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Life inside one big text file

O’Reilly Network Weblogs: Living in text files

Giles takes one of the biggest, geekiest leaps you can—moving all of his stuff into a single big-ass plain text file.

As Danny O’Brien discovered during his research into effective organizational habits of geeks, text is the simplest, most platform-independent, fastest-to-search format we have for storing information. So everything I need - from todos, blog posts in progress, article ideas, addresses, my list of books to read, the shopping list, and much more besides, lives in just the one file. In effect, I live in that file. When I’m sitting in front of my computer, it feels like home.

This ambitious strategy—usually only whispered about among the lower geek echelons in which I dwell—seems to require a lot of confidence, planning, and familiarity with your favorite flavor of text editor. Mine’s currently TextMate, but, given what I’ve seen people like Danny do with Vim (and its incremental search-on-steroids, scripting functions, and endless shortcuts and configurability), this really reignites my resolve to hit the book and thumb through all my bookmarks again.

So. Questions for people who are already living in one text file:

  • What tips do you have for people considering the big move?
  • What tricks do you use to organize, automate, and move around in your huge-ass text file?
  • How do you decide where new stuff goes within a mutli-thousand line document?
  • Are you using section and sub-section headings to jump around?
  • How do you handle versions and multiple drafts of subsections (like, say, blog posts)
  • Got any sweet Vim tricks to share?
  • Any point where this approach starts to fall apart?
  • Have you found you think about your work differently when you work inside only one file?

Spill whatever you like about your one-file system (and, curious folks, feel free to ask questions).

Related Stuff

D Fitch's picture

I use multiple files and...

I use multiple files and vim with the always-handy "gf" keystroke to jump to filename under cursor, but some of the single files get pretty big.

Handy methods for navigation:

  • Markers: get friendly with them. m[A-Z] makes a "file mark" that can be ' jumped to from any buffer. :marks displays a list of your markers with a single line for context.

  • Folding: yeah, folding rules. Definitely mess around with the different methods - indent is great for outlining. To quickly shunt things around, fold everything all the way up with zM, drill to where you need to go, and drop. You can also paste onto a hidden fold and it works as one would expect - put from above and it goes at the top, put from below and it goes at the bottom.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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