Devonthink for teacher

My wife is a teacher for biology, Latin and German language. She still has lots of hardcopies in many folders. I’m planing to get this stuff digitalized and would need some advices. Has anybody carried out such a project using devonthink? I ordered a brother ads 2800w for the digitalization. Is that scanner compatible with devonthink? Would you recommend something else? Can I have a backup synced to our onedrive account? Where would you see an advantage versus onenote? I’m sorry for asking so many questions but I read a lot in the last days and the more I read the more confused I am. I appreciate your help and tipps. Best Stefan

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Oh. That is certainly an eclectic mix of disciplines.

First, off-topic but hopefully helpful. Buy an external hard drive as an additional backup/storage.

Second, scan stuff, tag it crudely (biology, Latin, German), dump it in one mega-folder, and then process it to store permanently. This puts more copies in electronic form before you get lost in deciding where each piece should finally go.

Finally, I find DevonThink useful to compile documents for anthologies in different areas of study. I index rather than import.

Hope this helps.


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Welcome @Swoti

Is that scanner compatible with devonthink?

We don’t directly support scanners. You should check if the scanner is compatible with the version of macOS you’re running. If it will run with Apple’s Image Capture application, it should work with DEVONthink.

Can I have a backup synced to our onedrive account?

Do not put your DEVONthink databases in any cloud synced folder.

We strongly advocate proper primary backups using TimeMachine (or similar snapshot-style backup applications) and external drives. Also, you should read the recent series of articles we posted:​

Also, see: Help > Documentation > Getting Started > A Word About Backups

Where would you see an advantage versus onenote?

We are not directly competing with OneNote, so I can’t answer this.

I suggest you crack open the manual, beginning with the Getting Started chapter. This gives you a good overview of what DEVONthink is (and isn’t).


I can’t write now, but I couldn’t teach as effectively as I do without DEVONthink. I will write sometime later about my uses. But you can search for my posts for some insight.


Well there is not really much said about backups or I just didn’t dig deep enough. The only message I found was : don’t use a cloud sync and everybody needs to care for himself since nothing is implemented. That’s kind of odd. I don’t think a backup tool would be an extraordinary wish for data management. I guess devonthink is not what I’m looking for. I want to have more security for my data. Thank you for the rapid feedback.

Don’t give up on DEVONthink so fast!

To me it seems there is some confusion of backup and sync.

On one hand DEVONthink offers access to a number of sync services, iCloud, CloudMe, DropBox, WebDAV, and it is possible—and preferred by some who work with super sensitive data—to sync only over your own WiFi.

This allows syncing between Macs and with DEVONthink To Go on iOS/iPadOS. But syncing is not a backup! The data is on the machine(s), not in the cloud. The cloud is just the connection between the devices to keep their data in sync.

Like bluefrog said, backing up with macOS’ own Time Machine or a similar app is a very good way to save your data. But of course this goes only for local backups which won’t help you in case of fire, earthquake, burglary, or anything else that makes your backup media vanish.

Because of that using a cloud service as a second backup location is also a very good idea. And it can be done with DEVONthink. There is just a caveat:

Uploading (not syncing) a DEVONthink database as-is to a cloud service to save might screw the database. Because the cloud service might have a problem with properly keeping in sync all the numerous files involved, or it might have a problem with the naming of some files and folders.

But there is a simple solution to that problem: Just zip the database and upload the zip file to the cloud service of your choice. Then it is only one file and not many that might confuse the cloud service.

This involves human interaction, true, although it can be automatized at least partially. And it is also true, that the zipped database is only a snapshot of that very moment you zipped the database. As is the next zipped database version, and there won’t be any online backups in between the two. So the reliability of this method of backing up depends on how often you backup this way. (Same goes with local backups too, if you plug-in the backup drive only every month it won’t be of much help in case of a crash.)

And what also has to be kept in mind is the maximum file size the cloud services allows. A database upload as one file instead of many might reach that maximum.

That said, I do strongly recommend you to use DEVONthink. Because it provides a kind of data safety different to the one you asked about: DEVONthink does not use a proprietary database format and therefore does not lock in the data. A database is actually not a file but a file package and because of that in even the worst case the user can have access to his data without DEVONthink being available.

And the structure of interacting and interdependent files that makes a DEVONthink database—as opposed to the single, locked actual database file—that provides the data accessibility is the price for not being able to upload it just like that to any cloud service. (The guys from DEVONthink can explain this way better than me, of course.) And in my opinion it is worth this price.

The files a.k.a. file packages of the great writing app Scrivener, by the way, are similarly complex and because of that cannot be uploaded to sync services just like that either. But Scrivener has a built in backup feature that automatically saves a project (for example, on close) as a zip file at a location the user can chose and it has a setting to automatically add a time-stamp to the name of the zip file and only keep the last x versions. I’d love to see that in DEVONthink too.

