme). Other fields are explained elsewhere in this manual (The denote-rename-buffer-format).

Note that renaming a buffer is not the same as renaming a file (Renaming files). The former is just for convenience inside of Emacs. Whereas the latter is for writing changes to disk, making them available to all programs.

10.1. The denote-rename-buffer-format option

The user option denote-rename-buffer-format controls how the function denote-rename-buffer chooses the name of the buffer-to-be-renamed.

The value of this user option is a string. The following specifiers are placeholders for Denote file name components (The file-naming scheme):

  • The %t is the Denote TITLE of the file.
  • The %i is the Denote IDENTIFIER of the file.
  • The %d is the same as %i (DATE mnemonic).
  • The %s is the Denote SIGNATURE of the file.
  • The %k is the Denote KEYWORDS of the file.
  • The %% is a literal percent sign.

In addition, the following flags are available for each of the specifiers:

Pad to the width, if given, with zeros instead of spaces.
Pad to the width, if given, on the right instead of the left.
Truncate to the width and precision, if given, on the left.
Truncate to the width and precision, if given, on the right.
Convert to upper case.
Convert to lower case.

When combined all together, the above are written thus:


Any other string it taken as-is. Users may want, for example, to include some text that makes Denote buffers stand out, such as a [D] prefix. Examples:

;; Use the title (default)
(setq denote-rename-buffer-format "%t")

;; Use the title and keywords with some emoji in between
(setq denote-rename-buffer-format "%t 🤨 %k")

;; Use the title with a literal "[D]" before it
(setq denote-rename-buffer-format "[D] %t")

Users who need yet more flexibility are best served by writing their own function and assigning it to the denote-rename-buffer-function.

11. Use Org dynamic blocks

[ As part of version 2.3.0, all dynamic blocks are defined in the file denote-org-extras.el. The file which was once called denote-org-dblock.el contains 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. ]

Denote can optionally integrate with Org mode’s “dynamic blocks” facility. This means that it can use special blocks that are evaluated with C-c C-x C-u (org-dblock-update) to generate their contents. The following subsections describe the types of Org dynamic blocks provided by Denote.

A dynamic block gets its contents by evaluating a function that corresponds to the type of block. The block type and its parameters are stated in the opening #+BEGIN line. Typing C-c C-x C-u (org-dblock-update) with point on that line runs (or re-runs) the associated function with the given parameters and populates the block’s contents accordingly.

Dynamic blocks are particularly useful for metanote entries that reflect on the status of earlier notes (Writing metanotes).

The Org manual describes the technicalities of Dynamic Blocks. Evaluate:

(info "(org) Dynamic Blocks")

11.1. Org dynamic blocks to insert links or backlinks

[ As part of version 2.3.0, all dynamic blocks are defined in the file denote-org-extras.el. The file which was once called denote-org-dblock.el contains 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. ]

The denote-links block can be inserted at point with the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-links or by manually including the following in an Org file:

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


The denote-links block is also registered as an option for the command org-dynamic-block-insert-dblock.

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

  • The :regexp parameter is mandatory. Its value is a string and its behaviour is the same as that of the denote-add-links command (Insert links matching a regexp). Concretely, it produces a typographic list of links to files matching the giving regular expression. The value of the :regexp parameter may also be of the form read by the rx macro (Lisp notation instead of a string), as explained in the Emacs Lisp Reference Manual (evaluate this code to read the documentation: (info "(elisp) Rx Notation")). Note that you do not need to write an actual regular expression to get meaningful results: even something like _journal will work to include all files that have a journal keyword.
  • The :sort-by-component parameter is optional. It sorts the files by the given Denote file name component. The value it accepts is an unquoted symbol among title, keywords, signature, identifier. When using the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-files, this parameter is automatically inserted together with the (:regexp parameter) and the user is prompted for a file name component.
  • The :reverse-sort parameter is optional. It reverses the order in which files appear in. This is meaningful even without the presence of the parameter :sort-by-component, though it also combines with it.
  • The :id-only parameter is optional. It accepts a t value, in which case links are inserted without a description text but only with the identifier of the given file. This has the same meaning as with the denote-link command and related facilities (Linking notes).
  • An optional :block-name parameter can be specified with a string value to add a #+name to the results. This is useful for further processing using Org facilities (a feature that is outside Denote’s purview).

The same as above except for the :regexp parameter are true for the denote-backlinks block. The block can be inserted at point with the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-backlinks or by manually writing this in an Org file:

#+BEGIN: denote-backlinks :sort-by-component nil :reverse-sort nil :id-only nil


Finally, the denote-missing-links block is available with the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-missing-links. It is like the aforementioned denote-links block, 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.

11.2. Org dynamic block to insert file contents

[ As part of version 2.3.0, all dynamic blocks are defined in the file denote-org-extras.el. The file which was once called denote-org-dblock.el contains 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. ]

Denote can optionally use Org’s dynamic blocks facility to produce a section that lists entire file contents (Use Org dynamic blocks). This works by instructing Org to match a regular expression of Denote files, the same way we do with Denote links (Insert links matching a regexp).

This is useful to, for example, compile a dynamically concatenated list of scattered thoughts on a given topic, like ^2023.*_emacs for a long entry that incorporates all the notes written in 2023 with the keyword emacs.

To produce such a block, call the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-files or manually write the following block in an Org file and then type C-c C-x C-u (org-dblock-update) on the #+BEGIN line to run it (do it again to recalculate the block):

#+BEGIN: denote-files :regexp "YOUR REGEXP HERE"


To fully control the output, include these additional optional parameters, which are described further below:

#+BEGIN: denote-files :regexp "YOUR REGEXP HERE" :sort-by-component nil :reverse-sort nil :no-front-matter nil :file-separator nil :add-links nil

  • The :regexp parameter is mandatory. Its value is a string, representing a regular expression to match Denote file names. Its value may also be an rx expression instead of a string, as noted in the previous section (Org dynamic blocks to insert links or backlinks). Note that you do not need to write an actual regular expression to get meaningful results: even something like _journal will work to include all files that have a journal keyword.
  • The :sort-by-component parameter is optional. It sorts the files by the given Denote file name component. The value it accepts is an unquoted symbol among title, keywords, signature, identifier. When using the command denote-org-extras-dblock-insert-files, this parameter is automatically inserted together with the (:regexp parameter) and the user is prompted for a file name component.
  • The :reverse-sort parameter is optional. It reverses the order in which files appear in. This is meaningful even without the presence of the parameter :sort-by-component, though it also combines with it.
  • The :file-separator parameter is optional. If it is omitted, then Denote will use no separator between the files it inserts. If the value is t the denote-org-extras-dblock-file-contents-separator is applied at the end of each file: it introduces some empty lines and a horizontal rule between them to visually distinguish individual files. If the :file-separator value is a string, it is used as the file separator (e.g. use "\n" to insert just one empty new line).
  • The :no-front-matter parameter is optional. When set to a t value, Denote tries to remove front matter from the files it is inserting in the dynamic block. The technique used to perform this operation is by removing all lines from the top of the file until the first empty line. This works with the default front matter that Denote adds, but is not 100% reliable with all sorts of user-level modifications and edits to the file. When the :no-front-matter is set to a natural number, Denote will omit that many lines from the top of the file.
  • The :add-links parameter is optional. When it is set to a t value, all files are inserted as a typographic list and are indented accordingly. The first line in each list item is a link to the file whose contents are inserted in the following lines. When the value is id-only, then links are inserted without a description text but only with the identifier of the given file. This has the same meaning as with the denote-link command and related facilities (Linking notes). Remember that Org can fold the items in a typographic list the same way it does with headings. So even long files can be presented in this format without much trouble.
  • An optional :block-name parameter can be specified with a string value to add a #+name to the results. This is useful for further processing using Org facilities (a feature that is outside Denote’s purview).

12. Sort files by component

The denote-sort.el file is an optional extension to the core functionality of Denote, which empowers users to sort files by the given file name component (The file-naming scheme).

The command denote-sort-dired produces a Dired file listing with a flat, filtered, and sorted set of files from the denote-directory. It does so by means of three minibuffer prompts:

  1. It first asks for a regular expression with which to match Denote files. Remember that due to Denote’s efficient file-naming scheme, you do not need to write some complex regular expression. Even something like _journal will match only files with a journal keyword.
  2. Once the regular expression is provided, the command asks for a Denote file name component to sort files by. This is a symbol among title, keywords, signature, and identifier.
  3. Finally, it asks a “yes or no” on whether to reverse the sort order.

The resulting Dired listing is a regular Dired buffer, unlike that of dired-virtual-mode (Use dired-virtual-mode for arbitrary file listings).

The dynamic Org blocks that Denote defines to insert file contents also use this feature (Org dynamic block to insert file contents).

DEVELOPMENT NOTE as of 2023-11-30 07:24 +0200: The sort mechanism will be incorporated in more functions on a case-by-case basis, subject to user feedback. For the time being, I am not documenting the functions that are only accessed from Lisp. Do not hesitate to contact me (Protesilaos) in person or on one of the development sources (mailing list or GitHub/GitLab mirror) if you have a use-case where sorting seems useful. I am happy to help but do not want to roll this feature everywhere before eliciting relevant feedback: once we add it, we are not going back.

13. Keep a journal or diary

Denote provides a general-purpose mechanism to create new files that broadly count as “notes” (Points of entry). Such files can be daily entries in a journal. While it is possible to use the generic denote command to maintain a journal, we provide an optional set of convenience options and commands as part of denote-journal-extras.el. To use those, add the following the Denote configuration:

(require 'denote-journal-extras)

The command denote-journal-extras-new-entry creates a new entry in the journal. Such a file has the denote-journal-extras-keyword, which is journal by default (The file-naming scheme). The user can set this keyword to an arbitrary string (single word is preferred). New journal entries can be stored in the denote-directory or subdirectory thereof. To make it easier for the user, the new journal entry will be placed in denote-journal-extras-directory, which defaults to a subdirectory of denote-directory called journal.

