View of very basic outline with graphics. Notepad view in Ecco Pro.

An outliner is a computer program that allows text to be organized into discrete sections that are related in a tree structure or hierarchy. Text may be collapsed into a node, or expanded and edited.

Outliners are typically used for computer programming, collecting or organizing ideas, as personal information management or for project management. Mind Mappers and Wikis are related types of software.



The principal attribute of outline editors is that they support or enforce the use of a hierarchy. For example:

  • Editing: Sound parent-child relationships are enforced when the user modifies the document structure. For example:
    • Promoting, demoting, copying, or deleting a parent has the same effect on the children.
    • Every item entry must be within one level of its predecessor, such that each item must be a sibling or child of the preceding item (thus, no item can be a grandchild of the preceding item).
  • Viewing: The tool enables the user to affect the display by level. For example:
    • Applying styles by outline level (e.g., bold all 1st level items)
    • Displaying selected levels (e.g., show all 1st and 2nd level items, but none deeper).
    • Hoisting an item hides all parent and sibling items; thereby focusing, or zooming in, on a particular branch. De-hoisting again reveals the full outline.
  • Search: The tool retrieves all items that contain the query terms plus the ancestors (parent, grandparent...) that give them context.
  • File import and export: Both the content and structure of outlines are conveyed when files are imported or exported (e.g., from and to tab-indented files).


Composing a Wikipedia article in OmniOutliner.

There are two basic types of outliners: one-pane or intrinsic, and two-pane or extrinsic, each with its strengths and weaknesses.

A one-pane outliner is known as an intrinsic outliner because the text itself is organized into an outline format—individual sections (such as paragraphs) of text can be collapsed or expanded, while keeping others in view. Everything is displayed within a single area, hence the term one pane. One of the strengths of one-pane outliners is that, because the text itself is what is structured and because several nodes of text are visible at once, it is easy to edit across sections. The drawback is that, because the structure is not always visible, there is not as strong an overview of the whole or ability to quickly navigate between sections as with a two-pane outliner. Some word processors, such as Microsoft Word, have an Outline Mode to help with structuring documents.[1][2]

A two-pane outliner separates structure from content—the structure is extrinsic to the text. A tree structure with node titles is presented in one pane, and the text is shown in another. Since the structure is always clearly shown at all times separately from content, this format allows for a quick overview of the structure, and easy navigation. The drawback is that since only one node's worth of text is shown at one time and navigation has the additional step of crossing panes, the structure is more rigid, making editing across nodes more difficult. This view is similar to many file browsers and email programs (which can be thought of as three-pane outliners).[3] This type of structure is useful also as a document management tool where the second pane is a document in place of textual information.

Ecco Pro with EccoMV pane.

A one- and two-pane outliner may be combined as a hybrid. This allows multiple notes' text and graphics to be shown at the same time. The organizational power of outline in hybrid is in the parent outline structure, not in the second pane text, making it a very effective structure for topical organization. One additional advantage of hybrid is that single pane can be used as single pane outliner with second pane used for notes or reference tracking.

File formats

Several file formats support an outline structure natively or encourage the use/creation of outline structures.

  • XML - XML's purpose is to aid information systems in sharing structured data
  • HTML/XHTML - outlines relatively trivial thanks to nested markup
  • OPML - simple XML-based format designed for outlines, but also used for syndication feedlists
  • OML - alternative to OPML
  • RDF - (various formats) has web-oriented node & arc graph model, can be used for outline subset
  • XOXO - dedicated HTML-based microformat for outlines
  • CHM - standard Windows format for help, books, etc.

