It is hoped that Obsidian will not be bound by the framework of `.md`

I often feel a bit awkward using Obsidian now. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time and I think the problem is between Obsidian and markdown. In Obsidian’s early days, markdown may have been Obsidian’s right-hand man, but I now think .md may have seriously hindered Obsidian’s development.

It is hoped that Obsidian will not be bound by the framework of markdown and let the software itself be limited by markdown. We just need to support it at export time, and be able to support markdown is enough.

I hope Obsidian is a truly Zettelkasten-centric note-taking software. It can support the syntax of markdown, but does not have to be limited by the .md format and framework. It’s a really note-centric software, not markdown-centric software.

I hope Obsidian can be my lifelong software and grow with me.

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Obsidian is backed by Markdown files rather than merely exporting to Markdown, because this is how we promise interoperability and data ownership. If the single source of the truth is not on your hard disk, you can’t backup/version control/collaborate easily.

If you any specific limitation, please point it out in a feature request, and we’ll see whether it can be done in a plain-text compatible way, like how we did block reference.

I don’t see us moving away from Markdown at all, as this is the foundation Obsidian sits on. Although I think you do have a point, to people who are not familiar why we chose Markdown and are sticking with it, an explanatory post will be useful. I can see it being even more necessary when Obsidian has WYSIWYG mode and new users can use it without understanding Markdown first.

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Thanks for the reply, but honestly it’s hard for me to say.
For example, in the block reference, it appears very markdown feeling, and not easy to use.
Also in typography, also feel by the markdown limit. Can’t be more customized typography, such as Notion.
Second, does the use of .md format also doomed Obsidian to miss some advanced features? Like a database?

The problem is that you lose ownership of your data. I’ve tried other note taking software that run off of databases like Evernote, OneNote, and Notion. All of them were powerful but I felt like I never really truly owned my data since the files were hidden away in some backend folder that I could only access through the app. Whenever I would migrate between apps after I got feed up with their features, bugs, design, etc, I would spend days on end trying to convert my previous files and fixing then to work in the new software.

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No, I mean, files can still be saved locally. But perhaps you don’t have to stick to the .md format.
Perhaps you can create a format more suitable for Obsidian and compatible with markdown, like: .omd ?

With WYSIWYG, I don’t see that as a limit. If you take a look at the community themes, you can see how much people can achieve with CSS customization. I don’t believe it has anything to do with Markdown – typography can be changed entirely with CSS.

Second, does the use of .md format also doomed Obsidian to miss some advanced features? Like a database?

We have no plans to implement Notion/Airtable-like database functionalities, but that in theory doesn’t prevent plugin authors from turning Markdown tables into databases. A database is in essence a place where you can store and query structured data; you can build one from some sort of data.

Perhaps you can create a format more suitable for Obsidian and compatible with markdown, like: .omd ?

Obsidian already has some syntax that’s custom. I think it’s a misunderstanding that Markdown is a strict standard. Sure, there is CommonMark, GFM, and some variants, but Obsidian’s linking, embedding, image resizing, and block referencing syntax are already custom.

For us, the importance of Markdown is not the set of feature it provides, those can be extended, it’s the plain text nature of the format.


That’s exactly what we’re trying to achieve with Markdown. If you started taking notes 30 years ago with any mainstream software at the time, I don’t believe you can still open any of them, unless it’s plain text. Plain text can operate on its own: you open it, and you can understand it. Word files, for example, are complicated XML files that you cannot make sense of.

I have more than 30 years of note-taking ahead of me, and I don’t trust any of the existing app to still exist at that time. Although Markdown does impose some limitation, I prefer to view it as a trade-off: Markdown strives to be readable and future-proof (because it’s plain text).

This is the trade-off we made for Obsidian, which is why I said I don’t think this would be changed at all. It’s in Obsidian’s DNA. Of course, it’s entirely up to you whether you want to make that trade-off, and we respect that. If you value functionality more than future-proofness, something like Notion or Fibery might work better.

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Thank you again for your serious reply, thank you!
Can I understand it this way. If obsidian is compared to a kitchen that provides basic functions and ideas, then markdown text is the basic ingredients in the kitchen, and api plug-ins are some advanced kitchenware. The style, taste and style of the dishes depends on how to use the ingredients and kitchenware in the kitchen.

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You’re welcome!

Yeah, you can understand it that way. I would add that we didn’t pick Markdown as ingredient at random.

If we’re using the kitchen analogy here, I would compare Markdown to a granite countertop. Its downside is that it’s heavy and expensive, but it lasts a long time, which is the main thing we’re going for.