If denote-journal-extras-directory is nil, the denote-directory is used. Journal entries will thus be in a flat listing together with all other notes. They can still be retrieved easily by searching for the denote-journal-extras-keyword (Features of the file-naming scheme for searching or filtering).

Furthermore, the command denote-journal-extras-new-entry will use the current date as the title of the new entry. The exact format is controlled by the user option denote-journal-extras-title-format. Acceptable values for denote-journal-extras-title-format and their corresponding styles are:

Symbol Style
day Monday
day-date-month-year Monday 19 September 2023
day-date-month-year-24h Monday 19 September 2023 20:49
day-date-month-year-12h Monday 19 September 2023 08:49 PM

For example:

(setq denote-journal-extras-title-format 'day-date-month-year)

If the value of this user option is nil, then denote-journal-extras-new-entry will prompt for a title.

The denote-journal-extras-new-entry command also accepts an optional DATE argument. When called internactively, this is a universal prefix (e.g. C-u with the default key bindings). With DATE, it prompts for a date to create a new journal entry for. The date prompt can optionally use the Org date+calendar selection interface (The denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date option).

In terms of workflow, using the current date as the title is better for maintaining a daily journal. A prompt for an arbitrary title is more suitable for those who like to keep a record of something like a thought or event (though this can also be achieved by the regular denote command or maybe denote-subdirectory).

The denote-journal-extras-new-entry command calls the normal hook denote-journal-extras-hook after it is done. The user can leverage this to produce consequences therefrom, such as to set a timer with the tmr package from GNU ELPA (Journaling with a timer).

The command denote-journal-extras-new-or-existing-entry locates an existing journal entry or creates a new one. A journal entry is one that has denote-journal-extras-keyword as part of its file name. If there are multiple journal entries for the current date, it prompts for one among them using minibuffer completion. If there is only one, it visits it outright. If there is no journal entry, it creates one by calling denote-journal-extra-new-entry (as described above).

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.

13.1. Journaling with a timer

[ Revised as part of version 2.1.0 to conform with how we now tend to the needs of users who use Denote for journaling purposes (Keep a journal or diary). ]

Sometimes journaling is done with the intent to hone one’s writing skills. Perhaps you are learning a new language or wish to communicate your ideas with greater clarity and precision. As with everything that requires a degree of sophistication, you have to work for it—write, write, write!

One way to test your progress is to set a timer. It helps you gauge your output and its quality. To use a timer with Emacs, consider the tmr package. A new timer can be set with something like this:

;; Set 10 minute timer with the given description
(tmr "10" "Practice writing in my journal")

To make this timer start as soon as a new journal entry is created with the command denote-journal-extras-new-entry, add a function to the denote-journal-extras-hook. For example:

;; Add an anonymous function, which is more difficult to modify after
;; the fact:
(add-hook 'denote-journal-extras-hook (lambda ()
                                        (tmr "10" "Practice writing in my journal")))

;; Or write a small function that you can then modify without
;; revaluating the hook:
(defun my-denote-tmr ()
  (tmr "10" "Practice writing in my journal"))

(add-hook 'denote-journal-extras-hook 'my-denote-tmr)

;; Or to make it fully featured, define variables for the duration and
;; the description and set it up so that you only need to modify
;; those:
(defvar my-denote-tmr-duration "10")

(defvar my-denote-tmr-description "Practice writing in my journal")

(defun my-denote-tmr ()
  (tmr my-denote-tmr-duration my-denote-tmr-description))

(add-hook 'denote-journal-extras-hook 'my-denote-tmr)

Once the timer elapses, stop writing and review your performance. Practice makes perfect!

Sources for tmr:

14. Minibuffer histories

Denote has a dedicated minibuffer history for each one of its prompts. This practically means that using M-p (previous-history-element) and M-n (next-history-element) will only cycle through the relevant record of inputs, such as your latest titles in the TITLE prompt, and keywords in the KEYWORDS prompt.

The built-in savehist library saves minibuffer histories. Sample configuration:

(require 'savehist)
(setq savehist-file (locate-user-emacs-file "savehist"))
(setq history-length 500)
(setq history-delete-duplicates t)
(setq savehist-save-minibuffer-history t)
(add-hook 'after-init-hook #'savehist-mode)

15. Extending Denote

Denote is a tool with a narrow scope: create notes and link between them, based on the aforementioned file-naming scheme. For other common operations the user is advised to rely on standard Emacs facilities or specialised third-party packages. This section covers the details.

15.1. Create a new note in any directory

The commands that create new files are designed to write to the denote-directory. The idea is that the linking mechanism can find any file by its identifier if it is in the denote-directory (searching the entire file system would be cumbersome).

However, these are cases where the user needs to create a new note in an arbitrary directory. The following command can do this. Put the code in your configuration file and evaluate it. Then call the command by its name with M-x.

(defun my-denote-create-note-in-any-directory ()
  "Create new Denote note in any directory.
Prompt for the directory using minibuffer completion."
  (declare (interactive-only t))
  (let ((denote-directory (read-directory-name "New note in: " nil nil :must-match)))
    (call-interactively 'denote)))

15.2. Narrow the list of files in Dired

Emacs’ standard file manager (or directory editor) can read a regular expression to mark the matching files. This is the command dired-mark-files-regexp, which is bound to % m by default. For example, % m _denote will match all files that have the denote keyword (Features of the file-naming scheme for searching or filtering).

Once the files are matched, the user has two options: (i) narrow the list to the matching items or (ii) exclude the matching items from the list.

For the former, we want to toggle the marks by typing t (calls the command dired-toggle-marks by default) and then hit the letter k (for dired-do-kill-lines). The remaining files are those that match the regexp that was provided earlier.

For the latter approach of filtering out the matching items, simply involves the use of the k command (dired-do-kill-lines) to omit the marked files from the list.

These sequences can be combined to incrementally narrow the list. Note that dired-do-kill-lines does not delete files: it simply hides them from the current view.

Revert to the original listing with g (revert-buffer).

For a convenient wrapper, consider this example:

(defvar prot-dired--limit-hist '()
  "Minibuffer history for `prot-dired-limit-regexp'.")

(defun prot-dired-limit-regexp (regexp omit)
  "Limit Dired to keep files matching REGEXP.

With optional OMIT argument as a prefix (\\[universal-argument]),
exclude files matching REGEXP.

Restore the buffer with \\<dired-mode-map>`\\[revert-buffer]'."
     (concat "Files "
             (when current-prefix-arg
               (propertize "NOT " 'face 'warning))
             "matching PATTERN: ")
     nil 'prot-dired--limit-hist)
  (dired-mark-files-regexp regexp)
  (unless omit (dired-toggle-marks))

15.3. Use dired-virtual-mode for arbitrary file listings

Emacs’ Dired is a powerful file manager that builds its functionality on top of the Unix ls command. As noted elsewhere in this manual, the user can update the ls flags that Dired uses to display its contents (I want to sort by last modified, why won’t Denote let me?).

What Dired cannot do is parse the output of a result that is produced by piped commands, such as ls -l | sort -t _ -k2. This specific example targets the second underscore-separated field of the file name, per our conventions (The file-naming scheme). Conceretely, it matches the “alpha” as the sorting key in something like this:


Consider then, how Dired will sort those files by their identifier:


Whereas on the command line, we can get the following:

$ ls | sort -t _ -k 2

This is where dired-virtual-mode shows its utility. If we tweak our command-line invocation to include ls -l, this mode can behave like Dired on the listed files. (We omit the output of the -l flag from this tutorial, as it is too verbose.)

What we now need is to capture the output of ls -l | sort -t _ -k 2 in an Emacs buffer and then enable dired-virtual-mode. To do that, we can rely on either M-x shell or M-x eshell and then manually copy the relevant contents.

For the user’s convenience, I share what I have for Eshell to quickly capture the last command’s output in a dedicated buffer:

(defcustom prot-eshell-output-buffer "*Exported Eshell output*"
  "Name of buffer with the last output of Eshell command.
Used by `prot-eshell-export'."
  :type 'string
  :group 'prot-eshell)

(defcustom prot-eshell-output-delimiter "* * *"
  "Delimiter for successive `prot-eshell-export' outputs.
This is formatted internally to have newline characters before
and after it."
  :type 'string
  :group 'prot-eshell)

(defun prot-eshell--command-prompt-output ()
  "Capture last command prompt and its output."
  (let ((beg (save-excursion
               (goto-char (eshell-beginning-of-input))
               (goto-char (point-at-bol)))))
    (when (derived-mode-p 'eshell-mode)
      (buffer-substring-no-properties beg (eshell-end-of-output)))))

(defun prot-eshell-export ()
  "Produce a buffer with output of the last Eshell command.
If `prot-eshell-output-buffer' does not exist, create it.  Else
append to it, while separating multiple outputs with
  (let ((eshell-output (prot-eshell--command-prompt-output)))
    (with-current-buffer (get-buffer-create prot-eshell-output-buffer)
      (let ((inhibit-read-only t))
        (goto-char (point-max))
        (unless (eq (point-min) (point-max))
          (insert (format "\n%s\n\n" prot-eshell-output-delimiter)))
        (goto-char (point-at-bol))
        (insert eshell-output)
        (switch-to-buffer-other-window (current-buffer))))))

Bind prot-eshell-export to a key in the eshell-mode-map and give it a try (I use C-c C-e). In the produced buffer, activate the dired-virtual-mode.

15.4. Use Embark to collect minibuffer candidates

embark is a remarkable package that lets you perform relevant, context-dependent actions using a prefix key (simplifying in the interest of brevity).

For our purposes, Embark can be used to produce a Dired listing directly from the minibuffer. Suppose the current note has links to three other notes. You might use the denote-find-link command to pick one via the minibuffer. But why not turn those three links into their own Dired listing? While in the minibuffer, invoke embark-act which you may have already bound to C-. and then follow it up with E (for the embark-export command).

This pattern can be repeated with any list of candidates, meaning that you can narrow the list by providing some input before eventually exporting the results with Embark.

Overall, this is very powerful and you might prefer it over doing the same thing directly in Dired, since you also benefit from all the power of the minibuffer (Narrow the list of files in Dired).

