org-favtable.el — Lookup table of favorite references and links

Table of Contents

Introduction and Overview

org-favtable helps you to create and update a table of favorite locations in org, keeping the most frequently visited lines right at the top. This table is called "favtable".

Or, citing from its documentation:

Mark and find your favorite things and locations in org easily: Create
and update a lookup table of references and links. Often used entries
bubble to the top and entering some keywords narrows down to matching
entries only, so that the right one can be spotted easily.

References are essentially small numbers (e.g. "R237" or "-455-"),
which are created by this package; they are well suited to be used
outside of org. Links are just normal org-mode links.

org-favtable helps to find a selected set of locations in org and other things very quickly; you may see it as your private, adaptive index or search engine; inside and outside of org.

Three scenarios of typical usage

See also A working example for complete examples, that you can readily try out.

Taking notes in a meeting

Lets say, you have a meeting for a project for which you already have a node in org-mode. Now as the meeting starts, you want to go to that node, open it an start taking notes. However, the process of going to that node takes to long for your taste and you want to accelerate it.

For this, use org-favtable and create a line for this meeting in your table of favorites. This line contains a link to the node, where you want to take your meeting-notes and additionally some keywords that you associate with this meeting (e.g. its name).

Next time, that you want to find this node, simply:

  • Invoke org-favtable with a keystroke (typically "C-+") and choose the command "occur" (see The commands of org-favtable for a list of commands and their description).
  • Type one or more keyword, specific for the project.
  • From the list of results, choose the entry you are looking for.
    • Remark: Your entry will probably appear at the top of the list, because this list is sorted by frequency of usage.
  • Type RET to go to this entry and start taking notes.

This procedure is always the same, regardless of where in org-mode you have stored your notes.

Finding the right folder for incoming mail

This assumes that, in your mail program, you have created folders for your favorite projects. An example would be an email folder for a project "R624 Moving to a new internet provider". "R624" in this example is a reference; see References for an explanation.

Now, when a new mail arrives for this project, you may follow these steps to find the correct folder:

  • Invoke org-favtable with a keystroke (typically "C-+") and choose the command "occur".
  • Type a keyword (e.g. "internet").
  • From the list of results, it is easy to spot the right reference ("R624"); more frequent used entries appear at the top.
  • With this reference it is easy to find the associated folder within your email-client.

This works, because references, like "R624", can easily be used within the names of email-folders.

Marking printed documents with references

By paper mail or in a meeting you receive a printed document, that you want to keep, associate with a certain project and keep around for later. You could proceed like this:

  • Invoke org-favtable with a keystroke (typically "C-+") and choose the command "ref", which gives you a new reference (e.g. "R237"). Type some keywords into this new line within your table of favorites.
  • If you want, you may also record the location, where you keep the document.
  • Take a pen and write down this reference onto the printed document.

Some day later, you might want to read the document again and wonder, where you have kept it:

  • Invoke org-favtable and choose the command "occur".
  • Enter some keywords for this document; they should overlap with those, that you enterd when creating the line within the favtable.
  • You see the matching lines from your favtable, pick the right one and read the location information, that you recorded initially.

Later again, you might find this document in one of your desk drawers and ask yourself, which project it is be associated with. For an answer, you just need the handwritten reference from the document (e.g. "R237"):

  • Invoke org-favtable and choose the command "goto".
  • Enter the reference number "237".
  • This brings you to the matching line within your favtable, where you can read, what you have entered previously.
  • Typing RET brings you to the org-mode node linked to the document or project (if any).

This shows, how org-favtable might help to bridge the gap between org-mode and the paper-world.

Some concepts of org-favtable


References (as used within org-favtable) are small numbers with decorations; examples are "R237", "-455-" or "". You are free, to choose the text before or after the number; org-favtable inspects the already existing references and creates new references along the same lines. So the next reference after "R237" would be "R238".

References are meant to be easy to type, to write down and remember; you can use them everywhere (not only within org !), where you want to refer to a line within your table of favorites. In the favtable more information can be stored, including links to org-mode nodes.

The table of favorites

The table of favorites (or "favtable" for short) keeps all your references and links. It counts, how often they have been used. Additionally it also records the date of creation and last access. Moreover it is highly useful to keep some description or a set of keywords within your table of favorites, which can then be searched with the command "occur".

See the comand "help" for more information on how the table can be constructed or see the example below: A working example.

Here is the actual table from this example:

|     | Type    | description    | Keywords       |         |      |                 |                       |
| Ref |         | ;c             |                | count;s | link | created         | last-accessed         |
|     |         |                |                |         | <4>  |                 |                       |
| R2  | project | bar            | support, legal |       8 |      | [2012-12-07 Fr] | [2013-03-16 Sa 10:24] |
| R3  | paper   | printed report |                |       3 |      | [2012-12-04 Di] | [2013-03-15 Fr 22:07] |
| R5  | project | baz            | financial      |       5 |      | [2012-12-05 Mi] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:03] |
| R6  | project | qux            | sport          |       3 |      | [2012-12-08 Sa] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:01] |
| R1  | project | foo            | support        |       3 |      | [2012-12-03 Mo] | [2013-03-15 Fr 19:26] |
| R4  | folder  | directory      |                |       2 |      | [2012-12-08 Sa] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:04] |


org-favtable also supports links, which are just normal org-mode links as described in the documentation of org-mode.

