Marrying nvALT and Byword

Geeky Quick Tips is a series of simple, code-free tips and tactics for doing more with your Mac or iOS device. For more detailed geekery, be sure to checkout the Techie Scheky series.

While recording our “How Packed Is Your Mac?” episodes of the Mikes on Mics podcast, I was surprised to learn that my esteemed co-host was unaware of how to marry two of my favorite writing applications, nvALT and Byword. Technically these are two completely separate apps, but I use them as one. Both are geared to those of us who prefer to write in plain text and use Markdown to format our work for the web. Both have specific strengths that, when combined, form one hell of a writing environment.


nvALT serves as the backbone of this writing environment, but doesn’t meet all of my wants. You could certainly use it on its own to handle all of your writing, but I find it lacks in the looks department. It’s fine for quick writing projects, but it can ware on you when working on longer pieces.


Byword, on the other hand, is a dream to write and format your text into Markdown, but it doesn’t handle text files nearly as well as nvALT. Thankfully, the creators of nvALT seemed to know that the particular amongst us might want to use it in tandem with an external text editors and they decided to make life easy for us.

So Happy Together

To marry the two applications, open nvALT and open the Preference pane (you can do this by typing Command-Comma). Start at the “Notes” tab and change the default option for the field titled “Store and read notes on disk as” from “Single Database” to “Plain Text Files”. Then jump over to the “Editing” tab and go to the bottom and find the field titled “External Text Editor”. By default TextEdit will be selected, but you can change this to any application of your choosing “Other…” and selecting your text editor of choice from the your Applications folder. In my case, I selected Byword. From now on, when I press Command-Shift-E while working in any text file in nvALT and it opens right up in Byword.

Since I’m too lazy to do screenshots for you, here’s a very brief screencast that shows you how to set this up.

Bonus Tip

There is one little hiccup. I tend to be a bit of a moron and when working in Byword I will occasionally jump into Safari to grab a link and accidentally start working again in nvALT. This can cause some problems, so if you tend to be careless, you may want to use the following Keyboard Maestro macro. It opens the file in Byword and closes nvALT to ensure you don’t mix things up. I have this macro set to Command-Shift-W.1.

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  1. If you are really careless, you can set the macro to Command-Shift-E and it will override the current command that leaves nvALT open. My reason for not doing this: it becomes a pain if I want to open a handful of nvALT text files in Byword.  

15 Responses to Marrying nvALT and Byword

  1. Very nice tip, thanks Michael!

    I currently have nvALT syncing with Simplenote and Byword on my Mac with Elements on the iPad, both via Dropbox.

    If I couple nvALT with Byword as you suggest, presumably I lose the above connections?

    • So sorry I missed this. No, the connections still work, but if you’re using Elements, you may want to move everything over to Dropbox and have one home for it all. 

      • I have the same setup as maverickny. I use nvAlt with plain text files and sync them via simplenote over to iPad and iPhone.

        When I now open nvAlt and edit a note in ByWord, then close nvAlt every change after the closing of nvAlt is lost to simplenote right?

        • I miss the Simplenote app, but I couldn’t trust it. It killed way too much data, especially when going in or coming out of the subway. Seems to struggle when moving in and out of connectivity. Also gets rough when you get to a significant amount of notes.

          • Recently I have also huge troubles with keeping my plain text notes in sync over Simplenote. What is then your best solution for keeping everything, everywhere (Mac, Windows, Web, iPad, iPhone) in sync?

          • I keep everything in a single Dropbox folder, use nvALT on the Mac and Notesy on iOS (although there are a ton of options there). As for Windows and the web, I think there’s an app called ResophNotes for PC and TextDrop App on the web.

  2. Nice post, Michael… I forgot where I stole this concept from (maybe you!) but I like to tell people who don’t get nvAlt that I use it as if it were Finder for text files…

  3. Michael…

    Many thanks for this one. With Byword’s new elegant universal app which syncs beautifully via iCloud, I am now Byword on all platforms. Running lists and shortish notes use this nvALT/Byword twosome. Longer writing pieces go Byword synced via Dropbox for greater file management and file access by other apps. Leaving the really heavy lifting to iThoughts HD + OmniOutliner + Scrivener.

    I love this Keyboard Maestro macro. It’s going to save me down the road.

    I really appreciate everything you publish. On behalf of the community, thank you.

  4. Weird. I have my nvALT as a single database. But I can “edit” with Textmate or TextEdit, but not Byword. I guess I can just change my database to flat files. I am loving Byword though!

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