15.5. Search file contents

Emacs provides built-in commands which are wrappers of standard Unix tools: M-x grep lets the user input the flags of a grep call and pass a regular expression to the -e flag.

The author of Denote uses this thin wrapper instead:

(defvar prot-search--grep-hist '()
  "Input history of grep searches.")

(defun prot-search-grep (regexp &optional recursive)
  "Run grep for REGEXP.

Search in the current directory using `lgrep'.  With optional
prefix argument (\\[universal-argument]) for RECURSIVE, run a
search starting from the current directory with `rgrep'."
    (read-from-minibuffer (concat (if current-prefix-arg
                                      (propertize "Recursive" 'face 'warning)
                                  " grep for PATTERN: ")
                          nil nil nil 'prot-search--grep-hist)
  (unless grep-command
  (if recursive
      (rgrep regexp "*" default-directory)
    (lgrep regexp "*" default-directory)))

Rather than maintain custom code, consider using the excellent consult package: it provides commands such as consult-grep and consult-find which provide live results and are generally easier to use than the built-in commands.

15.6. Bookmark the directory with the notes

Part of the reason Denote does not reinvent existing functionality is to encourage you to learn more about Emacs. You do not need a bespoke “jump to my notes” directory because such commands do not scale well. Will you have a “jump to my downloads” then another for multimedia and so on? No.

Emacs has a built-in framework for recording persistent markers to locations. Visit the denote-directory (or any dir/file for that matter) and invoke the bookmark-set command (bound to C-x r m by default). It lets you create a bookmark.

The list of bookmarks can be reviewed with the bookmark-bmenu-list command (bound to C-x r l by default). A minibuffer interface is available with bookmark-jump (C-x r b).

If you use the consult package, its default consult-buffer command has the means to group together buffers, recent files, and bookmarks. Each of those types can be narrowed to with a prefix key. The package consult-dir is an extension to consult which provides useful extras for working with directories, including bookmarks.

15.7. Use the denote-explore package to explore your notes

Peter Prevos has developed the denote-explore package which provides four groups of Emacs commands to explore your Denote files:

Summary statistics
Count notes, attachments and keywords.
Random walks
Generate new ideas using serendipity.
Manage your denote collection.
Visualise your Denote network.

The package’s documentation covers the details:

15.8. Use the citar-denote package for bibliography notes

Peter Prevos has produced the citar-denote package which makes it possible to write notes on BibTeX entries with the help of the citar package. These notes have the citation’s unique key associated with them in the file’s front matter. They also get a configurable keyword in their file name, making it easy to find them in Dired and/or retrieve them with the various Denote methods.

With citar-denote, the user leverages standard minibuffer completion mechanisms (e.g. with the help of the vertico and embark packages) to manage bibliographic notes and access those notes with ease. The package’s documentation covers the details:

15.9. Use the consult-notes package

If you are using Daniel Mendler’s consult (which is a brilliant package), you will most probably like its consult-notes extension, developed by Colin McLear. It uses the familiar mechanisms of Consult to preview the currently selected entry and to filter searches via a prefix key. For example:

(setq consult-notes-file-dir-sources
      `(("Denote Notes"  ?d ,(denote-directory))
        ("Books"  ?b "~/Documents/books/")))

With the above, M-x consult-notes will list the files in those two directories. If you type d and space, it narrows the list to just the notes, while b does the same for books.

The other approach is to enable the consult-notes-denote-mode. It takes care to add the denote-directory to the sources that consult-notes reads from. Denote notes are then filtered by the d prefix followed by a space.

The minor mode has the extra feature of reformatting the title of notes shown in the minibuffer. It isolates the TITLE component of each note and shows it without hyphens, while presenting keywords in their own column. The user option consult-notes-denote-display-id can be set to nil to hide the identifier. Depending on how one searches through their notes, this refashioned presentation may be the best option (Features of the file-naming scheme for searching or filtering).

15.10. Use the denote-menu package

Denote’s file-naming scheme is designed to be efficient and to provide valueable meta information about the file. The cost, however, is that it is terse and harder to read, depending on how the user chooses to filter and process their notes.

To this end, the denote-menu package by Mohamed Suliman provides the convenience of a nice tabular interface for all notes. denote-menu removes the delimiters that are found in Denote file names and presents the information in a human-readable format. Furthermore, the package provides commands to interact with the list of notes, such as to filter them and to transition from the tabular list to Dired. Its documentation expands on the technicalities.

15.11. Treat your notes as a project

Emacs has a built-in library for treating a directory tree as a “project”. This means that the contents of this tree are seen as part of the same set, so commands like project-switch-to-buffer (C-x p b by default) will only consider buffers in the current project (e.g. three notes that are currently being visited).

Normally, a “project” is a directory tree whose root is under version control. For our purposes, all you need is to navigate to the denote-directory (for the shell or via Dired) and use the command-line to run this (requires the git executable):

git init

From Dired, you can type M-! which invokes dired-smart-shell-command and then run the git call there.

The project can then be registered by invoking any project-related command inside of it, such as project-find-file (C-x p f).

It is a good idea to keep your notes under version control, as that gives you a history of changes for each file. We shall not delve into the technicalities here, though suffice to note that Emacs’ built-in version control framework or the exceptionally well-crafted magit package will get the job done (VC can work with other backends besides Git).

15.12. Use the tree-based file prompt for select commands

Older versions of Denote had a file prompt that resembled that of the standard find-file command (bound to C-x C-f by default). This means that it used a tree-based method of navigating the filesystem by selecting the specific directory and then the given file.

Currently, Denote flattens the file prompt so that every file in the denote-directory and its subdirectories can be matched from anywhere using the power of Emacs’ minibuffer completion (such as with the help of the orderless package in addition to built-in options).

Users who need the old behaviour on a per-command basis can define their own wrapper functions as shown in the following code block.

;; This is the old `denote-file-prompt' that we renamed to
;; `denote-file-prompt-original' for clarity.
(defun denote-file-prompt-original (&optional initial-text)
  "Prompt for file with identifier in variable `denote-directory'.
With optional INITIAL-TEXT, use it to prepopulate the minibuffer."
  (read-file-name "Select note: " (denote-directory) nil nil initial-text
                  (lambda (f)
                    (or (denote-file-has-identifier-p f)
                        (file-directory-p f)))))

;; Our wrapper command that changes the current `denote-file-prompt'
;; to the functionality of `denote-file-prompt-original' only when
;; this command is used.
(defun my-denote-link ()
  "Call `denote-link' but use Denote's original file prompt.
See `denote-file-prompt-original'."
  (cl-letf (((symbol-function 'denote-file-prompt) #'denote-file-prompt-original))
    (call-interactively #'denote-link)))

15.13. Rename files with Denote in the Image Dired thumbnails buffer

Rename files with Denote using dired-preview

Just as with the denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords, we can use Denote in the Image Dired buffer (Rename multiple files at once). Here is the custom code:

(autoload 'image-dired--with-marked "image-dired")
(autoload 'image-dired-original-file-name "image-dired-util")

(defun my-denote-image-dired-rename-marked-files (keywords)
  "Like `denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords' but for Image Dired.
Prompt for KEYWORDS and rename all marked files in the Image
Dired buffer to have a Denote-style file name with the given

IMPORTANT NOTE: if there are marked files in the corresponding
Dired buffers, those will be targeted as well.  This is not the
fault of Denote: it is how Dired and Image Dired work in tandem.
To only rename the marked thumbnails, start by unmarking
everything in Dired.  Then mark the items in Image Dired and
invoke this command."
  (interactive (list (denote-keywords-prompt)) image-dired-thumbnail-mode)
   (when-let* ((file (image-dired-original-file-name))
               (dir (file-name-directory file))
               (id (or (denote-retrieve-filename-identifier file) ""))
               (file-type (denote-filetype-heuristics file))
               (title (denote--retrieve-title-or-filename file file-type))
               (signature (or (denote-retrieve-filename-signature file) "")
               (extension (file-name-extension file t))
               (new-name (denote-format-file-name dir id keywords title extension signature))
               (default-directory dir))
     (denote-rename-file-and-buffer file new-name))))

While the my-denote-image-dired-rename-marked-files renames files in the helpful Denote-compliant way, users may still need to not prepend a unique identifier and not sluggify (hyphenate and downcase) the image’s existing file name. To this end, the following custom command can be used instead:

(defun my-image-dired-rename-marked-files (keywords)
  "Like `denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords' but for Image Dired.
Prompt for keywords and rename all marked files in the Image
Dired buffer to have Denote-style keywords, but none of the other
conventions of Denote's file-naming scheme."
  (interactive (list (denote-keywords-prompt)) image-dired-thumbnail-mode)
   (when-let* ((file (image-dired-original-file-name))
               (dir (file-name-directory file))
               (file-type (denote-filetype-heuristics file))
               (title (denote--retrieve-title-or-filename file file-type))
               (extension (file-name-extension file t))
               (kws (denote--keywords-combine keywords))
               (new-name (concat dir title "__" kws extension))
               (default-directory dir))
     (denote-rename-file-and-buffer file new-name))))

15.14. Rename files with Denote using dired-preview

The dired-preview package (by me/Protesilaos) automatically displays a preview of the file at point in Dired. This can be helpful in tandem with Denote when we want to rename multiple files by taking a quick look at their contents.

The command denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords will generate Denote-style file names based on the keywords it prompts for. Identifiers are derived from each file’s modification date (Rename multiple files at once). There is no need for any custom code in this scenario.

As noted in the section about Image Dired, the user may sometimes not need a fully fledged Denote-style file name but only append Denote-like keywords to each file name (e.g. Original Name__denote_test.jpg instead of 20230710T195843--original-name__denote_test.jpg).

Rename files with Denote in the Image Dired thumbnails buffer

In such a workflow, it is unlikely to be dealing with ordinary text files where front matter can be helpful. A custom command does not need to behave like what Denote provides out-of-the-box, but can instead append keywords to file names without conducting any further actions. We thus have:

(defun my-denote-dired-rename-marked-files-keywords-only ()
  "Like `denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords' but only for keywords in file names.

