Joplin is a free, open-source note-taking and to-do app with desktop clients for Linux, Windows, macOS, and mobile apps for Android and iOS. There’s even a CLI too.
In this post we’ll look at its key features, and suggest a few reasons why you may prefer to use it over other similar services.
Isn’t Evernote Good Enough?
There’s no denying that Evernote is the grand-daddy of note taking services. A productivity powerhouse; a veritable by-word for being organised.
It’s success is richly deserved. It’s fast, easy to use, and feature packed.
Part of Evernote’s success is down to its cross-platform reach. You can create notes on one device, and read or edit it on another using Windows, macOS, web, Android or iOS.
While Evernote is free to use with a basic plan that only costs the time it takes to sign up, this frugal tier has some limits: for one, you only sync your notes between two devices.
If you want to add a work laptop in to the mix, or put your Windows dual-boot to use, you have to subscribe to a paid plan (which at $3.99 a month isn’t extortionate by any means).
Joplin, however, has no such limits. So rather than jump through hoops trying to use Evernote on Linux it might be worth taking a look at it.
Joplin — Open Source Evernote Alternative
Joplin has free apps for desktop and mobile. This means you don’t need to be on your Linux box to jot down a few thoughts, compile some research, or work on that Linux love poem you’ve been meaning to post to Reddit.
While the service isn’t as polished or as featured as Evernote is (which is understandable given it’s made by a team of one) it’s still a capable replacement.
Thanks to its rich support for Markdown (including an optional preview panel in its desktop apps) Joplin also works as a Bear alternative for Linux and Windows users.
Workflow & Features
Like Evernote Joplin is built around the concept of notebooks. You can add new notes and tasks to a notebook quickly, and tag, search and edit them easily.
- Create notes, to-dos, and notebooks
- Works offline
- Sync notes via OneDrive
- Tag support
- File attachment support
- Search functionality
- Import Evernote .enex files
One major difference (or selling point, depending on your tastes) between Evernote and Joplin is that the latter uses the Markdown format rather than traditional rich text formatting.
You can even import Evernote notes into Joplin. The app automatically converts .enex file contents to Markdown while persevering images, other attachments and metadata (e.g., date created, modified, etc).
Joplin is able to sync your notes between devices using Microsoft OneDrive or a network device. Support for Dropbox is planned, and there’s no real reason why NextCloud or other services couldn’t be supported either.
It’s important to stress that when the app syncs it saves notes to plain text files. This is useful on the one hand as you can easily out the contents with a regular text editor, but there are some theoretical privacy concerns on the other because anyone can read plaintext.
Support for end to end encryption in a future build is planned for a future build.
Drawbacks & Issues
I tested Joplin on Ubuntu 17.10 using the provided AppImage, and the mobile app on Android 8.0.
Both clients let me create, edit, re-arrange, tag, and search notes and notebooks as intended.
Sadly, I couldn’t test OneDrive synchronisation in the Linux AppImage. In theory selecting the option will open a web-view for authorisation to OneDrive, but I found thatclicking the ‘sync’ button yields nothing, not even an error dialog.
Sync did work in the Android App.
The AppImage also didn’t display a working application icon in the Ubuntu dock.
The best thing about Joplin — as if being open-source, having a clean UI, and packed full of features wasn’t enough — is the sheer number of platforms its supports. Usually when we look at alternatives to Evernote we have to caveat them with “not available on X, Y or Z”. Not so here.
Joplin has apps for desktop and mobile:
- Desktop apps for Windows, macOS and Linux
- Mobile apps Android and iOS
- Terminal app for Windows (via WSL), macOS and Linux
The desktop apps are built using Electron (boo, hiss, whatever). The Android app is built using React Native.
The Linux build is distributed as an AppImage. This will run on most modern Linux distributions, including Ubuntu:
New to AppImages? You’ll need to give the image permission to run after downloading. To do this right-click on the App Image runtime, head to Properties > Permissions and check the relevant box.
The terminal application can be installed via NPM on Linux, macOS and Windows via WSL.
npm install -g joplin
For the mobile clients follow these links: