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Where does Zettlr/Obsidian compatibility break down?

I am thinking about switching to one of these two programs for note-taking. At the moment I can not decide which one suits my needs best. I have to admit that I like Obsidian's GUI more and its not-so-bright colours are easier on my not-so-young eyes. On the other hand, Zettlr leaves impression of more well thought out software (I am not sure I can explain why exactly at the moment, it is a gut feeling), apart from that it is open-source software.

So, for now I am experimenting with both. They follow similar approach and it seems that Zettlr and Obsidian are largely compatible. Where does this compatibility break down, at least from Zettlr people's perspective (my question is not about features like Graph view in Obsidian or other GUI stuff, but rather about differences in note syntax, if any; for example, any kinds of special links or some thing that the other software can not handle)?


  • If I understand markdown, you can open and modify a file in one software then open it and go on in the other.

  • Well, yes, that is very true. This is the idea behind any mark-up text formats. You can edit it in any software with basic editing capabilities.

    But my question was about degree of similarity for these two pieces of software.

  • I am using both, for a bit different purposes. I like Obsidian, especially the graph view for writing notes for studies. On the other hand, I use Zettlr for e.g. meeting notes at work and more comprehensive academic writing, where the different export options and getting citations from Zotero are really useful.

    In my opinion compatibility is quite high. The differences I've noticed are

    • Obsidian doesn't support title from YAML headmatter. I like not having to come up with filenames for every random meeting note, so I use the zettelkasten id for filenames and write longer, more descriptive titles in headmatter. But in Obsidian those files are pretty much useless, since it can't show the name.
    • In Obsidian tags can be written in YAML headmatter in tags, and in Zettlr in keywords. So currently I have identical lists in both variables in files that I want to open with both programs.
    • Obsidian supports internal links with optional, different name for rendering written as [[link to file|link that is shown when rendered]]. Zettlr can't open these links, but normal [[link to file]] are opened.

    There are probably more differences, but these are the main things I've noticed in my workflow.

  • edited January 17

    I'm sort of in a similar situation and think that @ritvje mentioned the main things I would have thought of. I find that those are not insignificant because they affect the content a bit in the ways I like to structure notes and my hierarchy. And the way the tools display those hierarchies then also impacts the way I use the tool, and to some degree, structure my content. In that sense I think Zettlr has more flexibility. On the other hand, Obsidian handles the display of tags in a way that's easier for my way of working.

    The way Zettlr focuses more on the Zettlkasten ID is a particular thing that gets missed in Obsidian. The Obsidian approach is more rich/useful for backlinks and I find those two things can serve some similar uses but in different ways.

    I enjoy writing in Zettlr's environment more since it's closer to WYSIWYG and I primarily use the tool to both write and view--so for me having a view mode that is separate from the editing mode (like Obsidian) is an extra step that's more annoying than useful. Zettlr's tab features open multiple notes whereas Obsidian uses one consistent note pane unless you explicitly tell it to open a note in a new panel. You can arrange those panels in different configurations and I find that approach very simple and very useful. I don't think these things have much impact on the compatibility between the two tools--only that there might be some slight differences in the way you work with what you write.

    It's not built-in by default but you can add a Zotero plugin to Obsidian that brings similar functionality as Zettlr provides--I don't recall though if that sort of content in the notes will transfer perfectly between the two.

    My biggest problem with Obsidian is that it's proprietary, not free and open source software. I have no assurance about how its future course might play out. It could be sold, dropped, tethered to some service that prevents my ongoing use, or changed dramatically in other ways that don't respect my work with the tool and there's nothing anybody could do about that. Because of that I won't put the massive effort into adapting all my note content to be suited for Obsidian's interface and workflows.

  • I'm using both too, but I think Zettlr is much better and polished (and pro) piece of software, and is Free Software, a great political act. I have some questions: Do anybody knows the best way to handle links so there are compatible between Zettlr and Obsidian? I noticed that Zettlr reads and links with ID in any part of the file, but today I open a small collection of notes made originally on Obsidian and noticed that, even I don't create any ID, Zettlr manages the links very well. I'm using the names as targets. Am I losing something if I don't use IDs on Zettlr? What happen on Zettlr if I change the name of a file? Obsidian has a special feature in the settings to handle this changes. If I change a name of a file (and I'm not using IDs to link the files), the link breaks or Zettlr manage this situation?

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