Prompt for keywords and rename all marked files in the Dired
buffer to only have Denote-style keywords, but none of the other
conventions of Denote's file-naming scheme."
  (interactive nil dired-mode)
  (if-let ((marks (dired-get-marked-files)))
      (let ((keywords (denote-keywords-prompt)))
        (dolist (file marks)
          (let* ((dir (file-name-directory file))
                 (file-type (denote-filetype-heuristics file))
                 (title (denote--retrieve-title-or-filename file file-type))
                 (extension (file-name-extension file t))
                 (kws (denote--keywords-combine keywords))
                 (new-name (concat dir title "__" kws extension)))
            (denote-rename-file-and-buffer file new-name)))
    (user-error "No marked files; aborting")))

15.15. Avoid duplicate identifiers when exporting Denote notes

When exporting Denote notes to, for example, an HTML or PDF file, there is a high probability that the same file name is used with a new extension. This is problematic because it creates files with duplicate identifiers. The produces a 20230515T085612--example__keyword.pdf. Any link to the 20230515T085612 will thus break: it does not honor Denote’s expectation of finding unique identifiers. This is not the fault of Denote: exporting is done by the user without Denote’s involvement.

Org Mode and Markdown use different approaches to exporting files. No recommended method is available for plain text files as there is no standardised export functionality for this format (the user can always create a new note using the file type they want on a case-by-case basis: Convenience commands for note creation).

15.15.1. Export Denote notes with Org Mode

Org Mode has a built-in configurable export engine. You can prevent duplicate identifiers when exporting manually for each exported file or by advising the Org export function.

Denote also provides commands to convert denote: links to their file: equivalent, in case this is a required pre-processing step for export purposes (Convert denote: links to file: links). Manually configure Org export

Insert #+export_file_name: FILENAME in the front matter before exporting to force a filename called whatever the value of FILENAME is. The FILENAME does not specify the file type extension, such as .pdf. This is up to the export engine. For example, a Denote note with a complete file name of and a front matter entry of #+export_file_name: hello will be exported as hello.pdf.

The advantage of this manual method is that it gives the user full control over the resulting file name. The disadvantage is that it depends on the user’s behaviour. Forgetting to add a new name can lead to duplicate identifiers, as already noted in the introduction to this section (Export Denote notes). Automatically store Org exports in another folder

It is possible to automatically place all exports in another folder by making Org’s function org-export-output-file-name create the target directory if needed and move the exported file there. Remember that advising Elisp code must be handled with care, as it might break the original function in subtle ways.

(defvar my-org-export-output-directory-prefix "./export_"
  "Prefix of directory used for org-mode export.

The single dot means that the directory is created on the same
level as the one where the Org file that performs the exporting
is.  Use two dots to place the directory on a level above the
current one.

If this directory is part of `denote-directory', make sure it is
not read by Denote.  See `denote-excluded-directories-regexp'.
This way there will be no known duplicate Denote identifiers
produced by the Org export mechanism.")

(defun my-org-export-create-directory (fn extension &rest args)
  "Move Org export file to its appropriate directory.

Append the file type EXTENSION of the exported file to
`my-org-export-output-directory-prefix' and, if absent, create a
directory named accordingly.

Install this as advice around `org-export-output-file-name'.  The
EXTENSION is supplied by that function.  ARGS are its remaining
  (let ((export-dir (format "%s%s" my-org-export-output-directory-prefix extension)))
    (unless (file-directory-p export-dir)
      (make-directory export-dir)))
  (apply fn extension args))

(advice-add #'org-export-output-file-name :around #'my-org-export-create-directory)

The target export directory should not be a subdirectory of denote-directory, as that will result in duplicate identifiers. Exclude it with the denote-excluded-directories-regexp user option (Exclude certain directories from all operations).

[ NOTE: I (Protesilaos) am not a LaTeX user and cannot test the following. ]

Using a different directory will require some additional configuration when exporting using LaTeX. The export folder cannot be inside the path of the denote-directory to prevent Denote from recognising it as an attachment: Org Mode Publishing

Org Mode also has a publishing tool for exporting a collection of files. Some user might apply this approach to convert their note collection to a public or private website.

The org-publish-project-alist variable drives the publishing process, including the publishing directory.

The publishing directory should not be a subdirectory of denote-directory, as that will result in duplicate identifiers. Exclude it with the denote-excluded-directories-regexp user option (Exclude certain directories from all operations).

15.15.2. Export Denote notes with Markdown

Exporting from Markdown requires an external processor (e.g.,, Pandoc, or MultiMarkdown). The markdown-command variable defines the command line used in export, for example:

(setq markdown-command "multimarkdown")

The export process thus occurs outside of Emacs. Users need to read the documentation of their preferred processor to prevent the creation of duplicate Denote identifiers.

16. Installation

16.1. GNU ELPA package

The package is available as denote. Simply do:

M-x package-refresh-contents
M-x package-install

And search for it.

GNU ELPA provides the latest stable release. Those who prefer to follow the development process in order to report bugs or suggest changes, can use the version of the package from the GNU-devel ELPA archive. Read:

16.2. Manual installation

Assuming your Emacs files are found in ~/.emacs.d/, execute the following commands in a shell prompt:

cd ~/.emacs.d

# Create a directory for manually-installed packages
mkdir manual-packages

# Go to the new directory
cd manual-packages

# Clone this repo, naming it "denote"
git clone denote

Finally, in your init.el (or equivalent) evaluate this:

;; Make Elisp files in that directory available to the user.
(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/manual-packages/denote")

Everything is in place to set up the package.

17. Sample configuration

(require 'denote)

;; Remember to check the doc strings of those variables.
(setq denote-directory (expand-file-name "~/Documents/notes/"))
(setq denote-save-buffers nil)
(setq denote-known-keywords '("emacs" "philosophy" "politics" "economics"))
(setq denote-infer-keywords t)
(setq denote-sort-keywords t)
(setq denote-file-type nil) ; Org is the default, set others here
(setq denote-prompts '(title keywords))
(setq denote-excluded-directories-regexp nil)
(setq denote-excluded-keywords-regexp nil)
(setq denote-rename-confirmations '(rewrite-front-matter modify-file-name))

;; Pick dates, where relevant, with Org's advanced interface:
(setq denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date t)

;; Read this manual for how to specify `denote-templates'.  We do not
;; include an example here to avoid potential confusion.

(setq denote-date-format nil) ; read doc string

;; By default, we do not show the context of links.  We just display
;; file names.  This provides a more informative view.
(setq denote-backlinks-show-context t)

;; Also see `denote-link-backlinks-display-buffer-action' which is a bit
;; advanced.

;; If you use Markdown or plain text files (Org renders links as buttons
;; right away)
(add-hook 'find-file-hook #'denote-link-buttonize-buffer)

;; We use different ways to specify a path for demo purposes.
(setq denote-dired-directories
      (list denote-directory
            (thread-last denote-directory (expand-file-name "attachments"))
            (expand-file-name "~/Documents/books")))

;; Generic (great if you rename files Denote-style in lots of places):
;; (add-hook 'dired-mode-hook #'denote-dired-mode)
;; OR if only want it in `denote-dired-directories':
(add-hook 'dired-mode-hook #'denote-dired-mode-in-directories)

;; Automatically rename Denote buffers using the `denote-rename-buffer-format'.
(denote-rename-buffer-mode 1)

;; Denote DOES NOT define any key bindings.  This is for the user to
;; decide.  For example:
(let ((map global-map))
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n n") #'denote)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n c") #'denote-region) ; "contents" mnemonic
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n N") #'denote-type)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n d") #'denote-date)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n z") #'denote-signature) ; "zettelkasten" mnemonic
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n s") #'denote-subdirectory)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n t") #'denote-template)
  ;; If you intend to use Denote with a variety of file types, it is
  ;; easier to bind the link-related commands to the `global-map', as
  ;; shown here.  Otherwise follow the same pattern for `org-mode-map',
  ;; `markdown-mode-map', and/or `text-mode-map'.
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n i") #'denote-link) ; "insert" mnemonic
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n I") #'denote-add-links)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n b") #'denote-backlinks)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n f f") #'denote-find-link)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n f b") #'denote-find-backlink)
  ;; Note that `denote-rename-file' can work from any context, not just
  ;; Dired bufffers.  That is why we bind it here to the `global-map'.
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n r") #'denote-rename-file)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c n R") #'denote-rename-file-using-front-matter))

;; Key bindings specifically for Dired.
(let ((map dired-mode-map))
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c C-d C-i") #'denote-link-dired-marked-notes)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c C-d C-r") #'denote-dired-rename-files)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c C-d C-k") #'denote-dired-rename-marked-files-with-keywords)
  (define-key map (kbd "C-c C-d C-R") #'denote-dired-rename-marked-files-using-front-matter))

(with-eval-after-load 'org-capture
  (setq denote-org-capture-specifiers "%l\n%i\n%?")
  (add-to-list 'org-capture-templates
               '("n" "New note (with denote.el)" plain
                 (file denote-last-path)
                 :no-save t
                 :immediate-finish nil
                 :kill-buffer t
                 :jump-to-captured t)))

;; Also check the commands `denote-link-after-creating',
;; `denote-link-or-create'.  You may want to bind them to keys as well.

;; If you want to have Denote commands available via a right click
;; context menu, use the following and then enable
;; `context-menu-mode'.
(add-hook 'context-menu-functions #'denote-context-menu)

18. For developers or advanced users

Denote is in a stable state and can be relied upon as the basis for custom extensions. Further below is a list with the functions or variables we provide for public usage. Those are in addition to all user options and commands that are already documented in the various sections of this manual.

In this context “public” is any form with single hyphens in its symbol, such as denote-directory-files. We expressly support those, meaning that we consider them reliable and commit to documenting any changes in their particularities (such as through make-obsolete, a record in the change log, a blog post on the maintainer’s website, and the like).

By contradistinction, a “private” form is declared with two hyphens in its symbol such as denote--file-extension. Do not use those as we might change them without further notice.