PS: Just in case you might ask how my practise of backing up online is, I zip my main database once per week and occasionally in between and keep the last four versions online. My cloud service is Tresorit, but without doubt it would work with OneCloud too.


I second what @suavito replied above. Devonthink has options to be considerably more secure than OneDrive or Evernote or any other application which saves your data primarily in the cloud and thus is subject to potential data breaches beyond your control.

Devonthink data fundamentally resides on your local computer, not in the cloud. You absolutely have options to backup the data locally using Time Machine or an external hard drive or to a cloud storage service if you wish. Separately, you can sync data among multiple computers - that creates the interesting situation of a database which is immune from single-point failure. If Evernote goes down, your data is inaccessible; if you sync your Devonthink among 2 or however many computers, any one computer is sufficient to access your data and the computers will eventually sync up when the failed computer comes back up.

That said, there simply is no comparison between Devonthink and OneNote for storing materials for teaching, academics, and other knowledge-based professions. The ability to search, file, organize, organize, and annotate information is dramatically higher in Devonthink. There is truly no competing app on Windows which does what Devonthink does either. Teaching is a perfect fit for what Devonthink can do.


Thank you both for taking the time to explain about the backup strategies. What suavito described in his last chapter is what I was hoping for. For me it would be totally sufficient to have a zipped copy transfered to onedrive once a week. But I know myself I will never do this manually. I will test the software as soon as my wife received a new MacBook. It’s a pity that it’s not running with windows. I’m more the windows user she’s the macos person. Which doesn’t make it easier for me to setup a workflow. She has lots of big folders of teaching materials and I want to scan them with the brother ads 2800w. How do you set up your workflow can you directly scan to devonthink or do you have a folder for this. How do you name your files? Do you use the ocr of devonthink or the scanners. In my case that would be Abby. Do you prefer to use pdf as a format? Thanks.

You are asking about how best to address the balance of three needs:

  • Converting printed content to electronic format.
  • Indexing, searching, and categorizing electronic content.
  • Storing electronic content as backups and archival copies.

The first need requires a scanner. Because you want to translate the scanned content to readable electronic files, you will need a robust OCR-compliant scanner and software. The hardware and software can be set up independently of what you use for the second need.

DevonThink satisfies the second need. It is one of the best in class, although it is not the only software that will index, search, and categorize electronic files. On macOS, EagleFiler and FoxTrot Pro are other oft-mentioned options.

Finally, backups are what you need to recover in case of an immediate crash or an inadvertent deletion of a file. Archival copies are what you create to remove infrequently used content from your backups. Think: working hard drive -> backups -> archives. A range of options are possible on macOS for robust backups (TimeMachine to Carbon Copy Cloner). I am old school and still somewhat prefer to burn backups to CDs/DVDs for archival storage.

In your place, I would consider this approach:

  • Buy THREE 1-2TB external hard drives and ONE 5+TB hard drive. Label one 1-2TB as Working, one 1-2TB as Clone, one 1-2TB as TM Backup, and the 5+TB hard drive as Archives.

  • Partition the 5+TB drive into two partitions: TM Archives and Documents.

  • Use the best scanner and OCR software combination possible. Scan+OCR documents to the Working external drive with finder tags as mentioned or into folders of the top-level names (biology, Latin, German).

  • Use DevonThink to index the external Working hard drive folders for the various disciplines (tags or folders).

  • Use TimeMachine to backup the main hard drive regularly to the TM Backup hard drive. Use a cloud service to backup the main hard drive regularly.

  • Routinely (monthly) carbon copy the external Working hard drive entirely to the Clone external hard drive.

  • Routinely carbon copy the TM Backup and the Clone hard drive contents each to the two separate partitions on the 5+TB Archive drive.

  • At some point, when all is far enough along, routinely burn the contents of the Archive hard drive to DVDs.

You could skip the Clone hard drive and go directly to the partition on the Archive storage as desired. This would give a minimum configuration of two 1-2TB hard drives (one as Working and one as TM Backup) and one 5+TB hard drive (as Archive).


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For me, it’s the documents I work with (and that you’ll be scanning for your wife) that concern me in terms of backup. I store all of my primary source documents on my local harddrive, but use synced folders, and then index them in DT. So, Box syncs the files themselves across multiple devices (which thus also function as a backup), and TimeMachine backs up both the Box folders and the DT databases. DT has a smart rule set to check for new PDF files in those folders, and to OCR anything that isn’t already.

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I plan to put a backup on my onedrive account as well on my backuped nas. When it comes to ocr and scanning I read some reviews and decided to go for the brother ads 2800w. But it seems most people here using the ix1500. For the ocr I don’t know what the best tool is.

The amount of effort you put into backups really depend on the value of your archive I think. To be honest, you can keep on building in redundancy and safe guards until forever.

