How Data is Stored#

This chapter contains details of how novelWriter stores and handles the project data.

Project Structure#

All novelWriter files are written with utf-8 encoding. Since Python automatically converts Unix line endings to Windows line endings on Windows systems, novelWriter does not make any adaptations to the formatting on Windows systems. This is handled entirely by the Python standard library. Python also handles this when working on the same files on both Windows and Unix-based operating systems.

Main Project File#

The project itself requires a dedicated folder for storing its files, where novelWriter will create its own “file system” where the project’s folder and file hierarchy is described in a project XML file. This is the main project file in the project’s root folder with the name nwProject.nwx. This file also contains all the meta data required for the project (except the index data), and a number of related project settings.

If this file is lost or corrupted, the structure of the project is lost, although not the text itself. It is important to keep this file backed up, either through the built-in backup tool, or your own backup solution.

The project XML file is indent-formatted, and is suitable for diff tools and version control since most of the file will stay static, although a timestamp is set in the meta section on line 2, and various meta data entries incremented, on each save.

A full description of the current file format is available in the File Format Spec 1.5 document, available as a PDF.

Project Documents#

All the project documents are saved in a subfolder of the main project folder named content. Each document has a file handle based on a 52 bit random number, represented as a hexadecimal string. The documents are saved with a filename assembled from this handle and the file extension .nwd.

If you wish to find the file system location of a document in the project, you can either look it up in the project XML file, select Show File Details from the Document menu when having the document open in the editor, or look in the ToC.txt file in the root of the project folder. The ToC.txt file has a list of all documents in the project, referenced by their label, and where they are saved.

The reason for this cryptic file naming is to avoid issues with file naming conventions and restrictions on different operating systems, and also to have a file name that does not depend on what you name the document within the project, or changes it to. This is particularly useful when using a versioning system.

Each document file contains a plain text version of the text from the editor. The file can in principle be edited in any text editor, and is suitable for diffing and version control if so desired. Just make sure the file remains in utf-8 encoding, otherwise unicode characters may become mangled when the file is opened in novelWriter again.

Editing these files is generally not recommended. The reason for this is that the index will not be automatically updated when doing so, which means novelWriter doesn’t know you’ve altered the file. If you do edit a file in this manner, you should rebuild the index when you next open the project in novelWriter.

The first lines of the file may contain some meta data starting with the characters %%~. These lines are mainly there to restore some information if the file is lost from the main project file, and the information may be helpful if you do open the file in an external editor as it contains the document label and the document class and layout. The lines can be deleted without any consequences to the rest of the content of the file, and will be added back the next time the document is saved in novelWriter.

The File Saving Process#

When saving the project file, or any of the documents, the data is first saved to a temporary file. If successful, the old data file is then removed, and the temporary file replaces it. This ensures that the previously saved data is only replaced when the new data has been successfully saved to the storage medium.

Project Meta Data#

The project folder contains a subfolder named meta, containing a number of files. The meta folder contains semi-important files. That is, they can be lost with only minor impact to the project. All files in this folder are JSON or JSON Lines files, although some other files may remain from earlier versions of novelWriter as they haven’t all been JSON files in the past.

If you use version control software on your project, you can exclude this folder, although you may want to track the session log file and the custom words list.

The Project Index#

Between writing sessions, the project index is saved in a JSON file in meta/index.json. This file is not critical. If it is lost, it can be completely rebuilt from within novelWriter from the Tools menu.

The index is maintained and updated whenever a document or note is saved in the editor. It contains all references and tags in documents and notes, as well as the location of all headers in the project, and the word counts within each header section.

The integrity of the index is checked when the file is loaded. It is possible to corrupt the index if the file is manually edited and manipulated, so the check is important to avoid sudden crashes of novelWriter. If the file contains errors, novelWriter will automatically build it anew. If the check somehow fails and novelWriter keeps crashing, you can delete the file manually and rebuild the index. If this too fails, you have likely encountered a bug.

Build Definitions#

The build definitions from the Manuscript Build tool are kept in the meta/builds.json file. If this file is lost, all custom build definitions are lost too.

Cached GUI Options#

A file named meta/options.json contains the latest state of various GUI buttons, switches, dialog window sizes, column sizes, etc, from the GUI. These are the GUI settings that are specific to the project. Global GUI settings are stored in the main config file.

The file is not critical, but if it is lost, all such GUI options will revert back to their default settings.

Custom Word List#

A file named meta/userdict.json contains all the custom words you’ve added to the project for spell checking purposes. The content of the file can be edited from the Tools menu. If you lose this file, all your custom spell check words will be lost too.

Session Stats#

The writing progress is saved in the meta/sessions.jsonl file. This file records the length and word counts of each writing session on the given project. The file is used by the Writing Statistics tool. If this file is lost, the history it contains is also lost, but it has otherwise no impact on the project.

Each session is recorded as a JSON object on a single line of the file. Each session record is appended tot he file.