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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

KKovacs's picture

I use OS X Vim...

I use OS X Vim (www.macvim.org), and have a simple, yet very usable setup.

I use dotmac syncing to sync my file between my 2 machines. In the /Volumes/iDisk/Documents folder I have 3 files: notes.txt (the actual "data") notes.vim (vim options for the file) notes.scpt (applescript file that is invoked from a QuickSilver "trigger" (F9 for me))

The files are the following (I hope it stays formatted in the comment...):

notes.vim: " Load file, set up GUI :set lines=50 :vi /Volumes/iDisk/Documents/notes.txt :set lz

" Syntax highlighting :syn match Comment /^---/ :syn match Error /^[.]$/ :syn match Title /^\t.*/

" Keyboard setup :map j gj :map k gk :map [ ?^[z :map ] /^[z :map gA Go:r !date "+\%Y-\%m-\%d \%H:\%M"I[A]o

" Folding hack :set foldlevel=1 :set foldmethod=expr :set foldexpr=(getline(v:lnum)[0]=="[")?">1<1":"1"

" Display options :set is hls noai nocin ic linebreak sbr=> incsearch ts=4 sw=4

" END :set nolz


tell application "System Events" to (name of processes) contains "Vim" set foo to result if foo = true then tell application "Finder" to activate application "Vim" else do shell script "/Applications/Vim.app/Contents/MacOS/Vim -g -S /Volumes/iDisk/Documents/notes.vim &>/dev/null &" end if

notes.txt (sample) [@projects] buy food pay bills etc

[gift ideas] Father: new briefcase

END ----

That's it. This setup (mostly the notes.vim file) knows a few extra features, like highlighting [headers], coloring lines that contain "---", and coloring lines that start with a TAB.

It also sets up a folding system, you can "activate" that by pressing "zm" in command mode. When folded, you can yank/paste/delete whole "pages".

A key binding for command mode "gA" is defined: it jumps to the end of the file, adds a header like [2005-09-02 18:46], and enters insert mode.

You can use the [ and ] keys to jump to the next and the previous header.

The applescript enables QuickSilver to switch to Vim if already opened, or start Vim with the notes.vim file as "bootstrap", if not running. This way you hit "F9" (or whatever key you used), and Vim appears with notes.txt open, no matter what.

I hope this helps someone! :-)





An Oblique Strategy:
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