Desktop outliners

Name Operating system Notes
Acta Mac OS 9 Single pane outliner, free to download
ActionOutline Windows Double-pane outliner. Multiple outlines per file, selected via 'worksheet-style' tabs.
AllMyNotes Organizer Windows Can password-protect file access, supports Skins. Free and Portable editions available.
Bonsai (Desktop Edition) Windows Designed to synchronise with the Palm OS version of Bonsai
Circus Ponies NoteBook Mac OS X Single-pane outliner designed to resemble a spiral bound notebook
Code Browser Windows/Linux folding text editor, can outline source code
Deep Notes Mac OS X Freeware single pane outliner. Only 1.7 megabytes, runs on OS X 10.4 or later.
Ecco Pro Windows Freeware outliner. EccoMV add-on for RTF pane.
GJots Linux
GrandView MS-DOS Powerful single-pane outliner dating from the 1980s
Idea Cruncher Windows Minimalist two-pane outliner
In Control Mac OS 7/8 Vintage outliner from Attain Corp. which could sort or filter outlines according to keywords or metadata attached to each topic
Jot+ Notes Windows two-pane outliner where the 2nd pane supports Rich Text formatting and embedded pictures and objects, such as spreadsheets. One can navigate not only via the topic hierarchy in pane one, but also via hyperlinks in the text of pane two.
Jreepad Platform independent Compatible with Treepad. Written in Java.
KeepNote Windows/Linux/MacOS Notes saved in HTML. Written in Python.
KeyNote Windows Mozilla Public License. No longer supported.
KeyNoteNF Windows Mozilla Public License. Evolution of KeyNote.
KJots Linux
MORE[4] Mac OS 7/8/9 Classic Mac outliner from the late 1980s & early 1990s
MyInfo Windows Two-pane, but can emulate basic one-pane outliner too
Leo Windows/Linux/MacOS Python application (use Tk for the UI)
Neomem Windows 3-pane outliner. Website last updated July 2008.
NoteCase Windows/Linux/MacOS No longer supported.
NoteCase Pro Windows/Linux/MacOS
NoteKeeper Windows Lightweight freeware two-pane outliner
Noteliner Windows Lightweight freeware outliner with todo capabilities, tagging & tables
OmniOutliner Mac OS X Fully featured single/double pane outliner with columns and extensive customisation capabilities
Opal Mac OS X Single pane outliner, essentially a port of 'Acta' to Mac OS X
OPML Editor Mac/Windows GPL
OrgMode cross-platform Emacs outlining mode
Outliner Lighto Windows Free software, console-based outliner written in FreePascal
Sain Outliner Windows Low cost, very simple single-pane outliner
Scrivener Mac OS X; Windows & Linux beta Flexible content generator for writers; powerful multipane outliner
SEO Note Windows Free lightweight two-pane outliner
The Guide Windows Free lightweight two-pane outliner
ThinkTank MS-DOS Early PC outliner, now abandonware
Tkoutline Platform independent Written in Tcl/Tk
ToDoList Windows Free (Eclipse Public License). Portable. Large number of node attributes. French and Spanish versions.
Tombo Windows, Windows CE, Windows Mobile Minimalistic. Regex search. GPLv2.
Total Text Container Windows Freeware 2-pane outliner
Treeline outliner Windows/Linux Free 3-pane outliner; 2nd pane shows details of highlighted node, 3rd pane lists details of its children
Treepad Windows/Linux Two-pane outliner. Free and paid versions.
TuxCards Linux Freeware 2-pane outliner
The Vim Outliner cross-platform Vim plugin
UV Outliner Windows Free, single pane outliner
Vault 3 Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, Android Free Outliner. XML import and export. Optional 128-bit AES encryption.
Vim Outliner cross-platform Vim plugin
VOoM cross-platform Vim plugin, emulates two-pane outliner. Requires Python and Vim compiled with Python interface.
WhizFolders Windows Two-pane outliner
WikidPad cross-platform Wiki-like outliner.

Mobile Device outliners

Name Operating system Notes
Android Outliner Android Sync with Natara Bonsai on Windows desktop via USB or DropBox; due-date based filtering; supports multiple outlines. Under active development, with very user feedback-driven feature selection.
CarbonFin Outliner iOS Outliner for iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad. Web app with synchronization is also available.
Vault 3 for Android Android Outliner for Android devices (Android 2.1 or later). Desktop versions are also available (Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X).
Zeptoliner iOS Outliner for iPhone and iPod Touch.

Online outliners

This table shows a list of online, browser-based outliners categorised by the functionality they provide (see 'Design' above).

Name Promote/ demote Copy Styling Expose/ hide levels Hoist Search Import OPML Export OPML Export other Collaboration Files
ActionManager Yes No No Yes No No No No No No No
Checkvist Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Knowcase Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No No No Yes No
Loosestitch Yes No Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Lucid Yes No No No No No No No No No No
The Outliner of Giants Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes
Tidylines Yes Yes Yes No No No No Yes Yes Limited users No
Thinklinkr Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No
WorkFlowy Yes No No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No

See also


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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Look at other dictionaries:

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