How to access DTP & databases when your computer away?

I need to bring my Mac into the shop, and still use DTP and my databases (which are stores on an encrypted disk image). So, I need to ensure that I have access to DTP and be sure that I’m not fouling up save files from disparate locations. What’s the most avoidable solution?

If by “taking your Mac into the shop” you mean that you must send your Mac in for repairs, you will need access to another Mac on which a copy of DEVONthink Pro is installed, and if your databases are self-contained (do not contain Index-captured content), you can work with copies of your encrypted disk images of databases copied to that Mac, or copied to an external drive mounted on that Mac.

When the primary Mac has been repaired and returned, just copy the (closed) database files back it.

Obviously, though, the situation would be more complicated if your databases have Indexed content, as those files would not be available unless they were also copied to the second Mac in such a way as to retain valid Paths.

Thanks so much for your help, Bill!

Yes, the computer has been sent away. I moved the disk image w/ the DTP databases onto an external HD, installed DTP on my temp/replacement computer, and then opened my DTP databases (from the disk images stored on the external HD). I also moved the Inbox.dtBase2 file onto the external HD.

But…I just noticed that I still don’t have all of my DTP files, many of which sit in the Inbox (I haven’t yet stored many them into their proper database). The problem is, my computer isn’t accessible since it’s now being repaired, and I just have the individual DTP database files - and my other DTP files are stored on my TimeMachine HD.

So, if I can access the files on my TimeMachine HD, which files should I move (or copy) so that I have access to ALL of my files? Also, how do I avoid this in the future so that I have my essential DTP files stored in such away that I can keep them in a secure location, but have access to them when a computer goes down?


Just discovered another problem… When I opened a file in DTP that was saved in my databases (that I’ve saved onto an external HD), I’ve noticed that the file I thought I was working off of isn’t the same file at all. So is there some other files that I need to move / copy in order to have access to the correct version of the files stored in my DTP database?

Please let me know… My work is suspended until I can access these files.

  1. Your Global Inbox is the file named “Inbox.dtBase2” and is located at ~/Library/Application Support/DEVONthink Pro 2/.

You should be able to find and move that database to you current computer from Time Machine, placing it at the same location as above.

  1. Copying databases to another computer works seamlessly if the databases are self-contained (not containing Index-captured content). But databases that contain Indexed files can’t find those files unless they had also been copied to the new computer, in such a way that their Paths remain valid.

Could that have been the cause of your finding that a document turned out to be different than expected? If the document you selected had been Index-captured, but not copied separately, and if a different document with the same name and Path location existed on the second computer, that could happen.

I don’t know what’s going on. I’m looking at a document that was saved yesterday - and yet it’s coming up with an old version that doesn’t relate to the file I was working on yesterday. Should I have brought over some other files?

Just wondering if you have any other ideas about this… Specifically, do you know if I need to move / copy any other files? Or move DTP files in different locations to find files that I’ve stored in the Inbox and databases?

Also, is there some way I should save or move my files so that I can have access to them on a remote computer? I want to be sure to avoid this problem in the future.

Thanks very much!

Maybe our new sync technology could be helpful here? See my blog.

Thanks for this. Here are my two questions / concerns:

(1) Security. I keep my databases on encrypted disk images. How could I employ similar security / protection if were to use the sync set up you’ve created?

(2) Accessibility. My greatest fear with using DTP is that all of my files are on DTP databases. I’m fearful about needing to access my files, but being unable to do so if my computer is inaccessible or if I use another computer without DTP or if my DTP database files are corrupted (which means both loosing files and the folder structure I’ve created in DTP).

So, given these needs and concerns, what would you recommend as a solution?

My recommendation would be not to use DevonThink. Try the Finder instead.

I am serious.

DevonThink isn’t designed as a file system manager and it isn’t fit for that purpose.

From the unix point of view a DevonThink database is a folder on your hard disk. However, it is very confusing to think of it in that way. For the hierarchy in that folder (that is the devision into subfolders and the location of the files therein) does not mirror the hierarchy you see in DevonThink: groups do not correspond to subfolders, replicants aren’t aliases, and there is no clear relation between the place of an entry in DevonThink’s hierarchy and its place on your hard disk’s file system.

For that reason, all programs except DevonThink should treat a DevonThink database as if it were a file rather than a folder.

