Integrating Microsoft Office documents

My work requires me to make extensive use of Microsoft Office documents and other document formats unsupported by Obsidian. I’m sure there are others in my situation as well. How do you handle integrating those document types?

Currently, I just drop them into my Obsidian vault and link to them from project MoCs. However, I’m concerned that might create a sync problem or some other unforeseen problem down the road.

Other options:

  • Store the Office documents elsewhere, either in the native file explorer or an app like DevonThink for Mac. DT for Mac is particularly nice because it provides a unique URL for each document, which remains permanent even if the document is moved, and is portable between the Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • Create a markdown “framing” document in Obsidian, as a proxy for the incompabile document. This can be done in conjunction with the other two techniques (storing the document in the Obsidian vault, or elsewhere in the filesystem).

How are others solving this problem?

I brought this up in July 2020, but it’s more than 19 months since then, and this is still a concern for me, so I figure a fresh topic is appropriate.

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I have found using symbolic links works well. You can make a symbolic link of individual files or the folder you use to keep your MS files in. I put the the symbolic link in a Subfolder called symlinks in my vault and then you can link to the files in the folder as you would with a normal Obsidian note. When I click on the link in a note or on the file in the folder view they open in the appropriate application i.e. Excel, word, pdf expert, etc. If you symbolic the folder then if you add something outside of Obsidian it will update with the new file in Obsidian. These links also work on both my mac and windows machines as well as iPhone/iPad. You must use symbolic Links not Aliases. For reference my main Obsidian computer is a Mac which I sync with a Windows laptop and IOS devices.

You can use Terminal to create Symbolic Links or another program such as Commander One (Dual pane file manager FTP Client - Free version available) which has the option built in.

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Pandoc allows you to convert between MS Word and Markdown.
There’s a plugin to integrate it into Obsidian available by browsing community plugins for obsidian-pandoc.

There’s also this talk by @SkepticMystic on how to use it in your workflow.

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How are you using the files in conjunction with your notes? What are the specific problems you’re having?

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Exactly the same problem here. I tried different ways to get this to work, but everything seemed to just add too much friction. Links tend to break and become useless very quickly.

The simplest solution is often the best, so what I do now is to drop the files that contain critically important information into Obsidian. Anything else, and especially working files go into a project folder with the same name as the project note. All my project folders are in a single/known location.

In most cases I know what I’m looking for and go straight to the right place. If in doubt I start to look for the info in Obsidian, then go into the project folder and voila …

My work must happen on a corporate issue Dell laptop with Windows, however I’m able to sync my vault to my iPad and iPhone. With my approach I manage to keep my vault relatively lean, but I can quickly look up anything from anywhere and add some thoughts whenever inspiration strikes.

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Have you tried making a Symbolic Link to your Project Folder? Create the Symbolic link of the Project Folder then put the “Project Folder Link” in your vault. It will point to your original Project folder location and show all files you put in there and you can also access from Obsidian.

Good question.

I’m a writer – I write articles for my employer’s website. I gather Office documents, web pages, PDFs, and probably other document types in my research projects.

I take notes on these documents in markdown, using Obsidian.

I create a MoC for each project, linking to and briefly describing every document involved in the project. This includes all those Office documents, etc., as well as my Markdown notes and article drafts. The MoC also includes a timeline of status updates, so I can see at a glance what state the project is in at any given time.

I also store all the documents for each project in an individual folder. Redundant organizational systems are helpful!

When I’m done taking notes, I write my article in Markdown, in Obsidian.

When I’m done writing the article, I output it as a Word document, using the Obsidian Pandoc plugin, and send it on its way to my editor for his review. We do a couple of drafts that way, and then send it out for internal review and sometimes for review by partners or customers as well. Every step is documented in the MoC, and every draft is saved in the folder, with links in the MoC.

As to what problem I’m trying to solve: I want to keep all the documents together, and have a MoC that describes them all briefly, and provides a timeline of work on the project.

The way I’m currently doing it seems to work, but I worry about mixing all those document types in my Obsidian vault. Is there a better way? Is there a possibility that I will run into an unanticipated problem down the road?

You mean you drop it into the Obsidian vault?

And the project folder is outside the obsidian vault, correct? What kind of thing do you store there?

I suspect you and I may be in the same line of work. Content marketing? Sometimes known as brand journalism?

