I don't get the advantage of using DevonThink

Wow. DEVONAgent and DEVONSphere. Way out side my interest, expertise, and probably need!

Before going too much further, spend a little time with the outstanding DEVONthink Manual and the “Take Control of DEVONthink 3” ebook both available on DEVON Technology’s web site. Much better resource than continuing asking a lot of questions here that are answered better in the documentation.

Re Safari “Reader”, simply open the document with Safari and use “Reader” mode.



I thought Agent and Sphere were part of a complete package and should be used together…

They can interact with each other, but are still independent applications.

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Hey, Michaell,

My initial use for Devonthink was just as a basket with search capabilities. The Finder would have worked as well. I’ve gone far beyond that, now.

Tags, for example, can be alternate folder trees. Let’s say I’m trying to untangle all the incestuous malarky you find in those shock political books. There’s no one single way to categorize things, so I might start with a Devonthink group per cabal. Each cabal would have a group for each member.

When a person belongs to two cabals, I could make a replicant of the person’s group in the other cabal. That’s like a symbolic link, or alias, in the filesystem, but with an advantage. If I discover one of the instances needs to be deleted, it doesn’t matter if I delete the “original” or the “copy”, because the original doesn’t disappear until all its references are deleted.

For writing, I like to turn off the “exclude groups from tagging” feature. That means if I have a group called “Men in black,” any file (or group) I tag with “Men in black” will appear as a replicant in the Men in black group.

Tags will also let you create ad-hoc groups, which is kind of nice.

I’ve got a database with a couple hundred notes about plot ideas, characters, and locations. I can tag notes with “Chapter 1”. If some of those ideas also pertain to Chapter 2, they can carry both tags and appear in both places. My hierarchy of notes isn’t disturbed or cluttered up. When I look at the Chapter 1 tag, it’s like looking at a folder.

If I want to re-do my Chapter 1 musings, I can delete the Chapter 1 tag, in one stroke de-tagging everything that was in Chapter 1 but leaving other tags intact and not deleting any documents.

My financial records are all scanned into a Devonthink database along with grumpy letters to vendors, personal notes, and stuff that doesn’t necessarily interest my accountant. I can select the groups that contain the receipts and reports the accountant needs and export them to web format. That gives him a browsable, categorized, copy of everything he might need. He won’t need Devonthink to see my records.

Devonthink is easy to write in. Save an empty word processing document as a template, then create documents from the template. I like setting double-click to open documents externally.

There’s a better way, too.

Nisus is a particularly good fit with Devonthink because you don’t need a template. Just create an RTF document. I’ll edit in DT’s editor if I just want to jot down something quick. Later, if I want to expand it into an essay, a double-click (or right-click and select open with) will open it in Nisus. I have a Nisus macro that loads the style set I usually use and replaces double newlines with single newlines. Bingo. From bare DT RTF to full-on styles in mere mouse clicks that only need be done once. Should I ever need it, Nisus supports bibliography software.

There are of course many ways to organize data. I’ve tried other utilities but keep coming back to DT.


DT has a “clutter free” web capture tool option that can generate RTF, MD, Formatted Note, Web Archive and pure HTML (if I don’t forget anything). It can be customised with CSS (only advanced users). But as this kind of tools, it work better or worse depending in what website are you going to “scrap”.

DT one is very good doing its job, but sometimes I have to “touch” the result.

However, as a matter of preference, I’m in love the way Safari presents Reading View and sometimes I have set to show some sites as Reading View and the two shortcuts described above do the best capture. When this does not work, I use DT way to Formatted Note and then edit once captured. And other Smart Rule converts my edited Formatted Note into the final PDF.

