Looking for use cases where DEVONthink is evidently superior to using Finder for information management

Purchased DEVONthink (DT) a while ago (prev version as of now), and have tried using it. Every time however, I defaulted back to using Finder (Finder was familiar, DT advantages were not clear and in any case all the old files / information was housed in Finder so DT searches were incomplete).

Wondering if others can share examples where DT outshines using Finder and other utilities, and therefore it becomes worthwhile to weave DT into the workflow. I am sure there are and it is just that I have not been able to understand or adopt.

Thank you.

Some notes re my Finder usage:

As I see it, I am able to

  • OCR PDFs when scanning (Scansnap does it), download PDFs are searchable
  • give files descriptive names - with date, and content detail in the name itself
  • file project related files in a common folder
  • add tags to enhance likelihood of finding files when spotlight searching in the future
  • use markdown files to take notes and to capture web page snippets and to save web articles etc
  • create a reference to finder file by using a shortcut and script to get the path of the Finder file to refer to in another document say
  • save emails in original format in any Finder folder
  • and by using Finder, am able to keep all files in one organization system

Further, taking notes, using Finder and general computer usage has become more powerful for me with the use of Hazel, Keyboard Maestro, Typinator and some apple scripts.

See e.g. All in on Devonthink 3 and couldn't be more pleased


There are many examples - the Annotation Note feature is an excellent one. Anyone who needs to manage notes and references within large documents would benefit immensely from DT3 for this feature alone.

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. Can see how case related PDFs being moved to DT can make for richer and easier classification.

Will go through the annotation feature to see what that is. Sounds like a new feature in DT3. Earlier all that I could do is add spotlight annotation with DT2.

Hoping others can share examples of DT use cases where normal users have transitioned from Finder based organization to DT2 or DT3.

Thank you.

In version 2 this was based on a template, now it’s fully integrated (see Tools > Inspectors > Annotations & Reminders). Version 3 supports also custom metadata.

Ok. Will check out. Thank you.

I guess I have to get the trial version of DT3 somehow. Will figure that given that I have DT2 installed.

Also, I wondering if I can simply index all of my documents, and based on examples here, see what I can do with DT3.

By the way - the search capability of DT3 is stupendous compared with Finder/Spotlight. The ability to find specific documents and especially to find occurrences of text within a document is far beyond the ability or speed of Finder/Spotlight.

Plus if you use the Web Server feature you can easily search through your large database and locate a specific document even when you are away from your main computer.


Thanks for sharing. And search capabilities are important, and spotlight is lacking often. But spotlight is all encompassing with respect to what is on the computer - so the question arises as to what all people keep / index in DT to really leverage its search feature.

As of now sounds like PDFs and text documents should all be in DT to really benefit from its capabilities.

The web server feature will cost a fortune :slight_smile: and I am not sure I can justify the cost.

Yes - or you can keep the documents in your present Finder system and simply Index those locations so the documents are searchable in DT3.

Yes - that sounds like an interesting idea to begin with.

But it is likely that what I need to do is to move all non scripting related documents to DT3 to really be able to use it well.

With DT3 need to decide what version to get? Sounds like since I can scan PDFs before importing into DT3, the Edition version should work for me.

Initially, I will try to not file one document in more than one place. So will try to use it like a file system from a filing perspective. That will hopefully give me an escape hatch (i.e. move everything back to Finder folder structure) in case the move is too difficult for me. Of course, such an escape hatch would need a script to be able to reconstruct the Finder structure based on the visual “Folder” structure that I see in the UI - I understand that it is a database underneath and not quite a folder structure like Finder is.

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DEVONthink is a powerful app. Its AI is remarkable. It really is. I found myself appreciating it over time and stopped slowly using finder. Everything I store is anyway now in DEVONthink, Mail or Ulysses. Including my own productions once completed. I however couldn’t explain technically in what ways DEVONthink is better than finder. I do use finder if I want to catch stuff also in mail. I don’t know consciously why I think DEVONthink is better. I think for sure it is though and I have defaulted more and more to it.
I think that in itself is a point to be borne in mind?
Things are more ‘transparent’ and ‘at hand’ is how I explain it to folk who ask me about it. It could even be a matter of taste or style. I was always a pile of papers guy who still knew somehow where what I needed was roughly. I was ok with analogue and hard copy and found IT fussy for years. It is a feather in DEVONthink’s cap that I feel back at home with it. Better in fact than my old way of filing, which was instiinctive and almost muscle memory memory based. I appreciate I am lucky in that what I really deal with is relatively small and I exlude of course large data sets etc. from my "pile to file method’. I started using electronic bibliographies early on too, in fairness.
Does that make any sense to you? It is hard to convey my strategy now as it was then. Not sure if I consciously know what it is. Finder is, I agree, very good now and I do use it too.


