Keywords vs. Tags

Hi there,

I’m a little confused on the difference between Keywords and Tags, as DT3 uses them. I’d love to get a clear (to me) definition of what each is, as well as why someone use Tags instead of Keywords to add additional context to their documents? Does one offer additional/better capability than the other? Most of my documents are trail maps, ebooks, manuals, electronic bills, invoices, medical records, text notes, etc. that I like to add more context to, so that I can more easily find them when the need arrises.


Lots and lots of prior discussions on this in the forum – rather than plow old ground, take a look at some of the other threads on the topic here:

@korm, thanks. I’d read many of those before posting, as I wasn’t sure how relevant they were as many appear to be old. Moreover, they only served to confuse me even more. If there’s a single, concise discussion that you’re aware of that clears all of this up, I appreciate being pointed towards it. And by the way, I’ve read both the DT2, DT2 and the “Take Control of DEVONthink 2.0” books, in an attempt to comprehend, yet I’m still not 100% in my understanding.

Here’s a brief history…

Keywords predated tagging but only applied to a very small number of formats, most notably PDF and RTF(D) in general practice. Some other formats, typically word processing then graphic formats, like those using EXIF and IPTC data came to support them. But again, these were limited to the formats.

People began to use in-text words with prefixes, most commonly @, to inhibit search hits on words in the text. So you’d use @schoolwork so it didn’t match schoolwork by itself. (So GTD apps like OmniFocus didn’t invent using things like @work, etc. for contexts. And no Twitter didn’t invent hashTags. :slight_smile: ).

In the Mac universe people began to use Finder comments to store this data. However they are not cross-platform and were easily lost by many processes. In 2008-2009, Tom Andersen at Ironic Software developed OpenMeta as the first macOS tagging system, using extended attributes (xattr) to store arbitrary tag data on any Mac file type. (And yes, this is the period when I worked there and am proud to say I was part of the project!) OpenMeta persisted until Apple finally offered Finder Tags in OS X Mavericks in 2013, utilizing the same essential concept OpenMeta used, and are the Tags in common use for Apple’s ecosystem today.

  • DEVONthink imports and exports Finder Tags by default.
    • For indexed files, Finder Tags are immediately written to the original file in the file system.
    • For imported files, DEVONthink’s Tags are internal and written to files in the Finder when exported, dragged and dropped to the Finder, etc.
  • For formats that support writable Keywords, e.g. PDF files, you should be able to modify the Keywords in the Document > Properties inspector.

Note: Many applications implement their own tagging schemes, often using hashtags or the standard prefixes, but these are often only pertinent to the specific application. This means the data is not necessarily applied to the files in the filesystem.

I hope that’s useful (and not too boring). :slight_smile:


Thanks Jim. Useful information as always!

You’re welcome. :slight_smile: