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Syncing text notes between multiple devices

·3 mins·

If you’re not using a note-taking app that handles synchronization for you, you’ll have to find a different solution.

This guide is going to detail how I use Syncthing for all my synchronization needs and how I use Signal as my notes inbox.

Syncthing #

Why Syncthing #

  • it just works™
  • open source
  • feels-like-instant sync
  • works behind CGNAT routers (no outgoing IP address)
  • nice web-inteface for management
  • decent memory/cpu usage
    • Has configurable run conditions on the phone to e.g. only run while being charged
  • you don’t have worry about storage costs with a cloud provider
    • Dropbox’s free plan is a paltry 2GB
    • my notes are 30GB and I don’t have to care
  • ignore patterns
    • very useful for caches, node_modules, vendor, etc.
  • nested folders (more on that later)
  • built-in versioning
    • so you can easily revert unintentional changes/deletions

Between computers #

My most basic use case was syncing my notes between my work and personal computer. My setup is running on both machines, with some tweaks depending specific on the device, all I need is to plug in my notes.

You can sync directly between the machines:

stateDiagram-v2 Work --> Personal Personal --> Work

But I would recommend you put a server in between, so you can also sync without them both being online at the same time (e.g. you close the one machine and open the other.)

stateDiagram-v2 Server --> Personal Server --> Work Work --> Server Personal --> Server

Between phone and computer #

I’m using Syncthing-Fork on my phone. The dynamic is much the same:

stateDiagram-v2 Server --> Phone Phone --> Server Server --> Computer Computer --> Server

I have a media sync with my music library, podcasts, movies, etc. To only sync parts of this I can use nested folders and only expose a subset to my phone:

└── media             <-- syncthing folder 1
    ├── movies
    ├── music
    │   └── symlink to ../phone/music
    └── phone         <-- syncthing folder 2
        ├── podcasts
        └── music

Like this I can add new music and podcasts from my computer and delete stuff I heard podcasts from my phone. Much easier than the manual ftp moving I did before.

With the symlink I have the phones music integrated into my mpd setup, which will automatically have deletion from the phone of song I don’t like synced.

The server #

Syncthing runs fine even on a Raspberry Pi. I have it running on my homeserver, where the data is included in my regular backups.

Signal as an inbox #

I only use my phone to jot down notes, not to read them.

My unoptimized workflow was me writing into a Signal chat with myself and copying out the notes on my computer. The obvious improvement was to automate that by having a script read out the signal chat and create notes out of the messages.

I have done that by creating a script that parses the signal cli app. You can find out everything about it in it’s repository: signal-cli-to-file

With my current workflow I can easily jot down a note in Signal and have it delivered into my note-taking system. I also routinely forward messages from other chats, emails, photos, PDFs and whatever else I might run across on my phone.