Just to add for interest. I tend to rely less and less on ‘folders’ in DEVONthink. I use Smart Groups and simple searches mostly. I don’t even use tags much now. I think one needs to develop a specific strategy for DEVONthink. Rather than try to recreate ‘finder’ habits or filing cabinet habits for that matter. I know it can leave one feeling a bit exposed when stuff appears at first to be just ‘thrown in’. I would really try to develop a strategy that deliberately uses that AI power of DEVONthink. I would experiment with Smart Groups. I really would. I am aware I don’t know your specific needs.


I wondering if I can simply index all of my documents

I hope you’re not thinking of a giant data dump as that is not recommended, especially regarding indexed files. You shouldn’t do things like index your Home directory or entire hard drives without careful thought and consideration.



Of course, such an escape hatch would need a script to be able to reconstruct the Finder structure based on the visual “Folder” structure that I see in the UI

No such script is needed. Selecting groups in DEVONthink and choosing File > Export > Files and Folders will export the groups as folders containing the files.


Mobile is the massive one for me.


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Meaning being able to access files on the mobile device? Yes - that is indeed of great interest to me as well. However, the sync appears to be slow when compared with what I had long ago experienced with Evernote.

I use iCloud for the sync. Wondering if there is something faster and / or more reliable.

Thank you for sharing.

You can’t reliably compare Evernote (or other apps’) “sync” with ours. They are not technologically the same.

Also, iCloud sync is done locally, then iCloud itself does its own uploading and downloading on its own - a process over which we have no control. Generally speaking it works fine, but as with any sync, the initial push and pull almost always take the longest.

Having DEVONthink links work in both macos, ios, and now ipados is the major feature for me along with the finding related documents on the mac version. I used OmniFocus for a long time with DEVONthink links to resources needed for the task. Now I have incorporated Org Mode into my workflow and links to DEVONthink groups allow me a quick way to reference a collection of files for a project or I can link to a specific item for a task. I use beorg on ios and ipados to sync my org files. I could link to a finder folder on the mac, but I cannot get that same link to work with Files on ios.

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Well, I try to go a kind of conceptual here, cause details are too long, and their combinations into workflows are even more than endless and depend on use patterns.

Think of it as a one more layer of organization between you and your file system: though your files still reside on your disk unchanged, you gain additional and really powerful organization freedom

  • In Finder you can build a good folder structure, but:
    • If you need later to change it, you may get many problems concerning apps and docs, trying to find these files, and you will have to reconnect all them manually. In DT - you may forget about this problem. You may proceed to enhance your group structure forever. The same for renaming - full freedom
    • If you want to build a parallel folder structure while keeping the old one (for many reasons) - you will have to duplicate your files, cause finder shortcuts are unstable, including above reasons. In DT you may replicate files to do this, or even make process of tagging and replicating super fast and semi-automatic, using groups as tags.
  • In Finder, you can make a duplicates and find them. Until you change any letter in its name. In DT you can quickly jump to any duplicate even if you change slightly its content, not just name or other meta data. In DT you always see that this or that file has x duplicates.
  • Not sure how it is In Finder, but in DT you can easily build a highly deep and dynamic “neuro-network” with its docs and outer files and apps and be sure it’ll remain stable.

Think of it as a highly flexible and fast database

In Finder you have a small and very limited number of meta data to organize your files. In DT they are endless and of many kinds. You can use them in searching and sorting, smart groups and rules and in all other built-in DT functions, use it fully in scripts (make your own «Hazel» inside DT and much more). In one little script I can connect DT doc and Bookends’ publication, using attachment for publication from DT, and use other fields, allowing to see in DT all I want from BE: from comments and formatted citation to those for quick switching back and forth from BE publication to DT document with one hot key. Still, I can do all I want with this doc in DT (editing, grouping, moving, all AI functions …) not breaking a connection with BE as attachment. …Finder? )

Think of it as “your files everywhere and secure”

  • You may use cloud services directly, but what if data a kind of sensitive? DT uses e.g. iCloud too, but sync is being done with AES-256 encrypted chunks, not docs as is, and is very reliable. No one can access them other than from the app.
  • Links made on OS X work fine in iOS and vice versa. E.g. if you have a link in desktop Things, OmniFocus, Airmail, OmniOutliner, BusyCal to desktop DT, it will also work in their iOS counterparts to DTTG. Integration with iOS Document Provider is yours.