Note Taking on the CLI

October 06, 2019

4 min read.

So the semester just started and i had to ditch my old note taking setup because it didn’t have any possible way of a 2-way sync and no mobile client, i had many options to choose from but in the end i narrowed it down to just a few, my criteria for a note taking setup was:

  • have a cli app (i am moving from GUI)
  • markdown support (i just can’t go back to ever note)
  • full sync hosted by them or a simple way i could host it myself
  • a good android client

There are few apps which fit this description including, inkdrop notes, simplenotes, notable and notion, i have tried most of these and these apps fit the basic criteria but most of them lacked my first requirement which is a cli app the only app which fit that was simple notes with something called sncli

why not qualified?
  • inkdrop: no cli app, not entirely free and the desktop app is super heavy (damn you electron)
  • notable: no cli app, and no sync or android app.
  • notion: no cli app, again electron so heavier than the new planet 9 black hole, although its very feature rich and i might use it if i had a better machine.

as you can see most of these apps have their strengths and flaws, but for me simple notes was the obvious choice even before i knew there is a cli client for it and that’s for few reasons:

  • before switching to evernote i was using simple note (that was like 3-4 years ago)
  • their sync model is simple(get it) and works on all platforms (you could also make your own client easily with their api)
  • simple interface that doesn’t get in the way (i am looking at you notable)
why not host on Dropbox or anywhere else?

Well, that’s a good question, but i wanted something native, something that has sync built in without having to go and do the actual implementation also i don’t use Dropbox myself and i am not willing to switch to it just for notes, if i wanted to use Dropbox i would’ve just used Typora at this point.


This is it, the moment i saw the git repo of this i knew its gonna be good, and it is, it keeps everything synced at all times, the changes are reflected at an instant, fully written in python with a simple tui that you don’t actually edit on, this is everything i asked for, however it’s not all rainbows and shine, the issues include but not limited to:

  • failure to sync at some occasions
  • sometimes newly created notes won’t be uploaded and will be discarded so you have to type it again (that’s the stupidest bug i have ever seen)
  • the app hangs while its syncing the notes(the GUI and the sync backend are running on the same thread)
  • takes a while to start

Editing notes work by copying the note to the temp folder and then opening it in your specified editor. The app itself doesn’t have a notes editor it can just view a note, change tags rename an do other things, for editing you need to specify an editor, this is where nvim comes into the picture, i have configs that will set the file type and other stuff for all files that have the word sncli and are stored at tmp currently.

The key bindings follow vim style so its easy to use and get used to, you can edit all the key bindings in the sncli config file.

keyboard shortcuts

building my own simplenote client

As i mentioned earlier simplenote is great, their api is great and some guy made a python API for their sync web services which makes it even better. i got my hands dirty by trying to do a simple cli client implementation, which didn’t get much anywhere (python isn’t exactly my favorite’s language)

import simplenote
import json
import re
sn = simplenote.Simplenote('email', 'password')
notes_id = sn.get_note_list(data=False)
first = str(notes_id[0])

# some next level regex to split the string to a list of key value pairs (pls dont touch ma spaghet)
regex = r"\{(.*?)\}"
matches = re.finditer(regex, first, re.MULTILINE | re.DOTALL)
matches_list = []
for matchNum, match in enumerate(matches):
    for groupNum in range(0, len(match.groups())):
        matches_list.append("'key':", "").replace("'version':", "").replace("'", ""))

ids = []
for pair in matches_list:

current = sn.get_note(ids[1])

this gives me all the current notes id’s with which i could get the note content, tags, history and more, the API is very flexible and can do great things. The plan is to have the backend on a separate thread and the GUI on another so the app won’t hang while syncing, tho i still don’t know exactly how python threads work, however i am going to be working on this for a while.


in the end i kinda found what i am looking for, sncli will do for now but i am still on the search for something that’s more stable while at the same time working on my own cli client which if actually becomes something big i might release otherwise lets pretend it didn’t happened.

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