For that reason you run into trouble if you try to change a document in the DevonThink database from outside DevonThink (DevonThink doesn’t know of those changes and when it comes to know of those changes it might not know how to handle them). The same holds true for iTunes, iPhoto and a lot of other database managers: when you add, remove or rename files in the iTunes folder iTunes gets confused.

If you save a Word/Excel/Whatever file to a group (say ‘mammals’) in DevonThink by means of Korm’s script ([url]A better way to save Word files (and other non-web files)?]), DevonThink imports that file to its database (somewhere in its filesystem) and adds a reference (entry) to that file in the ‘mammals’ group. No problem at all.

However, if you continue editing that document in Word/Excel/Whatever after adding it to DevonThink or if you reopen it from within Word/Excel/Whatever you might get in trouble, for in that case Word/Excel/Powerpoint/Whatever changes the file without DevonThink knowing about it.

In other words: DevonThink is not fit for the kind of things you want it to use for.

So, do yourself a favor, create a new folder in your documents folder in the Finder, open a DevonThink database, select the entire hierachy and drag it into the newly created folder, repeat this with all the DevonThink databases you have, finally delete DevonThink and all its databases.

Best wishes,


By the way:

(1) I am afraid that if your computer is unaccessible, you will not be able to access any files on that computer, whether they are inside DevonThink or outside of it.

(2) For the fourth time: you can’t create a folder structure in DTP. You can create a group structure in DTP but as I explained above this group structure does not correspond to a folder structure on your hard disk.

(3) AFAIK if a DevonThink database gets corrupted you don’t loose your files and in most cases you can easily rebuild the database (Tools → Rebuild Database…), or restore a backup from within DevonThink (Tools → Restore Backup…). In addition, I recommend a good external backup.

Wow. That’s a pretty radical solution. Not sure if I’m really to take such an extreme measure - esp. considering how it’ll force me to overhaul my work set up. And that will take…hours. But thanks for your feedback. I’ll take a look at your document. Thanks.

Just wondering if others want to weigh in on what @arnow wrote…

Would be happy to consider other views / ideas / input…

I agree with arnow’s point that DEVONthink shouldn’t be used merely as a Finder replacement, although not necessarily for the reason he stated. DEVONthink is a much richer environment than the Finder.

We do recommend against modifying a database or its content from “outside”, when DEVONthink doesn’t “know” about the activity. To edit a Word document that’s stored in the database, for example, select the document from within the database and open it under Word. When finished editing in Word, press Command-S to save it, and the database will be up to date with the changes.

DEVONthink stores document files in their native filetypes. They can at any time be exported back to the Finder. As they are stored in the folder named Files.noindex, inside the database, if the DEVONthink application were to become nonfunctional, they can be found within that folder.

Thanks very much for your reply… Whew! I’m relieved to read what you wrote!

I actually work on files through exactly the process you’ve outlined.

But…nevertheless, I’m still trying to figure out the best solution to my earlier concerns re: it if my computer is inaccessible OR if I use another computer without DTP or if my DTP database files are corrupted (which means both loosing files and the group structure I’ve created in DTP)? I understand that the Sync capability just ensures that the database files are backed up on a server. But how would you suggest ensuring that I back up DTP in such a way that its users will have access to its files and group structure under the conditions I have outlined?

Thank you for your help…

Hi jprint,


jprint714 responded:

You don’t, otherwise you wouldn’t have the problem you described in a previous reply ([url]How to access DTP & databases when your computer away?]).

Read carefully: I didn’t say that you’re lying. I said that you do not work the way Bill recommends. I believe that you think you do and I understand why you think you do. However, you don’t work that way and the fact that you think you do while you do not do is one of the reasons why I recommend you to stop using DevonThink.

You clearly have difficulties understanding DevonThink (all your 80 posts on this forum, ask for clarification, beg for applescripts or complain about DevonThink!). IMHO those difficulties are for a large part because you erroneously think of DevonThink as a file manager (you can use DevonThink as a file manager if you understand it isn’t, but not if you think it is!).

That’s one side: your difficulties trying to get DevonThink to work as a file manager. The other side is that you don’t seem to need the features that make DevonThink such a great application. Elsewhere you said that you always know where to add a new file in the hierarchy and where to find the files you need. You said that you never use DevonThink’s ‘classify’ and ‘see also’ panes. This suggests that you don’t need more than a file manager.