Variable denote-id-format
Format of ID prefix of a note’s filename. The note’s ID is derived from the date and time of its creation (The file-naming scheme).
Variable denote-id-regexp
Regular expression to match denote-id-format.
Variable denote-signature-regexp
Regular expression to match the SIGNATURE field in a file name.
Variable denote-title-regexp
Regular expression to match the TITLE field in a file name (The file-naming scheme).
Variable denote-keywords-regexp
Regular expression to match the KEYWORDS field in a file name (The file-naming scheme).
Variable denote-excluded-punctuation-regexp
Punctionation that is removed from file names. We consider those characters illegal for our purposes.
Variable denote-excluded-punctuation-extra-regexp
Additional punctuation that is removed from file names. This variable is for advanced users who need to extend the denote-excluded-punctuation-regexp. Once we have a better understanding of what we should be omitting, we will update things accordingly.
Function denote-file-is-note-p
Return non-nil if FILE is an actual Denote note. For our purposes, a note must satisfy file-regular-p and denote-filename-is-note-p.
Function denote-file-has-identifier-p
Return non-nil if FILE has a Denote identifier.
Function denote-file-has-signature-p
Return non-nil if FILE has a signature.
Function denote-file-has-supported-extension-p
Return non-nil if FILE has supported extension. Also account for the possibility of an added .gpg suffix. Supported extensions are those implied by denote-file-type.
Function denote-file-is-writable-and-supported-p
Return non-nil if FILE is writable and has supported extension.
Function denote-file-type-extensions
Return all file type extensions in denote-file-types.
Variable denote-encryption-file-extensions
List of strings specifying file extensions for encryption.
Function denote-file-type-extensions-with-encryption
Derive denote-file-type-extensions plus denote-encryption-file-extensions.
Function denote-get-file-extension
Return extension of FILE with dot included. Account for denote-encryption-file-extensions. In other words, return something like .org.gpg if it is part of the file, else return .org.
Function denote-get-file-extension-sans-encryption
Return extension of FILE with dot included and without the encryption part. Build on top of denote-get-file-extension though always return something like .org even if the actual file extension is .org.gpg.
Function denote-keywords
Return appropriate list of keyword candidates. If denote-infer-keywords is non-nil, infer keywords from existing notes and combine them into a list with denote-known-keywords. Else use only the latter set of keywords (Standard note creation).
Function denote-keywords-sort
Sort KEYWORDS if denote-sort-keywords is non-nil. KEYWORDS is a list of strings, per denote-keywords-prompt.
Function denote-keywords-combine
Combine KEYWORDS list of strings into a single string. Keywords are separated by the underscore character, per the Denote file-naming scheme.
Function denote-valid-date-p
Return DATE as a valid date. A valid DATE is a value that can be parsed by either decode-time or date-to-time .Those functions signal an error if DATE is a value they do not recognise. If DATE is nil, return nil.
Function denote-parse-date
Return DATE as an appropriate value for the denote command. Pass DATE through denote-valid-date-p and use its return value. If either that or DATE is nil, return current-time.
Function denote-directory
Return path of the variable denote-directory as a proper directory, also because it accepts a directory-local value for what we internally refer to as “silos” (Maintain separate directories for notes). Custom Lisp code can let bind the value of the variable denote-directory to override what this function returns.
Function denote-directory-files
Return list of absolute file paths in variable denote-directory. Files only need to have an identifier. The return value may thus include file types that are not implied by denote-file-type. With optional FILES-MATCHING-REGEXP, restrict files to those matching the given regular expression. With optional OMIT-CURRENT as a non-nil value, do not include the current Denote file in the returned list. With optional TEXT-ONLY as a non-nil value, limit the results to text files that satisfy denote-file-is-note-p.
Function denote-directory-subdirectories
Return list of subdirectories in variable denote-directory. Omit dotfiles (such as .git) unconditionally. Also exclude whatever matches denote-excluded-directories-regexp. Note that the denote-directory accepts a directory-local value for what we call “silos” (Maintain separate directories for notes).
Function denote-file-name-relative-to-denote-directory
Return name of FILE relative to the variable denote-directory. FILE must be an absolute path.
Function denote-get-path-by-id
Return absolute path of ID string in denote-directory-files.
Function denote-barf-duplicate-id
Throw a user-error if IDENTIFIER already exists.
Function denote-sluggify
Make STR an appropriate slug for file name COMPONENT (Sluggification of file name components). Apply the function specified in denote-file-name-slug-function to COMPONENT which is one of title, signature, keyword. If the resulting string still contains consecutive -,=_= or =, they are replaced by a single occurence of the character, if necessary according to COMPONENT. If COMPONENT is keyword, remove underscores from STR as they are used as the keywords separator in file names. [ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev. ]
Function denote-sluggify-keyword
Sluggify STR while joining separate words.
Function denote-sluggify-signature
Make STR an appropriate slug for signatures (Sluggification of file name components).
Function denote-sluggify-keywords
Sluggify KEYWORDS, which is a list of strings (Sluggification of file name components).
Function denote-filetype-heuristics

Return likely file type of FILE. If in the process of org-capture, consider the file type to be that of Org. Otherwise, use the file extension to detect the file type of FILE.

If more than one file type correspond to this file extension, use the first file type for which the :title-key-regexp in denote-file-types matches in the file.

Return nil if the file type is not recognized.

Function denote-format-file-name

Format file name. DIR-PATH, ID, KEYWORDS, TITLE, EXTENSION and SIGNATURE are expected to be supplied by denote or equivalent command.

DIR-PATH is a string pointing to a directory. It ends with a forward slash (the function denote-directory makes sure this is the case when returning the value of the variable denote-directory). DIR-PATH cannot be nil or an empty string.

ID is a string holding the identifier of the note. It cannot be nil or an empty string and must match denote-id-regexp.

DIR-PATH and ID form the base file name.

KEYWORDS is a list of strings that is reduced to a single string by denote-keywords-combine. KEYWORDS can be an empty list or a nil value, in which case the relevant file name component is not added to the base file name.

TITLE and SIGNATURE are strings. They can be an empty string, in which case their respective file name component is not added to the base file name.

EXTENSION is a string that contains a dot followed by the file type extension. It can be an empty string or a nil value, in which case it is not added to the base file name.

Function denote-extract-keywords-from-path
Extract keywords from PATH and return them as a list of strings. PATH must be a Denote-style file name where keywords are prefixed with an underscore. If PATH has no such keywords, which is possible, return nil (The file-naming scheme).
Function denote-extract-id-from-string
Return existing Denote identifier in STRING, else nil.
Function denote-retrieve-filename-identifier
Extract identifier from FILE name, if present, else return nil. To create a new one, refer to the denote-create-unique-file-identifier function.
Function denote-retrieve-filename-title
Extract Denote title component from FILE name, if present, else return nil.
Function denote-retrieve-filename-keywords
Extract keywords from FILE name, if present, else return nil. Return matched keywords as a single string.
Function denote-retrieve-filename-signature
Extract signature from FILE name, if present, else return nil.
Function denote-retrieve-title-or-filename
Return appropriate title for FILE given its TYPE. This is a wrapper for denote-retrieve-front-matter-title-value and denote-retrieve-filename-title. [ Simplified as part of 3.0.0-dev to only be a wrapper as its doc string suggests. ]
Function denote-get-identifier
Convert DATE into a Denote identifier using denote-id-format. DATE is parsed by denote-valid-date-p. If DATE is nil, use the current time.
Function denote-create-unique-file-identifier

Create a new unique FILE identifier. Test that the identifier is unique among USED-IDS. The conditions are as follows:

  • If DATE is non-nil, invoke denote-prompt-for-date-return-id.
  • If DATE is nil, use the file attributes to determine the last modified date and format it as an identifier.
  • As a fallback, derive an identifier from the current time.

With optional USED-IDS as nil, test that the identifier is unique among all files and buffers in variable denote-directory.

To only return an existing identifier, refer to the function denote-retrieve-filename-identifier.

