Discovering nvALT

I’d heard people talk about nvALT with enthusiasm. Often enough that it was one of the things I wanted to look into when I got the new computer. I hadn’t seen it online before, but I knew where to look for it: nvALT I didn’t even know it was free.

I downloaded it, opened it, tried it out. I tried different things with it, for example I wrote a little text in markdown and exported it to html. No where on the face of the earth had I ever seen a program that made perfect html until nvALT. There was no extraneous code. That is not how I am using it primarily. (I should also say that I later tried it with a long text file, >20k words, stripped of all markup, and in which I needed to add many bold and italic tags. nvALT wasn’t perfect with this, but it still saved me a lot of work.)

First I typed or dropped in a few notes. nvALT is one of those things that “just works”. Various ideas for using nvALT came to me. Yet I thought I might make better use of it if I read more about it. Brett has a link to a post on a site called Better Mess. Don’t do what I did without reading the whole post first. I began following along with the suggestions on Better Mess, making changes to the preferences in nvALT. Let me say again: Don’t do that unless you read the entire post first and know whether or not the Better Mess way is what you want. At some point I realized that my nvALT data had turned into hundreds of tiny text files. That was the exact opposite of what I wanted, and exactly what I wanted to avoid.

Hundreds is an exaggeration. There were maybe dozens. I had only just started to use it. But it was disconcerting to see all those files. I thought I’d ruined the whole experience. I switched it back to “Single Database”. It’s under “Storage” in the preferences. nvALT looked the same.. I removed one of the text files from the folder. Tested. Everything was was still there. Ok. What this shows is that there are a million different ways to use nvALT.

Soon I wanted more than one nvALT so that I could use it in different kinds of projects. And I was curious about how nvALT came into existence. nvALT is a branch (a “fork” in geek-speak) of Notational Velocity. My search found that the original Notational Velocity would work with OS X as far back as 10.4. I could hardly believe it! This would work with my old MacBook Pro where I had hundreds, maybe thousands, maybe millions of little text files scatter all over. I could consolidate text files on the old computer and have them in one place on the new computer

Then I noticed that both nvALT and Notational Velocity, by default, initially use the same folder for their data. I worried that if I opened Notational Velocity on the new computer it would wipe out nvALT’s data. It might have if I hadn’t prepared for this.

I also noticed that nvALT creates a folder called nvALT and that it had remained completely vacant. Maybe this was an oversight in the forking process. But we can use the folder to our advantage.

How to change the location of existing nvALT notes: Inside the storage folder there is a file called “Notes & Settings” – it’s the same name in both nvALT and Notational Velocity. Highlight the name of this file. Hold the Option key while dragging the file to the other folder. In this case I dragged it from the Notational Velocity folder to the nvALT folder (these are in “Application Support” in Your Library). In nvALT preferences > notes > storage change the location to the folder you want. In this case nvALT.

I looked at nvALT after performing the above operation. Everything was as I left it.

Side note: why option drag instead of duplicate and move? You can do it that way, but then you would have “ copy” appended to the file name and you would have to delete that. Note also that you can change the storage location to any folder to start fresh. I did these steps to preserve the notes I already had and to prevent a potential wipe out on first open of Notational Velocity on the same computer. It might not have wiped that data. It might have opened with the data from nvALT. I didn’t want to take the chance. In later testing I found that the databases of either are interchangeable.

nvALT won’t work on a Mac as far back as Notational Velocity (I don’t think). Both apps can be configured as you like for appearance and storage preferences. Brett Terpstra made nvALT to work with Markdown. Markdown isn’t the only added feature in nvALT - it also has find and find and replace. Notational Velocity searches only note titles. In either app, titling notes will be a consideration as you learn more about how these apps work.

I now have nvALT open on my computer almost all the time. I use both apps in different ways. I still wish I could have multiple nvALTs. More on that later. For now, I have several folders for use with Notational Velocity because I want to keep one nvALT open all the time. At the same time I am comfortable knowing I can open the same note data in nvALT for the additional features if and when I need them.

I’d read that Brett was making a related app called Marked 2. I can write html and css in my sleep if I need to, so I didn’t think I needed Marked 2, but told myself I’d buy it on the App Store when it arrived, in appreciation for nvALT. It does have several features that I thought might be useful to me later. I’ll write more about it in another article. I used Marked 2 while writing this article.

nvALT and Notational Velocity dock icons
nvALT and Notational Velocity dock icons