DevonThink for Scrivener users

Though I have been using DevonThink for about a year now, I have not gone deep into it and just use it mostly for web clipping. How do you link between them? Do you just drag and drop from DevonThink to Scrivener or is there some secret sauce? :upside_down_face:

I really need to take some time and get deeper into DevonThink’s capabilities.

In my opinion one of the most useful and important features of DEVONthink is item links. Edit->Copy Item Link is one of the most useful commands on my computer. It gives you a robust link to any group or file in DEVONthink which can be pasted anywhere that will accept a link. By “robust” I mean that even if you rename or move a file inside DEVONthink, the link does not change. You can click on the link from wherever you have pasted it, and be taken straight to the item inside the DEVONthink database. That means that inside Scrivener I can have a “Resources” page that is simply a collection of such links, or I can paste the item links in the text that I am working on. It gives me instant access to the material I need. You can also use Scrivener’s bookmarks to accept the link, but sometimes I find it easier and faster just to paste into the text. I can also put a note by the link to remind me of what it is there for. The same item links are used within the DEVONthink databases to build a network of links between items. It becomes rather like a personal Wiki.

I used DEVONthink very heavily for over a decade, stopped for a while, but have recently come back to it. The vast majority of my material resides in DEVONthink databases one way or another (some of it is indexed) and I’ve come to regard it as pretty much the centre of everything I do.

Search is also very good. My main work database has 18.9 million words in it. I just did a search for a single word (“freud”) as an experiment, and I got 252 hits in 0.021 seconds. A slightly more demanding search (“freud NEAR jung”, which finds the first word only when it is within a certain distance from the second) gave me 26 hits in 0.020 seconds.

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I tend to use tags with the project name. I find this a bit quicker than using duplicates or replicants. I then use a smart group for showing all the material for the project together. And of course it automatically updates without me having to move anything. But I do use static groups as well. And another advantage of the tags method is that you can search for the tags outside DEVONthink (for example, by using DEVONsphere, HoudahSpot, or the Finder). I suppose you could even put a bookmark for the tags in Scrivener, which I hadn’t thought of before.

Just to follow up on the Copy Item Links method: a DEVONthink item link which is made in MacOs will also work in iOS via DEVONthink To Go. So I can open Scrivener on my iPhone, click on a link, and it will launch DTTG and take me to the item in the database.

The internet showed us the power of linking, but we seem to have been slow to adopt it on our own machines. This slowly seems to be changing, however, as new tools become available, and the ideas spread. See and

Thank you for your DEVONthink experience, it encourages me to get deeper into it. But, now whenever I do searches I get a beachball, probably because the database is huge. Hopefully that will change when I get a M1 MAX later in the year.

How big is “huge”? Mine is now 19 million words and 12.8 GB. I’m running an iMac and an MBP that are both about five-six years old.

As a first step to deal with the problem I would Verify and Repair the database, then Optimise it. Rebuild the database if that does not help. I suppose you might also run into slowness if you have a large number of files in your groups, but I’m not sure that affects searches.

My usual experience is that search is so fast it beats my typing by quite a way.

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Mine is bigger, just my DropBox folder with all my research material as PDFs is 180GB. That doesn’t include webcippings. As for words I don’t know. How to find out?

I have a MBP from 2018.

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Yes, I’d say that 180GB qualifies as “huge”. My guess would be that you are running out of working memory, rather than it being anything to do with DEVONthink itself. More RAM usually means faster working. I’m no doubt old-fashioned, but I usually try to keep my hard drive down to half full at maximum, as the system seemed to need to write to disk when it ran out of RAM. I don’t know if that is still a thing, or if systems are better at that nowadays.

It might also be the case that you get slower working if you have a large number of files in a single folder. Splitting them up into folders or groups each of which is dedicated to a particular “theme” or subject area will help the DEVONthink AI. The more focused the folders are, the better the results from the AI. (Perhaps you already know this, but I thought I should mention it.) The book Take Control of DEVONthink is worth reading, if youo haven’t already, and it is free.

Anyway, the DEVONthink forums are very helpful, so it you ask for advice there they will probably help you to arrive at a better solution. They are the experts on their own software.