Function denote-retrieve-front-matter-title-value
Return title value from FILE front matter per FILE-TYPE.
Function denote-retrieve-front-matter-title-line
Return title line from FILE front matter per FILE-TYPE.
Function denote-retrieve-front-matter-keywords-value
Return keywords value from FILE front matter per FILE-TYPE. The return value is a list of strings.
Function denote-retrieve-front-matter-keywords-line
Return keywords line from FILE front matter per FILE-TYPE.
Function denote-add-prompts
Add list of ADDITIONAL-PROMPTS to denote-prompts. This is best done inside of a let to create a wrapper function around denote, denote-rename-file, and generally any command that consults the value of denote-prompts. [ Made public as part of 3.0.0-dev. ]
Function denote-signature-prompt
Prompt for signature string. With optional INITIAL-SIGNATURE use it as the initial minibuffer text. With optional PROMPT-TEXT use it in the minibuffer instead of the default prompt. Previous inputs at this prompt are available for minibuffer completion if the user option denote-history-completion-in-prompts is set to a non-nil value (The denote-history-completion-in-prompts option).
Function denote-file-prompt
Prompt for file in variable denote-directory. With optional FILES-MATCHING-REGEXP, filter the candidates per the given regular expression. With optional PROMPT-TEXT, use it instead of the default call to select a file. With optional NO-REQUIRE-MATCH accept the given input as-is. Return the absolute path to the matching file. [ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev to include the new NO-REQUIRE-MATCH parameter. This is to simplify how we use the various “… or create” commands internally. ]
Function denote-keywords-prompt
Prompt for one or more keywords. Read entries as separate when they are demarcated by the crm-separator, which typically is a comma. With optional PROMPT-TEXT, use it to prompt the user for keywords. Else use a generic prompt. With optional INITIAL-KEYWORDS use them as the initial minibuffer text.
Function denote-title-prompt
Prompt for title string. With optional INITIAL-TITLE use it as the initial minibuffer text. With optional PROMPT-TEXT use it in the minibuffer instead of the default prompt. Previous inputs at this prompt are available for minibuffer completion if the user option denote-history-completion-in-prompts is set to a non-nil value (The denote-history-completion-in-prompts option).
Variable denote-title-prompt-current-default
Currently bound default title for denote-title-prompt. Set the value of this variable within the lexical scope of a command that needs to supply a default title before calling denote-title-prompt and use unwind-protect to set its value back to nil.
Function denote-file-type-prompt
Prompt for denote-file-type. Note that a non-nil value other than text, markdown-yaml, and markdown-toml falls back to an Org file type. We use org here for clarity.
Function denote-date-prompt
Prompt for date, expecting YYYY-MM-DD or that plus HH:MM (or even HH:MM:SS). Use Org’s more advanced date selection utility if the user option denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date is non-nil. It requires Org (The denote-date-prompt-use-org-read-date option).
Function denote-command-prompt
Prompt for command among denote-commands-for-new-notes (Points of entry).
Variable denote-prompts-with-history-as-completion
Prompts that conditionally perform completion against their history. These are minibuffer prompts that ordinarily accept a free form string input, as opposed to matching against a predefined set. These prompts can optionally perform completion against their own minibuffer history when the user option denote-history-completion-in-prompts is set to a non-nil value (The denote-history-completion-in-prompts option).
Function denote-files-matching-regexp-prompt
Prompt for REGEXP to filter Denote files by. With optional PROMPT-TEXT use it instead of a generic prompt.
Function denote-prompt-for-date-return-id
Use denote-date-prompt and return it as denote-id-format.
Function denote-template-prompt
Prompt for template key in denote-templates and return its value.
Function denote-subdirectory-prompt
Prompt for subdirectory of the variable denote-directory. The table uses the file completion category (so it works with packages such as marginalia and embark).
Function denote-rename-file-prompt
Prompt to rename file named OLD-NAME to NEW-NAME. If denote-rename-confirmations does not contain modify-file-name, return t without prompting. [ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev to conform with the user option denote-rename-confirmations. ]
Function denote-rename-file-and-buffer
Rename file named OLD-NAME to NEW-NAME, updating buffer name.
Function denote-rewrite-front-matter
Rewrite front matter of note after denote-rename-file (or related) The FILE, TITLE, KEYWORDS, and FILE-TYPE arguments are given by the renaming command and are used to construct new front matter values if appropriate. If denote-rename-confirmations contains rewrite-front-matter, prompt to confirm the rewriting of the front matter. Otherwise produce a y-or-n-p prompt to that effect. [ Revised as part of 3.0.0-dev to conform with the user option denote-rename-confirmations. ]
Function denote-add-front-matter-prompt
Prompt to add a front-matter to FILE. Return non-nil if a new front matter should be added. If denote-rename-confirmations does not contain add-front-matter, return t without prompting. [ Part of 3.0.0-dev. ]
Function denote-rewrite-keywords
Rewrite KEYWORDS in FILE outright according to FILE-TYPE. Do the same as denote-rewrite-front-matter for keywords, but do not ask for confirmation. With optional SAVE-BUFFER, save the buffer corresponding to FILE. This function is for use in the commands denote-keywords-add, denote-keywords-remove, denote-dired-rename-files, or related.
Function denote-update-dired-buffers
Update Dired buffers of variable denote-directory. Also revert the current Dired buffer even if it is not inside the denote-directory. Note that the denote-directory accepts a directory-local value for what we internally refer to as “silos” (Maintain separate directories for notes).
Variable denote-file-types

Alist of denote-file-type and their format properties.

Each element is of the form (SYMBOL PROPERTY-LIST). SYMBOL is one of those specified in denote-file-type or an arbitrary symbol that defines a new file type.

PROPERTY-LIST is a plist that consists of the following elements:

  1. :extension is a string with the file extension including the period.
  2. :date-function is a function that can format a date. See the functions denote--date-iso-8601, denote--date-rfc3339, and denote--date-org-timestamp.
  3. :front-matter is either a string passed to format or a variable holding such a string. The format function accepts four arguments, which come from denote in this order: TITLE, DATE, KEYWORDS, IDENTIFIER. Read the doc string of format on how to reorder arguments.
  4. :title-key-regexp is a regular expression that is used to retrieve the title line in a file. The first line matching this regexp is considered the title line.
  5. :title-value-function is the function used to format the raw title string for inclusion in the front matter (e.g. to surround it with quotes). Use the identity function if no further processing is required.
  6. :title-value-reverse-function is the function used to retrieve the raw title string from the front matter. It performs the reverse of :title-value-function.
  7. :keywords-key-regexp is a regular expression used to retrieve the keywords’ line in the file. The first line matching this regexp is considered the keywords’ line.
  8. :keywords-value-function is the function used to format the keywords’ list of strings as a single string, with appropriate delimiters, for inclusion in the front matter.
  9. :keywords-value-reverse-function is the function used to retrieve the keywords’ value from the front matter. It performs the reverse of the :keywords-value-function.
  10. :link is a string, or variable holding a string, that specifies the format of a link. See the variables denote-org-link-format, denote-md-link-format.
  11. :link-in-context-regexp is a regular expression that is used to match the aforementioned link format. See the variables denote-org-link-in-context-regexp, denote-md-link-in-context-regexp.

If denote-file-type is nil, use the first element of this list for new note creation. The default is org.

Variable denote-org-front-matter
Specifies the Org front matter. It is passed to format with arguments TITLE, DATE, KEYWORDS, ID (Change the front matter format)
Variable denote-yaml-front-matter
Specifies the YAML (Markdown) front matter. It is passed to format with arguments TITLE, DATE, KEYWORDS, ID (Change the front matter format)
Variable denote-toml-front-matter
Specifies the TOML (Markdown) front matter. It is passed to format with arguments TITLE, DATE, KEYWORDS, ID (Change the front matter format)
Variable denote-text-front-matter
Specifies the plain text front matter. It is passed to format with arguments TITLE, DATE, KEYWORDS, ID (Change the front matter format)
Variable denote-org-link-format
Format of Org link to note. The value is passed to format with IDENTIFIER and TITLE arguments, in this order. Also see denote-org-link-in-context-regexp.
Variable denote-md-link-format
Format of Markdown link to note. The %N$s notation used in the default value is for format as the supplied arguments are IDENTIFIER and TITLE, in this order. Also see denote-md-link-in-context-regexp.
Variable denote-id-only-link-format
Format of identifier-only link to note. The value is passed to format with IDENTIFIER as its sole argument. Also see denote-id-only-link-in-context-regexp.
Variable denote-org-link-in-context-regexp
Regexp to match an Org link in its context. The format of such links is denote-org-link-format.
Variable denote-md-link-in-context-regexp
Regexp to match an Markdown link in its context. The format of such links is denote-md-link-format.
Variable denote-id-only-link-in-context-regexp
Regexp to match an identifier-only link in its context. The format of such links is denote-id-only-link-format.
Function denote-date-org-timestamp
Format DATE using the Org inactive timestamp notation.
Function denote-date-rfc3339
Format DATE using the RFC3339 specification.
Function denote-date-iso-8601
Format DATE according to ISO 8601 standard.
Function denote-trim-whitespace
Trim whitespace around string S. This can be used in denote-file-types to format front mattter.
Function denote-trim-whitespace-then-quotes
Trim whitespace then quotes around string S. This can be used in denote-file-types to format front mattter.
Function denote-format-string-for-org-front-matter
Return string S as-is for Org or plain text front matter. If S is not a string, return an empty string.
Function denote-format-string-for-md-front-matter
Surround string S with quotes. If S is not a string, return a literal emptry string. This can be used in denote-file-types to format front mattter.
Function denote-format-keywords-for-md-front-matter
Format front matter KEYWORDS for markdown file type. KEYWORDS is a list of strings. Consult the denote-file-types for how this is used.
Function denote-format-keywords-for-text-front-matter
Format front matter KEYWORDS for text file type. KEYWORDS is a list of strings. Consult the denote-file-types for how this is used.
Function denote-format-keywords-for-org-front-matter
Format front matter KEYWORDS for org file type. KEYWORDS is a list of strings. Consult the denote-file-types for how this is used.
Function denote-extract-keywords-from-front-matter
Format front matter KEYWORDS for org file type. KEYWORDS is a list of strings. Consult the denote-file-types for how this is used.
Function denote-select-linked-file-prompt
Prompt for linked file among FILES. [ Made publicly available as part of 3.0.0-dev. ]
Function denote-link-return-links
Return list of links in current or optional FILE. Also see denote-link-return-backlinks.
Function denote-link-return-backlinks
Return list of backlinks in current or optional FILE. Also see denote-link-return-links.
Variable denote-link-signature-format
Format of link description for denote-link-with-signature.
Function denote-link-description-with-signature-and-title
Return link description for FILE. Produce a description as follows:
(no term)
If the region is active, use it as the description.
(no term)
If FILE as a signature, then use the denote-link-signature-format. By default, this looks like “signature title”.
(no term)
If FILE does not have a signature, then use its title as the description.
Variable denote-link-description-function
Function to use to create the description of links. The function specified should take a FILE argument and should return the description as a string. By default, the title of the file is returned as the description.

19. Troubleshoot Denote in a pristine environment

Sometimes we get reports on bugs that may not be actually caused by some error in the Denote code base. To help gain insight into what the problem is, we need to be able to reproduce the issue in a minimum viable system. Below is one way to achieve this.

  1. Find where your denote.el file is stored on your filesystem.
  2. Assuming you have already installed the package, one way to do this is to invoke M-x find-library and search for denote. It will take you to the source file. There do M-x eval-expression, which will bring up a minibuffer prompt. At the prompt evaluate:
(kill-new (expand-file-name (buffer-file-name)))
  1. The above will save the full file system path to your kill ring.
  2. In a terminal emulator or an M-x shell buffer execute:
emacs -Q
  1. This will open a new instance of Emacs in a pristine environment. Only the default settings are loaded.
  2. In the *scratch* buffer of emacs -Q, add your configurations like the following and try to reproduce the issue:
(require 'denote "/full/path/to/what/you/got/denote.el")

;; Your configurations here

Then try to see if your problem still occurs. If it does, then the fault is with Denote. Otherwise there is something external to it that we need to account for. Whatever the case, this exercise helps us get a better sense of the specifics.