I’ve thought the very same thing over the years. I’m a bit of a minimalist, I like keeping my mac clean and clutter free, with as little software as possible. In my opinion, software has to earn it’s right to be on my Mac, which means that it must do things that I find useful enough to not only pay for, but to add to the complexity of the machine that serves as my external brain. DEVONthink is a beast of an app, it tries to do so much that is often better served by specialized applications (text editing comes to mind). But, there are a few things that keep me coming back to it, upgrading, and most importantly, earning a spot in my Dock.

  1. End-to-End Encryption - Apple really should build this into iCloud, but alas, if you drop a document in iCloud Drive it syncs to Apple’s servers exactly as it is. Not a big deal for most things, but if you deal with sensitive client data like SSL certificates and SSH keys like I do all the time, the risk of exposure is unacceptable. DEVONthink lets me sync documents, and not worry about them being stolen.

  2. Data Collection - The DEVONthink importer is not as good as Evernote’s, but it’s good enough for me. I collect technical documents for reference in building out our cloud architecture quite a bit, and have to keep up with new developments in the field. DEVONthink makes that very easy, and once you have a significant collection, the next point makes this experience even better:

  3. AI-Assisted Filing - Most of the time, DEVONthink’s classify function is better at putting files in the right place than my hand-crafted rules in Hazel are, especially when dealing with technical documentation.

I also really like DEVONthink’s markdown support. It lets you set a CSS file for viewing, enabling syntax highlighting with Prism. When I’m reading a markdown file in DEVONthink and want to edit it, I hit ⌘⌥O to edit the file in BBEdit, then save it back to the database for viewing. Gives me the best of both worlds, the power of BBEdit and the power of DEVONthink.

Everyone’s needs are different, and honestly if iCloud Drive offered end-to-end encryption, I’d have to give DEVONthink a very serious look at if it still deserved a place on my Mac. For now, and for the foreseeable future though, it’s a vital part of my workflow. My job really comes down to knowing things, and DEVONthink helps make sure I don’t forget anything I need to know.



If your main concern is linking your data to your references, you should know that Devonthink works very well with Bookends. There is even a course for dummies like me who can’t figure it out for themselves. See

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I particularly like Smart Groups in DEVONthink. Finder has saved searches, but I’ve never really found a good way to edit them, or even find them after I’ve created them sometimes. Smart Groups just work really well.

One of my favorite features is replicants. I use them to collect reference material from a common library for different consulting projects. It’s also great to be able to have the same reference document stored in different groups based on perspective. I also find that tagging in DEVONthink is much easier than MacOS.


Here are my thoughts on when DT really works & why:

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Great discussion here! I will have to give it a better look but for now I’ll tell you how I’m using DT (and DT mobile on iOS). I’m finishing my PhD and DT was invaluable on my workflow:
– I collect references from the web, or scan some of my own;
– I add them to Bookends as attachments (Bookend will neatly rename them in a format like TITLE-AUTHOR-YEAR);
– The attachments are saved to a folder linked to DT; whenever I add a new file, it appears on DT;
– I then use DT OCR to OCR all needed attachments;
– The I use smart groups to look for specific words / phrases / etc on each attachment;
– When circurgicaly reading, I use DT for macOS and highlight relevant parts; when I know my reading needs more time, I use DT for iOS on my iPad which is synced to DT’s database through a sync-store, and highlight or scribble with the pencil on relevant parts;
– After reading I manually apply relevant tags to each reference (i.e. attachment);
– This is a continuous process: meanwhile I am writing in Scrivener, pulling reference placeholders from Bookends and compiling to Nisus Writer Pro for final formatting (like converting reference placeholders to real reference citations).

So, for me, DT is basically a powerhorse to store, OCR, structure, tag and search information. But I am sure it can have many uses.