So why taking so much trouble to make DevonThink work for a purpose for which it is hardly fit (it can do it but only if you understand it well and be careful not to make mistakes) while you don’t need it for the purpose for which it fits?

I know that Bill and some other representatives of DEVONtechnologies sometimes present DevonThink as Super Finder (e.g. “DEVONthink is a much richer environment than the Finder”) but I don’t think that is very helpful. It is more useful to think of DevonThink as an entirely different beast - not richer, not poorer, but a different kind of environment that serves different purposes. DevonThink combines a powerful tool to find relations among documents with a powerful tool to capture, store, organize, and retrieve information (I think Korm explains this very well elsewhere in this forum, but I can’t remember where). Of course, the purposes served by DevonThink and those served by a file manager like the Finder partly overlap, and depending on your requirements it might make sense to use DevonThink as a file manager in addition to its use as a research tool and information manager. But if file management is your main purpose (as it appears to be), DevonThink is probably not your best choice.

My point was not that DevonThink shouldn’t be used merely as a Finder replacement, but that it should not be used as a Finder replacement – unless you are Bill DeVille, Greg Jones, Korm or one of the other gurus who know exactly what they are doing (though I suspect that many gurus will never use DevonThink as a Finder replacement precisely because they know it is difficult to use it that way - if you import your files in DevonThink it is difficult to access them with other applications, including the Finder, and you will be eternally worried about loosing DevonThink’s non-existing folder hierarchy; if you index your documents folder you will run into problems when you replicate entries in DevonThink, or when you alias, rename or move files and folders with the Finder or another file system manager).

This forum is the perfect place to ask clarifying questions. I wouldn’t know anything about DEVONthink if I didn’t do that and Bill and all the other angels here didn’t answer me. I believe the OP wishes to know how to have access to his files at times when it is not possible to use DEVONthink and/or the machine where it is installed. That is a very reasonable question that most users will encounter eventually. As Bill notes, mucking around in the database package is fraught and to be avoided.

Over here, my collaborators and I use Dropbox, Box (the paid version that provides desktop sync), and various private WebDav locations, which all have “folders” at the ~/ level of the filesystem on all our our machines, are easily indexed with DEVONthink, and are all accessible to any application that accesses the filesystem, such as Finder, PathFinder, Spotlight, document editors, and so on. Of course, these are not securely encrypted, so if collaboration is not a requirement, then an alternative is to use portable encrypted drives attached to your machine - or even large-capacity flash memory (CF, SD, Micro SD, and so on).

Personally, I don’t like portable drives because they are more cumbersome to backup or replicate for security purposes – frequent and multiple backup is essential. And, I am a klutz and somehow manage to trash or lose every portable drive. :laughing:

Over here, I have several GB indexed in DEVONthink that reside externally. I also do not use DEVONthink to rearrange the folders in these indexed locations, but do that task on the external source - which I think is the best practice.

@korm and others mentioned in my previous response: it was not my intention to engage you in a cause that is not yours and I apologize if you feel that I did so. Mentioning you was my way of expressing appreciation for all the work you do in this forum, but I understand that it was a clumsy way, so please accept my apologies.

@jprint714, korm and others: I mentioned the 80 posts to convince jprint714 that he has serious problems with DevonThink, not to chide him for asking those questions and I apologize if I gave another impression.

I wholeheartedly agree that this forum is an excellent place to ask for clarifications and I really appreciate all the trouble the regular inhabitants take to answer those question. I have learned a lot.

Perhaps I should explain the following sentence in my previous post: “you can use DevonThink as a file manager if you understand it isn’t, but not if you think it is!”

I use Korm’s DT prompbox script (A better way to save Word files (and other non-web files)?) as an example.

To avoid misunderstandings: I find it a wonderful script and I am very happy to use it. Thanks Korm for posting it!

However, it works only if you understand what you are doing. I understand that when I save a document from within Word to the DT promptbox that that document is saved in the promptbox folder and copied to the database. Hence, I understand that if I save that document a second time it is the document in the promptbox folder that is updated not the copy in the database. So I will not do that. Instead I will close the document after the first save and open it again from within DevonThink. I understand this because I know that DevonThink doesn’t work like a file manager.

