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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)?

Comments

  • 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?

  • Thank you for your comments! They pretty much reflect my experience, too. It is nice that these two tools are highly compatible (the most serious incompatibility, from my viewpoint, is the difference in link format as @ritvje mentioned). Also, I fully agree with @jchalifour's sentence «I find those two things can serve some similar uses but in different ways».

    At home I mostly work with Zettlr, but I use Obsidian occasionally as well. However, Obsidian licence make it impossible to use it at work for free (unless you are working for a non-profit organisation).

  • edited March 18

    Obsidian's not being able to read the title of my note from YAML frontmatter is the most painful thing for me. That makes linking notes in Obsidian very difficult, unless you also include the title of your note in your filename. But that gives less flexibility especially when you want to change the title of the note. I think this would be the most obvious compatibility breakdown.

    What @ritvje said about tags and keywords is not true. I previously used keywords but now I switched to tags and Zettlr seems to be able to read it as tags as well. I am also in the middle of comparing Obsidian and Zettlr. I like Zettlr because it is open-source. But what caused me to start looking about is because I was highly inspired by Andy's Evergreen Notes.

    Writing the title of a note only in the YAML frontmatter appears to only have the title appears at the tab. What I did was to repeat the title using the first # heading. But that would make the table of contents not beautiful/perfect. I will have to do the same in Obsidian, but the absent of a table of contents doesn't make me so OCD to strive for "perfection."

    Another thing that I was searching for was the ability to view my linked note with the previous note together side by side, like how Andy did. Obsidian's pane appears to be able to do this well. Of course in Zettlr we have Quicklook that allows us to open another instance of a particular note. But this is not as neat as Obsidian's panes.

  • @Pablo said:
    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?

    I've been playing around with both these days. What I learned (perhaps I missed a thing):

    • When using IDs in Zettlr (for example after the first heading), Obsidian can't use these links. It generates a new file
    • When using no IDs in Zettlr and insert a WikiLink, Obsidian has no problems with it.
    • Using the ID as the filename itself, I think it's quite useless. Zettlr has an option to display the first heading, but Obisdian has not
    • Zettlr does not change links if you change a filename, but Obsidian does (you have to enable the option in the settings)

    My conclusion for the moment: forget the ID although using Zettlr as a Zettelkasten and link to files (which are named "understandable") withouth an ID. So my Zettelkasten should work both with Zettlr and Obsidian.

    There seems to be another problem: Zettlr and Obsidian handle inserted images in a different way:
    Obsidian uses slashes while Zettlr uses backslashes
    Zettlr can handle spaces in filenames directly, while Obsidian uses HTML-syntax (or something like that;-))
    For inserted screenshot Zettlr uses a more useful filename than Obsidian does

    Best wishes
    Daniel

  • @chappy72 said:

    I've been playing around with both these days. What I learned (perhaps I missed a thing):

    • When using IDs in Zettlr (for example after the first heading), Obsidian can't use these links. It generates a new file
    • When using no IDs in Zettlr and insert a WikiLink, Obsidian has no problems with it.
    • Using the ID as the filename itself, I think it's quite useless. Zettlr has an option to display the first heading, but Obisdian has not
    • Zettlr does not change links if you change a filename, but Obsidian does (you have to enable the option in the settings)

    My conclusion for the moment: forget the ID although using Zettlr as a Zettelkasten and link to files (which are named "understandable") withouth an ID. So my Zettelkasten should work both with Zettlr and Obsidian.

    There seems to be another problem: Zettlr and Obsidian handle inserted images in a different way:
    Obsidian uses slashes while Zettlr uses backslashes
    Zettlr can handle spaces in filenames directly, while Obsidian uses HTML-syntax (or something like that;-))
    For inserted screenshot Zettlr uses a more useful filename than Obsidian does

    Best wishes
    Daniel

    I've also been playing around with both to get a feel. I realised a bit late that I can have them both point to the same 'vault' / 'workspace' (ie folder on HD).
    To me, Zettlr feels nicer to work in although I get a bit of strange behaviour from time to time. I think 2.0 will probably iron a few things out. Zotero integration tips the balance for me but I will keep both going for a little while.
    re IDs and filenames: I've been creating YAML frontmatter automagically with Espanso. You have to end the frontmatter with --- not ... for it to be recognised properly in Obsidian. I give my notes word titles in the left hand file director then include a potentially different title in the YAML (good for searches in Zettlr, Obsidian doesn't find them) along with a Zettlr generated ID. This way, I can change either or both titles and the file still links via the unchanging UID in YAML.
    Does this seem like a good workflow? See any problems? I'm very green to all this: Zettelkasten, Markdown, YAML etc.

  • You have to end the frontmatter with --- not ... for it to be recognised properly in Obsidian.

    Even more general, I think Pandoc is the only app that allows frontmatters to be closed with three dots, so after playing around also with other static site generators such as Jekyll and Hugo, I've now switched to only using three dashes to end a front matter, and I'll be promoting that more often I think …

  • I see similar experiences with Obsidian. but there is a bit more to it than Obsidian contributors building a Zettelkasten prefixer plugin rather than Zettlr having Zettelkasten at its design core. IMHO.

