Zettelkasten Forum

What are the differences between the Archive and the Sublime Text Zettelkasten package?

I'm interested in reading feedback from users of each or both of these apps. Are there any practical limitations in using the ST package over against the Archive?


  • edited April 2018

    Hey there. Limitations...? :smile:


    • I have never really used The Archive. I installed the download-able version and played with it for a couple of minutes and liked it.
    • I am the author of Sublime_ZK, so I am probably super-biased

      • I still consider myself being a user, though.
    • However, this is all about enabling and empowering users such as ourselves and spreading the Zettelkasten method and learning from each other, not a competition.

    The Archive

    Here come the things that I found are unique to The Archive. This is probably incomplete. @ctietze or The Archive users will probably be able to help here.

    Markdown Lists

    The Archive has better Markdown rendering for lists. When list items wrap, consecutive lines align with the text, not the bullet or number, as SublimeText's simple line wrapping does.

    (Saved) Searches

    In The Archive, a lot revolves around searches in the Omni-bar. It supports saved searches, which, I guess, is saving the search terms, so you have them available later with just one click.

    Sublime_ZK has no omni-bar. It has SublimeText's fuzzy-search bar that pops up when you press cmd+p.

    Keyboard Maestro

    People seem to use Keyboard Maestro a lot to do all sorts of nifty things with The Archive.

    Links to notes from outside the app

    I guess The Archive comes with an URL scheme that allows you to create hyperlinks that point to a note within The Archive. This is what I'm most unfamiliar with and cannot look it up now, as I am travelling with just my Linux MacBook Air.

    Making Photos

    The Archive lets you take photos from within the App.


    Here comes the list of Sublime_ZK features that I found are unique to it. It might also be incomplete, and maybe the one or other thing isn't really unique.

    • Multi-Platform

      • macOS
      • Windows
      • Linux
    • Link insertion

      • on [[ you can choose from a fuzzy-searchable list of all your notes and select one to link to
      • different link styles are supported
    • Note creation

      • Note ID is always created automatically

        • with either minute or second precision
        • (tool-generated links with sub-second precision like 20180408132501.083 are supported, though)
      • Supports note templates (with variables)

      • Note-creation from selected text

        • Either title only or title + body depending on how much is selected
      • Can automatically insert a link when creating a note from within an existing note

    • Searching

      • Search for notes referencing a note or tag or citation key by clicking / keyboard shortcut
      • Advanced tag search lets you search for sophisticated combinations of tags, including and excluding sets of tags
      • A persistent search results pane, eg, always to the right of your notes
    • Multiple editor panes and tabs

    • Expansion of (overview) notes

      • into new note buffers
      • supports optional refresh if originating notes change
      • ctrl+. in a note link expands the referenced note in a new paragraph below that link.
    • Quickly producing note lists inside a note

      • ctrl+. on a note ID, #tag, or citation key produces a markdown list of referencing notes in the next line
    • Inline Images

      • Show / Hide images directly in the text
    • Bibliography support:

      • Insert citations by browsing through your .bib file
      • Create automatic bibliography of your note showing all sources that are cited within the note
    • Automatic creation of

      • Table of contents
      • Section numbers

    Both The Archive and Sublime_ZK are quite young. I started with Sublime_ZK in October last year, and The Archive has just been released. So this post will probably be outdated really soon :smile:

  • Thank you for the detailed explanation. I'm installing your plug-in to test, looking forward to creating my Zettelkasten.

  • As someone who has been having the same uncertainties myself over which version of the Zettelkasten to use, I would also like to add that, when considering the limitations of each, it is useful to also evaluate the extent to which a built-in limitation might prove beneficial.

    If the question is simply which of the two options is more fully-featured at the moment, the answer is certainly the Sublime Text plug-in. This is, of course, not at all to disparage the fine work done by the developers of The Archive, as they had to start from scratch--or at least from the foundation of the NV model--whereas Rene was able to build on the already formidable capabilities of ST3.

    Of course, this also means that they can develop their product specifically for use as a Zettelkasten, whereas the ST3 plug-in can be optimized for this function but is not in itself intended for this purpose. The plug-in, then, is potentially more fragile than The Archive for long-term use, as it depends on the ST3 app (which is, of course, very stable itself) and on Rene's good (and unremunerated) graces. Being plain text, however, gives you the advantage of switching to The Archive at any time (or from The Archive to ST3) or even moving between them in working at whim.

    Indeed, as I suggested above, the fact that The Archive is less customizable at the moment than ST3 could also be considered a virtue if your aim is to capture notes/knowledge as seamlessly as possible. I've personally spent far too much time tinkering with the configurations of themes and multiple packages on ST3. This may not be a problem for all--I'm sure many can just leave such things alone and enjoy Rene's package by itself--but I'm afflicted with the propensity to procrastinate in this way and would do best to avoid such opportunities where possible.

