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Replicating Notion's tables with a couple of Markdown files and Obsidian plugins

Tired of Notion's overall sluggishness, I've switched my note-taking to Obsidian about a year ago. One thing I was missing for a long time was the ability to write tables.

2 months ago • 4 min read

Latest Post Replicating Notion's tables with a couple of Markdown files and Obsidian plugins public

Tired of Notion's overall sluggishness, I've switched my note-taking to Obsidian about a year ago. One thing I was missing for a long time was the ability to write tables. With the latest third-party plugins for Obsidian, I'm happy to say I'm able to re-create Notion's table functionality, using nothing but Markdown files under the hood.

Short Obsidian pitch

In case you're not using Obsidian, here's a quick pitch on why you should:

A graph of my notes.
A graph of my notes.

Examples

Before I go any further, here's some examples of what I've achieved:

Plugins

To achieve that, I've used a combination of three plugins:

  1. Templates plugin to create templates for new table rows.
  2. shabegom/buttons to create "new row" buttons.
  3. blacksmithgu/obsidian-dataview to create database queries.

Dataview is awesome

With the dataview plugin, I can create queries that will filter through my Markdown files. At the moment, it supports two views: lists and tables.

Querying Markdown files into lists

The basic syntax is very easy. For example, to list every Markdown file in a folder called "Climate Change", I'd simply do:

```dataview
list from "Climate Change"
```

If I wanted to use tags instead of folders, I could achieve the same like this:

```dataview
list from #climate_change
```

From there, I can mess around with the results by adding additional lines. Examples:

Querying Markdown files into tables

An even more powerful way of querying Markdown files is into tables. A simple example will looks like this:

```dataview
table file.ctime
from "Climate Change"
```

In the first line I've specified the columns I want (above: creation time), and in the second one I tell it where to look (above: folder named "Climate Change"). Queries I've mentioned previously (where, sort, limit, and similar) also work here.

Creating custom columns

To go beyond that, I define custom columns. There are two ways of doing that.

First way is to utilise metadata at the beginning of the note:

---
column: value
---

The second way is to add data directly to the note:

column:: value

These two approaches have slight differences:

Whichever option I choose, my query only needs slight modification to display it. Instead of table file.cname, I do table column, and I'm able to see the values stored in the column variable for each file.

Adding new rows

With basic queries in place, I extend that by creating new notes with a click of a button. To do that, I use a combination of the other two plugins (buttons and templates). Here's an example of a button:

```button
name Add Book
type note(Book/New) template
action Book
class dataview-button
```

Line by line explanation:

  1. Button always starts with a name, which is a label displayed on the button.
  2. I define the type as a new note from a template. I specify the location where the note should be created in brackets.
  3. With the action line I specify the template I want to use.
  4. I add a class to the button, making it easy to style it with some CSS.

Binding it all together with templates

Similarly to Notion's tables, when I use a button to create a new row, I want to have that note pre-populated with variables. This is where templates come in. For example, this is my current book template:

---
Author: 
Pages: 
Fiction: 
Priority: 
Rating: 
date_finished: 
---

#tags

Clicking on a new row will create a new note with that content added. Then I just need to assign values to those variables:

---
Author: Jillian C. York
Pages: 427
Fiction: ✘
Priority: 2
Rating: 
date_finished: 
---

#to-read 

- Publisher:: [[Verso]]

That's it! My table will update itself. I have a couple of tables that look at specific tags based on the status of the book (reading, completed, to-read), and I can pick and choose which fields to display:

The possibilities are endless️

For more inspiration, here are some examples shared on the forum:


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