Linking to Apple Notes

The Notes App on iOS and macOS is nothing but unassuming. In a very competitive space of digital note-taking, its main advantage is that it’s “already there.” In a recent Anthropocene Review episode, John Green gave it three and a half stars, praising its handiness and ruefully noting that ”things in the Notes app have a way of not getting done.” I migrated to Notes from Evernote some time around 2015, and the only thing I could never get done was figuring out how to link to my notes from OmniFocus.

That is, until last week, when I finally sat down and worked out an arrangement of scripts that seems to work reasonably well on both on macOS (Mojave, cannot test on Catalina just yet) and iOS. Use them at your own risk:

When you run the Copy Note URL script or shortcut, it’ll produce something like below (also, yes, I’m speaking at ETE 2020 in the spring):

“ETE talk 2020”


Here’s what’s going on here. I’m using a special URL scheme for iOS Shortcuts that points to my “Open Note URL” shortcut. There’s no Shortcuts app for Mac (yet) so I saved a macOS script as an app bundle and “squatted” the shortcuts:// URL scheme. As you might have guessed, the input is some sort of Note identifier. After testing various options, I settled on using the note’s creation timestamp for several reasons:

  • I (and I’ll guess you too) never create more than one note per second.
  • Creation date never changes, so it’s reasonably future-proof.
  • Apple doesn’t publicly expose any other ID that’s guaranteed not to change and works across multiple devices.
  • Simple numeric format with no additional encoding.

I must admit, there are some “gotchas” with the scripts. Getting the note’s creation date in the first place was surprisingly tricky. The Notes App doesn’t expose any way to get a reference to the “current” note on neither macOS nor iOS, which means we have to jump through some hoops to get it. On iOS, I couldn’t find a better way than to search the Notes app by the shortcut’s input title. On macOS, it’s even worse: we have to navigate the potentially volatile UI hierarchy to get the highlighted title. The good news is, once you got the URL, the Open URL script is extremely straightforward and works well in my experience.

I did a lot of googling while working on my scripts, so wanted to highlight the two posts that have been most helpful:

Let me know on Twitter or via email below if you end up using the shortcut. I’d love feedback, especially ideas on how to make the Copy URL shortcut more robust.