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February 17, 2016

Syncing iOS notes to Thunderbird

by e1ven

Out of a sense of boredom for the status-quo, I tend to try out new note-taking software a few times a year – Apps always promise that they’ll faithfully keep my data, and they’ll make it easy to access it anywhere.. Sadly, in practice, I’ve had rather mixed results

Applications will usually work well for a while, but soon notes won’t sync reliably, or data will go missing. I’ve started to lose a bit of faith that an application will prioritize data fidelity over some new wizzbang feature (Chat in a notes app..?)

My current solution is to use Apple’s Note’s app, and store all of my messags on an IMAP server that I run – I reasoned that this gives me the flexibility to backup/modify/delete the messages however I’d like, while remaining accessible and easy to edit from multiple applications

Recently, I’ve needed edit these notes from outside the Apple ecosystem – Since the notes were IMAP messages, this seemed like it should be rather straightforward. Unfortunately, there were a number of tweaks that were needed.

I’m documenting them here, in case I need them again later, and in hopes it might be useful to someone else.
I did find a Thunderbird Extension to edit these notes, but it doesn’t work particularly well – It hasn’t been updated in years, and won’t let you create new notes. It’s a great start, but it needs additional work :/

Luckily, doing it ourselves is not particularly involved.

First, add the IMAP account to Thunderbird normally.
Your messages should show up in the “Notes” folder in Imap.
NotesFolder

Viewing the notes within is straightforward, but in order to create a note, you’ll need to set a special header.



The Apple Notes utilities will not recognize a note unless it has the
X-Uniform-Type-Identifier: com.apple.mail-note
header set.

Luckily, Thunderbird allows us to set account specific custom headers.


If you go to the Config Editor (Thunderbird | Preferences | Advanced | Config Editor), you can set custom properties, similar to about:config in Firefox.


From here, we want to add two Preferences.
Both will refer to the account by id – Each time you add a new account to Thunderbird, the id increases by one. If this is your first account, it should be id1, but if you’ve added and removed many accounts over the years, this might be much higher.
You can find out what the id of the account is by searching for the email address in the Config Editor.

FindID

As you can see, the strings start with mail.identity.id2, so that’s the same value I’ll want to use when adding the custom headers.

EmailNewString
Right Click, and choose New String.
The first Preference Name to add is

mail.identity.id2.headers (Changing id2 to whatever id your own account is using)
This preference tells Thunderbird what additional header strings to look for. Since we want to add one for notes, give it a value of
notes

Now, we can add a new header, and give it the name notes
Right click again, and choose New String
Give it the Preference Name of

mail.identity.id2.header.notes Again, changing id2 to whatever id your own account is using)
This time, give it a value of the header:
X-Uniform-Type-Identifier: com.apple.mail-note

From here on, any messages you create in this account will have the magic header, and show up!
The last step is just to tell Thunderbird where to put them.
Go back to Tools | Account Settings, and choose your account.
Then, go to Copies & Folders, and change the Drafts location.
WheretoStoreNotes

By telling Thunderbird to store Drafts in the Notes folder, we are able to create a new message, “Save as Draft”, and then have it sync automatically to all the rest of our devices.

Once setup, you should be able to edit and access notes across your suite of devices.

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