Organizing Your Information with Joplin

12 August, 2020

This post was originally published, in a slightly different form, at The Plain Text Project and appears here via a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license.

While I’m a big fan of plain text, I’m also a big fan of both privacy and of taking control of as much of my data as I can. Plain text is great for doing that.

If you find yourself using a platform or a tool that winds up not respecting your privacy, lain text enables you can easily move your information elsewhere. All without having to worry about fiddly conversions.

That’s especially true when it comes to taking notes. You might be familiar with Evernote and Google Keep. I’ve used them in the past, but my trust in the companies behind both was eroded several years ago. Which is one of the reasons why I turned to Standard Notes.

What if you want even more control? You can turn to Joplin. It’s billed as An open source note taking and to-do application with synchronisation capabilities, and it does a very good job of all that.

Let’s take a look at how to use Joplin to organize your information.

Getting Started

Head over to the Joplin web site and download the installer for the desktop application for your operating system. Then, install the application.

Once it’s installed, fire up Joplin.

Using Joplin

That’s easy to do. Depending on what you want to do, click New note or New to-do on the toolbar. You wind up with a blank note or to-do list.

Creating a note in Joplin

Type a title for your note or to-do list in the field at the top of the note. Then, in the left pane of the editor, start typing your note.

Typing a note in Joplin

Joplin supports Markdown. You can add formatting by hand. If you’re not yet familiar with Markdown, or haven’t used it in a while, you can also add formatting using the buttons on the toolbar.

Organizing Your Notes

If you take a lot of notes, you might find it time consuming to find the one you need. You can save yourself time and effort using notebooks and tags.

Notebooks are like folders in which you group similar notes. To create one, click New notebook on the toolbar. Give it a name, and then click OK. Your notebooks appear in the application’s sidebar (which you view by clicking Toggle Sidebar).

Notebooks in Joplin

When you create a note, add it to a notebook by clicking on that notebook before you click New note.

You can also use tags to organize your notes. Tags are just keywords. Click a tag and Joplin only displays the notes that are tagged with that keyword.

Tags in Joplin

To tag a note, click the Tags icon on the formatting toolbar. Type one or more tags (separate multiple tags with commas), and then click OK.

Going Mobile

These days, many of us aren’t tethered to a single computer or device. We move between computer and smartphone and maybe even a tablet or another computer.

If you need to take your information mobile, Joplin has a mobile apps, which you can install from the Google Play Store or the iTunes Store. You can also download the Android app from the Joplin website.

Here’s what the Android app looks like:

Joplin’s Android app

Going Multi Device

How do make sure your information is available to all your devices? Let’s face it: copying that information between devices isn’t the way to go. That’s where Joplin’s synchronization feature comes in.

You can synchronize your information using services like Nextcloud, Dropbox, or OneDrive. If you have your our server, you can use something called WebDAV to do the deed. Don’t ask me about WebDAV — it’s terra incognita to me.

To set up synchonization, select Tools > General Options in the Joplin desktop application. Scroll down and find the synchronization settings.

Joplin’s synchronization settings

Select where you’ll be synchronizing your information from the Synchronization target list. Then, enter information in the fields. The settings you need to configure for Nextcloud (which is what I use) are shown in the screen capture above.

In case you’re wondering, Joplin encrypts your notes. You can learn more about how it does that here.

What if you only want to use Joplin on your computer? Select File system from the Synchronization taget list and then enter the full path to the folder where you’ll store your notes and to-do lists.

What About Information You Already Have?

If you’re moving to Joplin, you can move your existing notes to it. You can import a single file formatted with Markdown, an entire folder containing files formatted with Markdown, and even individual notes exported from Evernote.

To do that, select File > Import and then choose an option. The Markdown import works very well. When I tried to import some notes I exported from Evernote a few years back, the Joplin desktop application hung. That might be because I exported those notes using EverPad. Not that it matters. Those notes were from an old backup, and I haven’t used Evernote in years.

With a bit of work, you can also import notes from:

Final Thoughts

I really like the idea behind Joplin. It’s evolving into a solid tool for organizing information.

Aside from the hiccups I encountered with trying to import notes from Evernote, Joplin works well. Very well. That said, I’m sticking with Standard Notes. But if things change on that front, I know where I can turn to organize my information in plain text.

Scott Nesbitt