However, when you think of DevonThink as a file manager it is very intuitive/natural to think that the promptbox script directly saves the word document in a group in the DevonThink database, and hence that de document in the database is updated when you save it again. Even stronger, if you think of DevonThink as a file manager, it might be difficult to see the difference between my way of understanding what happens and your way of understanding what happens. As a result you get the kind of problems described by jprint174 in this post: [url]How to access DTP & databases when your computer away?].

Similarly, if you understand what you are doing you will know that if you rename a file in an indexed folder, DevonThink will ‘think’ that that file is deleted and will remove all references to that file at the next index update. So you will know that renaming a file in an indexed folder will result in the deletion of all its entries in DevonThink and you will be careful either not to replicate files that are in an indexed group (in which case you are free to rename your files with a file manager) or to do all renaming from within DevonThink.

However, if you think of DevonThink as a file manager you will not be aware that from DevonThink’s point of view renaming a file (say from ‘my dog’ into ‘my pets’) in an indexed folder comes down to deleting the file ‘my dog’ and creating a new one ‘my pets’. You will not be aware that the entry ‘my pets’ in the updated indexed group is a new entry but rather think that it is the renamed ‘my dog’ entry and wonder why all its replicants have disappeared.

These and similar problems make it difficult to use DevonThink as a file manager (it can be done, but it is difficult and it has serious limitations).

I have assisted many friends and colleagues with these kinds of problems and that’s why, in general, I recommend (1) not to think of DevonThink as a file manager, and (2) not to use DevonThink if you only want a better Finder (or a better Spotlight), rather than an information manager.

Your mileage may vary, and I will not press this point any further as it doesn’t seem to help.

Best wishes,


(Smiley added by me!)

May I draw your attention to Bill DeVille’s remark:

This means that when a database is corrupted you loose at most your group structure, but not the files: they are in the Files.noindex folder on your hard disk.

I have meddled into corruption problems several times and in all those cases the group structure could be recovered easily, either by rebuilding the database or by restoring one of DevonThink’s internal backups. It is very easy to do so, although it may take some time.

If your hard disk has crashed: use a backup.

If your computer has to be repaired: copy your databases to dropbox, an external hard disk or a new computer before you send it in (as recommended by Bill DeVille:

If you need to access your database when you are in Los Angeles, while your computer is in Berlin and not connected to the internet: sync your databases to dropbox, take them with you on a USB stick, or use a portable hard disk (you may try DevonThink’s new sync technology as suggested by eboenish, but I myself would use ChronoSync or wait until the new technology is out of beta). (See korm’s suggestions: viewtopic.php?f=2&t=15431&p=71714#p71701).

Mount the computer without DTP in target mode on the computer with DTP. Open the relevant DTP databases, within DevonThink select the groups you need on the other computer and drag them to that computer (where they will be miraculously transformed into folders).

If you regularly use a computer without DTP consider putting DTP on that computer and syncing your databases via dropbox, a usb stick or whatever.

Try to repair the database (Tools → Verify & Repair)

If that doesn’t work: try to rebuild the database from within DevonThink (Tools → Rebuild Database…)

If that doesn’t work: restore an external backup of your database and/or try to restore a backup from within DevonThink.

If that doesn’t work; recover your files from the Files.noindex folder on your hard disk.

Dear jprint714,

I had the impression that you were asking for help because you missed the recent versions of some files you think you have saved in a DevonThink database and wanted to avoid this problem in the future.

I have suggested to avoid this problem in the future by not using DevonThink for things for which it isn’t designed and for which the Finder is a better tool (e.g. storing files that are regularly updated from outside DevonThink).

Although this recommendation for the future came through, I guess I have not made myself clear enough about what I think the problem is and how it can be solved now.

So let me try this one more time:

I think that the following problem has nothing to do with not bringing over the right DevonThink files:

I think that you did not save those files where you think you saved them. I think that you saved them outside your DevonThink databases. I guess they are in your DT promptbox folder. But they might also be somewhere else (depending on your version of Office they might even be in the trash – Office X, 2004 and 2008 are notorious because they update files in the trash!).

So I suggest that you have a look in your DT promptbox folder. If you don’t find your files there, I suggest trying to find them with Spotlight (or another tool that searches your hard disk). If that doesn’t work look in the trash folder.

I look forward to hearing what the results are of this attempt to find your files back,

Best wishes,