Multi-project search?

Hi, new user loving it so far. Wondering whether there is a way to make Scrivener search across multiple projects? It doesn’t seem like a trivial programing challenge, but I’m not a programmer anymore, so I don’t know.

Reason I ask, is that I copy and paste all my notes into TB/Twig, so that I can search them. I would prefer not to put all my journal/notes entries into a single Scrivener project, but I like the interface better than TB or Twig and would use it for notes if only I could search them easily.

Thx. --Dan

Hi Dan,

The trouble with this is that Scrivener projects are just files on the file system, and can be stored anywhere. So to implement this, I’d pretty much have to reinvent Spotlight. Well, not quite… But it would require Scrivener to have a window unconnected to projects which then searched the entire file system for .scriv files, and then searched each file, and then somehow brought those results up in a meaningful manner - that would be very tricky, to put it mildly. You can already search .scriv files using Spotlight, and I’m not sure any interface I could build on top of that would help an awful lot (without taking many months of development).

All the best,

P.S. Welcome aboard, glad you’re liking Scriv so far!

But Devonthink, for instance, has a multi-database search. All DT databases which are open can be searched simultaneously. It would be interesting to know how exactly this has been made possible.

A large* team of dedicated** programmers? 8)


  • in number, not in stature
    ** not to say Keith’s not dedicated[/size]

I didn’t say it wasn’t possible, I said it was difficult and not something I feel would add much over Spotlight in Scrivener’s case. Also, you hit the nail on the head - DevonThink is a database, and thus is built and optimised for this sort of thing. It also stores its databases in set places, if I recall correctly.

Just because something is possible, it does not therefore follow it is trivial; and just because one application does something, it does not therefore follow that another can easily do the same, or even should. Cross-project search in Scrivener would be like having such a feature in Word or Pages - that is, having Word or Pages being able to search all Word or Pages files.

All the best,

Even for DevonThink, this feature is a relatively recent addition. Only with Version 2.x did it become possible to even have multiple databases open at once. Version 2.x also brought a completely new – and more open – database format.


I note, too, that DT is not searching across all your DT databases, but just open ones (hence ones it is already hooked into).

I guess I wonder why you don’t want to put all your notes in one Scriv project?* Is it a question of organization, size, or safety? Perhaps it would be useful to discuss the motivation for not doing the thing that would give you the kind of comprehensive search you want–namely, keep things together.


  • I do not do this myself. I have a pretty good and stable analysis of my different regimes of activity, and there are accordingly several different projects which take note-like stuff. But the division between these regimes is genuine and natural, so I am never in the position of wanting to search across them all for something. This is partly because they just don’t overlap like that and partly because the divisions are clear enough that it is always clear which project to search in for a given thing. Gee, that makes me sound super organized which I am not really. Hmm. Maybe I am just not productive enough to have hit the ceiling on this good system.

That’s an easy one. Since Scrivener is not a database, a Scrivener project containing notes on lots of different topics would quickly become unwieldy. It makes more sense to put notes with the unit of work that generated them – notes for an interview with an article, research notes with a book, etc.

But if you spend a lot of time working in a single area, you’ll find that the boundaries between topics start to blur. Research for one project might turn out to be useful for another, months or years after the fact. So when did I have that conversation with Dr. Smith???

Which is why I use DTP for notes, not Scrivener.


Keith is completely right in pointing out that DT is a database program, while Scrivener, though sharing many advantages with dedicated database programs, is not. Therefore a feature like multi project searching is not something one might expect Scrivener to have. And I am ready to believe that adding a similar feature to Scrivener would require an enormous investment of time, and that there are many feature additions which would perhaps be more urgent, and make more sense within Scrivener’s ‘philosophy’.

And yet I must confess that, for me too, multi project searching would be very convenient. I have many Scrivener projects, and sometimes I really don’t remember into which project I put a certain piece of information. Moreover, there are many things my projects have in common (poverty in the Middle Ages in my project on the Middle Ages, and poverty in the Eighteenth Century in my project on the Eighteenth Century, just to give a concrete example). And it would be fantastic if it were possible to dig them all up with one simple search.

But nothing is perfect in life, though Scrivener comes very near!

What would be really nice is it Apple developed Spotlight a little further in the future. As long as the developer provides support for it, it already has the ability to search the text of all files, and to do so very quickly across the entire system. If Apple extended it to provide a preview, and the ability to open the file to the first instance of the found text, that would be incredibly powerful. (It would take a bit of work from individual developers, too, to provide an HTML preview, maybe, and to deal with having the program open a particular file to a particular point when Spotlight asks it too, but it should be possible and would make Spotlight and even more useful tool.)

But now I’m dreaming too.

Thanks for your kind words, Timotheus!

All the best,

It seems to me that the best way to get what you want is DevonThink*, combined with Scrivener’s new external folder syncing feature**. You’d have to have DT index the external folder version of your Scrivener project, rather than importing (copying) the files into your database (unless you never plan to update the data in those projects). When you search DT, you’ll actually be able to open the specific file with the matching search term.

If you have DT Pro, you can have multiple databases, so that you could isolate certain scrivener projects from others when searching, or just so that you can separate your related projects from other types of archived files (old electronic bills, software licenses, articles you want to read some day but aren’t related to your research, etc…).

  • Or some other kind of database program. I can only recommend what I ended up buying for myself. Other document-scanning database programs might be able to do this kind of thing for you too, including Spotlight.

** You don’t want to import or index the scrivener project directly. When you search that, you only get the quicklook preview of your project, typically with little to no indication of which document(s) contain the relevant terms.

Thank you all very much. I assumed it would turn out to be non-trivial and away from the general thrust of Scrivener, or it would already be there. As I said, I’m extremely pleased by what is there, and I am writing my dissertation/book using Scrivener because I’m writing them both at the same time. Looking forward to being able to thread my way through the thing, turning theory and narrative on and off as needed for each task.

I like Twig and Tinderbox, and I use Endnote extensively. Since I recently added Scrivener (based on Eastgate’s ad of your special deal, incidentally), I’ve been exploring where’s the right place to do each job. It’s been a lot of fun. Keep up the great work!

Thanks dallosso!

Check out HoudahSpot or DataLore.

Available through MacUpdate


I really like scrivener and a multi-project search tool seems interesting and usefull to me. Spotlight is to messy (at least in leopard).

Here is the way I see it :

  • No need to crawl the spotlight database or do the same job :

  • In the pref pane : a window in wich you can add/remove (with the classical path to locate the file) all the project you want from the list (one by one or all the ones in a folder for the add) and for each project a clickable case : « included in the multiproject search ».

  • In the search menu : an option « search in the current project » and « search in the project list »

  • a message that indicate when searching « project not found, please adjust the project list » if the file has been moved or suppressed.

*** By the way this list could used as a project launcher when opening scrivener : all the projects are there ; just click on one to open it (a kind of project launcher). Would be very usefull for people like me who stores their projets in different folders to have all of them visible in the same « project launching window » at scrivener startup. I use the recent project menu, but I imagine launcher window as one where one could move and organise the project icons like he wants (like in a normal os x windows).

Thanks for reading.
All the best,
and keep on the good work…

Does it seem possible this way ?



Not really, no, sorry. The only thing I’ve seen like this in other programs is a more visible recent projects list. The trouble is that something like this would confuse many users, making them think that Scrivener had all their projects in one place; it’s more useful to such uses to know where their projects are, and Spotlight can already be used to find those they have lost.

Thanks for the suggestion, though!

All the best,