What exactly is a "Vault"?

As an Obsidian newbie I am trying to decide how to set it up. “Vaults” seem to be one of its most basic concepts. But nowhere can I find a discussion of exactly what a vault is.

Does one exist? Can someone direct me to it?

If not, here are examples of the kinds of questions whose answers I’m looking for:

  • Where is the default vault?
  • What is the default vault (a file of pointers, a folder, etc.)^
  • Is there any difference between a vault and a folder (aka “directory”)?
  • Does Obsidian maintain an index of notes in a vault? If so, where is the index kept? What’s it called?
  • Can multiple folders be included in one vault? (I.e., are vaults really collections of folders?)
  • Can vaults include subfolders?
    • If so, how does this appear in Obsidian’s user interface?
  • Can vaults be Git repositories too?
  • Can vaults be used with other software with overlapping functionality? (E.g., Can a vault also be an RStudio Project?)

^Apparently Obsidian markdown doesn’t have footnotes implemented yet. So here’s the footnote: ^[
I know that *nix systems internally access everything in the file system with pointers, but here I’m not talking about system internals; I’m talking about the system’s user-interface level.
]

I’m not involved in the development of Obsidian. I’m just answering from what I know. Technically speaking, I don’t know the implementation details of indexing or anything like that.

Is there any difference between a vault and a folder (aka “directory”)?

You choose a folder to be the vault. The vault is simply where Obsidian will store your notes, as well as all of its settings files, CSS, trash folder, and any sub-folders, notes and attachments you add yourself.

For example YourOwnVault/.obsidian/.trash is the trash folder
YourOwnVault/.obsidian/config stores things like your own custom hotkeys
YourOwnVault/.obsidian/workspace saves things like the most recent files, and the window layout (I think).

Here is a screenshot of my vault. You’ll see some of my own subfolders, as well as some of the configuration folders that Obsidian uses. Plus my git repo. All the capitalized directories are my own folders.

image

Can multiple folders be included in one vault? (I.e., are vaults really collections of folders?)
Can vaults include subfolders?

Yes. You can have as many sub-folders as you want. Some people prefer flat. How you design this is a question for “Knowledge management”.

If so, how does this appear in Obsidian’s user interface?

Just try it and see. This isn’t rocket surgery. It’s Markdown notes. And you can easily make a test vault and remove it later.

Can vaults be Git repositories too?

Yes. As you see in my screenshot, I use a git repo. I also keep my vault in Dropbox, so it backups there as well.

In my git repo, I add this to my gitgnore, as well as a huge list of every image type, so that my attachments do NOT backup into my git repo and become huge. Dropbox is backing up my images and attachments. I only want version control on the text content of my notes:

# An excerpt from my .gitignore file
.DS_Store
.trash/*
.obsidian/cache

*.jpg
*.jpeg
*.png
*.raw
*.tif
*.tiff
...

...ETC ETC ETC. I found a list of all image types on Stack Overflow.

Can vaults be used with other software with overlapping functionality? (E.g., Can a vault also be an RStudio Project?)

I don’t know what RStudio is, but yes. You can freely edit your Markdown files in any other application. You can add or remove or edit the files manually from your filesystem. You can add and delete attachments manually from your filesystem.

Except, Obsidian will not manage this for you! If you delete a note that is linked to, that link will be broken in Obsidian. And by "broken I don’t mean cause any errors. The link just won’t exist anymore. Any image attachments you delete will no longer appear, but the text to the link will still be there, and broken.

Summary:

Honestly just create a vault and try these things. It isn’t permanent or scary.

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  • Where is the default vault?

There’s no “default” vault, though arguably you could think of the last vault open on quit as the “default” as that’s what’ll open when you next launch Obsidian.

  • What is the default vault (a file of pointers, a folder, etc.)^

To add to what @rigmarole noted… think about Obsidian as instantiating a set of folders as a vault. Every Obsidian “instance” of a set of folders is another vault. When you create a vault, you’re really just telling Obsidian “I’m going to keep notes in this folder and its subfolders.” Obsidian then says, “Cool!” and saves a few settings files there. You can do this wherever you want on your operating system, as many times as you want. You can create vaults within vaults. All it really means is that Obsidian will recognize the folder you target and its descendants as a collection of files for it to operate on.

  • Does Obsidian maintain an index of notes in a vault? If so, where is the index kept? What’s it called?

Obsidian caches details about vaults in its application data. On macOS this is in ~/Library/Application Support/obsidian/. This caching is not human-readable, however, nor is it meant to be.

These are good questions, though. Maybe we should create a “What is a vault?” page in the help docs. @mediapathic whatcha think?

Thanks. This is a big help.

Yes, ryanjmurphy, I do think a “What is a vault” page would be helpful. Also, part of what threw me is that after I installed Obsidian and ran it, it didn’t ask me to create my first vault. Instead, I used the “Obsidian Help” vault and then tried to create some notes. Apparently, Obsidian treated the “Obsidian Help” vault as my “default” vault, and now I have a bunch of notes in it. Maybe write-protect vendor-supplied Help folders (?). The absences of a “File” item in the menu bar (MacOS 10.14.6) also threw me.

Only after playing with the software for a while did I realize this. (Other than using the OS file system commands, does Obsidian have a good way to transfer notes between vaults?) Also, looking a bit further in Obsidian Help, I found “Work with multiple vaults” to be helpful.

To take this a step further, currently when Obsidian starts up the user sees a 3-item window. Maybe add a fourth item: “Getting Started (for new users).” While this would take place in the “Obsidian Help” vault, it could walk new users through a few tutorials to get started.

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Thanks to you too, Rigamarole.

RStudio is an IDE for R, an incredible FOSS community that produces software for doing almost any kind of analytical task, from generating word clouds for textual analysis to estimating complex multivariate statistical models to producing GIS maps to creating stock-flow-consistent macroeconomic simulation models.. Wikipedia has excellent introductory discussions of R and RStudio.

But I’ve probably given your more information than you wanted. The main reason I brought up RStudio is that, among other things, it implements Markdown, R Markdown, and R Notebook documents, all of which use markdown. It also has Bookdown and Blogdown plugins for writing books and blogs. In addition, it currently has two plugins that interface with Zotero, although I’ve heard the next version will have Zotero integration built in.

RStudio is a fantastic tool for writing analytical documents, from homework assignments to book series. But given that this is its central mission, the lack of a particularly good system for maintaining research notes is a glaring weakness. Turn this inside out for Obsidian, and you have an excellent note-maintenance app without a particularly strong means of document preparation, particularly analytical ones. Except for the fact that one is FOSS and the other commercial, better integration would seem like a marriage made in heaven.

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That’s very cool! I’ll look into that for sure.

But the way I answered was to say: It doesn’t matter what RStudio is. The philosophy of Obsidian is based around owning your data, so it is safe and possible by design to read and edit your notes in any other app. There are also people who scrape or batch-edit their notes with Python scripts, or in other IDEs, as examples.

(Except, as I mentioned, it won’t manage the links for you if you break or rename them outside the app. But conversely, they will automatically link if you write a properly-formatted link in another app.)

If you do come up with any interesting workflows for marrying RStudio, analytical writing/processing + Obsidian, please do write your findings in Knowledge managment. More than a few of us would love to hear more, I’m sure!

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@Swampy - One metaphorical way to answer the “what is the default vault” question is to say that it’s the one that’s open. Another is to say that it’s the current working directory for Obsidian. Maybe that viewpoint helps.

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