20. Contributing

Denote is a GNU ELPA package. As such, any significant change to the code requires copyright assignment to the Free Software Foundation (more below).

You do not need to be a programmer to contribute to this package. Sharing an idea or describing a workflow is equally helpful, as it teaches us something we may not know and might be able to cover either by extending Denote or expanding this manual. If you prefer to write a blog post, make sure you share it with us: we can add a section herein referencing all such articles. Everyone gets acknowledged (Acknowledgements). There is no such thing as an “insignificant contribution”—they all matter.

If our public media are not suitable, you are welcome to contact me (Protesilaos) in private:

Copyright assignment is a prerequisite to sharing code. It is a simple process. Check the request form below (please adapt it accordingly). You must write an email to the address mentioned in the form and then wait for the FSF to send you a legal agreement. Sign the document and file it back to them. This could all happen via email and take about a week. You are encouraged to go through this process. You only need to do it once. It will allow you to make contributions to Emacs in general.

Please email the following information to, and we
will send you the assignment form for your past and future changes.

Please use your full legal name (in ASCII characters) as the subject
line of the message.


[What is the name of the program or package you're contributing to?]

GNU Emacs

[Did you copy any files or text written by someone else in these changes?
Even if that material is free software, we need to know about it.]

Copied a few snippets from the same files I edited.  Their author,
Protesilaos Stavrou, has already assigned copyright to the Free Software

[Do you have an employer who might have a basis to claim to own
your changes?  Do you attend a school which might make such a claim?]

[For the copyright registration, what country are you a citizen of?]

[What year were you born?]

[Please write your email address here.]

[Please write your postal address here.]

[Which files have you changed so far, and which new files have you written
so far?]

20.1. Wishlist of what we can do to extend Denote

These are various ideas to extend Denote. Whether they should be in the core package or a separate extension is something we can discuss. I, Protesilaos, am happy to help anyone who wants to do any of this.

This can be a separate package that enhances or replaces the various prompts we have for files (and maybe more) by using the consult package. Consult provides the preview mechanism and can probably be used for more things, such as to define a source for Denote-only buffers in the consult-buffer command. If we need to tweak things in denote.el, I am happy to do it. For example, we could have a denote-file-prompt-function variable, which would default to denote-file-prompt (what we currently have) and would also such a hypothetical package to easily plug into what we have.
Provide integration with the embark package. This can be for doing something with the identifier/link at point. For example, it could provide an action to produce backlinks for the identifier/file we are linking to, not just the current one.
The transient package is built into Emacs 29 (Denote supports Emacs 28 though). We can use it to define an alternative to what we have for the menu bar. Perhaps this interface can used to toggle various options, such as to call denote with a different set of prompts.
A denote-directories user option
This can be either an extension of the denote-directory (accept a list of file paths value) or a new variable. The idea is to let the user define separate Denote directories which do know about the presence of each other (unlike silos). This way, a user can have an entry in ~/Documents/notes/ link to something ~/Git/projects/ and everything work as if the denote-directory is set to the ~/ (with the status quo as of 2024-02-18 08:27 +0200).
Signatures before identifiers
This is probably going to increase the complixity of denote.el and may not be worth pursuing. But just to explore the idea: we could have an option to rearrange file names such that the signature appears before the identifier. If we can do this in a smart way, we can probably extend the principle for all file name components. Again though, this may be too complex and not worth doing.
Encode the day in the identifier
The idea is to use some coded reference for Monday, Tuesday, etc. instead of having the generic T in the identifier. For example, Monday is A so the identifier for it is something like 20240219A101522 instead of what we now have as 20240219T101522. The old method should still be supported. Apart from changing a few regular expressions, this does not seem too complex to me. We would need a user option to opt in to such a feature. Then tweak the relevant parts. The tricky issue is to define a mapping of day names to letters/symbols that works for everyone. Do all countries have a seven-day week, for example? We need something universally applicable here.

Anything else? You are welcome to discuss these and/or add to the list.

21. Publications about Denote

The Emacs community is putting Denote to great use. This section includes publications that show how people configure their note-taking setup. If you have a blog post, video, or configuration file about Denote, feel welcome to tell us about it (Contributing).

22. Alternatives to Denote

What follows is a list of Emacs packages for note-taking. I (Protesilaos) have not used any of them, as I was manually applying my file-naming scheme beforehand and by the time those packages were available I was already hacking on the predecessor of Denote as a means of learning Emacs Lisp (a package which I called “Unassuming Sidenotes of Little Significance”, aka “USLS” which is pronounced as “U-S-L-S” or “useless”). As such, I cannot comment at length on the differences between Denote and each of those packages, beside what I gather from their documentation.

The de facto standard in the Emacs milieu—and rightly so! It has a massive community, is featureful, and should be an excellent companion to anyone who is invested in the Org ecosystem and/or knows what “Roam” is (I don’t). It has been explained to me that Org Roam uses a database to store a cache about your notes. It otherwise uses standard Org files. The cache helps refer to the same node through aliases which can provide lots of options. Personally, I follow a single-topic-per-note approach, so anything beyond that is overkill. If the database is only for a cache, then maybe that has no downside, though I am careful with any kind of specialised program as it creates a dependency. If you ask me about database software in particular, I have no idea how to use one, let alone debug it or retrieve data from it if something goes awry (I could learn, but that is beside the point).
zk (or zk.el)
Reading its documentation makes me think that this is Denote’s sibling—the two projects have a lot of things in common, including the preference to rely on plain files and standard tools. The core difference is that Denote has a strict file-naming scheme. Other differences in available features are, in principle, matters of style or circumstance: both packages can have them. As its initials imply, ZK enables a zettelkasten-like workflow. It does not enforce it though, letting the user adapt the method to their needs and requirements.
This is another one of Denote’s relatives, at least insofar as the goal of simplicity is concerned. The major difference is that according to its documentation “the name of the file that is created is just a unique ID”. This is not consistent with our file-naming scheme which is all about making sense of your files by their name alone and being able to visually parse a listing of them without any kind of specialised tool (e.g. ls -l or ls -C on the command-line from inside the denote-directory give you a human-readable set of files names, while find * -maxdepth 0 -type f is another approach).
This is a zettelkasten note-taking system built on top of the deft package. Deft provides a search interface to a directory, in this case the one holding the user’s zetteldeft notes. Denote has no such dependency and is not opinionated about how the user prefers to search/access their notes: use Dired, Grep, the consult package, or whatever else you already have set up for all things Emacs, not just your notes.

Searching through M-x list-packages for “zettel” brings up more matches. zetteldesk is an extension to Org Roam and, as such, I cannot possibly know what Org Roam truly misses and what the added-value of this package is. neuron-mode builds on top of an external program called neuron, which I have never used.

Searching for “note” gives us a few more results. notes-mode has precious little documentation and I cannot tell what it actually does (as I said in my presentation for LibrePlanet 2022, inadequate docs are a bug). side-notes differs from what we try to do with Denote, as it basically gives you the means to record your thoughts about some other project you are working on and keep them on the side: so it and Denote should not be mutually exclusive.

If I missed something, please let me know.

22.1. Alternative implementations and further reading

This section covers blog posts and implementations from the Emacs community about the topic of note-taking and file organization. They may refer to some of the packages covered in the previous section or provide their custom code (Alternatives to Denote). The list is unsorted.

[ Development note: help expand this list. ]

23. Frequently Asked Questions

I (Protesilaos) answer some questions I have received or might get. It is assumed that you have read the rest of this manual: I will not go into the specifics of how Denote works.

23.1. Why develop Denote when PACKAGE already exists?

I wrote Denote because I was using a variant of Denote’s file-naming scheme before I was even an Emacs user (I switched to Emacs from Tmux+Vim+CLI in the summer of 2019). I was originally inspired by Jekyll, the static site generator, which I started using for my website in 2016 (was on WordPress before). Jekyll’s files follow the pattern. I liked its efficiency relative to the unstructured mess I had before. Eventually, I started using that scheme outside the confines of my website’s source code. Over time I refined it and here we are.

Note-taking is something I take very seriously, as I am a prolific writer (just check my website, which only reveals the tip of the iceberg). As such, I need a program that does exactly what I want and which I know how to extend. I originally tried to use Org capture templates to create new files with a Denote-style file-naming scheme but never managed to achieve it. Maybe because org-capture has some hard-coded assumptions or I simply am not competent enough to hack on core Org facilities. Whatever the case, an alternative was in order.

The existence of PACKAGE is never a good reason for me not to conduct my own experiments for recreational, educational, or practical purposes. When the question arises of “why not contribute to PACKAGE instead?” the answer is that without me experimenting in the first place, I would lack the skills for such a task. Furthermore, contributing to another package does not guarantee I get what I want in terms of workflow.

Whether you should use Denote or not is another matter altogether: choose whatever you want.

23.2. Why not rely exclusively on Org?

I think Org is one of Emacs’ killer apps. I also believe it is not the right tool for every job. When I write notes, I want to focus on writing. Nothing more. I thus have no need for stuff like org-babel, scheduling to-do items, clocking time, and so on. The more “mental dependencies” you add to your workflow, the heavier the burden you carry and the less focused you are on the task at hand: there is always that temptation to tweak the markup, tinker with some syntactic construct, obsess about what ought to be irrelevant to writing as such.

In technical terms, I also am not fond of Org’s code base (I understand why it is the way it is—just commenting on the fact). Ever tried to read it? You will routinely find functions that are tens-to-hundreds of lines long and have all sorts of special casing. As I am not a programmer and only learnt to write Elisp through trial and error, I have no confidence in my ability to make Org do what I want at that level, hence denote instead of org-denote or something.

Perhaps the master programmer is one who can deal with complexity and keep adding to it. I am of the opposite view, as language—code included—is at its communicative best when it is clear and accessible.

Make no mistake: I use Org for the agenda and also to write technical documentation that needs to be exported to various formats, including this very manual.

