Diarly — an excellent markdown journal

Diarly is a recent addition to the diary/journal app competition.

Diarly is a journaling app that uses markdown to format its entries. Released earlier this year, the initial version was attractive but felt far from complete. Steady improvements since then have turned Diarly into a more realistic option for taking daily notes. With the recent addition of an iOS companion app, Diarly takes a big step forward in the competition for useful journaling software. 

The basic version of Diarly is free. You can unlock premium features by purchasing the Pro upgrade, which, at the time of this writing, is $10.99  for the MacOS app and $4.99 for the iPad app. You will need to upgrade in order to sync your journals across devices.

Here’s what the developer says about Diarly:

Beautiful, Safe and Secure – Diarly is designed so that you can focus on journaling. Pure in it’s form, powerful in it’s functions.

Here are my thoughts:

Dedicated to journaling

Diarly is a dedicated journaling app. It automatically creates a new entry for the date you open it. You can only create one entry per day per journal (more on journals below). There is no add button, although you can use the calendar to navigate to a different date, which creates an entry for that date if you haven’t already created one. 

Use the pop up calendar to navigate to existing entries, or to create new ones, past or future.

Multiple journals

You can have multiple journals to record different aspects of you life and responsibilities (you get the multiple journal feature when you buy the Pro version). Switching between journals is quick and easy, just select the journal you want from either of the two drop down menus — one is at the top of the editing panel, the other at the top of the entry list panel. Or select the journal from the Journals menu.

Entry List Sidebar

In the sidebar you can filter your list of entries. View all entries, starred entries (favorites), entries with photos, or select from a list of hashtags. You can add hashtags to any entry the same why you’d add a hashtag to a tweet.

Live search narrows the list of entries as you type the search string. And the app highlights the word or phrase in the text of the qualifying entries.

Markdown

Diarly uses standard markdown syntax. There is no preview view. After you enter the markdown characters, they generally get out of the way, similar to the way Bear works. Bear describes this approach as “rich previews while writing so you see prose, not code.” 

Security

You can set Diarly to encrypt your entries with password access. I believe this works universally with all your journals and entries, and can’t be set on a journal or entry level. 

Templates

If you like structured journal entries, Diarly allows you to build a custom template for each journal. It comes with one in place for the Diary journal with three headings:

  • Events
  • Accomplishments
  • Activities

You can edit or add a template to any of your journals using the preference dialog.

You can modify this however you please. The template becomes the default for new entries. You can have a different template for each journal.

Update: The developer has informed me that the new default template has just two headings:

  • What did I do?
  • What did I learn?

Inline images

You can drag images right into the editor to place them where you like. Embedded images, however, are not encrypted with the text.

This nifty dialog allows you to adjust the type size, the font and the line length. You can also select from one of four themes (with the Pro version), and create your own themes.

Other nice features

  • Modify themes if you understand CSS
  • Word and character count
  • Set word goals
  • Import DayOne and MacJournal entries (I haven’t tested this)
  • Word and character counts, and writing goals

iPad app

The iPad app is nicely designed and has so far sync’d flawlessly. There is not yet an iPhone app, but that is next on the developer’s list.

Suggestions for Improvement

  • I’d like additional built-in theme options, with the ability to apply them individually to the different journals. That way I would have an instant visual cue to remind me which journal is open at any one time.
  • Diarly needs more options for exporting text. Right now you can only export as a markdown file.
  • There is no way to print from within Diarly. There is a Print item in the File Menu, but it is grayed out. I learned from the developer that he is likely to add printing, especially if people request it. The same is true of PDF export.

The Bottom Line

Since it will be natural to see this review falling into the same category as my review of markdown note-takers, I need to make it clear that Diarly is not a substitue for a dedicated note-taking app. It is a daily journal. As such it is very well designed and feels natural and inviting to use. Fire it up and an entry is waiting for you to begin recording your daily thoughts and activities.

I like Diarly enough to adopt it for my daily journal, trusting that its few shortcomings will be corrected in future releases. If you’re comfortable with a one-entry per day approach to journaling, Diarly might be a great choice for you, too.

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6 comments

  1. Based on this post I downloaded the Mac app and pasted in a day’s entries from my Day One food journal. I immediately noted that it used the slash key for italics, so when I’d typed two different fractions on a line everything inside the slashes was italicized.

    I also saw that, as with IA Writer, there is a limit to text resizing. I tend to use fonts around 21pt, and that’s apparently larger than the app’s maximum.

    And, like Day One, for some reason the significantly restricted the font choice. For some reason, some apps – like Ulysses – are able to use any Mac font as well as then make that font available on the iOS version. I miss having that flexibility, since the fonts I tend to use when writing are relatively obscure but I love using them (Operator Mono, Bitter).

    The free app looks like a decent start. I’m finding that I don’t fully use all Day One’s features (audio, transcription, pulling in tweets, etc), so I’d be interested in switching to a secure cross-platform solution. Unfortunately, with the limitations in font and font size, along with the weird formatting, I’ll have to pass on this app for now.

    1. Hi, Chip,

      I admit that Diarly isn’t a fully cooked app yet, but it keeps getting better. Right now I am torn between Diarly and a web-based diary called Penzu. I really like Penzu, and can use it from anywhere I have internet access. It has what it claims is a very secure encryption scheme. Since I know little about that topic, I have to take their word for it. I like Penzu a lot. My biggest complaint about Penzu is the limited export options. If you’re interested, find out more here: https://penzu.com

      Thanks for commenting and I’m sorry about the tardy approval and reply.

    1. Hi, Pat,

      I appreciate the comment. I stopped using Day One when they went to a subscription pay model. While it is getting harder to avoid subscriptions for software, I am trying to keep them to a minimum (without much success, I’m afraid). Thank you for reading my blog.

      1. Makes sense. I kinda felt the same way, although I got grandfathered in to free syncing and haven’t upgraded (the only thing I’d care about is end-to-end encryption, which is admittedly nice).

        In the end I went back to DEVONthink for journaling, once I found out how fast and reliable Bonjour sync is. I miss the elegant way that Day One handles photos, the location sensing, and the “On This Day” feature. But the main thing I want is to be able to create entries quickly, and to find things that I know I wrote down somewhere. DEVONthink is great for that, and I like that I don’t rely on a third-party service at all for it to work.

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