I have not tried symbolic links. I may want to look into that. On the surface, however, it seems like if there are problems with my current system, symbolic links might not solve those problems and might just add new layers of difficulty.

My needs are less demanding, but I place any non-markdown docs (MSOffice, Adobe etc.) in my google drive. The drive syncs to my mobile and desktops. I create links to these files in obsidian (it’s a 10-second job) such that I can open them from any device via the link in obsidian. What I don’t have, but don’t need, is links from drive docs back to the obsidian notes. If I had to, I would create a file for each containing the document link.

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I have a large hierarchical system of nested vaults. If I have a project, it will appear as a folder/vault in that system. I always have two folders in a project vault, one for attachments and the other for Files to Link which is where I will put any file I wish to reference. I could use symlinks for this and an MOC, but feel that would introduce an unnecessary point of failure.

Files being actively used/written/developed are all in the main folder. They will include all active files whatever the filetype is. There won’t necessarily be a markdown file, and even if there is I may use other programs to write in it. It is common for me to have a docx and a txt file with the same content - and sometimes an opml too, and sometimes I convert the txt to md for access to all Obsidian features - I prefer to avoid doing this because it then needs converting back to be read by a word processor. I could finish a project without ever using Obsidian; that would usually depend on whether I want to use the linking etc.

It’s an organisational system.

What I think works best will depend on which programs are central to the project. And for most users here, I assume Obsidian will be one of those. But I personally find it an inconvenience if many of the source files are docx and PDF and the later stages of the project uses those formats too.

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I have personal and Business data spread across 8 external hard drives attached to my main Mac Pro. I have different Projects from the past and present organized on these drives and did not want to move in to my my vault which I also sync with a mac laptop and windows laptop.

So I found if you make a Symbolic link to a Project Folder on i.e HD5 that contains MS office, pdf files etc. And place the Project Folder Link in the vault all files in that folder are available as if they were in Obsidian. The Project Folder Link only points to where the files are actually stored on HD5 not in the vault which saves space. I can add files to the Project Folder on HD5 and Obsidian Project Folder Link updates and shows the new file or I can save an Obsidian note in the Project Folder Link in Obsidian and the md file shows in the original Project Folder on HD5. I can now do normal file links to the Project files in my MOC because Obsidian thinks these are the actual files. And when I click on them they open in excel, word, Omnioutliner, etc. If I know longer need the Folder Link in Obsidian I just delete it and the original files on the external drive are not touched because you just deleted a link. Hope this helps. Like I said above you must use Symbolic Links and not Aliases - Obsidian does not recognize Aliases. Also Obsidian Prefaces the files In the folder link with xlsx, pdf, outline, etc so the linked files are easy to identify.

You can do individual files as links as well but much easier to do a folder as it brings over what ever files reside there.

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The way you’re doing things sounds reasonable to me. I don’t think you need to worry.

I like to put reference materials I’ve gathered in a separate folder from materials I create, like:

  • Project 42/
    • Drafts/
    • Notes/
    • Reference/

Maybe something like that would ease your mind.

If your vault feels too cluttered, you could archive the extras of older projects into .zip files. And/or you could keep a separate archive vault for older projects. I haven’t finished importing all of my old projects yet, but I’m planning to keep large non-Markdown files (like videos or collections of print-quality images) in a separate place, and maybe also keep an archive vault for old projects (with placeholders in the main vault).

I don’t think there’s any technical reason to worry. The only things I can think of are:

  • If you use Obsidian Sync, make sure it’s set up to sync all the file types you want it to.
  • Obsidian Sync only provides version history for Markdown files.
  • If you already have a tremendous number of files, the extras could further burden Obsidian (but perhaps less than the same number of Markdown files, since Obsidian ignores the contents of the extras).
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Hi @ckpiv,

I read with interest how you include your office documents in Obsidian and also tried it with symlinks. Unfortunately this did not work.

For better understanding here is my workflow:

  1. have a PDF document saved locally on my Mac.
  2. created a symlink to this document and copied the symlink in
    “Obsidian/My_Vault/Attachments/Symlinks”. "Obsidian/My_Vault/Attachments/Symlinks is stored in iCloud.
    In the Symlinks folder in iCloud, the symlink to the PDF document is displayed. However, after a short moment, the original PDF document is also uploaded without my intervention.
  3. from my iPad, I can only see and link the original PDF document. The symlink to the PDF document is not offered for selection when linking.

What am I doing wrong?

