Understanding Obsidian Features - Backlinks

For those seasoned note takers out there, how should someone new to Obsidian and note taking beyond a pen and paper notebook think about backlinks? Is there a tweet storm, youtube video, or blog post you’ve found helpful for understanding backlinks?

How do you use backlinks and Unlinked mentions feature?

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It’s all about those backlinks. Backlinks are the breadcrumbs you leave behind to find your ideas later. If you leave good bread crumbs, you can let the thought out of your brain without worrying about forgetting it. It’s now in your exobrain.

A real world example:

I have an idea. I record it on my day page:

  • [ ] Task 1
  • [ ] Task 2

/### [[Great Ideas]] Create a #tutorial about [[Why Backlinks Are Awesome]]

  • The ### logs my idea as a heading, which can be directly referenced in Obsidian later with heading-level transclusion. The \ is only there to escape the characters on this forum so you can see them. I don’t put that in my note.

  • The [[Great Ideas]] link does three things: when clicked it creates a new note called ‘Great Ideas,’ it creates a link to that note in the current note, and it creates a backlink on the new note back to the current note. That’s the kind of efficiency that really butters my toast!

  • Next I write down my idea. Any subject or interesting words or concepts that I think might be interesting I might hashtag along the way, as a sort of second route to linking ideas together later. I might also link it to other related notes I can think of.

  • Last is another link. This one does our triple whammy again: creates a note, links to it, and adds a backlink to it. Joseph-tap-dancing-Smith that’s good!

I may jot down another few bullet points about the idea. But as soon as it grows beyond a few lines, I go back a ctrl+click on the [[Why Backlinks Are Awesome]] note to open as its own note and work there. I start by “formalizing” the backlink (this is what I call it) by officially adding it to the top of the note itself. If the note belongs in a larger collection I will tag that, or any other related notes. This really starts getting ideas connected through backlinks that will appear back on those notes as well.

Time passes…

Later when I have another great idea, I will do the same thing again, using Obsidian’s inline link searching feature (which is the game changer*) to connect with the [[Great Ideas]] note.

As these ideas build up, I will eventually ctrl+click on the [[Great Ideas]] note, link it to a few of its related notes, search through the backlinks for the ones I want to formalize into my note. I will begin coalescing notes that act only as lists and indexes of links that I fish from the backlinks pond.

You will always have a network of active clusters of ideas. Over time, some clusters will fade away and gather dust. But when you start working on new ideas and projects related to those old clusters, you will see them again in both the inline link search and the backlinks pools.

Those old clusters will reactivate and form new superclusters which will themselves link to clusters large and small and eventually you get the thing implanted in your brain and import your exobrain to your real brain our export your real brain to your exobrain and live forever in the Matrix.


One quick note: Obsidian’s inline search is incredibly powerful, and is the key to linking ideas together. When you create notes, try to use a few words in the title that describe the concept well enough that you would most likely run into it later in obsidian’s inline search while writing. If you are in the mindset of creating these connections, linking to them later will come naturally as part of the capture process.


One more example of backlink goodness is using them as reminders. If I know I will need to remember something in the future, I can tag that future day page, even if it doesn’t exist yet. Down the road when it does exist, I will immediately see the backlink upon opening it and formalize it into a task. Bangarang!

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Can you elaborate on the “formalizing” process? You mean you put the link to the note in the same note? That doesn’t make much sense to me, so I’m guessing I didn’t understand.

@goldfish, I understood it more as seeing something in the backlinks as a prompt for you to write it more formally.

For example, I hit the [[Great Ideas]] page, see a backlink for “Create a #tutorial about [[Why Backlinks Are Awesome]]”. So now I’ll make a new heading for that, and start writing to flesh out more detail about exactly what it is I need to do to achieve that.

In this way, the initial backlink is kind of a reminder to your future self to do something.

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I still dont understand how the backlinks actually work under the hood.

if my backlink is connected to a note inside amother folder (MyFolder/MyNotes.md) the text is shown just as [[Mynotes]]. How does obsedian knows that the md file is inside another folder ?

death.au pretty much nailed it. The backlinks provide a pond to fish related ideas from. The pond is stocked by creating links to that note/concept.

For a very simple example you could imagine having a [[shopping list]] note. Over days or weeks you add notes here or there about things you need, tagging the [[shopping list]] note each time. When you’re ready to go shopping you take a look at the [[shopping list]] note and scan through the backlinks.

You start to create lists by adding the backlinks to the note itself, promoting them to formally be part of the list. You might then repeat the process by breaking the shopping list down further into lists for each shop you need to go to, etc.

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When the file name is unique (i.e. you do not have another note called “MyNotes” somewhere else), Obsidian will find the note no matter where it is. If there are multiple notes called “MyNotes” though, when you auto-complete the link, the folder path will be entered as well.

Does that clear things up?

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@timber The shopping list example is a nice simple one :+1:
However, I’d never do that as things would get cleared off the list as you buy them, and you’d have to go back and clean up the old backlinks.

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“Joseph-tap-dancing-Smith” and something “buttering your toast” made your post a pleasure to read. I needed a little levity today. Thanks.

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