    So anyway, that's my dilemma. Rene's Zettelkasten package is wonderful. Having used Dan Sheffler's excellent but far more limited ST3 extensions before this, Rene's plug-in does more than I thought such a plug-in could ever possibly do. It is literally the most fully-featured Zettelkasten (at least out of the box) that you can use at the moment. At the same time, I'm excited by the potential for an app that is in active development, is specifically afforded to realizing the potential of the Zettelkasten system, and is made by the two people that are likely this system's most public advocates. It's something that I think everyone interested in the system itself should support as it certainly has the greatest long-term potential. And even now it might be the best option specifically because some of its limitations prove useful to the more spartan labors of sustained knowledge-work.

    I'd love to hear what others are thinking/using, if only to make the decision for myself.

  • That's what I realized as well, that Sublime ZT is more advanced for the time being. Thanks for your post.

  • I am truly deeply impressed by what Rene has accomplished with Sublime_ZK, but I personally find The Archive much more pleasant to use.

    Furthermore, one reason why Sublime_ZK is currently more advanced in some ways (but really only some) is because it is a plug-in that is standing on the shoulders of an existing full-featured text editor, whereas The Archive is a separate application that is being build from the ground up. While this made Sublime_ZK's development much faster in the short term, it also makes it fundamentally limited by and dependent on the Sublime framework, whereas The Archive is only limited by @ctietze's passion and endurance. :smile:

    So as time goes on, I expect The Archive to gain more and more features that would simply be impossible to implement in a Sublime Text plug-in. And in the meantime, if you do need some very advanced features that are not currently available in TA itself, there is always Keyboard Maestro, which allows you to tweak TA (and other apps) to your heart's content, as some of the examples posted to this forum already illustrate.

    If you like The Archive's "PrettyFunctional (Basic)" theme, consider upgrading to the "PrettyFunctional (Regular)" theme.

  • I want to chime in with a bit of background. I developed the SublimeText plugin because I need a cross-platform solution. I fully understand that leveraging the specific benefits of a specific platform has advantages but I have long come to a point where I would "never" create a single-OS solution myself anymore. I wouldn't be able to share it with my friends and colleagues (most of them use Windows). I am forced to use Windows as my main OS at work, while at home I have my Mac and my Linux MacBook. I love Linux. In a way, it has plain-text embedded into its core and history. I am sure, if Luhmann had the choice, he would have used Linux :smile: -- just kidding!

    When I got all excited about the Zettelkasten method, I needed a tool. I tried Daniel Luedecke's Java app and found to not like it (eventhough it is a great app): too much GUI, not enough plain text. The plain text / Markdown approach appealed to me a lot. I am really glad I stumbled upon zettelkasten.de. It's priceless. So now I knew I wanted a Markdown Zettelkasten. But what to do, what to do?

    There I was, in need of a good solution for all 3 major platforms. It wasn't easy to find a good Markdown editor that worked and was enjoyable on all 3, without compromise, and SublimeText just did. When I learned it can be scripted in Python (one of my passions), I was hooked: I would be able to add a bit of functionality to just make working with Zettel notes, and Markdown documents in general, more convenient myself. That's when the plugin was born. It didn't do a lot but helping with inserting and following links at the beginning and I thought, having such a "Text Browser" was pretty cool.

    Fast forward to now, it has become really powerful. I would never have dreamt of displaying images inside an editor window or inserting citations and bibliographies -- or having a C64 mode :smile:.

    What many people forget is that not everybody has a Mac. Advocating a plain text approach is so much more easy when you can actually show the benefit of things like OS independence. No "on Windows use this app and on a Mac use that app". But apart from that: there are still far more non-Mac users out there than are Mac users. They deserve a good tool, too. I just couldn't develop a tool I am passionate about and then tell interested colleagues that it only works on a Mac, so "bad luck for you". I have given up trying to convince everyone and their dog that they should switch to macOS.

    Because it has been brought up: I personally also find the idea that long-term, "a real app" has more potential, questionable (I like to question everything). If SublimeText gets discontinued as of now, then just don't uninstall it. Keep a copy of its installer for future machines. It will keep running for years to come. The plugin itself is free software! It's already in the hands of everyone that installed it. Anyone can continue working on it should I not be responsive enough or abandon it. At least there is the chance that somebody would step up and help out -- which is even possible now: anyone can contribute, even directly to the code. The same cannot necessarily be said about payed closed-source software. If anything comes up and development of The Archive has to be paused, who can help out then? I know, it will probably never happen. And I'm more than fine with that :smile:.

