Best Zettelkasten Software for 2023 (Full Showdown)
by Matt Giaro
Do you want to start your digital Zettelkasten but don’t know which software to use?
That’s totally normal.
There are so many choices available that you can easily get bogged down. What if you choose the wrong app and then had to restart your Zettelkasten from scratch?
This comprehensive guide includes a complete list of Zettelkasten software to help you make the right choice.
I’m Matt Giaro, and I’m a note-taking maniac. I’ve helped hundreds of creators and thinkers set up their note-taking system using the Zettelkasten methodology.
So don’t hesitate to check out my 7-DAY FREE EMAIL COURSE to help you start your digital Zettelkasten on the right foot.
👉 https://mattgiaro.com/signup-take-better-notes (opens in a new tab)
Let’s dive into it.
What makes a good Zettelkasten App?
Most Popular Zettelkasten Apps
Best Free Zettelkasten Apps
Best Zettelkasten Apps For Mac & iOS
Best Zettelkasten Apps For Privacy
Best Browser-Based Zettelkasten Apps
Best Native Zettelkasten Apps
What makes a good Zettelkasten App?
Before digging deeper into which app you should choose, let’s define the criteria that make a good Zettelkasten app.
One of the main reasons people start a Zettelkasten is to link notes together.
It blows my mind how many people try to create their digital slip box with an app that’s not designed to work with backlinks out of the box.
Great examples are Apple Notes or Evernote as a Zettelkasten.
Now, when you take the time to look at how these apps actually work, you see that they have a link-sharing feature. But this feature takes way too many clicks. Plus, it doesn’t give you a clear overview of all links pointing from or to a specific note.
If you’re serious about building a Zettelkasten, you need to pick an app that supports backlinking out of the box. And not stupid workarounds.
Graph view (or a way to see what notes are linked/to)
The graph view is an essential part of my Zettelkasten workflow:
The reason? Simple.
Because it gives you a visual representation of how your notes are connected together. Especially if you’re a visual thinker, this feature is a must-have.
Some apps allow you to create backlinks out of the box but lack a graph view feature.
This is why I don’t recommend using Bear as a Zettelkasten, for example. Bear is the prettiest app I have come across over the years, and I still use it daily.
But for the Zettelkasten? No thanks. There is a way to link notes together, but I have absolutely no visibility on how they’re connected.
Use a Zettelkasten software that has a graph view.
It may not seem like a big deal, but Speed is extremely important when taking notes.
When you have an idea, you want to jot it down as quickly as possible.
You also want to navigate within your Zettelkasten blazing fast so that you can find the best connections between your atomic notes.
A slow digital slip box app will slow down your workflow and kill the joy and excitement of discovering your best ideas.
You’ll probably end up frustrated like this guy here:
I’m a strong believer that UI and UX are one of the most essential parts of software development. (This is also why you see me frequently rant about stupidly designed apps…)
Speed matters when it comes to picking your Zettelkasten app.
You want an app:
- That launches quickly
- that allows you to edit your notes
- And gives you the freedom to navigate between your notes
As fast as possible!
Don’t let a tortoise-like Zettelkasten app slow down your thinking!
We live in a fast-changing environment
And just because an app exists today, doesn’t mean it will be here tomorrow. If you’re serious about taking notes, then you certainly want to build a network of notes that will last for years to come. This is where the future-proof criteria come into play.
You want the format in your notes are being saved from being as future-proof as possible. This means that you don’t want to get locked into a proprietary system that you can only hardly switch from.
Make your Zettelkasten future-proof by choosing the right software.
Syncing your Zettelkasten
Most people want to access their Zettelkasten from anywhere.
This is when cloud sync comes into play.
Your Zettelkasten app should ideally have a sync feature.
Some people may store sensitive information in their Zettelkasten app. If that’s you, you should look for how your data is handled and opt for end-to-end encryption (or simply store your notes locally.)
The type of device you use will definitely influence how you pick the right Zettelkasten app. A person who uses only Apple devices will not have the same choices as someone who uses both Apple and Windows devices.
This is why you have to be clear about the types of devices you plan to use to access your Zettelkasten.
Exporting your notes
This criterion is strongly related to the future-proofing of your notes.
The notes in your Zettelkasten belong to you, not to the software you’re using.
A red flag should be raised when you see a Zettelkasten app that does not allow you to export your notes in a widely-accepted and friendly format like plain text or markdown files.
MOST POPULAR ZETTELKASTEN APPS
How to measure popularity? The yardstick I used was simply checking how many people talk about the following Zettelkasten apps.
