A sync bug in Standard Notes kept deleting my notes

Note-taking is how I remember things. I jot them down on my phone or laptop and expect them to be available on all my devices within seconds. I used to use Simplenote but I kept having issues with it losing my notes. I abandoned it in favor of Standard Notes five months ago.

Standard Notes is a minimalist note-taking app available for all leading platforms. It’s open-source and your notes are end-to-end encrypted. This means I can trust the free hosted-service to keep my notes private, and that I can set up and host my own servers if the free service were to go away.

The service also has some very limited revision-history capabilities. The feature is limited to the history of changes in your active session on the current device. This feature could have been very useful if it persisted and synced across devices. Instead, it’s a rather pointless gimmick.

The promise of any of many note-taking services that’s available on the market is that they’ll keep your notes safe and in-sync between devices. For the most part, Standard Note gets the job done. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself.

This is the second time I’ve written this article. Standard Notes overwrote the original draft for it with a different note and I was unable to restore it. This isn’t the first time this has happened either.

I’ve lost notes (and thereby a lot of work) almost every week that I’ve been Standard Notes. I’d like to share my experiences with it before I set off looking for yet another alternative note-taking solution.

I don’t know the exact cause of the issue. I use Standard Notes several times a day from multiple computers and my Android smartphone. The unlucky note at the top of my list of notes is sometimes vanishes or it gets overwritten with another note. The top note is either a pinned/important note, or one of the most recently modified notes.

I’ve noticed this note vanishing when I try to move another note to the trash folder. The note I tried moving is deleted but don’t even up in the trash. Simultaneously, the note at the top of my list of notes is given the same treatment. Both notes disappear from all my devices and I’m unable to restore them as they didn’t end up in the trash folder.

A similar issue happens when I’m editing several notes within a short time of each other. I’m typing in Note A, then I move on to type something in note B, and I back and forth. Suddenly, the unlucky note at the top of the list is overwritten by a copy of one of the notes I’ve been working on.

I can switch to the overwritten note but its session revision history will only contain one entry which will display the date for the original note I expected to be there. The revision history won’t show that it has recently been changed.

I’m obviously unhappy about losing work that I trusted the service to keep safe. However, what really gets to me isn’t the notes that I know that I’ve lost. I can recreate those from memory. It’s the notes that I don’t remember losing that frustrates and saddens me. It was probably something important since I took the time to write it down. Maybe it was a good idea for an article? or something I needed to get done. Whatever it was, it’s gone now.

At least once a day I’m also greeted by an error message when I open the Standard Notes webapp:

The note you are attempting to save can not be found or has been deleted. Changes you make will not be synced. Please copy this note’s text and start a new note.

I sigh and reload the tab and everything appears to be working just fine. As far as I know, I’ve never seen this error when I lose a note. It only appears sometimes when loading the webapp. Whatever the cause, it’s not inspiring confidence in the service.

Update (): Lead-developer Mo Bitar says the dataloss issue has been fixed in recent versions of Standard Notes. He says the underlying issue was caused by a timing issue (“race-condition”) during data synchronization. I haven’t confirmed the fix; as this issue lead me to switch to Joplin. Though, now might be the time to give Standard Notes another try.

For the time being, I feel safer working with my notes in plain-text files that I sync between my devices with Syncthing. Yes, Syncthing has its own share of sync and dataloss issues. However, at least I know what those issues are and my notes will get regularly backed up as part of my hourly backup processes.

I do recommend that you give Standard Notes a try. The apps and service is good and it has a lot of potential. Just don’t use it to store anything you’d mind losing.

I’ll look into alternatives to Standard Notes soon. I’ll probably stick with an open-source solution and not switch to Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, or another proprietary note-taking services.