Advice Need / How to use DevonThink in this scenario

Over the years I have collected documents and images and all manner of “stuff” that I want to use in a specific project. Because of the way I scan and collect “stuff” the data I want to use is tagged, but it is in different databases.

Now I am going to work on a project. I start by creating a group in my WIP->Active Database, that will have all the “stuff” I need. That gets synced to all my devices. iPad / MacBook / Etc.

Next I created a smart group at the top level of DevonThink that fetches all the pieces of data that has the tag I am searching for. I select all and try to replicate the selected items into my WIP-Active database. But DevonThink just beeps. I think this is because I can’t replicate items to a database that is different to the location of the original item.

What is the correct/better/DevonThinky way to do what I am trying to do? Do people just collect everything in 1 Database?

You are correct: you can’t replicate across databases. My question is: Why would you need to?
Are these references or documents you’d make changes to and want those changes reflected in the source database? If the former, then just duplicate the resources to the working database.

You need to define your environment and that’s largely a matter of personal style or it’s dictated by the mandates of a group sharing the data.

And here’s a hint I’ve mentioned many times: If you were doing this in the Finder (not Obsidian or Drafts or application XYZ), how would you structure it?

And here’s a real-world example: I have many databases. Some large, some small. (At one point I had over 150.) They are built for support purposes or for how I think. The latter don’t need to make sense to anyone but me. However, we also have a company database for some specific resources, a database synced between members of development. That database is uniform and used an agreed upon structure, labels, etc. Either approach is valid but depends on the context.
So there isn’t a correct way to do this. If it’s just for you, it’s a matter of if it makes sense to you and you can efficiently find and use the items in the database.

Why do you have different databases?
There are valid reasons, but a single database works well for me

Agreed. We all do the things that make sense to us, and then expect the machine to catch up. Which of course it can’t and will never be able too.

For clarity:

It is unlikely I will change them, but I do sync the active projects database to my iPads and MacBook. Where I might annotate, view, refer to. So when I start working on a project I pull all the past material together to review and start from there. Notes I create will refer to these items and may include/embed items.

It is really just away to focus on just the material for the current project. For example I have a scans database, that has drawings, and invoices and other relevant documents, a Manuals and Guides Database, and then a collected ideas database with images, weblinks, and web archives. As well as a database with archived emails that may also be relevant. Originally I thought I would be able to create a smart group, that could live inside my Active Projects Database. But that doesn’t work. Then I tried Replicate.

So sounds like duplicate is my best bet.

It is a fair question. I am not sure why. Historical reasons. But my initial assumption, always, is that I just don’t grok all that DevonThink can do and have missed something. Then I come here and I am set on the right/different path.

Some do, and some don’t; the wonderful thing about DEVONthink is its versatility to support an eclecticism of data management.

It sounds like you have your documents sorted by format type. This isn’t necessarily a problem. However, I read somewhere (and this is my approach) that it may be more helpful to sort your documents by function or what, when, where and why you use them. You can still include the format type as either tags or custom metadata; that way, if you need to find different format types, you can do so via smart groups or search.

As a personal example, I, too, have several databases, which are differentiated by function:

  • business
  • journal
  • personal
  • reference
  • research
  • games
  • social
  • yarncraft
  • travel

I work primarily in the database business, so you can consider that an ongoing project. The database research is where all the most relevant data to my work is stored, and the key themes in my work determine relevance, i.e. does this article discuss connection, integrity, presence, compassion, etc.?

The database reference contains all other data that are peripherally relevant to my work, so themes that I do encounter but use less frequently or directly, i.e. personality disorder, AI, history, etc.

In typing this out, I see the business database as the stage where stuff happens, the research database as the main cast, and the reference database as the supporting cast. :rofl:

Not sure if this is relevant to your particular work situation, as it sounds very different from mine, but if you can sort your files based on use or when and what you need them for, rather than just format type, you may find it easier to not only access and work with relevant files but also to visualise your workspace in DT.


Thanks for the insight.

I think maybe it might be time to cull and combine a little. I am going to see if I can get my note taking in DevonThink fluid. And then make some decisions about structure.

If it helps, it can take some time to settle on a file structure and workflow that works for you. It also takes time to understand DT! :stuck_out_tongue: Its versatility means that there is a lot to learn, and figure out what’s applicable to your needs and what’s not.

Starting with less is more, I have come to learn. Setting up a system that meets your bare minimum needs, and then getting comfortable with that before adding anything else, and even then only one by one.

Stability of the system is not guaranteed; I’ve gone through more ground-up rebuilds than I can recall, but learning from what didn’t work and redesigning in a way that helps prevent unnecessary total rebuilds saves time and energy and is less disruptive over time.

I just did an overhaul of my key databases business, research and reference over the past week, and this time, it only took a week to get it back to a workable state. Sure, I’ve got some stuff left to process in my inboxes but that’s nothing compared to what it was like when I was first figuring all this out. Rebuilds used to take weeks and left all my files in disarray. That’s what I mean when I say rebuild for the best possible stability in mind: Keep what has consistently worked for you, and start from there, even if it means starting with something super small and simple.

Ergo, don’t think of it as getting it “right” this time, or anytime. Think of it as an ongoing process of discovering what works best for your understanding and needs in the moment.

Good luck with it!


At least that’s how I do it. Everything in one place. The documents are minimally sorted/ordered. But no tags, no systematic names, nothing like that. It’s all in the same pot and therefore searchable.

I don’t put any work into the “correct” structure of the database. This structure does not exist. I build the required structure afterwards for a specific project.

And this is where one of DT’s great strengths comes into play. The search functions. When I’m working on a project, I group the relevant documents into smart folders no matter where they’re actually located.

It’s possible that I won’t find everything I’ve saved this way. But that applies to any form of organization. :slightly_smiling_face:


I’m also mostly a “1 database person” in the context of what you’re asking*.

I have a “main database” that is essentially my library. All my knowledge stuff goes in there, regardless of topic. I want it all in one central location. I use groups to separate topics, but my prevailing view is that all these topics represent my interests and they’re not separate in my mind so I don’t separate them in DevonThink. I want them to mix together, and I limit my searches to a specific group if I need to define the scope for something. When I started with DT I did create different databases for different topics, but the separation between different topics is not always clear cut and I quickly abandoned that method. It seems like your database structure is hindering your workflow, and you might also benefit from the “1 database” workflow.

One day I might have to separate my topics out if my database gets too large. I occasionally think about what that will look like, but mostly don’t care (I actually think it’s more likely that when the time comes I will archive/delete old content that is no longer relevant).

*I actually do have more than one database, but my other databases are for specific “non-library” tasks. I have an email archive database, a life admin database for bills and the like, and a couple more. But I only have one knowledge management database.


I use tags to separate topics; assigning one or more tags to a record

Note: Tags can be seen as a special type of group