Matt Gemmell

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Using Drafts as a local Wiki

tech & ipad-only 2 min read

This article is part of a series on going iPad-only.

Drafts on iPadOS, iOS, and macOS can now be used as a first-class personal knowledge base, ideas repository, Zettelkasten, and so on. I think that a wiki is a useful concept (and measurement) for such situations, and in that regard Drafts now stacks up well.

As of its most recent versions, Drafts provides all of these fundamental wiki features:

  • Cross-linking between documents (with explicit, title-based — instead of URL/UUID — links, visually highlighted and clickable). Drafts 20.0 introduced this.

  • Implicit page-creation via cross-links, according to wiki convention. Drafts 20.0 introduced this too.

  • Styling of text (via Markdown syntax).

  • Global search.

  • Backlinks discovery.

  • Templates for new page creation, including implicit new pages via cross-links.

  • Clickable cross-links in rendered HTML/preview mode, with visual distinction between links to existing and non-existent/implicit pages. (I’ve implemented this, and I’m just waiting for a minor bug fix in Drafts so I can release it.)

Cross-link previews in Drafts

I think this covers virtually all of what wiki enthusiasts will expect. There are also a number of additional conveniences available:

Drafts does all of the above things already.

If you’re considering using it as an information repository, do of course remember that it’s strictly plain text only. There’s no support for rich content like images or videos. Whether that’s a critical limitation is up to you. I looked through my entire archive of notes, info, research, and fragments in both Ulysses and Apple’s own Notes app, and I didn’t find a single image that I wanted to commit to an ongoing information repository in-place. You might feel differently — and it’s worth noting that you can always make reference to images stored in another location, if need be.

It feels to me like there’s been a recent convergence of both the app’s scripting functionality and the new cross-linking features, to suddenly open up several new modes of use for Drafts. It’s a lot more than just a place to compose and then export text.

While Ulysses very much remains my writing environment, I’ve already expanded my text-processing usage of Drafts to also include handling my notes, research, and long-term thinking. The app has become my BBEdit (and indeed Notational Velocity) for the iPad — and that’s high praise.