  • @DivSmart said:
    I see similar experiences with Obsidian. but there is a bit more to it than Obsidian contributors building a Zettelkasten prefixer plugin rather than Zettlr having Zettelkasten at its design core. IMHO.

    Could you elaborate? I'm still working with both.

  • @Andrew , could you please elaborate how you work with both Zettlr and Obsidian? Specifically, what is the "anatomy" of your notes?

    Like others in this thread have described, I use a date-based UID as filename and a titled defined inside a YAML header. My problem with Obsidian is that it does not process the "title:" field in the YAML header, neither for linking, or in the file list, nor for the graph view. How do you make it work?

    For what it's worth, I have asked a similar question over in the Zettlr subreddit, but haven't gotten a lot replies yet:
    https://reddit.com/r/Zettlr/comments/n1sw0u/other_note_taking_apps_compatible_with_zettlrs/

  • Well, I'm really just getting started so don't read too much into my "anatomy" but I do something similar to you with a YAML heading:

    ---
    title: "long title"
    uid: "command+l"
    date: "today's date"
    keywords: "words"
    --- 
    
    

    The YAML title doesn't necessarily match the title in the file directory btw. Zettlr doesn't mind as it will find either title or the uid when linking. I don't include the uid in the title in the file directory. I just give that a short snappy title, easy to read (and good for graph view in Obsidian, if and when I ever use it).

    As you've noticed, Obsidian doesn't process the YAML for linking but it does for searching in its file directory. I find myself just using Zettlr most of the time, occasionally using Obsidian for a search, graph view, audio recording etc.

    Apart from this, I have nothing else in a template for a note. I just make headings as I go, as needed: Ideas, Questions, Arguments etc.

  • @Andrew , sorry for bothering you again. I created a few test notes with exactly the structure you propose. For instance, I have a note with file name rule-all.md linking to all other test notes:

    ---
    title: "One note to rule them all"
    uid: 20210505091839
    ---
    
    [[20210429134531]] A new hope
    [[20210505091412]] It's the end of the world as we know it
    [[20210429134446]] This is not a love song
    [[20210505092206]] Archangelsk is beautiful in spring
    

    Indeed, everything works just fine in Zettlr.

    Obsidian, however, still doesn't seem to get it right. Basically, it does not seem to understand the the [[links]] do not refer to filenames, but to the UIDs in the YAML header. So, when I klick on a link in Obsidian, it creates a new, empty note with the UID as filename. And in the graph view, all notes appear twice: once with their filenames and once with the linked UIDs:

    How do you make that work? Are you maybe using a different link format even in Zettlr? Thanks a lot again for your help!

  • Ah yes, you're right. I guess I've moved over more to Zettlr than I thought! Sorry, I lead you up the garden path with that one. I have been creating and following links in Zettlr. The funny thing with Obsidian is that the YAML contents are searchable but not available for autocomplete when creating a link, which leads to the issue you've stated.

    Do you follow the Obsidian forum? I was looking there a while back and there's lots of discussion about plugins and development etc Surely, they will apply something to be able to address this. Maybe they already have? There was a discussion around using H1 headings as filenames ... or something. I ended up getting a bit bamboozled by it all. Zettlr just feels simple enough for my small brain.

  • The other thing I considered was using the uid at the end of the file directory name. That way, Obsidian would see it, right?
    So your filename would be One note to rule them all 20210505091839. The human readable part is at the front so it's visible in the file directory in Zettlr and also in Obsidian graph view. All your YAML could stay the same.
    Would that work?

  • @Andrew said:
    There was a discussion around using H1 headings as filenames ... or something.

    I think you talk about this plugin:
    https://github.com/dvcrn/obsidian-filename-heading-sync

  • TBH, I'm starting to doubt my 'system', ie title and uid in YAML and linking via uid only. I mean, it works well in Zettlr but is it a good idea as far as future proofing etc goes?

  • Hi All: Total newbie here, literally just discovered Zettelkasten & Zettlr yesterday. For the past 24 hours, I've been obsessed with reading & watching videos about the topic. I'm a huge fan of plain text & markdown, and have been trying to find a decent solution to migrate all my past notes over from a mix of Evernote, OneNote, and a bunch of plain text files. I do also use Standard Notes for my "secure" note taking, but it's not a good solution for developing a Zettelkasten.

    Anyway, this thread is exactly what I was wondering after finally understanding what a Zettelkasten is, and discovering Zettlr (and then Obsidian). Both tools seem to have their pros & cons, with the hat tip going a little more in the favor of Zettlr for me. However, I'd like to construct my notes such that I can work with them in either tool if I so choose.

    My confusion currently is understanding how to name my files, how to title my notes, whether to use an ID or not, and how to link correctly between notes. If I use the ID, do I include it in the names of my files, at the top of each file in-line with the other text, or both (or neither)? Obsidian doesn't seem to rely on the ID, but it is an option that can he turned on.

    When first creating a new note in Zettlr, the name defaults to the ID. But naming my files with just an ID seems pointless because I will never find anything when looking at a long list of files in a directory. I prefer for my file names to make sense.

    I would love to see a documented workflow from someone who has been using one or both applications for a while to build a robust Zettelkasten.

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