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Organising my scanned documents and reference files with keyword tagging


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docstore is a tool I wrote to help me manage my scanned documents and reference files. It uses keyword tagging to categorise files, and creates thumbnails to help identify files.

It has two parts:

  • A CLI tool that lets me store new documents
  • A web app that lets me browse the documents I've already stored

Here's an example of how I'd use the CLI tool to save a file:

docstore add '~/Desktop/Contract of Employment.pdf' \
  --source_url='' \
  --title='2020-10: Contract of employment for ACME' \
  --tags='employer:acme-corp, contract:employment'

Here's a screenshot of the web app:

A screenshot of docstore

The web app allows me to filter by one or more tags, or to sort by title/date, to help me find the document I'm looking for.


Clone this repo and install the package locally:

$ git clone
$ cd docstore
$ pip3 install -e .

You can add files using docstore add and run the web app with docstore serve.

Note that docstore is only intended for me to use -- it solves a specific problem that I have, and is designed to solve my exact needs.

You're welcome to use it, but I'm unlikely to provide support or add features for other people.

How it works: design and implementation notes

I learnt a lot of stuff writing docstore, and the source code is public so other people can read it and see how it works.

Everything is written in Python, with Click and Flask being the core of the CLI and and the web app.

Because reading source code is a pretty inefficient way to learn, I have some documents that explain the key ideas:

  • Storing the files – where files are stored, what name they're stored under, ensuring I don't save two files with the same name
  • Storing the metadata – what metadata I store, how I model it, why I save it as JSON, how I serialise Python models to JSON and back
  • Previewing the files – how I create file previews with Quick Look and FFmpeg, how I extract a tint colour from thumbnails from the web app

Why I wrote it

  • I prefer keyword tagging to files-and-folders as a way to organise files. I'm a particular fan of how Pinboard does tagging, but I haven't found an app that stores files with Pinboard-like.

  • I want my documents stored locally. My scanned paperwork in particular contains a lot of private information -- bank statements, medical letters, rental contracts, and more. I don't want to upload them to a cloud service and risk them being leaked.

  • I'm very picky about how this sort of thing. I've tried a bunch of other apps and services for doing this sort of thing, but none of them were quite right. I found it easier to write my own tool than try to use something written by somebody else.

    It helps that my needs are quite simple -- the whole app is about a thousand lines of code, which is pretty manageable.

Design principles

  • My files and metadata should be portable. All the data for a collection of files stored with docstore is kept in a single directory. That directory can be copied or synced to another machine, and I can start working with them immediately -- no config or setup required.

    This is important for day-to-day utility, and for disaster recovery. If something happens to my main computer, I want to be able to get to my documents again (including the keyword tags for organisation) as quickly as possible.

  • Use JSON as a database. All the metadata about my documents is kept in a single JSON file. JSON is a simple, popular format with several advantages for me:

    • Lots of tools can read it. Pretty much every programming language has a JSON parser, so I'm guaranteed I'll be able to parse the metadata file for years to come.
    • I can edit JSON in a text editor. This saves me building editing features into docstore -- if I've made a typo or want to change something, I can edit the metadata JSON directly.
    • It maps directly to Python data structures (Python is what I use to write docstore). The serialisation and deserialisation isn't very complicated.

    If you were building an app that had to store a lot of documents or support multiple users, JSON would be a poor choice -- you'd want to use a proper database instead. My biggest docstore instance only has a few thousand files, and the cost of JSON parsing is negligible.

  • A document can have multiple files.

    This wasn't part of my original design, but I added it when I rewrote docstore in autumn 2020. This means that I can group files so they show up together. Examples of when I use this:

    • I have two scans of the same piece of paper
    • I have a scanned copy of a letter, and an electronic copy I was sent separately
    • I have multiple versions of a contract at different stages of signing

    Here's how a document is described in the JSON:

      "date_saved": "2020-10-03T16:30:08.471833",
      "files": [
          "checksum": "sha256:fe79444e61b9c009a22497a9878020da98f557476b7f993432bc94fa700e888a",
          "date_saved": "2020-10-03T16:30:08.471833",
          "filename": "Eldritchbot.pdf",
          "id": "331e2b59-fe82-48a4-8d59-f71b0f2ad7b3",
          "path": "files/e/eldritchbot.pdf",
          "size": 2215466,
          "source_url": "",
          "thumbnail": {
            "path": "thumbnails/E/Eldritchbot.pdf.png"
          "checksum": "sha256:ebee96fbb3725e3c708388e6b3f446b933967849980aabb61c51a146942dc7f4",
          "date_saved": "2020-10-03T16:32:08.471833",
          "filename": "Eldritchbot.epub",
          "id": "00faef01-d3b4-4ff3-a226-770f652849e6",
          "path": "files/e/eldritchbot.epub",
          "size": 2215466,
          "source_url": "",
          "thumbnail": {
            "path": "thumbnails/E/Eldritchbot.epub.png"
      "id": "9dd532c7-edf9-428a-9637-df9bb6030378",
      "tags": [
        "by:Thomas Heasman-Hunt"
      "title": "A Visit from Eldritchbot"
  • Stay close to the original filename.

    As much as possible, I want docstore to use the original filename. This makes the underlying storage human-readable, and it means that if I lost the metadata, the files would still be somewhat useful.

    Here's what the underlying storage looks like:

    └── files/
        ├── a/
        │   ├── admin-renewal-cover-letter.html
        │   ├── advice-for-patients-and-visitors.pdf
        │   └── application-paperwork.pdf
        ├── b/
        ├── c/
        └── ...

    docstore records the original filename in the metadata, and then does some normalisation before copying a file to its storage. The normalisation does a couple of things:

    • Remove any special characters and spaces. e.g. alex.chan › payslip › january 2015–2016.pdf becomes alex-chan-payslip-january-2015-2016.pdf

    • Lowercase the filename. e.g. P60Certificate.pdf becomes p60certificate.pdf

    • De-duplicate documents with the same name by adding some random hex to the end of the name. e.g. if I store two documents called statement.pdf, one will be stored as statement.pdf and the other as statement_f97b.pdf.

    This normalisation means I don't have to worry about whether my filesystem can cope with weird characters, or if I'm storing two different files with the same name.

    The thumbnails for each file use a similar filename, so it's easy to find the thumbnail that corresponds to a file (and vice versa). For example, if a document is stored as p60-certificate.pdf, the thumbnail is stored as p60-certificate.pdf.png.

    These normalised filenames aren't exposed through the web app – if I'm downloading a file, docstore sets a Content-Disposition header that tells my browser to download it with the original filename.





Organising my scanned documents and reference files with keyword tagging