How to organize things with TreeLine

TreeLine is an outliner for Linux and Windows flexible enough to be at the heart of any operation. It lets you store almost any type of information (plain text, rich text, HTML, numbers, dates, times, Booleans, URLs, etc.) and comes with a tree structure to help keep things organized.

Here, we show you how to install TreeLine and how to use it, by setting up a project, building its structure, and then adding content ready for sorting and searching later.

Installation

For Windows, you can download the installer from his website and install it. During the installation, we recommend that you keep the option “Create an uninstallation program”.

For Linux, TreeLine is available in the repository of many distributions, so you can easily install it from Software Center / Package Manager. You can also download the archive from its website, extract it and run the command:

Interface basics

The main interface is free, with a menu bar, a toolbar and three mostly empty panes. The third pane on the right has a tabbed interface at the bottom providing access to output, editing, and the track list.

Screenshot showing the main interface of TreeLine.

By default, each pane contains the word “Main” and this is the root of your document. This is great if you want to start with a blank slate. You can also go to “File -> New” to see a small selection of template projects including a to-do list, long text (good if you’re planning a novel), a contact list, and a book list. A review of these will give you a good indication of how the structuring works. Essentially you have a parent and child node tree that contains your dataset.

Working windows

The top pane provides a breadcrumb trail to the current data point or map. It really helps when projects start to get more ambitious.

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On the left is the tree view, which gives an overview of the structure and allows you to navigate to the individual maps.

On the right is the data itself. Usually, you will see the Data Output tab, which is a simple card showing the information. “Data Edit” exposes the form behind the data, allowing you to make changes. “List of Titles” displays the title of the current node and any child nodes below.

Create a project

For this sample project, we’ll create an inventory to organize our collection of iPad synthesizers. Although our data points may differ, the methods will be the same.

Windows screenshot showing TreeLine's data editing window.

We will start by renaming the root node. There are several ways to do this. You can right-click on the title of a node in the left pane and select “Rename” or click on the note, then in the right pane, choose the “Edit Data” tab to see the title field displayed.

Add structure to your data

To get started, go to “Data -> Configure Data Types”. In the Type list is the data type that will be called Default. We can change the name by pressing “Rename Type” and giving it a more useful name.

Select the “Type Config” tab, where you can set some output options such as HTML permission in long text fields, set a default child type, and change the node icon.

Choose your fields

In the Field List tab, we finally get to the point where we create the data structure for each node. Make sure the correct data type is selected at the top and select “New Field” from the buttons on the right.

Screenshot showing the data structure in our TreeLine Synth project.

You can come back later and add or adjust these fields, but that can mean backporting new data into your nodes, so it’s best to think about your data structure before committing to it.

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Define the data

Next, we’ll go to “Field Config” to configure each of the fields in turn. Breaking down the interface in this way might seem convoluted, but in our experience it allows for a certain degree of intention in setting things up – almost having to think about how you’re going to use that data in the future.

Select the data type and field, then set the field type on the second row. Selecting here will change the output format options alongside. The Standard Text field has no output options, but if you choose, for example, the Number element, you can define how numbers are displayed. By default, the numbers are set to “#. ## ”, which allows entry with two decimal places, but you can change it to suit your needs. For example, in our “Voices” field, we just need an integer to be able to change it to #.

Where we have a binary option (Yes / No) we use the Choice option and, in the output format, add “Yes / No”, where the slash is the separator between the choices. You can of course have several options here. The Format Help button will show you how to perform this function depending on your type of field.

For text fields, you can also include a prefix and suffix and set the number of lines available in the editor.

Adding data

Now that the structure is in place, you can start adding data. Back in the main interface, right click on your root node and select “Add Child”. Give the node a name and press Enter. Ctrl + I will create a “sibling” node under your original, which can also be named.

Finally, we get to add some data to the project, as shown in this screenshot.

Then select one of your nodes, select Data Edit in the right pane and start adding your data. Text fields accept text, your choice fields will include a drop-down selector, and number fields will be formatted as you define them.

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TreeLine is the type of software that you don’t realize you need before you start using it. If you’re a die-hard listener, he might be the perfect host for your next epic inventory.

If you just want a simple note-taking app, check out CherryTree or Joplin Notes.

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Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World, and others, and has also published bestselling books on Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice.org. He recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. It produces – but hardly ever publishes – electronics under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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