As to the number of words in a database, select File->Database Properties (Command-Option-P) and you will get all the statistics.

EDIT: this post on the DT forums may be of interest - it discusses database size limits.


Thank you for your detailed reply.

Was grayed out. I suspect that I didn’t set up properly. Though I did index many files. Seems I didn’t create a database. Will have to roll up my sleeves and get into DT more deeply.

Again thank you for your answer.

You’re welcome – though I am very puzzled, because you can’t index files with DEVONthink unless you create a database. Unless you have been indexing files into the Inbox – not really a good idea, I would think. It is just supposed to be a holding station for importing files if you are not yet sure where you want to put them.

That is exactly what I did. I indexed everything, and that is a lot. Even though I thought I was following instructions. I goofed up somewhere. Will have to start it all from scratch. See how to safely get stuff out of my inbox and place them elsewhere else. :unamused:

I will take some help from the DT users forum to make sure I transition properly.

Again , thanks for your help, if had not been for you I would not know I was doing it all wrong. And who knows how long that would have continued.

“A sadder but a wiser man, he rose the morrow morn.”

It’s easy, really. Just create one or more new databases (File->New Database…) and use Command-Control-M (Data->Move To…) to move selected files to wherever you want them to go.

The new databases you create will by default be placed in a Finder folder called “Databases” in your User folder. They don’t have to be there, but I never found a reason to move them.

There are various ways you could speed up moving files from Inbox to databases (drag and drop the whole lot) but there is something to be said for reviewing material and triaging it so that you create thematic groups. If you do that, you can then use Inspectors->See Also and Classify to help with the work.

There have been long debates about whether it is best to have one large database, or several smaller ones. I would suggest that more focussed databases are better, particularly now that you can search multiple databases at the same time with one search query.

Best of luck!

EDIT: incidentally, I am of the view that importing into DT is more robust and safer than indexing. I’ve had problems with indexed files, particularly where those files were also synchronised by a service like iCloud or Dropbox. I get the impression it is better to sync using DT itself, rather than mix the two, which seems to get them confused at times.

PS: I just remembered you said you had 180GB of data – DON’T try to drag and drop all of that would be my advice! It would gum things up for days, I would think.


Thank you. After I got over the shock I recalled that on the DT website it also suggested to drag and drop.

I started with DT as a replacement for EverNote so I first imported everything from EverNote. Now thinking this was the start my data base (wrong) I then proceeded to index everything and anything. Including the 180GB of pdfs in the DropBox folder. So it is humongous and contains pratically everything on my drive. Hence the beach ball, whenever I try to search for something.

But now you bring up another issue of DropBox, that is where I keep all my digitized reference material - thousands of OCRed books and journals (JSTOR etc). I indexed them, but didn’t import them. Not sure why I made that decision then, or if I even put any thought into it as I did it about a year ago.

But I will definitely go through the DT manual again and make inquiries on the DT forum before I do anything drastic.

Thanks again. I may PM you if I have any questions as I don’t want to divert the Scrivener forum into DT discussions.

I can see the attraction for both. But if large data bases result in Beach Balls, I’ll go with smaller ones. And as you say you get the same benefit if you query multiple databases. I suppose it all depends on how much CPU power you have.

I’ve split this to a new thread in the “Other Software” area, which is a bit more appropriate.

Discussions of complementary software are welcome, but the DevonTechnologies forum is full of very knowledgeable people too. It’s definitely the place to go for questions about their software.


Thanks Katherine. I was aware we had drifted a fair way …

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I’m a collector myself, so I know the problem, but I do try to restrain myself. I’m old enough now that I will never read all of the material I have. So I try to keep in mind this article on the Collector’s Fallacy. You might find it interesting!

Agreed. At some point you have to stop collecting references and start using them. It been years since I stopped collecting stuff. It has to be really important for me now. But over the course of 50 years stuff does accumulate. I still recall when I was living in an ashrama in S India in the 1970s when I could carry all my personal possessions under one arm. Not anymore. But at east I was able to digitize and shrink my multi room library into a flash drive. :sunglasses: