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Any good open-source self-hosted evernote alternatives?
103 points by Immortalin on March 15, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 76 comments
Hi, is there any good open source self-hosted evernote alternatives with sync and android support?

Amazed no one has mentioned Emacs' org-mode yet. Nothing I've ever tried comes close to the flexibility and usefulness of org-mode in Emacs.

Combined w/ MobileOrg sync and the MobileOrg app, it serves all of my note-taking needs quite well.

It's much more than dumb text, too, like Evernote. Structured documents with headers, markdown-like formatting, links, fast-capture templates for stray thoughts, an Agenda system (if you want it, you don't need to use it, I do and have it sync w/ my Google Calendar), exportable to HTML and a few other formats (some people even maintain their websites using org-mode).

Keywords for marking entries and a good search system (combined with Helm it's pretty amazing).

Property drawers for entries.

It's a swiss army knife of productivity applications and I use it for note taking, documents, journaling (with automatic GPG encryption of the entry body), my agenda, quick-capture of ideas, tasks, etc... I use it for grocery lists even.

Org-mode really is vastly more functional than other solutions, with the added benefit that you can learn and use as much or as little as you want and not be bothered by what isn't useful.

The other thing I try to call out about org-mode is that there is nothing else that is likely to be around and useful in 20 years.

Right and the ability to customize every nuance of it w/ a tiny bit of Emacs Lisp (or not, that's not required) has been great.

For example I didn't quite like how org-drill, a spaced repetition extension for org-mode, handled flash-card grouping and drill selection at run-time so I completely customized it with my own group selection interface.

It looks like there is an org-mode for vim too:


Far from as good and complete, and will never be as good and complete given the limitations of scripting vim. Vim aficionados (like me) can use evil-mode in Emacs, to gain access to org-mode and keep the use of their existing editing knowledge.

What protocol does org-mode use for syncing with mobile devices, can it be adapted to use WebDAV?

An open ecosystem of human-signal-capture apps will improve security of the future, i.e. events that have not yet happened. The past is already well monitored and recorded. See "The Adjustment Bureau" for exploration of the topic.

If apps use a mature sync protocol (e.g. WebDAV, CalDAV), they can collectively debug interoperability and cross-platform issues related to that protocol, leaving them free to innovate on UX for mass or vertical audiences. Some examples:

http://www.2doapp.com - CalDAV - iOS, Android and Mac

https://www.omnigroup.com/omnifocus - WebDAV - iOS and Mac

http://www.notebooksapp.com - WebDAV - iOS, Mac, Win

MobileOrg (the extension to org-mode in Emacs) requires an index.org file that points at the org files you want to export. You configure it to dump out anything from that index to a specified directory.

You then use something to sync that file tree to any of your devices. I used BTSync for a bit but found it annoying and I now use Google Drive with a GDrive syncing client on my phone so that the mobile-org Android app is always up-to-date.

It's bi-directional and they use a checksum matching scheme and some import tooling that allows you to suck in changes to those index files from other clients.

I had mentioned that I do use orgmode, along with few others. But, my comment was further below yours, and was more of a "postscript". I definitely use it for most of my technical note taking, as it is part of my emacs workflow. For casual note taking I ended up using the other apps, to vary my workflow pattern and tool usage.

How is MobileOrg's search? I tried switching from Evernote on all my devices to synced text files, but I found that on my phone I really needed a text/file editor/browser that searched document contents rather than just title. Evernote does this, but I couldn't find anything else that came close.

I've been using the Orgzly (http://www.orgzly.com/) beta for a couple of weeks and quite liking it in comparison to MobileOrg. You may want to give it a try. I found it to be a bit easier to get started with.

I like to store my data locally, so that influences the choice of my note taking software.

I use cintanotes portable myself... http://portableapps.com/apps/office/cintanotes-portable It is not "opensource", but it has been most useful for keeping notes, tagging, and categorising

I also use http://portableapps.com/apps/office/keepnote-portable (http://keepnote.org/) which is FOSS and also http://portableapps.com/apps/office/rednotebook_portable (http://rednotebook.sourceforge.net/) which is also FOSS.

Choose which ever you feel comfortable using.

P.S: I am also a very big fan of the portableapps format and the platform. Big shout out to John T Haller for all his hard work on this!

P.P.S: I also use the org mode at times http://orgmode.org/ :)

You mentioned keepnote. How does it compare to Zim [0]?

