Saving Mac Stickies, the StickiesDatabase file, and syncing

Mac Stickies FAQ: Can I save Mac Stickies? If so, how? Also, is there any way to sync Mac Stickies between multiple computers?

This Mac Stickies question goes from simple to bizarre faster than any Mac FAQ I've ever been asked. I'll walk you through what I just learned, so please bear with me, answers are in here.

Saving Mac Stickies to a file - Intro

In an attempt to organize my life, I've been working with Mac Stickies (Mac "sticky notes" in the Stickies application), and out of curiosity I was wondering if I could save my Mac Stickies to a file in a particular location.

Okay, that's only part of the story. What I was wondering was if I could save my Mac Stickies to a particular file or directory so I could sync my Mac Stickies across several computers using Dropbox. This "sync Mac Stickies" quest led me to discover several things, including where Mac Stickies are saved by default, and how you can save them somewhere else.

In short, this experiment was a disaster, and you can't really save Mac Stickies anywhere other than the default database where Apple intends them to be stored. You can actually save a Mac sticky note to a file, but this is a one-way trip: After you save the sticky note to a file, the Mac Stickies application doesn't bother to read from it again.

The rest of this article contains the details of what I just went through. Read on if you want to learn more about the Mac Stickies application, including the location of the Mac Stickies database file (the location where the Mac Stickies are saved).

Saving Mac Stickies - The easiest way

If you just want your Mac Stickies saved somewhere, and you don't care where they're saved, there's really nothing for you to do. Just create your Mac Stickies, and when you quit the Stickies application and then re-open it, your Stickies magically reappear as they were before.

Saving Mac Stickies - The StickiesDatabase file location

The way this magic works is that your Mac Stickies are saved to a "database" in the Library directory of your home folder. This database (using the term loosely) is a file named StickiesDatabase, so on my Mac, where my home directory is named /Users/Al, my Mac Stickies database file can be found in this directory:


If all you wanted to know was where your Mac Stickies are saved, or the Mac Stickies file location, that's the answer to those questions.

Saving Mac Stickies to a file

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, you can save each Mac Sticky note to an individual file, but this process is cumbersome, and it's also a one-way trip. You can write a Mac sticky note to a file, but after that the Stickies application happily ignores the file.

Here's how to save a Mac sticky note to a file:

  1. Create the Mac Sticky
  2. Press [Command][w] to close the sticky note. (That's not a typo.)
  3. The Stickies application will ask if you want to discard your note, or save it. Choose the Save option.
  4. Save the sticky note to a file anywhere on your filesystem you want to save it.
  5. When you save the sticky note, the note will be closed, because that's how we got to this "Save Stickies" process. Now you have to re-open it.
  6. To re-open the sticky note, in the Stickies application, click File, then "Import Text", and then navigate to your file location and re-open it.

As you might guess from that process, including the use of the term "import", the Stickies application forgets about your file immediately after the import. In short, if you (a) import your file, (b) modify your sticky note, (c) quit the Stickies application, and (d) look at your text file, it is not updated.

However, if you re-open the Stickies application, you'll see that your changes to the note were indeed saved. They weren't saved to your file, they were saved to the Stickies database.

Summary: You can save a Mac Stickies note to a file, but it's a one-way street. You write the output to a file, and you can later import the data back into the Stickies application, but you can't easily keep the file in sync with your sticky note.

The Mac Stickies database file

For my purpose of trying to sync my Mac Stickies across multiple computers using Dropbox, this was a total failure. Not only does saving a sticky note to a file not work as you'd expect, the Mac Stickies "database" file can only very loosely be referred to as a database.

I say this because as I just learned, the Mac Stickies application deletes this file and then re-creates it whenever you quit the Stickies application. No database I know is deleted and then recreated like that. They are usually just modified.

I could go into the gory details, but in short, because this Stickies file is deleted and then recreated, there's no way to sync it through Dropbox. I tried creating both "soft" and "hard" symbolic links to the Stickies database file from the Mac Unix command line, and neither approach works.

If you want to know more about why this doesn't work I'll be glad to write a little more here, but in short, until the Mac Stickies application is modified to work better, I can't think of a good way to sync Mac Stickies across multiple Mac computers.