So here’s what I found:
Obsidian has over 70,000 members on their Discord channel and 35,000 members on their forum (Source)
Roam Research was probably the first mainstream bi-directional linking app. Big YouTubers like Ali Abdaal or productivity nerds like Nat Eliason have been talking about Roam quite extensively. And it seems that Roam still has a great market share thanks to that.
Finally, Notion. Let me be clear: Notion is NOT a Zettelkasten app. Yes, it allows you to link your notes. Yes, it allows you to see backlinks with some workarounds, but… Notion is first and foremost a collaboration tool. I still had to include it here because so many people still use Notion as their slip-box (and this is why most of their workflow is broken). Since in this section my yardstick is popularity, ranking Notion as #3 made sense.
BEST FREE ZETTELKASTEN APPS
Okay, you want to start taking notes using the Zettelkasten methodology but don’t want to pay a dime?
Here are the best free Zettelkasten apps for 2023:
Obsidian is free. You only have to pay for it if you want advanced features like Sync or Publish. You could also donate to support the project. It’s the best free Zettelkasten app in 2023.
Logseq is free, too. The main difference between Obsidian and Logseq is that Logseq uses bullets like Roam, while Obsidian is more geared towards a normal text editor. Logseq has a growing community, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Logseq out beats Obsidian in terms of popularity in the upcoming years.
Mem.ai is an interesting solution but works only in the browser (or on the Apple ecosystem). Their free plan allows you to store an unlimited amount of notes, add up to 25 MB file size per upload for a total of 5 GB storage (which is way than enough)
BEST ZETTELKASTEN APPS FOR MACOS AND iOS
Apple users are design maniacs.
They love smooth and fast interfaces.
So in this section I exclusively cherry-picked Zettelkasten apps who had a native Desktop and Mobile app for Apple devices.
Honestly speaking, I wasn’t going to rank Obsidian in this section. Why? Because their interface stinks, especially on mobile. But Obsidian improved a lot their iOS app since version 1.0. And since there’s so much you can do with Obsidian, I had to rank it first.
Mem is definitely an app that starts getting a lot of traction. It has great native apps for iPhone and Mac.
Finally, Reflect seems interesting, too. Plus, they have native Kindle highlight syncing which removes friction a lot of friction. Yet, they make it hard to switch since they don’t have an markdown file import support. If you want to start using Reflect, you have to start your notes from scratch.
- Competition here is though since Logseq recently launched their mobile app, too.
- When it comes to design, Craft is certainly the best app out there for Mac & iOS. Not to mention their iOS Shortcuts integration to make powerful capturing automations. The only thing that bothers me with Craft is that there is no graph view.
BEST ZETTELKASTEN APPS FOR PRIVACY
And this is why you may be looking for a Zettelkasten app that’s Privacy friendly.
When it comes to privacy, probably nothing trumps being able to store your data locally.
Here are the best privacy-focused Zettelkasten apps:
Obsidian and Logseq both offer you the ability to store your notes locally.
And… they work on every platform.
Best Zettelkasten apps with Sync:
Obsidian states that their Sync option is end-to-end encrypted and that they don’t have access to your encryption keys, which makes it an option to consider to ally between a local and cloud-based encrypted Zettelkasten.
Reflect is also one of few note-taking apps that supports end-to-end encryption. Keep in mind that Reflect only works on the Apple ecosystem.
BEST BROWSER-BASED ZETTELKASTEN APPS
Maybe you’re the type of person who doesn’t care about native apps, but prefers being able to access your Zettelkasten via the browser.
If that’s you, here are the best alternatives to running a browser-based Zettelkasten:
Supernotes has a fast, accessible browser interface.
Craft launched their browser app in public beta in August 2022.
Roam, the OG, has always been accessible via browser only. (They recently launched their mobile app, but the feedback ain’t great).
BEST NATIVE ZETTELKASTEN APPS
If you have devices running on multiple Operating Systems and would like to keep the benefits of native-first interfaces, this section is for you.
In order to qualify for this section, the requisites were simple: having an Android and iOS app and a desktop app for macOS and Windows.
Here are the best native and cross-platform Zettelkasten apps for 2023:
Obsidian, once again, ranks first. Their mobile experience has vastly improved since v 1.0. The thriving community, their future-proof markdown files, and their $0 price-tag simply make it a no-brainer.
Supernotes is a newcomer but rises quickly. The user interface is interesting, and offers everything you need to create a great Zettelkasten on every device. However, I’d like to see the character limit for notes removed.
Logseq is growing fast, and if you like creating bullet-point oriented notes, you may want to have a look at this Workflowy-style app to build your zettelkasten.
ENJOYED THIS GUIDE?
Don’t hesitate to check out my 7-DAY FREE EMAIL COURSE to help you start your digital Zettelkasten on the right foot.
👉 https://mattgiaro.com/signup-take-better-notes (opens in a new tab)