Information Grows Strong Roots With TreeLine

TreeLine is a unique information manager that combines the characteristics of both a traditional outliner and a PIM (Personal Information Manager). Use it to stow away contact information, bookmarks, text snippets, bibliography, task lists, or whatever else you track or catalog.



Regardless of what you call it, this application lets you store any kind of information and retrieve it with ease. Think of TreeLine as a PostIt-like display system on steroids for your notes. TreeLine does double duty as an outliner for grouping and managing mixed data inside the database.

Part of what makes TreeLine such an easy organizing tool is its tree structure. This lets you configure the note-entering process to fit a variety of informational types. So you do not have to shoehorn information into a make-do mess.

Even better, each node in the tree is capable of containing several fields to form a mini-database. You can tailor the output format for each node and direct it to the screen, printer or export it in html format. This makes TreeLine a perfect tool for keeping tabs on heterogeneous bits of data. Moreover, using TreeLine’s

Getting It

TreeLine is Python code dependent. If your Linux distro is not running with the Python programing language in its library, you will have to install it. This is a simple task using the resident software manager.

You will also need Qt, PyQt and an XML parser. These dependencies should not be an issue on most Linux systems. Chances are with Python installed your system already has these additional components, as other applications no doubt use them as well.

I installed TreeLine without incident from the on-board software centers in Linux Mint and Ubuntu. The TreeLine package is also readily available via the Synaptic Package Manage. Of course, you can also download the tarball compressed package from the developer’s website.

As an aside, you can configure TreeLine to handle spell checking. The app does not come with this feature built in. But you can install either aspell or ispell applications and enable spell checking in TreeLine’s Preferences panel. Both of these spelling libraries are readily available in most Linux distributions.

Install Options

If you are repository agnostic, open a terminal window and enter:

sudo apt-get install treeline

This will install the TreeLine app and place a menu item in the Other category. Or you can install TreeLine manually after downloading the tarball. This process is simple to follow even for Linux novices.

An already installed utility will unpack the compressed file. Then open a terminal window after switching to the resulting directory and enter the command:

sudo python

and enter your admin password when prompted.

Once TreeLine is installed, if you do not see a menu entry launch the application by running the treeline command in a run box. Press the Alt + Fn 2 keys and enter:


What You Get

TreeLine is a complex application that looks overly simple. I found it easier to learn by loading some of the sample databases and playing around with the menu entries. All Treeline files are saved in the format extension .TRL.

A bonus for learning to use TreeLine is the added flexibility it brings to your computing arsenal. TreeLine is also available for the Microsoft Windows platform. Thus, you can use its database file on both Linux and Windows. I always prefer cross-platform apps that let me take my data with me and easily switch systems.

For years I used a similar tree-structure note-taking app called “NoteCase Manager.” When the developer abandoned that app, I scampered around looking for a replacement. I found TreeLine to be a better tool because of its added functionality.

Sampling the Goods

TreeLine comes with a half-dozen or so sample files. If you are familiar with tree structures, you will quickly feel right at home with TreeLine. As a starting point, you can use these to get familiar with the various options available in TreeLine. You can replace the sample data with your own rather than starting from scratch.

Open a sample database from the File/Open Sample menu option. What you see displayed varies based on the type of file you open or create. Remember that the user interface is deceptively simple. Navigate through the menu options of any sample database file to see the hidden power TreeLine offers.

For instance, in the bookmarks file you see the View pane on the left displaying the records as a hierarchical tree. Click on the Tree View and Flat View tabs at the bottom of the pane to switch between the two viewing modes. The main pane features three modes: Data Output, Data Editor and Title List. Each mode has a specific use.

In Data Output you view records based on your user-defined preferences. You edit records in the Data Editor mode. The Title List mode displays all records in a specific folder. Switch between these three modes by clicking the tabs at the bottom of the main pane.

Using It

Typical of tree-form note-taking systems, TreeLine turns each record in the database into an outline item. All records get organized into a hierarchy of nodes.

Add new data by selecting Add Child from the Edit menu. This places your new note or piece of information in the tree structure under the Parent node, which is the main note categories.

You can drag Child Nodes within the tree structure. You can also use menu items for Up/Down or Insert Before/AFter and more from within the Edit menu.

Making New Stuff

Creating New database or collection of notes follows the same logic. Start by choosing File/New. You then get to pick which format type you want. The options are: Default with no template, Book List, Contact List, ToDo List, Long Plain Text or Long HTML Text.

The next step is to define additional data type by choosing Data/Configure Data Types. In this process you create the different fields that will hold the types of information you will enter for your data.

Finish the process by pressing the New Type button in the Type List section and give the new data type a name. Repeat these steps to add other fields. By default, every new field’s type is set to Text.

Plugin Pluses

One of the features that makes TreeLine a step ahead of other tree form systems is its plug extension modules. Install them by copying their Python file (*.py) to the plugins directory.

Plugins provide additional functionality that address specialized uses. For instance, they can add new menu items, access the TreeLine data and read and write TreeLine Files. Two plugins are available from the developer.

httpLoad is a sample plugin that opens a file directly from a Web server. It adds an “Open from Web” menu item to the “File” menu. The Typesearch plugin finds all nodes with a chosen data type. It opens and closes nodes and temporarily changes icons to highlight matching nodes. It adds “Find Items by Type” to the Tools menu.

Bottom Line

TreeLine comes with extensive documentation via the help menu. This how-to file is available offline. This is a big plus compared to how some other FOSS (Free Open Source Software) projects handle skimpy documentation or force you to go to an online database.

TreeLine is a powerful information storage app. It will take you some time on task learning to use it. But the results will be well worth your effort.

Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear.

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