[0] http://zim-wiki.org/

I came across it after I started using keepnote. Since I was already invested in the above three, I didn't bother too much with it. So, sorry that I am not too much of a help in this matter.

Paperwork (https://github.com/twostairs/paperwork): OpenSource note-taking & archiving alternative to Evernote, Microsoft OneNote & Google Keep

Why choose something like this over a fully featured wiki like dokuwiki?

Or even Zim [0] which doesn't required any webserver or DB.

[0] http://zim-wiki.org/

Looks cool. I didn't know that project. I can't find any apps so far, but they provide rich API. I'm only sorry that SSL alert appears in their demo page...

Tiddlywiki is an interesting option. http://tiddlywiki.com/ I use it hosted on tiddlyspace.com, but one can do it all with a single self-hosted file that uses javascript within a browser to create an extensible wiki. Its really nice for creating lots of categories and putting notes and links in them, and then you only need to have the ones open that you want and can create internal links between them.

I use ownCloud and plain old text editor.

ownCloud has an Android client (it's not free on Google Play but you can build it from source code yourself), and Android text editors are easy to find.

No need to build from source if you don't want to, it's available on F-Droid:


Don't. Use. OwnCloud. We tried rolling it out at a small (80) employee company and it ended up being a nightmare.

We also had HUGE problems with OwnCloud. It's a very heavyweight application and we ran into some of the same problems mentioned in one of the sibling posts. But probably the worst thing about OwnCloud is that we had files come up missing seemingly randomly. Unfortunately we were already several months into a site installation before we figured out what was happening. You're probably reading this and wondering why we couldn't just retrieve a copy from somewhere else, and the answer is that when OwnCloud eats your files, it syncs that state to all of the clients. This is incredibly insidious and as it turns out, this is an open secret among the OwnCloud developers and its community. Just Google for "OwnCloud file missing" and you'll get pages of results. You are really tempting fate if you use OwnCloud for anything non-trivial (which is probably the very reason you want it synced). It's like the dryer that eats your socks, except that it's your business documents.

What went wrong? And what did you end up using instead, and how did it handle the previous what went wrong better?

here are my experiences w/ owncloud.

settings: deployment behind a nginx, ldap login for the users.

rolling oc out was a nightmare. we tried several major releases, every time hoping things will be different.

both requirements caused a lot of trouble, we run into a lot of documented but unfixed bugs. they were often closed with the comment: ldap subsystem will be rewritten.

i thing we tested three times, each time a new major version. each time there was a new ldap system, but it was still broken.

Can you go into more depth? Was it because of the number of users?

Major syncing issues that will lead to a ton of support requests. The number of users using the application didn't seem to make a difference - our user count slowly increased, then decreased at the end. Various people had sync issues the whole time.

I'd like to see something like this redone in a lower level language - it seems like PHP isn't well suited for this task.

I've looked hard and tried lots of packages as well as rolling my own. Frankly, Evernote has been at it for 7 years and spent $225M on the problem, and they have done a pretty damn great job at it.

I've asked myself WHY do I want to host my own data. My innermost thoughts are hard to imagine being broadcast to the NSA, Chinese government, and any ambitious cracker... but what I write about I will eventually publish anyhow. And the projects I am working on will eventually be free software anyhow. AND even with my own infrastructure I know that the NSA/Chinese/Crackers could find a way in.

I gave up on giving up on the cloud. From one perspective, I think that security through obscurity (with 7 Billion folks, why does my stuff matter THAT much?) is a thing. Another thing is that if my work were discovered, what would happen? Controversy? Notoriety? As a marketer I crave those things.

I have some very patentable, valuable work sitting in Evernote, Google Drive, iCloud, OneDrive, various local and hosted Owncloud/NeverNote/Laverna/LibreOffice files. My plan is to get as much as I can of it into Evernote and move on with my work rather than spending more time on this question.

Ultimately I had to ask myself this: If I am going to ask even one person to trust my service with their data, why can't others ask the same of me?

FYI, Here is what my Evernotes are about: I think that the future of computing should be based on Canonical Identity via Blockchain, 'personal fact clouds' for every identity that store state in infinispan grids (most will use hybrid clouds, but could be fully self hosted on an RPi in a fanny pack), datamic+datalog for interfacing with the data, and infinite user and machine interfaces to that data. I think that CoreOS/Ubuntu Core could be the foundation for personal grid computing, every app can be a container with on demand scaling and failover, and that data transport can be equally at home on a sneakernet, the internet of today, or the mesh network of tomorrow. I believe that data is soveign, sharing of that data should always be FINITE, all user interfaces should be stateless, and hardware should allow for users to compose their own interfaces. In this future, VR and IOT are instantly integrated, everybody owns their own data, and short of physical access data isn't shared ever ever ever unless with finite permission.

I'm using Evernote for now because it is fast and lets me work on my work. And now that y'all have my ideas to steal, do. Please. Let's build a better world together, eh?

Being open rarely closes doors.

Instead of a new tool, most people just need a new system. GTD is not anymore in fashion but it is the most efficient system I ever used. If you ever decide to try GTD have a look on this ultra simple implementation:


PS If somebody wants to give me $225M I'm sure I could muster a decent evernote clone. But why would anybody do that?

I use http://syncthing.net/ to sync my notes (and whatever other files I want) across my devices, including Android. It's like a FOSS Bittorrent Sync clone, although it doesn't actually use the Bittorrent protocol.

It works very well!

Syncthing is great, but the devs say they can't develop a mechanism for sync between operating systems on the same computer, which is something I really need.

Then the devs aren't being creative enough!

You could do as I do: Syncthing on laptop <> Raspberry Pi <> phone.

Now all changes made on either the phone (OS #1, in your case) or laptop (OS #2) will be synced to the Pi (or VPS) ready to be picked up by the other device when switched on/synced. Placing a device between the two others ensures that all files are up to date.

Without it you can run into situations where you've updated a file on the laptop that is also open on the phone, accidentally saving the phone changes over the laptop changes, then saving the laptop changes back over the phone changes. Syncthing has versioning, but this setup negates the need for most rollbacks.

I use it to keep notes in simple text files with Vim and Notepad++. No need for markdown or images here, so I just use basic formatting, timestamps and hashtags to help with searching and browsing.

Including an encrypted filesystem, alongside Syncthing's encrypted syncing, can keep data that bit more secure.

All open source, all encrypted, all self-hosted. Give yourself 30 minutes to set it up, if that.


The Pi is the Pi2, but until a recent upgrade it worked fine on the Pi1. The phone is an n900, still doing a great job 5 years on... but in need of a replacement, preferably another phone that can install arbitrary Linux software and is not walled into an 'apps' ecosystem.

The OP was interested in Android support. I don't think there's an app for Syncthing, but you could SSH to your VPS, with notes synced to your laptop? You're just missing that middle device in that case.

>I don't think there's an app for Syncthing


Yeah, I knew about the middle device thing, but it seemed like a hassle when the Android app is a bit alpha-ish.

I've been prototyping in this space for a while now - trying to scratch my own itch, as it were - and seeing as this is climbing the front page I thought I'd take the opportunity to ask HN: what exactly is it you want from this kind of application? I dislike Evernote because of it's lack of structure, dumb text with a few bells and whistles added doesn't work for me.

Would love to hear any and all suggestions: personal wiki, deeply structured personal knowledge graph, UI concerns...anything! I'm not saying anything will come of it for sure, and doing it open-source wasn't my plan, but I'd be very grateful for any input.

I'd like a combination of Evernote and Workflowy. Workflowy is an editable tree of information, but every branch/leave is only one line of text.

Screenshot: http://stillblondeafteralltheseyears.com/wp-content/uploads/...

Every branch of the tree should be a Evernote-style multi line note with text formatting functionality. The tree would be a file system like structure, but the Workflowy UI feels much less clunky than Google Drive/Dropbox or similar services. Workflowy supports marking nodes as completed, so a service like this could even work as task management system.

If I can't have embedded pictures it's a non-starter for me. That knocks out everybody, really.

Just synced text, even if it happens to be markdown text so it's a bit prettier, is not valuable to me.

Evernote's ability to quickly drag in some pictures and throw some text in to explain them is what I want. A real notebook allows me to sketch. A digital notebook must also allow me to incorporate concepts that require pictures because they can't be easily written as text.

To improve Evernote, I would like the "notebooks" to actually be tags, so the same document could appear to reside in multiple places.

I would like it to have h1,h2,h3 header tags, so I could build documentation that had structure, rather than just manually making some text big and bold to pretend to be a header.

I would like a "table" creator or tag, so I could add table data easily.

I will never give up my embedded pictures though.

Agree so much. Beyond the their-server and sync errors, the biggest missing feature of Evernote is task outlines as good as workflowy.

If Workflowy gets a bookmarklet, I'd use it more often. It is no nonsense honest service in its space.

I've asked myself for a long time why Evernote even has users and eventually landed on the conclusion that Evernote is almost like a file system. You can easily create notes, which can contain more or less everything, which is more easy than creating various sorts of files in folders to store your stuff. The "more or less everything" part, is why the whole thing is such a big mess, imho.

What I'd like is an Evernote with less possibilities and perhaps sections in each note. E.g.: - plain text (or up to Google docs kind of formatting) - a photo section where I can dump some pics without them showing on ridiculous full screen resolution. - a URL (which maybe shows a small screenshot of the webpage, or even loads a copy of the text)

To me it's about about storing/remembering stuff I care about in a simple and portable way.

I tried evernote for a while, but the main road block was the lack of good import/export/sync features.

If it's just for lightweight note taking, text apps using dropbox as a backend allow more versatility.

If I'm going to enter important information or thing I want to keep around a long time, I'll need to be able to do backups, move the data around and batch process if needed.

Regarding data management, Evernote feels more like a pretty walled garden than an efficient warehouse. Right now I feel a folder and files vased approach with a dropbox like sync service is the sweet spot, and I use a set of apps like tagspaces or simplenote on top of that to ease specific use cases like text editing, browsing or searching.

I am probably a very small subset of what most other people do. I've just started using Trac on my laptop as a personal wiki and note keeper, in addition to some minor bug tracking for small personal projects. My laptop almost never leaves home. I don't much care about syncing outside my home, but you could run it on a VPS. http://trac.edgewall.org/

What I'd like:

Something wiki like that works good with snippets (e.g. show all snippets with a particular tag on one page relatively compact, not just a list of wikipages where you have to click at each one). TiddlyWiki comes closest from all I've seen so far.

Good way of inserting/attaching random files.

quick way to add stuff to tags/categories (hierarchical tags maybe?)

My biggest concern with tools in this domain is UI: there must be a native desktop GUI. Period. It must allow creating new notes, taking screenshots etc. by global keyboard shortcuts and systray icons etc. Onenote is top notch in this regard and it's sad there is no alternative in linux.

This may not be completely acceptable, but I swear by Mempad (http://www.horstmuc.de/wmem.htm). It's not open source, but that isn't a huge deal breaker for me, since it can import/export human readable text files very easily, and its file format is really simple. If I ever needed to convert my thousands upon thousands of notes to a different format, I could probably write a program to do it an hour, and most of my work would be writing the new format. Most of the open-source programs I looked at didn't make getting to my data that easy. (Plus, since I use speech recognition for everything, I can't get picky about source availability. Anything that uses non-native widgets is almost entirely unusable for me, so I can't use anything that uses GTK or Qt. That rules out like 80% of open-source.)

It only supports plaintext, which might be a deal breaker, but I've gotten used to it. I rarely find myself needing formatting, and it has some functions to get around that, like the ability to drag arbitrary URLs and files into the text box and have them turn into clickable links. If I ever need to have images in my stuff, I usually just have links like that in my text.

That might make working with the notes a bit awkward on Android, though. Honestly, I wouldn't know. I rarely edit my notes on the go. If I need to look at my notes when I'm not using my computer, I usually export a small section of my file and physically print it out.

The program's so small I just keep it and all the files it generates in my Dropbox. With that setup, I pretty much get all the benefits of Evernote I'd need without worrying about losing notes or proprietary file formats or whatever. It's kind of weird, but I would really recommend giving it a shot.

(Among other things, I wrote this entire post in it. :p )

You'll likely find this Reddit post useful.


I'm currently trying out Laverna (https://laverna.cc/)

One option that wasn't originally intended for this use, but works really well, is Artificer (http://artificer.jboss.org). It's an open source project that started out as a metadata and software artifact repository. However, it's expanded to include any type of logical information. It supports hierarchical classifiers, custom/ad-hoc properties, relationships between nodes, etc. I'm in the middle of working it into a demo that implements the "Getting Things Done" structure.

It's self-hosted on Wildfly or JBoss EAP, but we're almost finished supporting Docker (ie, you'd be able to run it on OpenShift).

Disclaimer: I'm the technical lead for the project.

I'm a huge fan of SimpleNote and nvAlt.

I started with onenote but it shot my notebook. I never got on with evernote. I tried a number of open source ones but settled on google keep for quick notes and google docs for longer ones. Mainly because they have good sharing and concurrency support and I already use apps because I'm lazy and a cheap ass.

I have a rather shonky python script that exports the docs nightly in case google drive dies. That's good enough for me.

