Moving Your Notes From Simplenote to Dropbox

A while back, I explained that due to data loss, I was abandoning Simplenote to sync my text files with nvALT in favor of a combination of Dropbox and Notesy. What I didn’t offer at the time was step-by-step instructions for making the move. Now that Brett Terpstra, one of the developers of nvALT, has made it clear that there are issues between Simplenote and nvALT that are unlikely to get resolved (in addition to the issues I was having with the Simplenote iOS app), I wanted to give those who need it a walkthrough for making the move from Simplenote Sync to Dropbox Sync.

Moving is simple, but in order to save yourself a mild panic attack, you’re going to want to do things in a certain order. You may have already taken a few of these steps, but just make sure to follow along to ensure that you don’t have the moment of panic where you think you’ve lost all your notes (I’ve been there… it sucks).

Step one: Ensure your notes are saved individually rather than as a single database:

  1. Open Preferences in nvALT (you can get here through the menu bar or by hitting ⌘-,)
  2. Go to Notes and then navigate to Storage
  3. Make sure “Store and read notes on disk as:” is set to “Plain Text Files *”

Your default settings will look like this:

Default Settings - nvalt and Simplenote Sync

Once you’re done with these steps, they should look like this:

Change nvALT to Plain Text Files 1

Step 2: You need to disable Simplenote Sync:

  1. Go back to Preferences if you’re not still there (again, you can get here through the menu bar or by hitting ⌘-,)
  2. Go to Synchronization
  3. Uncheck the box next to Synchronize with Simplenote

If you do this before you move your notes, you’ll have a legacy backup of everything up to this point in Simplenote. While I’ve never needed this, it’s a nice to have backup.

Once you’re done, your preferences should look like this:

Disable Simplenote Sync

Step 3: Move Your Notes To Dropbox

Now it’s time for the big move, what we’re going to do is copy all of your notes over from their current folder to a new one in Dropbox:

  1. Go to nvALT and click on any note.
  2. Hit Cmd-Shift-R to open the folder with the selected note in Finder.
  3. Hit Cmd-A to select all notes
  4. Hit Cmd-C to Copy all of your notes
  5. Before you leave, take note of where these notes are, you’re going to need it later (you can also just leave this folder open). If you can’t see this at the bottom, to go View in the menu bar and hit Show Path Bar.
  6. If you haven’t done so already, install Dropbox
  7. Go back to the Storage section of nvALT’s Preferences screen
  8. Select the drop down menu next to “Read notes from folder:” and select Other… to open up the Finder
  9. Navigate to your Dropbox folder
  10. Click on New Folder and name it as you see fit (I use Notes). Notes: You can also put this folder in a sub-folder within Dropbox, but considering how often I use it, I prefer to keep it in my main folder. Also, for some reason , I occasionally have to select this folder twice in order to make the change stick. If you select the folder and find that the drop down is not showing the correct folder name, just do it again and everything should be fine.
  11. Close out of nvALT
  12. Open Finder and navigate to the new Notes folder in Dropbox
  13. Paste your notes into the new folder
  14. Hit Cmd-V to paste your text files into the new folder
  15. Once your notes have copied over, reopen nvALT and you should see your data. Note: To confirm that you’re now pointing to the correct folder, create a new note titled TEST and see if it shows up in your Dropbox folder.

Here’s how to select a note and open the folder in Finder:

Select a note in nvALT and show in Finder

Here’s where you can find the location of your data in Finder before moving it over to Dropbox:

Path to your nvALT Data

And here’s where you want to click to start change the location of your data and to create the new folder in your Dropbox folder:

Change nvALT Data Folder

Followed by:

Make a dropbox folder 1

Step 4: Remove Your Old Notes

Last but not least, you want to remove your old notes. This will eliminate any duplications when searching for notes and avoid any scenarios where you end up working on an old, unsynchronized file. The first and easiest way to go about this is just to select all of the files in your original folder and delete them. There’s currently a copy in your new Dropbox folder (which will continue to be updated as you make changes) and a legacy copy on Simplenote (which will not continue to be updated as you make changes) that can be accessed through the Simplenote iOS app or web interface. If, like me, you’re crazy and want to keep a copy of the original Simplenote database on you machine (just in case…), you just need to do the following:

  1. Go back to Storage in the Notes tab of Preferences in nvALT
  2. Change “Read notes from folder:” back to the original folder (this is the path that I mentioned you should keep track of in Step 3). Note: Once again, you may need to do this twice to make sure the change sticks.
  3. Exit nvALT and reopen. If you TEST note does not show up, you’ve done this right. You can also test this by pressing Cmd-Shift-R and checking the path at the bottom to ensure you’re in the original folder.
  4. Go back to Storage in the Notes tab of Preferences and change “Store and read notes on disk as:” from “Plain Text Files *” to “Single Database (Allow Encryption)”
  5. When you do this, you will be asked if you want to move the individual files to trash or if you want to keep the files. Trash them, but don’t worry the notes were saved as a single database.
  6. Change “Read notes from folder:” back to your Dropbox file (again, you may need to do this twice to make the change stick) and, if it doesn’t happen automatically, change “Store and read notes on disk as:” back to “Plain Text Files” once more.

Note: This ensures that the notes will not show up in searches, but if you ever find it necessary, you can switch nvALT back to this database. It’s probably easier to just remove the files, but like I said, I’m a bit crazy.

Once you’re done, nvALT will pull from the Dropbox folder, your files are accessible by an array of iOS applications (I use Notesy, you can read more about why here). Since making the switch to Dropbox and Notesy, I haven’t lost a stitch of data. While I occasionally run into conflicts, they’re handled in a way that ensures that no work gets lost. There may be geekier ways to get this done, but this straightforward method will let you get your data out of Simplenote and into Dropbox.

If you know of a better way to make the switch, let me know and I’ll be sure to update this post with any better methods.

10 Responses to Moving Your Notes From Simplenote to Dropbox

  1. Nice explanation.

    I made this switch a few months back. At the time I was getting a lot of ‘conflicted’ copies of files, and wasn’t sure what the problem was. I thought it might be Simplenote – or the fact I had the unreliable iCloud muddled up in there – but the latest update to Writing Kit suggests that it was the culprit, not Simplenote.

    Writing Kit was one of a number of writing apps I’d been trialling, the others being Byword and IA Writer. I’ve settled on Byword, and the problem hasn’t reared its head since.

  2. Why not simplify this process by keeping the Notational Data in the original location and creating a symbolic link to it in the Dropbox folder? Steps 3 and 4 would then reduce to two commands. Typically…

    cd ~/Dropbox ln -s ~/Library/Application Support/Notational Data “Notational Data”

  3. Thanks for this guide! It worked for me (the only problems were ones I created for myself). I combined the shift with converting my note repository (fortunately < 200) from html to txt, which I have ended up doing manually, so that was the part that took a lot of time – until i discovered that you could just use the ‘export’ function in nvAlt to export an html note as txt, then delete the original, which speeded things up somewhat:) I’d be interested do know: do people have a secondary backup strategy for their notes file, in addition to Dropbox? Since I plan to use nvAlt for more and more things in the future, I would like to be 101% sure that nothing in that folder will go irreplaceably missing… Peter

Leave a reply