23.3. Why care about Unix tools when you use Emacs?

My notes form part of my longer-term storage. I do not want to have to rely on a special program to be able to read them or filter them. Unix is universal, at least as far as I am concerned.

Denote streamlines some tasks and makes things easier in general, which is consistent with how Emacs provides a layer of interactivity on top of Unix. Still, Denote’s utilities can, in principle, be implemented as POSIX shell scripts (minus the Emacs-specific parts like fontification in Dired or the buttonization of links).

Portability matters. For example, in the future I might own a smartphone, so I prefer not to require Emacs, Org, or some other executable to access my files on the go.

Furthermore, I might want to share those files with someone. If I make Emacs a requirement, I am limiting my circle to a handful of relatively advanced users.

Please don’t misinterpret this: I am using Emacs full-time for my computing and maintain a growing list of packages for it. This is just me thinking long-term.

23.4. Why many small files instead of few large ones?

I have read that Org favours the latter method. If true, I strongly disagree with it because of the implicit dependency it introduces and the way it favours machine-friendliness over human-readability in terms of accessing information. Notes are long-term storage. I might want to access them on (i) some device with limited features, (ii) print on paper, (iii) share with another person who is not a tech wizard.

There are good arguments for few large files, but all either prioritize machine-friendliness or presuppose the use of sophisticated tools like Emacs+Org.

Good luck using less on a generic TTY to read a file with a zillion words, headings, sub-headings, sub-sub-headings, property drawers, and other constructs! You will not get the otherwise wonderful folding of headings the way you do in Emacs—do not take such features for granted.

My point is that notes should be atomic to help the user—and potentially the user’s family, friends, acquaintances—make sense of them in a wide range of scenaria. The more program-agnostic your file is, the better for you and/or everyone else you might share your writings with.

Human-readability means that we optimize for what matters to us. If (a) you are the only one who will ever read your notes, (b) always have access to good software like Emacs+Org, (c) do not care about printing on paper, then Denote’s model is not for you. Maybe you need to tweak some org-capture template to append a new entry to one mega file (I do that for my Org agenda, by the way, as I explained before about using the right tool for the job).

23.5. Does Denote perform well at scale?

Denote does not do anything fancy and has no special requirements: it uses standard tools to accomplish ordinary tasks. If Emacs can cope with lots of files, then that is all you need to know: Denote will work.

To put this to the test, Peter Prevos is running simulations with R that generate large volumes of notes. You can read the technicalities here: Excerpt:

Using this code I generated ten thousands notes and used this to test the Denote package to see it if works at a large scale. This tests shows that Prot’s approach is perfectly capable of working with thousands of notes.

Of course, we are always prepared to make refinements to the code, where necessary, without compromising on the project’s principles.

23.6. I add TODOs to my notes; will many files slow down the Org agenda?

Yes, many files will slow down the agenda due to how that works. Org collects all files specified in the org-agenda-files, searches through their contents for timestamped entries, and then loops through all days to determine where each entry belongs. The more days and more files, the longer it takes to build the agenda. Doing this with potentially hundreds of files will have a noticeable impact on performance.

This is not a deficiency of Denote. It happens with generic Org files. The way the agenda is built is heavily favoring the use of a single file that holds all your timestamped entries (or at least a few such files). Tens or hundreds of files are inefficient for this job. Plus doing so has the side-effect of making Emacs open all those files, which you probably do not need.

If you want my opinion though, be more forceful with the separation of concerns. Decouple your knowledge base from your ephemeral to-do list: Denote (and others) can be used for the former, while you let standard Org work splendidly for the latter—that is what I do, anyway.

Org has a powerful linking facility, whether you use org-store-link or do it via an org-capture template. If you want a certain note to be associated with a task, just store the task in a single (or however you name it) and link to the relevant context.

Do not mix your knowledge base with your to-do items. If you need help figuring out the specifics of this workflow, you are welcome to ask for help in our relevant channels (Contributing).

23.7. I want to sort by last modified in Dired, why won’t Denote let me?

Denote does not control how Dired sorts files. I encourage you to read the manpage of the ls executable. It will help you in general, while it applies to Emacs as well via Dired. The gist is that you can update the ls flags that Dired uses on-the-fly: type C-u M-x dired-sort-toggle-or-edit (C-u s by default) and append --sort=time at the prompt. To reverse the order, add the -r flag. The user option dired-listing-switches sets your default preference.

For an on-demand sorted and filtered Dired listing of Denote files, use the command denote-sort-dired (Sort files by component).

23.8. How do you handle the last modified case?

Denote does not insert any meta data or heading pertaining to edits in the file. I am of the view that these either do not scale well or are not descriptive enough. Suppose you use a “lastmod” heading with a timestamp: which lines where edited and what did the change amount to?

This is where an external program can be helpful. Use a Version Control System, such as Git, to keep track of all your notes. Every time you add a new file, record the addition. Same for post-creation edits. Your VCS will let you review the history of those changes. For instance, Emacs’ built-in version control framework has a command that produces a log of changes for the current file: M-x vc-print-log, bound to C-x v l by default. From there one can access the corresponding diff output (use M-x describe-mode (C-h m) in an unfamiliar buffer to learn more about it). With Git in particular, Emacs users have the option of the all-round excellent magit package.

In short: let Denote (or equivalent) create notes and link between them, the file manager organise and provide access to files, search programs deal with searching and narrowing, and version control software handle the tracking of changes.

23.9. Speed up backlinks’ buffer creation?

Denote leverages the built-in xref library to search for the identifier of the current file and return any links to it. For users of Emacs version 28 or higher, there exists a user option to specify the program that performs this search: xref-search-program. The default is grep, which can be slow, though one may opt for ugrep, ripgrep, or even specify something else (read the doc string of that user option for the details).

Try either for these for better results:

(setq xref-search-program 'ripgrep)

;; OR

(setq xref-search-program 'ugrep)

To use whatever executable is available on your system, use something like this:

;; Prefer ripgrep, then ugrep, and fall back to regular grep.
(setq xref-search-program
       ((or (executable-find "ripgrep")
            (executable-find "rg"))
       ((executable-find "ugrep")

23.10. Why do I get “Search failed with status 1” when I search for backlinks?

Denote uses Emacs’ Xref to find backlinks. Xref requires xargs and one of grep or ripgrep, depending on your configuration.

This is usually not an issue on *nix systems, but the necessary executables are not available on Windows Emacs distributions. Please ensure that you have both xargs and either grep or ripgrep available within your PATH environment variable.

If you have git on Windows installed, then you may use the following code (adjust the git’s installation path if necessary):

  (setenv "PATH" (concat (getenv "PATH") ";" "C:\\Program Files\\Git\\usr\\bin"))

23.11. Why do I get a double #+title in Doom Emacs?

Doom Emacs provides a set of bespoke templates for Org. One of those prefills any new Org file with a #+title field. So when Denote creates a new Org file and inserts front matter to it, it inevitably adds an extra title to the existing one.

This is not a Denote problem. We can only expect a new file to be empty by default. Check how to disable the relevant module in your Doom Emacs configuration file.

24. Acknowledgements

Denote is meant to be a collective effort. Every bit of help matters.

Protesilaos Stavrou.
Contributions to code or the manual
Abin Simon, Adam Růžička, Alan Schmitt, Alexandre Rousseau, Ashton Wiersdorf, Benjamin Kästner, Bruno Boal, Charanjit Singh, Clemens Radermacher, Colin McLear, Damien Cassou, Eduardo Grajeda, Elias Storms, Eshel Yaron, Florian, Glenna D., Graham Marlow, Hilde Rhyne, Ivan Sokolov, Jack Baty, Jean-Charles Bagneris, Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay, Jianwei Hou, Joseph Turner, Jürgen Hötzel, Kaushal Modi, Kai von Fintel, Kostas Andreadis, Kristoffer Balintona, Kyle Meyer, Marc Fargas, Matthew Lemon, Noboru Ota (nobiot), Norwid Behrnd, Peter Prevos, Philip Kaludercic, Quiliro Ordóñez, Stephen R. Kifer, Stefan Monnier, Stefan Thesing, Thibaut Benjamin, Tomasz Hołubowicz, Vedang Manerikar, Wesley Harvey, Zhenxu Xu, arsaber101, ezchi, jarofromel, leinfink (Henrik), l-o-l-h (Lincoln), mattyonweb, maxbrieiev, mentalisttraceur, pmenair, relict007.
Ideas and/or user feedback
Abin Simon, Aditya Yadav, Alan Schmitt, Aleksandr Vityazev, Alex Hirschfeld, Alexis Purslane, Alfredo Borrás, Ashton Wiersdorf, Benjamin Kästner, Claudiu Tănăselia, Colin McLear, Damien Cassou, Elias Storms, Federico Stilman, Florian, Frédéric Willem Frank Ehmsen, Glenna D., Guo Yong, Hanspeter Gisler Harold Ollivier, Jack Baty, Jay Rajput, Jean-Charles Bagneris, Jens Östlund, Jeremy Friesen, Jonathan Sahar, Johan Bolmsjö, Jousimies, Juanjo Presa, Julian Hoch, Kai von Fintel, Kaushal Modi, Kolmas, M. Hadi Timachi, Maikol Solis, Mark Olson, Mirko Hernandez, Niall Dooley, Paul van Gelder, Peter Prevos, Peter Smith, Suhail Singh, Shreyas Ragavan, Stefan Thesing, Summer Emacs, Sven Seebeck, Taoufik, TJ Stankus, Vick (VicZz), Viktor Haag, Wade Mealing, Yi Liu, Ypot, atanasj, babusri, doolio, duli, drcxd, fingerknight, hpgisler, mentalisttraceur, pRot0ta1p, rbenit68, relict007, sienic, sundar bp.

Special thanks to Peter Povinec who helped refine the file-naming scheme, which is the cornerstone of this project.

Special thanks to Jean-Philippe Gagné Guay for the numerous contributions to the code base.

25. GNU Free Documentation License

                GNU Free Documentation License
                 Version 1.3, 3 November 2008

 Copyright (C) 2000, 2001, 2002, 2007, 2008 Free Software Foundation, Inc.
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