How to export your Apple Notes to plain text

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exporter notes export
Getting your notes out of Apple Notes is easy.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Apple’s Notes app has gotten great in iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. It’s fast, it’s easy to clip content to new and existing notes, search is instant, and you can collect pretty much anything into a note. You can even share individual notes, mark up PDFs, draw on pictures, and scan paper documents.

It really is a powerhouse. But one thing Notes doesn’t have is a sensible way to get your notes out of the app. Notes export is limited to PDF. If you decide Notes isn’t for you, you’re stuck. Fortunately, some third-party apps will export your Notes into universally compatible plain text files. Even better, one is free, and the other costs just 99 cents.

Plain text is universal, and is a good export choice because, as long as there are computers you will be able to open and read those notes. Plain text is also, well, plain. It contains no formatting, images or anything else.

This is Notes’ strength (tiny files, great compatibility) and its weakness (text only, and not even any bold or italic text at that). There are workarounds for the text’s plainness — you can use things like Markdown to add formatting, for example. But if you’re going to add links to pictures, then you should just stick with Notes, because they really don’t work with plain text without a lot of hassle.

If you use Notes to take a lot of actual notes, clip recipes from the web, and so on, then TXT might be enough. And if you really want plain-text versions of your notes, then these two apps will get the job done.

Export plain text with Note2Txt

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Note2Txt is recommended by nerd, lawyer, and Apple super-user David Sparks. It costs a dollar in the Mac App Store, and is so fast that it can export thousands of notes in the time it takes to type a medium-length sentence.

After you runNote2Txt, you’ll have a folder of TXT files — one for each note you exported. You can also choose to create HTML files (which can be very useful if you’re planning to import the notes into another app that supports HTML). Unlike plain text, HTML will keep all your notes’ layouts intact.

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But Note2Txt’s best feature is its flexible file-naming. In the preferences, you choose how each file will be named, just by dragging little labels into a box. The options are Note Name, Date Created, Date Modified, Note Number, and Folder Name.

While these aren’t quite as easy as Exporter’s method of preserving this data, you can at least keep it. And to be honest, if you’re the kind of person who’s planning to keep all your notes in plain text, you are probably a little nerdier than most, and will be happy to re-create your notebook structure with these labels.

Price: 99 cents

Download: Note2Txt from the Mac App Store

Exporter preserves some formatting

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Exporter does a lot more to your notes on export. The free app, which was updated fairly recently, also takes way longer than Note2Txt, crawling through your notes one by one to do its stuff. If you have hundreds or thousands of notes, you may want to leave Exporter to run overnight. Given that exporting your whole Notes library is usually a one-off affair, though, the extra features are worth the tradeoff.

First, Exporter preserves the creation and modification dates of your notes, so you can continue to sort them on those criteria. Note2Txt just marks everything as created at the time of export.

Exporter also turns any note formatting into Markdown. That might not excite you so much, but many notes apps use Markdown for adding bold, italics, making tables, making links from URLs, and so on. So, even if you’re not interested in Markdown directly, you might appreciate it as a way to preserve your notes’ formatting throughout your migration.

Another great feature of Exporter is that it creates a folder for each of the notebooks inside the Notes app, preserving your organizational structure.

Finally, if you don’t want to export all your Notes, a $1 in-app purchase lets you filter the export, choosing which notebooks to include and exclude. This might be good if you’re the impatient type, and can’t wait until tomorrow for all your notes to be exported. Instead, you can split the export into more manageable chunks. It’s also neat if you want to keep using Apple’s Notes for complex notes, but just want to export a subsection of simpler snippets.

Price: Free (with 99 cent in-app purchase)

Download: Exporter from the Mac App Store

Which app to choose to export Apple Notes?

Both of these apps will get your notes out of the Notes app and into a folder full of plain text files, but they won’t produce the same thing. If you want to preserve the formatting of your notes as much as possible, choose the slower Exporter. If you value flexible file naming, and/or speed of export, pick Note2Txt. At these prices, though, you can afford to get both, and see which you prefer.