How to Use Note Tags and Quick Notes

Originally published at: How to Use Note Tags and Quick Notes - TidBITS

Apple added two features to Notes in iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS 12 Monterey to enhance your note-taking. Note tags give you an alternative way to organize your notes, while Quick Note gives you an always-available shortcut for creating notes on your Mac and iPad.

The tags in notes are a welcome addition. In my Groceries list, I can tag items for specific stores, for example I’ll buy this at the drugstore and that at hardware store.

When I get to that specific store, I can pull up all the items I planned to buy there. I can even tag an item for multiple stores.

Quick notes has become my de facto note pad on iPadOS. It’s fast to bring up and jot down a few items. Using it to cut and paste is handy too.

I have a questions about the storage of notes. where are they stored? are they backed up by time machine?


Wait, when did that happen? I have been wishing for nested folders, and as far as I can tell, they aren’t there in Big Sur. But I am running iPadOS 15 and I don’t see how to create a nested folder there. (From a folder, is it ellipsis in circle at the top of the list, then Add Folder? And now that I’ve looked, in Big Sur, is it a right-click in a folder list and then New Folder?)

What happens if I create a nested folder in Notes (on an iPad running a sufficient version of iPadOS or on a Mac running a sufficient version of macOS) but then try to read it on a Mac that is limited to an older version? Does the nested note fold into the top level folder? Does it make the entire Notes collection unreadable?

No clue about Big Sur—in Monterey, it’s just a matter of dragging one folder on top of another. The same works in iOS 15 and iPadOS 15—press and hold on a folder to pick it up, and then drag it onto the folder you want to nest it under.

Thanks, @ace, and thanks, @jcenters, for mentioning nested folders.

Apparently nested folders were available in Mojave, because a Mac running Mojave just created what certainly appears to be a nested folder by dragging and dropping. Since that’s the oldest OS I need to deal with, I’m happy (but still curious about how a still-older OS would handle a nested folder).

They’re backed up to iCloud. They’re not backed up to TimeMachine. Apple Notes are stored in a SQLite database under ~Library/Group Containers/ However, that location can change from one release to another.

I use Quick Notes a lot because they’re a handy place to store vocabulary as I struggle to learn Japanese in the DuoLingo app.

However, I keep my vocabulary in a single note, divided into tables (with columns for kanji reading, romaji reading, english meaning). As the tables have gotten larger and more numerous, the note has developed problems. It displays perfectly when I open it in the Notes app itself. But when I open it as a QuickNote from within DuoLingo, the tables display badly: cell borders missing, or cells laid out wrong, or the entire table contents blank. Plus, when I try to edit the Quick Note, it often just vanishes, which I assume means that something has crashed.

So it looks to me like Quicknotes aren’t using the same engine as the Notes app, and the former seem to be still a bit half-baked.

While notes is great on the surface it has some, in my opinion severe limitations.

First is the fact than unless Apple changed something in Monterey (I’m using Big Sur) your notes are hidden in unreadable format, buried in some places inside your user folder and documentation is lacking as to where they actually reside. So if you wish to preserve them, say like if you have user folder corruption and need to create a new one, unless they are on iCloud (those locally “on my mac” are not) they may be lost and unrecoverable. Additionally like everything else on iCloud they take storage space that Apple loves to charge you for if they can. And what happens if you are on a mobile device and need notes that Apple decided to put on iCloud to save device space? OOL (out of luck!)

Secondly, just try to export your notes as a batch if you wish to migrate them to another app or for local back up. OOL! Apple in its effort to lock you in to their environment doesn’t offer you a way to do that. Once in Notes they are locked into Notes unless you save them as PDF’s, one note at a time or purchase a 3rd party app to do this.

Thinking of one note since I mentioned it in the above paragraph but for different reasons. I find Microsoft’s One Note a much better alternative. It is free and supports multiple platforms outside of Apple, and can be used as a web based app as well. It also provides a way of exporting all of your notes and has the ability to capture websites from most any browser. Additionally all your notes are in a single file stored on onedrive, So you can simply download it to your Mac from for a local backup. Of course this means that you have to have, like Apple Notes an internet connection to use it. But at least if you occasionally create a local backup to another device or drive, if your main drive fails you will not lose all your notes.

If you with to keep all your notes locally, abet a bit overkill for notes alone, I use DevonThink. It is Mac only and expensive, but is fully customizable. It also includes built in scanning into a searchable pdf file, and can store and or index some or all of your Mac files, including email, bookmarks and access them with unlimited user defined tags and a very sophisticated search engine. You can also turn it into a web server. It is more than a note app. It is a full fledged GUI database that also works on mobile devices. It is not subscription software. FYI: Tidbit members get a significant discount.

What is a “Tag Browser” and what is a “Sidebar” on a Mac?

Yes, these are both perfectly fair points. Unfortunately, it’s also pretty standard Apple practice.

Exporter is a great app for getting all (or a subset) of your Notes saved as HTML or Markdown files. It’s great to create a backup or migrate a note or two elsewhere.


I never noticed this part before, so thanks. Maybe I’ll make more use of tags now:

Once you’ve added tags to notes, the next step is to find notes containing particular tags. Look at the bottom of the sidebar on the iPad and Mac or the bottom of the Folders screen on the iPhone. Click or tap a tag to see all the notes containing that tag.

Good info here that I was not aware of. Tried some examples but cannot find any particular tags that were added. Your article says “Look at the
bottom of the sidebar on the iPad and Mac …” but nothing appears there. Am running macOS and just updated to macOS 12.5.1. Log out and restart the computer has no effect. Don’t see anything in Preferences that would enable/disable their display. In the Notes/Help/Using Tags they mention a ‘Tag Browser’ but I see nothing like that or any way to enable it.

Any ideas?

Are your Notes stored in iCloud? I’m pretty sure that’s a requirement.

Short answer – no, most of my notes stored under a Gmail account
Did some tests, create new note under iCloud, add a hashtag and Voila! the ‘Tag Browser’ appears. Problem solved – almost. Next question is how to convert my existing Gmail notes to iCloud.

Longer answer
The New Folder and its SubFolder within Gmail and their hashtags still do not appear. How to get into iCloud? Drag to iCloud area works but their hashtags still do not appear! Tried to convert this regular folder to Smart Folder but get a Notes warning that it will not convert because New Folder has a sub-folder. Then converted SubFolder to a Smart Folder with a command that appeared in the File menu. This did work and hashtags within that SubFolder now appeared in ‘Tag Browser’. Also some unexpected side effects. SubFolder was moved out of New Folder and up to same level, its name was modified to SubFolder-2 and hashtag #SubFolder-2 was added to the note inside that folder.

Your comment about Quirks holds true here too.

Now have to figure out how to move many hundreds of notes in a couple dozen folders into the iCloud/Smart Folder as these hashtags should be useful.