Getting started with Devonthink

I find getting started with Devonthink to be almost overwhelming, I’m not sure how to set up the database is so that they sync and there seems to be conflicting advice on how to do that.

While I work through that, in David Spark’s Field Guide on going paperless he indicates that you should bring your documents into Devonthink and not just use Devonthink to index them in place.

Unfortunately he does not explain why he makes this recommendation and if you see says he will hopefully explain is here. Having been burned before by getting Information into certain containers that then having them blow up destroying all your work I am somewhat hesitant to do that.

I currently break my file system down like this

Personal growth
Focused and organized
Entertainment and travel
System Management

I would love to just have one database that has all of these items but that would mean it would be 350 GB and I have found that even creating a database of 50 GB even on the new M1 Mac mini with 16 GB of memory tends to make Devonthink not perform well.

If I make each one of these folders its own database can I then open them all at the same time to be able to search across them.

How does having data bases affect working with Devonthink to go?

Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated,

If you have set up your databases and are syncing them between two macs an iPad and an iPhone I would love to know how you can figured them

I suggest you read the Help > Documentation > Getting Started to get a good overview of the philosophy and basics of DEVONthink.

If I make each one of these folders its own database can I then open them all at the same time to be able to search across them.

Yes, but would you actually need to?
And yes, I’d opt for separate databases, though whether I’d put everything from those folders into databases, I can’t say.

How does having data bases affect working with Devonthink to go?

DEVONthink and DEVONthink To Go are separate applications on separate platforms. There is no requirement for them to have the same databases, and I would argue there’s much in your macOS filesystem you don’t need on mobile.

Also, if you’re indexing files into DEVONthink, you should read Help > Documentation > In & Out > Importing & Indexing, especially the Indexing and the filesystem section.


I think if you bring your documents into Devonthink it is more transparent, however time may have overtaken David Sparks remarks because Indexing is very much improved in its latest form.

I index some folders largely for the same reason that you propose however in an ideal world indexed folders should be contain passive or static file contents.

This is not my situation, as I have a reasonable amount of (often automated) file renaming and file moving going on. The trick here is to index a family of folders which represents the universe of your activity. This enables the indexing process to follow file moves between folders. (and you do not end ups with orphan files). I have had no problems with this latest iteration of indexing and find it works very well. Also, this means I get my files into DTTG which are much more searchable and readable than if I used the Apple Files structure via iCloud.

As always though, have test run and transition into DEVONthink rather than trying the Big Bang change. Hope it goes well for you. :slight_smile:

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DEVONthink does not change your file formats, stores the files in a database structure from which you could actually extract files manually (say if DT went bust and didn’t fix a bug which stopped you accessing DT3 from tomorrow on; yeah, unlikely, that), and offers an excellent export function which will export the files to Finder in a folder structure identical to your group structure in DT3.

I’m pretty confident I could leave DEVONtech any time I wanted to. Not that I would want to - DT3 is nothing short of brilliant!


This is a very important aspect of DT for me as well. With every software product you use, think through how you can access the data if that company for whatever reasons stops to support it.

What would be nice though if you ask me, is if DT alike DTTG allows for an automatic ‘mirrored’ export of the databases in Finder folders. That obviously leads to redundant data, but it’s easier to retrieve files might DT somehow stop working (and no, that’s not a complete backup on it’s own).

My data backups include a weekly export using the DTP Files > Export > Files/Folder feature
I was happy to see group/folder structure maintained, also dates and tags

edit Automated with an applescript triggered using the reminder feature

tell application id "DNtp"
	set theFilingGroup to get record at "/🗂Filing" in database "Devonthink"
	set theDestination to "/Users/DTLow/Desktop/Devonthink Backup"
	export record theFilingGroup to theDestination
end tell


Don’t forget the free Take Control of DEVONthink 3 available from the Support>Handbooks and Extras on the DEVONtechnologies website. It contains lots of useful advice.

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I agree there’s probably many things that no need to be mobile the challenge is finding out what they are and you won’t know until you need it

If you have things like your taxes from 10+ years ago, I’d hazard a guess you’d have no need to carry them :wink:


I felt that way for years, coming back to the program because I thought there was something here but just couldn’t get going. I don’t know that this will work for you, as it did for me, but what I did to get past it was surprisingly simple: start small.

Pick something on which you know you want to take notes. Start taking notes. Force yourself to use the various formats available, so you can understand their differences. Drag and drop some files in there and see how they work. Add some links to web articles. Along the way, try to access your content on different devices and get the sync working. I find I’m still learning new things almost every day, and the program is becoming more powerful for me all the time.

