What's your approach for "retiring" tags you no longer need but don't want to lose?

I used a certain tag on indexed files related to a recent project. The current phase of the project has ended, and I want to untag the items [1], but I don’t want to lose track of the fact that those items had this tag, in case I need to find the items again in the future. How can I retain the information somehow, but still untag the items in question?

If there were such a thing as “active” and “inactive” tags in DEVONthink, or perhaps “hidden” tags, that might provide the solution [2] – then I could mark that tag inactive or hidden and have it disappear from item properties, yet still make it possible to reactive/unhide that tag in the future. Since there isn’t, I wonder if anyone has an alternative strategy they could share?

Special wrinkle: these are indexed files (specifically PDFs of academic articles stored in Zotero), so it won’t work to (say) create a new database, copy the files to that, archive that database, and then untag the files in the active database. (It won’t work because it would be impossible to restore the files into the active database afterwards.)

[1] Why untag them? I have a large hierarchy of tags, and the way the DEVONthink UI works means that the tags are displayed along with their parents, which leads to cluttered views. Removing these “inactive” tags would help me.

[2] This is not necessarily a feature request; I’m only using this as an example to try to further clarify the question.

First, let me see if I understand the problem. You’ve got a bunch of documents tagged as TagA. You want TagA to be available for a new set of documents, but you want to be able to find the former TagA files if you want.

How about rename TagA to TagA-obsolete, or TagA-mmddyy. Now create a new tag called TagA. If you want to get TagA and any sub-tags it contains out of the way, make a tag called Dumpster and move TagA there, either with or without renaming it. Then create a new TagA for the next round of files.

Just a thought.

Would that work?

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Thanks for your reply. I think I understand what you mean, but unfortunately, no; the issue lies not with the tag itself, but rather, the 100’s of items that have the tag. I want to remember (somehow) that those items were tagged, but be able to remove that tag from the items, to reduce “tag clutter” if you will. So renaming the tag or shoving the tag into a different tag hierarchy would not accomplish that, unfortunately.

I’ve edited the question further, to try to clarify it.

I rename the tag, prefixing with an “x” (xtagname)
Doesn’t remove it from the list, but moves it to the bottom

You could select the records involved, choose Tools-Batch Process, and then (a) Remove a specific tag from those items and (b) Assign a custom metadata field corresponding to the tag you removed. Then reverse the process if you wish to re-activate the tag again in the future.


Ah, ok, I see what you mean. Easy thing. Piece of cake.

Click on “Tags” in the group listing. Use Data->Tools->Create metadata overview.

Now you have a tab delimited file you can open in Apple Numbers.

In that spreadsheet you’ll find a snapshot of all your tagged files with columns for interesting data. My favorite is the URL column, which contains a clickable link to the item.

You will have rows for the tags themselves. Their URL (and other) columns will be empty. Use an Apple Numbers filter for the URL column “not blank” to get rid of those.

Not having fun yet? Then turn off filtering and turn on Categories in Apple Numbers. The first column is tags and file names. That will give you a foldable view of multiple tags.

If you want to archive just one tag, then select it for your metadata overview, not the whole tags category.

The metadata overview will be in the selected group/tag at the time you ran the command. If you were in a tag, then the file is in your inbox, replicated/tagged in the tag category. If that’s clear as mud, run the command and it should jump out. The file name will be Metadata Overview. Rename it to reflect what it means to you, or add an annotation.

That command is really cool. Sometimes I export a DT database to Aeon Timeline with that overview.

Does that fill the bill?


Very cool idea with the custom metadata.

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That’s a good idea. A very simple approach, and keeps the information with the items themselves. I could create a metadata field for “past tags” or something like that, and use it for more cases like this. The only thing lost would be the exact hierarchy of tags (unless I wrote the whole tag path in some form), but that’s a reasonable compromise. (In my case, I would remember the hierarchy within which the particular tags originally belonged.)

Thanks for that suggestion!

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Despite having used DEVONthink for several years, I hadn’t tried ToolsCreate Metadata Overview until now, so thanks for mentioning it! This will be useful to know.

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The infinite depths of DEVONthink :smirk: There’s always something more to be discovered (and that’s before you look at the change log with each update).


You can also go the way or replicates. Select your tag, then select all tagged files and replicate them to some folder you just created and cleverly named “Files_that_were_tagged_XYZ”. Now you can delete the XYZ tag.

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Very clever - though slightly risky because if accidentally those files get moved out of the folder there is no way to identify them again. This could be a trivial point or a very serious one depending on the nature an importance of the files.

@rkaplan You are right, the principle that a file’s property is in its location involves some risk. A more secure approach might be to just rename the file filename changed to filename_that_used_to_be_tagged_XYZ.

To to that: select the tag, all files with this tag and rename by extending the file name.

Script: Store Tags in Custom Meta Data / Restore Tags from Custom Meta Data

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