    It is true that building on top of SublimeText has its pros and cons. But don't under-estimate the beast. Some things are really tricky to get done with SublimeText, no matter how big the giant. Just look at the size of the plugin code - it is free, on GitHub after all. It is not exactly trivial. One of the cons is that SublimeText is still just a Text Editor and not a dedicated app. For my plain-text Zettelkasten needs, that is actually a good fit. It might not be for everybody. I get that. It's fine, really. There should never be one tool claiming to be the best for any given person for a specific purpose. People and their desires and preferences are very different. Never under-estimate what can and cannot be done, either. I have heard you can't do X in (programming language / framework / system / processor of choice) and then seen it being done, far too often.

    But for novice users, it is probably strange to have to install an editor, then a plugin, then a search command, etc. I get that. On the other hand, hey, it's the best that I could come up with to have a good Zettelkasten tool on all platforms, initially tailored to my needs. I use it on all my machines and Dropbox does the rest. When I leave my Mac for work, I can continue there on Windows in the same cozy environment. When travelling, I often start on the tiny Linux Macbook Air and then continue on the big clunky Windows laptop, then have to head off with the MB air - and I like doing that.

    When I started, there was no app (that I liked). The Archive had not been released yet. Waiting until a cross-platform app would appear out of the blue didn't seem feasible. So I took the shortest decent path to provide myself and, going open-source, everyone else who likes it, with a good (enough for me) "not-app" that does the job.

    So what to make of that? Be happy! There are now at least 2 custom-made plain-text Zettelkasten tools you can choose from if you own a Mac! Both from passionate people who put a lot of effort and their hearts into their work. For such a niche topic, isn't that excellent news? Try what ever seems to suit you. Or try both. Use one or the other or one and the other. If you're on Windows or Linux, your options are more limited. Maybe we'll have a VIM plugin soon, too. That would work even on a text-only screen :smile:.

    Ultimately, which is the best or most future-proof tool is a decision everybody has to make for themselves. I think there is no answer that fits all.

  • edited April 2018

    Definitely the academic world is a better place now, with these two Zettelkasten options (Rene, vielen dank mein freund, ich wünch dir und Sublime_ZT alles gute).

    There are lots of websites out there offering either psychological help to grad students or apps designed to improve academic workflow. Yet there is a wide gap between these two poles, and Zettelkasten.de (Chris and Sascha) gracefully attempt to bridge it with a hands-on approach to note taking as an extension of one's brain. Simply impressive, or shall I say faszinierend? Long live these resources!

  • @rene said:
    People and their desires and preferences are very different.

    To me, this is a main hurdle to take. Yes, people have very different desires and preferences. Many of them are wrong but insist on their opinion without any good argument. There are many examples.

    1. I basically did research on the question of conditio humana for ten years. It wasn't just a side project. I mean non-stop. For years it was normal for me to work from 6AM to 12PM only interrupted by eating and training or work which could be accounted as the practical side of research. I work seven days a week unless there is an interuption (my mom dares to have a birthday :smile: and mom is the best). Ten years to have a rough idea on this question. Yet people claim to just thought about what people makes happy or what meaning is. Most of the time it needs a couple of questions to shake their positions or them emotionally. But very few come to the conclusion that understanding the strange thing of being a human is fucking hard.
    2. When I worked as a trainer in a gym many people came to me and said they wanted a specific split program. I asked them why and they said that they heard it was the best from a random source. Most of the time, they weren't only wrong. Is there a English word for being wronger than wrong? It wasn't enough to just state their fault. I had to argue with someone who doesn't know anything about training at all. (I had my fun, though. I used it to practice the socratic method)

    In this strange area (note taking, academics, knowledge work) it is the same. There are principles that don't change and there are quite a few of them.

    This is not very suprising because we are all human. We are more the same than different. Otherwise, we couldn't even talk to each other. There is a very simple line of inference: How our brain works -> How note-taking, academics, writing etc. work -> how the Zettelkasten Method is designed -> How an app should be designed.

    Unless someone has an alien brain or don't use human language one is the same critter like all of us. The difference is very small. Yet, most of us act like we are members of a different species. :smile:

    @rene I don't think you just have developed a plugin to fit your needs. I think you got some things very right. :smile:

    I am a Zettler

  • @rene, thank you very much for that background story. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it!

    Re-reading what I wrote yesterday, my post comes across as a bit more critical of Sublime_ZK than I had intended. My impression was that Sublime_ZK got a lot more support in this thread than The Archive, and I felt like I had to champion TA a bit, because I really want it succeed long-term.

    Maybe one day -- and I hope that day will never come -- Apple will ditch macOS, and I'll come crawling to Linux and Sublime Text, and then I can be very happy that a suitable TA replacement is already waiting there for me. :smile:

    If you like The Archive's "PrettyFunctional (Basic)" theme, consider upgrading to the "PrettyFunctional (Regular)" theme.

  • I hope I'll have switched to an open source cross-platform model by that time anyway :)

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

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