I know this isn't an open source solution but I couldn't find anything that worked consistently well in that area.

> shonky

Imma gonna take that there word.

Are the any with the amazing webclipper. I tried onenote but it takes odd images and does not clip out the junk like Evernote. Yes there are standalone clippers but I like having the functionality of evernotes...and the only the reason why I stick with it. The second feature is the screenshot/editor...again greenshot, pickpick are out there but the fact these two features are 'built in' makes Evernote far superior. I would love an open source alternative that integrated both features....

If you have a requirement for self-hosted evernote alternative then I believe either you have very large number of notes and each note exceeds large size or just for plain privacy reasons and your notes are very secretive (because evenote is a simple note taking/syncing app)

You should look into https://owncloud.org/ it is like open source version of dropbox which will sync more than just notes for you across multiple platforms

Please do not use OwnCloud if the files you are storing are important. There is a discussion elsewhere on the page with an explanation. TL;DR It eats your files.

As I am using it, I am a little Bit scared right now. Could you point me to said discussion? Thanks a lot in advance.

[Edit] OK, I look es around and Asket the mighty Google. Looks like the problem happens when updating. Good to know. Thanks for the hint.

Hey, sorry, I just saw your request. There's another OwnCloud discussion here on this page (just search). But we had our problem over the span of about seven months and not at all when updating. We had everything from entire directories go missing, down to individual single-page documents. It took us a couple of months to figure out what was going on, and the tension in our office was extraordinarily high as you can imagine (people becoming paranoid about the true story of what happened to their documents). Finally when we discovered that OwnCloud does this, the only solution offered was to back up the files with another application (so why even use OwnCloud in the first place??).

Maybe wallabag (https://www.wallabag.org) though it doesn't provide all the features, evernote has.

I use bittorrent sync for a lot of stuff, including a directory of RTF notes I take. While I'm on my mac I use Notational Velocity to edit them which is my favorite notes app ever. I haven't found a good way to edit the rtf docs on my android phone, though, which is kind of crucial. If anyone has a good solution involving bittorrent sync that is compatible with notational velocity on the mac, I'd love to hear it.

You may want to check out the following link for a great collection of note taking apps - http://linuxandfriends.com/note-taking-free-microsoft-onenot...

Laverna... Is also hosted at http://laverna.cc

A problem is that if you want to sync regular text files to apps on your phone we have formed somewhat of a Dropbox monoculture where DB is generally the main or sometimes the only syncing option available in mobile apps. We should really start to move away from these tools.

I use http://zim-wiki.org and make my own sync / mobile options, since as of a few months ago there was no Android version. But someone /is/ working on a mobile app.


I just started using this, so I can't say how effective it is yet. But it captures notes in NValt and syncs via Dropbox.

Synology NAS server has DS Note: https://www.synology.com/en-us/dsm/mobile if you don't mind investing in one.

Afaik, the Synology apps are not open source.

I use a git repository with text files and Terminal IDE to git on android.

Have you used evernote? My use cases involve saving pictures and documents to it (and having them be searchable), as well as being able to share specific things with specific people.

Additionally, having everything available on my phone is extremely useful.

A simple git repo doesn't suffice for that.

I use text for documents and grep/find to search them. I do have them on my phone, Terminal IDE is a full git/grep/yada suite for android.

Sharing with other geeks is easy, share a repository with them. Sharing with non geeks is a different story, of course, that is not covered by this approach.

> I use text for documents and grep/find to search them.

That's wonderful, now what about a picture of a business card or flier I took quickly? What about PDFs I've been sent or have found online? Not everything is generated in a text editor, and as much as I love text and default to it as much as possible, it's not always possible.

This is maybe my 3rd biggest usecase.

> Sharing with non geeks is a different story, of course, that is not covered by this approach.

Which may be my second largest use case for evernote.

I would not call a method that cannot perform more than 2/3rds of the main functions I use daily a replacement, let a lone an adequate one.

I set up drupal and use its book module for all the notes-taking needs, its layout can be adjusted on the fly, and I can safely backup all my content, plus its search function is nice and handy too.

Magpie (https://github.com/charlesthomas/magpie) tries to be a web-based Evernote-replacement using git.

I wrote this to scratch my note-taking itch. It's very simple. Online-only.


Not self-hosted, but perhaps http://yipgo.com gives you something of what you're after.

What cloud storage provider do you prefer or are you rolling your own infrastructure?


i have played around with Marks:


it works pretty good!!

- John M.

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