That said, back up strategies are under appreciated in my opinion. Many times people do not think through the number and type of media used, the storage locations (plural), regular testing and several other aspects. Not because they don’t want to, but because they simply do not realize what might happen in case disasters strikes. The problem is that you usually find out your back up strategy was wrong in a rather unpleasant way.

You might consider buying a copy of “Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac” by @joekissell. He also wrote the revised (and free) DevonThink 3 ebook. You can find the book website here:

If you buy the Server version of DT3 then you can upload new documents using the web on your Windows computer. But in that case, the options for searching/organizing the data are not nearly as advanced when using the web server. And the web server version does cost considerably more than the other options.

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I’m a teacher for Biology and German too and been using DT since 2008.

I had a lot of materials in paper form but I scanned them nearly all over the years. I even scanned old books by cutting the back of. That is because sometimes I was searching for a material but found nothing only to find it later in an old book – now everything is in DT and searchable.
I use an ScanSnap IX500 (and the previous version too, but it had to be replaced after 10 years of very heavy use), I can recommend it. It works seamlessly with DT: I scan it to a folder as pdf, DT open automatically, converts the pdf with ocr and deletes the old file, the I use the auto-file funktion to sort it to the right place.

I have a lot of databases open, for example one for biology, one for german, one for school related things, private stuff, etc.
The organisation style is very different. For german I have the materials sorted mainly by author or by form. For biology it is more by subject and form.
DT is great to find the stuff you need, even if it is not in the right place so it’s ok not to sort everything perfectly.

Everything I created for all my work live is on my Mac – most of it in DT – so I’m very strict with my backups. What if a fire destroys the house or the equipment is stolen?

  • I have an hourly time machine backup
  • every night Carbon Copy Cloner clones my hard drive (the clone is bootable so in case of failure of my main drive I can restart from the clone and continue the work)
  • weeky I change the clone backup disk (i plug the disks without case in a dock) and make an extra backup that is stored offsite (one in my office in school and one at my parents house
  • some data is stored in iCloud and therefore it’s on multiple macs but It gets cloned and time-machined as well

I can recommend DT for your use case.


Edit: deleted part about not being able to open groups from search results (it tried again and it worked, I don’t know why)


Very good advices here!!
I am a Spanish teacher in a couple of universities, so I finish each semester with a lot of papers that finally I need to throw. I am using DT but I need to do better.
The universities works with Windows, so I need to keep DTTG synced to get the document I need if I forgot to take and send by mail or something like this to my university email.
The problem is I am still lost about how to organise everything inside Devonthink. To make it more difficult each university have different programs and grades and I usually give different levels each semester.

I will follow this thread as looks will have interesting tips for me. :wink:

Be very careful in what and how you store things in iCloud. Fantastic Apple, on not time used files, use to replace the real file with a placeholder with .iCloud extension, and you still see the real file in finder and other file tools but the really thing is a text file and here comes the problem: if you copy out of iCloud Drive one of those files and all go ok, macOS downloads the right file and copies it, but if it fails (and fails so and then, more so than then), you only get a generic finder file error and the file is not copied (or only is copied the .icloud text placeholder file). While you are inside a macOS session, you still will see the real file, but once you go out of macOS you will see the real .iCloud placeholder.

In my experience, if Time Machine fails to get the real file, it happily copies the placeholder and all your backups seems right but they are not. This seems happens with other backup tools as well.

I’ve lost my 25 writing years that way a couple of days ago. Not Time Machine, not iCloud Drive, not my external disks and not OneDrive had the real files… only the placeholders. As said, inside macOS you still see the real file name, icon and size. The only way to see if it is a real file or a placeholder is with CMD-I and look usage disk against file size. “ls -l” should not list those files as well.

Lucky of me, I have a remote repository in my NAS that handled automatic zipped folders and based on those monthly continuously zip-and-backup I was able to recover all files… from Windows, removing the .icloud placeholders…

A good difference between DT2 and DT3 is DT3 perform searches across all open databases, and then does not matter how you’ve stored your stuff: a global search will give you all your found data.

BTW, I’m a Spaniard living in The Netherlands.

This is a great thing!
I need to admit that the problem is more about me and find the time and the inspiration to organice all my material.

BTW, I am a Spaniard living in the far Hong Kong. ¡Saludos, compatriota!

I make sure that all files are stored on the mac as well (disabled “optimise mac memory” in iCloud settings) so I think everything get backed up (por lo menos cloned con Carbon Copy Cloner).

But to be sure I just checked that ~library/Mobile Documents/com~~apple~~CloudDocs/current projects/ on the cloned disk drive has about 23,5 GB which is the amount it should have.

If it gets replaced by a different file CCC will keep the older version (until the disk is full).

Do you use CCC or something similar (super duper comes to mind)?

et al:
And don’t forget to be checking your databases’ health routinely. See…

though the commands are in the File menu in DEVONthink 3, but the principles still apply.

Great thread, by the way!