I use DT for archiving a large variety of different types of information. These include articles that I have found, all my bills, bank statements, documents that I need to keep etc as well as information that I may wish to refer to in the future. My DT currently has thousands of documents and references. I have gone virtually paperless as items that arrive in a physical form I scan and store as well and then shred the documents (if they have personal information).
I set my DT up with numerous groups and sub-groups in order to make archiving and storing more logical.
In your case, you could logically create groups for the information you wish to reference but when it comes to producing papers, although I know it can be done in DT, I would use something like Scrivner and pull in from DT the relevant bits. I say this because I personally do not use DT for producing anything rather as a database of information. The documentation for DT does explain how you can do much more than what I use it for.
An advantage I see for DT (for me) is that it stores all the data in one location (not forgetting it can sync to other devices). It is a bit like using the Photos app on a Mac where all the photos are stored in what appears to be one file but it actually contains all the original and modified versions of the photos. You could of course do this all your self by categorising and create a myriad of folders to do the same thing but why bother?
I guess there are many other users that have experience in achieving what you wish to do but as I explained, I use it as a central repository for data I wish to reference at a future time and find it incredibly useful for that.
I also have the DT Go on my mobile devices and if I need to reference something whilst away from my computer, I can still do so.
In reference to your being enlightened, there is a Take Control of Devonthink book available which is free. Version 1.5 covers DEVONthink 3.6.2 for Mac plus the just-released DEVONthink To Go 3.0.

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How do you then sync data between your devices? Do you use WebDAV? I have the same concerns with the need for data encryption in documents, and reading your post made me wonder how I could use DT to make files more secure.

I know you aren’t asking me, but I’m going to comment my solution.

I use a Synology as my WebDAV server for sync database:

  • One specific user account only for DT.
  • One encrypted volume without auto-mount enabled.
  • Only that user (and global admin) has access to that volume.
  • HTTPS access only with a Let’s Encrypt auto-renewed certificate.
  • Sync Database with Password.
  • Normal unencrypted local databases.
  • Restricted remote access to NAS (currently, only from Netherlands and Spain).

This deals to:

  • Stolen NAS: nobody has access to that partition.
  • Hacked NAS: specific limited account. If someone has access to the NAS, the encrypted sync database is still garbage.
  • HTTPS only: no man-in-the-middle possibility.

I think it is a good balance security/complexity.

Said that, my data into DT is not critical… If someone stole it, they will get a lot of magazines, pulps, and notes related to those…

Sorry for the late reply. I use the DT iCloud CloudKit syncing. I figure it doesn’t matter what syncing service I use since the files are encrypted before leaving my Mac.

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@zeppley , I am at the beginning of an academic career, part way through a doctorate. I would love to read your links regarding how academics use DT3. I am in the process of creating work flows that can handle hundreds or even thousands of sources pertaining to a particular topic (for instance, the history and diverse philosophies of intercultural education within both the English and French-speaking world, from the colonial period up to present day, the differences and commonalities).

I am also struggling to figure out the best way to use DT without having to copy and paste or completely re-type in a reference manager later on. I wish there was an easy way (not 15 steps, 4 third-party programs, and three sets of scripts :wink:) to sync the reference material of selected documents in DT with a program like Zotero.

Here is the practical application: As I organize, highlight, and annotate sometimes hundreds of documents on a topic for a research project within DT, rather than having to create a new a reference item within Zotero from scratch later on, I would love to be able to simply select documents within DT and have the basic reference material I had already typed or edited in DT (Title and author at the very least) to auto-populate within a Zotero group of my choosing. DT may already be able to do this and I just haven’t seen it. Or I may just not be far enough along in the learning curve in my use of DT.

For my purposes Zotero is fantastic because 1) it’s seamless integration with Word as I compile the actual research document, and 2) it’s capacity to instantly output in so many different reference styles depending on the context of the research project (including annotated bibliographies), and 3) organizing my references via groups and tags for future reference (I am constantly referring to pertinent resources and articles from previous projects).

Before those with more expertise on Zotero and academic use (there should be a lot of postings already on this site) post anything, but if Zotero is fantastic, why are you at this point looking to add more technology? What exactly is the problem you are trying to fix? What added value do you seek with adding DEVONthink into your work?