Would be very grateful for your help.

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

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I do not use iCloud much for any pertinent information.

My Obsidian vault is local in my home folder on my Mac Pro and I am using Obsidian Sync. iCloud folders and files are not stored locally.

As a test I did make a symbolic link of my iCloud folder using these instructions:

I then moved the link to my local Obsidian vault in my symlink folder and it appeared. However the symbolic link only showed folders I created not any of the App generated folders. Files in my folders were accessible and opened from within Obsidian. Attaching Screen shot, As you can see in the Test note the symlink files include the file extension.

The issue may be keeping your vault in the cloud on iCloud? iCloud does things different then Dropbox and OneDrive, etc. as they store local copies in your home directory. Not an expert in these matters.

Update: the iCloud symbolic link did sync over to my iPad and iPhone as well and I am able to open to click on links in test note or in the folder viewer and the files open

Hi @ckpiv,

thanks for your quick and detailed response. My situation is a little different from yours. All my hardware is from Apple (Mac, iPad, iPhone). To have easy access to my documents from all my devices, I store them in the iCloud including my Obsidian vault.

What I described in the other post was to symlink a local file on my Mac and try to access the original file via the symlink in Obsidian on iCloud. That didn’t work. Next I will try to symlink a file in my iCloud and try to access that in Obsidian.

Anyway, thanks for your hints and tips.

@SamAdams

I did some more test

  • I made a symbolic link of a local file folder on my Mac.
  • I then put this folder link in my iCloud folder which I had made a symlink and put into my Obsidian vault.
  • This local folder link now shows under my iCloud Symlink in Obsidian and the files are available for linking in a note or accessing from the folder viewer.

Maybe it behaves differently with the vault in iCloud or your symbolic links are not created correctly.

Syntax for creating Symbolic links In Terminal
ln -s /User/Document/filename /filepath/loccation

I make most of my links with Commander One as it has a built in option for this when you right click (Aliases created in Finder are not the same and will not work)

Good Luck

I think I made the symlinks correctly using the Terminal Command

ln -s /source /destination.

When I create a symlink of a file on my iCloud and move this symlink to my Obsidian/Symlink-folder on iCloud, everything works fine on my Mac and I can wiki-link to that symlink within Obsidian as to any other file.
However, if I try to open that same wiki-link in Obsidian on my iPad it doesn’t work.

If you own an iPad you can probably try to confirm that.

@SamAdams

I think I figured out what the problem is…

After you make the iCloud Symbolic link so you have a copy locally in your home folder all works well.

But then when you use Terminal to create a symlink to the iCloud file terminal appears to be making a symlink to the actual file in iCloud as opposed to the local copy.

When I use the Program Commander one it creates a symlink to the local file which then points to the iCloud original. Could not get it to work with Terminal.

I can then put this file link in my symlink folder in Obsidian and it will open in the appropriate application i.e. Word, excel.

On my iPad or iPhone when I click on a link of the file or in the folder view it pops up the app picker to choose which application to open it in.

I must have been lucky to stumble across Commander One that handles symlinks like this. Here is a link https://ftp-mac.com. It will do this with the std free version or you can upgrade to the pro pack which they have a 50% off coupon for proof of competitive programs.

Hi Mitch,

you’re right, i should have been more clear. So, indeed when saying ‘dropping files in Obsidian’ I meant the vault.

Another thing that might help to understand is that I’m not trying to get work done in Obsidian, that still happens outside. Obsidian helps me to keep an overview of what’s going on and set priorities. Whatever goes into the Vault is a quite conscious decision. In a lot of cases it is just screenshots of the most relevant parts of a document that I may need for future reference. Sometimes it’s however the whole file that I need …

In the project folder goes pretty much anything else, ‘just in case’ it might be useful at some point, any reports I get, spreadsheets, presentations …

I started using Obsidian to support my personal learning, collect and sort information that helps me do my work better. Because it’s super-fast to work with and because it supports pretty much any kind of workflow it now helps me to stay focused and avoid information overload.

In my day job I’m overlooking a fairly significant business within a global organization. I need to set the business direction and engage with quite a number of sales and project managers as well as three operational departments on daily basis (plus finance, marketing, etc.). Our business is quite technical, but a lot of topics are also relevant from commercial, legal or strategic perspective. Using the atomic-notes approach I can break each topic down into it’s smallest bits and then put things together in the right context.