Once you’ve got the basics, start playing around with tags, groups, aliases, all the various things that seem absolutely overwhelming at first. I’ve found a lot of value here. There are things DEVONthink still doesn’t do as well as OneNote or other products (in my experience and to the limits of my knowledge), but I already know that I love what it does do.

As always, your mileage may vary :slight_smile:


I agree with this approach. There seem to be a million posts on this forum about getting started (and I admit to at least one of them) and recently on the MPU forum. I think we are all putting too much pressure on ourselves.

After two years or so using DT I have made peace with this. If you see DT as a solution to a problem you have, give it a try. If it solves that problem then you are already a step ahead. When I got to this point a couple of years ago I was still overwhelmed by all the capabilities that I wasn’t using. Chill. Over time you will find another feature to use and it makes your workflow better. And later on, another. You might never (will likely never) use all of the features and capabilities in DT, but who cares. Sometimes it pops into my head that I am really not using Smart Rules hardly at all and there are so many things that I could do with them — then I correct myself and decide that if there was a pressing need to create some Smart Rules I would just do it. Just this month I started using WikiLinks for the first time (after two years). It solved a problem for me.

Bottom line. Don’t worry, be happy.


As was noticed above, the question might be what it is you’re trying to store. I’ve collected many documents over many years, which are classified in groups similar to what you mentioned in your original post, but am nowhere near 350 GB.

Are you perhaps planning on storing media like videos? Although you probably can do it to a certain level, I think DT should not be considered a product to perform digital assets management (DAM).

If it’s truly 350 GB, you might also consider to perform a temporal division. I.e. you create a database with all the groups and title the database with a year for example.

So you’ll get ‘DT_DB_of_Steve_2015-2016’, ‘DT_DB_of_Steve_2017-2018’, ‘DT_DB_of_Steve_2019-2020’ etc.

In the end I think creating multiple smaller databases is usually better than one gigantic database. Beside performance, if one of the databases goes corrupt for example, you’ll still have all the others. And it’s probably easier to backup smaller databases to WORM media, might you consider that. Personally speaking, the only ‘major downside’ to multiple databases is the impossibility to replicate records between databases, but that’s obviously something for you to consider. Multiple databases for me far outweigh the necessity to replicate between databases.

I guess it’s not necessarily these ‘starter’ groups, but what groups would help you classify your documents. The list you mentioned is quite interesting and inspirational though, so why not start with them?

As a rule of thumb I want to classify the documents in my global inbox with some ease, and if I can’t find a group to classify a document I rethink my group structure. I’ve done that so many times, that 95% if not more of my documents can be classified with ease. You want to aim towards a zero-inbox.

Under what circumstances do you anticipate needing to retrieve the data?

It is very unlikely that I will want a tortilla soup recipe to come up in the same query as an article on the climate impact of corn, so recipes and agriculture go in different databases. The climate impact of corn definitely does belong in the same database as reforestation, climate resilient infrastructure, and so on. Putting it with solar cells, wind turbines, and other forms of renewable energy is a tougher call.



Also, what Solar-Glare said. 50GB is a huge database; 350 GB is mind-bogglingly enormous unless you’re storing lots of media, in which case DT may not be the right tool.

For comparison, my largest database is over 7 million words, mostly in PDF files, and it’s still only about 3.3 GB.


DT is overwhelming, no doubt about it. :grinning:

From experience, I have found that easiest way to get the hang of it is to concentrate upon I want to achieve as a minimum, then explore and experiment (trial and error, mostly error) with the menu and sub-menu commands etc until what I think they mean tallies with what they do mean.

Despite years of using DT I doubt I have scratched the surface.

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I really appreciate your advice and comments but I am having problems just getting it set up to do the basics.

My idea of the basics:

  • From Mac, iPad, and iPhone copy web data into Global inbox. Available on Mac, iPad, and iPhone
  • Scan a document into the inbox, have it be ocr’d
  • Index of Finance folder → Database available from Mac, iPad, and iPhone
  • Tag Files
  • Get rid of Duplicates
  • ReFresh index after adding files from outside of DT.

I am willing to pay $100/hr for help setting this up.

That should be pretty basic stuff, you’re right there. Where I have previously seen users here being that specific about what they want and being prepared to pay to make sure they get it, @BLUEFROG has suggested opening a support ticket. Jim might want to comment here on whether that is the right way to go, so perhaps give it a few hours* before opting for that route.

* to the best of my knowledge Jim is a nindroid and does not require sleep. Or was than an android? Or a humanoid? Oh, whatever, turns out the best of my knowledge is sorely lacking. Anyway, Jim doesn’t seem to sleep. (And here’s the reason why.)


Yes, please start a support ticket.