I hope that makes sense!

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I just was just talking with a friend about that.

Tools like Paintbrush, word, etc are like fish, tasty but for the moment only.
Whereas Markdown is like red wine, it gets better with time.

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I’m very sorry to ask the same question again.
Because I recently saw the message of logseq code refactoring. It made me expect the same thing from Obsidian. Link: The Refactoring Of Logseq
I really like Obsidian and expect Obsdian to have more features and competitiveness in the future.
So hopefully Obsidan will reconsider the issue of the markdown file.
Or, can we learn from “Eagle” and “DEVONthink” to keep local files while having their own data files for future functionality expansion and efficiency?


I would stop using Obsidian immediately if that is the case :).

The power of using something open and widely understood as Markdown is that you can edit it with many already existent or future applications that understand it… My opinion.

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Obsidian devs may decide to add funcionality over markdown files without removing them from the equation.

Recently I’ve seen a message “Obsidian is indexing your vault. This should only happen once” and this could be required to offer better searches or detect unlinked references.

Building an index on top plain-text files will boost the performance on certain actions in Obsidian while keeping them as is and allowing us to retain ownership of our data.

? Obsidian has always been a tool that provides organization and additional functionality on TOP of a folder of markdown notes. It has always indexed your notes, that’s fundamental to what it does. Obsidian devs decided “to add functionality over markdown files without removing them from the equation” the day they first planned the software.

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Having plain text as a storage format is one of Obsidian’s strongest values. What vendor-locked-in format do you expect to be around in 50 years?

I really think anywhere that seems like a limitation of markdown could probably be mitigated with plugin development. Plain text exporters aren’t often touted as huge features because people want them so badly but they often aren’t fully featured and basically end up as a marketing gimmick with little true utility. The utility of the storage format being always plain text is if I sync my vault with a service and for any reason need to access or input information and only have an ssh connection or a basic text editor I can still get the job done. I may be missing some niceties or some functionality of plugins but the core data is there and it’s readable.

In the unfortunate event that something were to happen to me and someone needs access to something I wrote down they don’t have to learn a huge complex application just to get the critical information they need. They can just use any text editor.

Ledger which is a completely plain text double entry accounting system has pushed this to its limits and really shown how scalable plain text can be. If this is a fair comparison is an arguable point but at the end of the day if you use a complicated software to do your accounting and you lose access to that software you are stuck. If you lose access to Obsidian (however unlikely that is) you don’t lose anything. Do you have to have an exporter. All your stuff is just right there. You don’t have strict vendor lockin.

Plugins can add something similar to vendor lock-in in theory if you have a complex plugin that’s doing a lot of custom stuff. But that’s something that is completely under your control to use or not to use. The plugin API is also public making it something that worst case could be used by another application to support Obsidian plugins. While this could be said for any public file format out there with plain text/markdown you don’t lose access to your data while tooling is rebuilt. You may lose some quality of life tools but you don’t have to rush development just for basic access to your data since it’s all just right there.

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Some more nice things about plain text:

If I want to try a different way of being inspired on my same notes, I can open them in another program. Maybe I want to do an intense, focused, writing session, and for that purpose I really like the app ‘Typora’. I don’t need to bother with any kind of import/export shenanigans, I just open the file, start writing, save, and boom, the file is now also updated in Obsidian.

Or maybe I want to do a mass search/replace, or I have a note of 1000 links and I need to change every link from http: to https:. I open the file in Sublime Text, hit Cmd + A, and Cmd + Shift + L, and now I have a separate cursor on every line and I can make a change that would have been tedious, in a matter of seconds.

There are other niceties as well. Let’s say I use Obsidian for writing essays, or works I plan to publish. I can use some simple markup to create a beautiful Latex PDF, and turn in the best looking paper in class using very easy to grok Markdown.

This:

---
title: Footnotes for the win
author: Foot McNote
---

Footnotes[^1] are added in-text like so ...

And with a matching footnote definition[^2] at the end of the document:

[^1]:
    Footnotes are the mind killer.  
    Footnotes are the little-death that brings total obliteration.  
    I will face my footnotes.

[^2]: Denotative.

Becomes this:

image

Since Obsidian uses plain text, and my Vault is synced with Dropbox. I use ‘Hazel’ on my desktop to convert all my markdown to Latex PDFs using pandoc. This happens instantly as soon as I hit save, and since it all is synced in Dropbox, I could write a paper on my phone, and have that PDF available within a minute after I am done writing. These kind of workflows just aren’t possible with locked in formats.

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