I’m not saying there is not added value, but it has to be lined up with your expectations or future learnings about the tool.


@rmschne . I just realized that I wasn’t exactly answering your initial post. Perhaps I should have begun a new thread.

However, to answer your question, I see DT and Zotero as serving two very different functions. For me, Zotero is a great for managing reference information and then integrating it within Word. I type in the ISBN# for books and the reference material appears like magic. (Unfortunately, however, the same magic does not take place regarding other kinds of sources. These I have to type in to Zotero by hand.) As I write my final document in Word, Zotero makes citing sources and populating a bibliography a snap. However, I don’t import documents into Zotero. While one can do that, it’s capabilities regarding document handling are limited. Also, I am afraid of what might happen if the Zotero database grows too large and cumbersome (say, hundreds of gigs). My fear is that it might slow down or worse, turning the writing of a research paper using Zotero into a nightmare. So with the attempt to keep Zotero light and agile, I only ask it to manage the reference material itself, rather than the documents as well.

DT, on the otherhand, seems to be made for dealing with large swaths of documents and sources of all kinds. Sure, there is the search function and all, but honestly, up to this point, that has not been a benefit for me. This might change in the future.

Here are a couple of things that seem to be helping (but I am at the front end of the DT learning curve):

  1. The sync feature from DT and DTTG. I read articles and documents on my ipad, annotate, and all of my work appears nearly instantly in DT on my mac… including free-hand drawings and scribbles. This frees me to read, study, and take notes in multiple locations, as I am traveling, and during unexpected freetime (like having to wait an extra 20 minutes as my daughter finishes volleyball practice). For me, this is a big deal. I imagine there are other ways to do this, but my experience with DT and DTTG has been a good one thus far.
  2. The fact that all of my comments, highlights, and scribbles, appear on the sidebar (or whatever DT calls it) of the document on my mac means I can review the main points of a 10-page document, including my notes and comments, in about 30 seconds, which should allow me to compile pertinent information easily and quickly from vast swaths of research that I have already reviewed at some point on a particular topic.
  3. I imagine that other things, like linking between documents, and linking between particular sections of documents will be very helpful as I learn how to do this.

… However, the thing I would like to learn how to do is to export the reference info from DT to Zotero quickly and easily. As I read docs on my ipad I can correct and add this info in DTTG, then, I’d love to hit a button that auto-populates a series of new references within the group of my choosing within Zotero. I’m sure there is a not-too-difficult way to do this. I am looking forward to finding out how.

I am sure that I am only touching the tip of the iceberg here. But again, I am at the front end of the learning curve. Looking forward to input from people who have more experience. I’ll keep scanning these boards to learn more.

Happily, I am long past the publish/perish stage of life and use DT3 to compensate for brain-rot. I am not the GOTO source for efficient automation. I will post my list of links since you expressed an interest. But rather than spending the MANY hours to read/digest/streamline/implement these, I suggest you look into this course - devonthinkforhistorians.com and read one of the users’ blogs DEVONthink — Blog — Avigail S. Oren, Ph.D.. Possibly they have figured it out. I intended to take it but haven’t gotten around to it.

I also suggest searching Zotero/DT3, perhaps someone has a solution. I found these that may be pertinent:


github.com/traviseross/Workflow-Scripts My Zotero to DEVONthink 3 workflow to seamlessly keep Zotero linked to attachments in DT3.


Jeff Taekman Workflows in personal and professional productivity

Good luck!


Thanks so much for this, @zeppley. It looks like all the pieces exist, in one form or another, to do everything I am looking for and more. However, they are somewhat disparate and it will take some time to sift through and go through the learning process of implementing them. I’ve marked these links and will continue the learning curve journey.

@palapapanda’s workflow looks amazing… including index cards! This is exactly how I imagined DT could work. The link to the DT for historians course looks like it could be useful as well, especially with the customized script used to export reference data. Thanks again.

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