iPad Writing App with Doc Management and Versioning
April 4, 2019 2:30 PM   Subscribe

I'm going out of town with iPad + bluetooth keyboard to do some writing (accessing/editing a few dozen docs and creating more). I need a text editing/processing app I can load up with source docs, and which can organize them nicely. Since I won't always have wifi (and it's a non-cellular iPad), I'd prefer some lite local versioning for security (though intelligent doc management is a higher priority).

Low-rent solution would be to symlink my Mac's Documents folder to DropBox and access files on-the-fly from iPad's DropBox app, but that's clunky. Fwiw, iCloud Drive is FUBAR, period.

I probably need a notebook-type app that includes a doc management system. But I don't want the cutesy curlicues of a journaling/notebook app; don't want much bloat or distraction. I don't know Ulysses well, but that also strikes me as a bit bloaty (maybe I'm wrong). I do own Editorial, but never climbed the learning curve. Won't need to do lots of gnarly text manipulation/macros,etc. Tons and tons of copying/pasting between docs, though.
posted by Quisp Lover to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Have you come across Working Copy yet? It allows you to version-control any folder/file on your iPad with git. You can then sync your version-controlled files with private online repositories on sites like GitHub and local repositories on your Mac. In principle you can use Working Copy together with any text-editor on the iPad that saves files in plain-text, such as iA Writer. This blog post gives a fairly clear example of this setup in practice.

This may seem like a very complicated method, but it has many advantages. Most importantly for me, you remain fairly independent from any particular app/eco-system. Git is open-source software and all your files are just plain-text, which means both the files themselves and the versioning is fairly future-proof and platform agnostic.
posted by 3zra at 2:45 PM on April 4 [2 favorites]

3zra, not complicated at all. I haven't worked much with Git but am not averse. And I should have said I'll be writing entirely in text or Markup, not WYSIWYG.

I'll definitely check this out, though I wonder if there are alternate Gitty front ends for iPad.
posted by Quisp Lover at 2:51 PM on April 4

On Linux I've been experimenting with using the KeePassX password manager for taking text notes. Each password has a large text field associated with it (and I have yet to reach a limit for the field's capacity) and you can turn on versioning; also the passwords are kept in a system of folders and you can scope a search within a folder and its subfolders.

My thought being that since Wikipedia says the original KeePass has been ported to iOS, I wonder if it might have similar features.

(On re-reading I see that I probably misunderstood what you meant by “security” but of course a password manager is designed to be secure.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:33 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

XMLicious: My bad. I was talking about data loss, which isn't really "security". But your posting was still interesting and useful, thanks.

3zra, I've dived in some, and this was a very good suggestion. Thanks!

But here's my worry re: Git: Say I get deeply into it, putting in lots of time and study to get it to do what I need. I learn and memorize a plethora of terms and actions and workflows. And then I get busy with other stuff for a few months and come back, and it's an impenetrable spiderweb.

I've experienced this when I return to high-complexity platforms I'd previously used for limited-duration projects and it all seems like terra incognita! Relearning a platform every time is a Sisyphean hell.
posted by Quisp Lover at 6:39 PM on April 4

Working copy, as mentioned above, is absolutely my suggestion for this kind of workflow. An example as written by Federico Viticci at MacStories.
posted by mce at 6:54 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

Mce, thanks, but please respond, if possible, to my posting one above.
posted by Quisp Lover at 7:11 PM on April 4

Working Copy makes git very easy. I have used it in conjunction with the Textastic editor (which supports Working Copy natively), and the write-commit-push cycle is a few screen taps. Once you put in the effort to create your remote and get it synced with the iPad, it's easy-peasy.

The best part of this, of course, is that you can stop using git any time you want.

I used it successfully with BitBucket (which had free personal repositories before GitHub did). I've moved my work into Scrivener now, but Textastic/Working Copy is a great combination.
posted by lhauser at 7:43 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

Erm, sorry, forgot to mention, git does not have to be hard. As a team of one using a repository and presumably a remote repo, git needs very few commands to be useful. I use it as a writer, not as a software developer, and it's not only not that hard to learn, it's such a standard that text editors have built-in or add-interfaces to make using git easy.

Off the iPad, on my PC, I tend to use the command line and I have rarely used more commands beyond those needed for status, committing, pushing (to get my work to a remote) and pulling (getting updated remote files back to the local repo). If you have to recover old work (which I have had to do once), you learn a few more commands, and if you decide to try branching, a few commands more.
posted by lhauser at 8:02 PM on April 4 [1 favorite]

I’m guessing that BBEdit (my default environment on Mac) plays well with Git in general and with Working Copy specifically?

Scrivener, fwiw, drives me nuts. It has all the text wrangling power of TextEdit (I.e. none) plus a ton of kludgey glommed-on features-for-everyone, all idiosyncratically implemented ala 1993 shareware. I do realize mine is a minority opinion.....
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:10 PM on April 4

I think once you’ve grasped the main principles of git, there isn’t that much you have to dive into, given that you will be the only one committing changes to your files. The more complicated stuff comes into play when you start using different branches and collaborating with others.

As others have mentioned, workflow and the github app on mac make things so easy, once you have set it up, that you don’t have to memorise complicated workflows. One thing to keep in mind though, to avoid the slighlty more complicated merging of documents, is to always commit and push/sync your changes to the cloud before you begin editing those files on another platform, such as your mac, and to always pull/sync those changes before your start editing your files on the other platform.
posted by 3zra at 3:06 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Right. Synch peril/anxiety. But for the present need - traveling with iPad as my sole device - I should get all the benefit and none of that risk.

Looks like Working Copy lets me bring the whole structure local (for when I’m off WiFi) while backing up to cloud when I do get online. Just perfect!
posted by Quisp Lover at 3:44 AM on April 5

Have you tried Paper? It's made by Dropbox and allows you to work in an offline mode as well, syncs effortlessly with Dropbox obviously, and does versioning of files, though probably not anywhere near as advanced as Working Copy. It looks very clean, lean and bright as an aesthetic. You can drop any file links you want in a doc and it integrates them.
posted by caveatz at 8:10 AM on April 5 [1 favorite]

Been trying Paper, and find it consistently badly buggy re: linkage to DB. I may be an edge case, but no way I’ll depend on it.
posted by Quisp Lover at 6:43 PM on April 5

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