Installation and setup

Please note, that the working example below brings its own, non-permanent setup instructions: Setting up things for this example

But, if you want to install org-favtable permanently, please read on.

Instructions on how to install org-favtable and how to setup things are also in org-favtable.el itself. They can either be accessed through the documentation of the variable org-favtable-id or through the command "help" of org-favtable.


org-favtable can be found on worg:

You should put it into one of your directories of your load-path.

Modifying your .emacs

Citing from org-favtables own documentation:

Here are the lines, you need to add to your .emacs:

  (require 'org-favtable)

  ;; Good enough to start, but later you should probably 
  ;; change this id, as will be explained below !
  (setq org-favtable-id "00e26bef-1929-4110-b8b4-7eb9c9ab1fd4")

  ;; Optionally assign a key. Pick your own favorite.
  (global-set-key (kbd "C-+") 'org-favtable)

Do not forget to restart emacs to make these lines effective.

As described in the elisp-comments above, you should set org-favtable-id to a value, that links to the node with your table of favorites. However, if you just copy the table from this documentation without changing anything, things will just work fine; its more or less a question of personal taste.

Creating your own table of favorites

The cited documentation below is quite detailed; for a starting however, you do not need to read it in full extend. Simply copying the node with the table is probably enough.

As a second step you need to create the org-mode node, where your
reference numbers and links will be stored. It may look like

  * org-favtable
    :ID:       00e26bef-1929-4110-b8b4-7eb9c9ab1fd4

    |     |      | Comment, description, details |         |         |               |
    | ref | link | ;c                            | count;s | created | last-accessed |
    |     | <4>  | <30>                          |         |         |               |
    | R1  |      | My first reference            |         |         |               |

You may just copy this node into one of your org-files.  Many
things however can or should be adjusted:

 - The node needs not be a top level node.

 - Its name is completely at you choice. The node is found
   through its ID.

 - There are three lines of headings above the first hline. The
   first one is ignored by org-favtable, and you can use them to
   give meaningful names to columns; the second line contains
   configuration information for org-favtable; please read
   further below for its format. The third line is optional and
   may contain width-informations (e.g. <30>) only.

 - The sequence of columns does not matter. You may reorder them
   any way you like; e.g. make the comment-column the last
   columns within the table. Columns ar found by their name,
   which appears in the second heading-line.

 - You can add further columns or even remove the
   "Comment"-column. All other columns from the
   example (e.g. "ref", "link", "count", "created" and
   "last-accessed") are required.

 - Your references need not start at "R1"; However, having an
   initial row is required (it serves as a template for subsequent

 - Your reference need not have the form "R1"; you may just as
   well choose any text, that contains a single number,
   e.g. "reference-{1}" or "#7" or "++17++" or "-344-". The
   function `org-favtable' will inspect your first reference and
   create all subsequent references in the same way.
 - You may want to change the ID-Property of the node above and
   create a new one, which is unique (and not just a copy of
   mine). You need to change it in the lines copied to your .emacs
   too. However, this is not strictly required to make things
   work, so you may do this later, after trying out this package.

Optionally you may tweak the second header line to adjust
`org-favtable' a bit. In the example above it looks like this
 (with spaces collapsed):

    | ref | link | ;c | count;s | created | last-accessed |

The different fields have different meanings:

 - ref : This denotes the column which contains you references

 - link : Column for org-mode links, which can be used to access
   locations within your files.

 - ;c : The flag "c" ("c" for "copy") denotes this column
   as the one beeing copied on command "leave". In the example
   above, it is also the comment-column.

 - count;s : this is the column which counts, how many time this
   line has been accessed (which is the key-feature of this
   package). The flag "s" stands for "sort", so the table is
   sorted after this column. You may also sort after columns
   "ref" or "last-accessed".

 - created : Date when this line was created.

 - last-accessed : Date and time, when this line was last accessed.

After this two-step setup process you may invoke `org-favtable'
to create a new favorite. Read the help option "usage" for
instructions on normal usage, read the help option "commands"
for help on single commands.

A working example

This node contains a simple setup, which can be used to explore org-favtable. Further below there is also A sample table of favorites.

These examples revolve around the few most common usecases and only employ a very limited set of commands (mainly "occur" and "ref"). Below at The commands of org-favtable you will find much more commands (e.g. "sort" or "highlight") that become quite helpful, once you have mastered the basic functionality.

Setting up things for this example

To really try out the things described here, you need to go through some minimal preperations: Open two files in your browser, copy-and-paste them into emacs and execute two lines of elisp-code.

These instructions are non-permanent; after your next emacs restart you wont be able to use org-favtable. To install it persistently follow these slightly different instructions: Installation and setup


Read this text within org-mode in emacs; reading in a browser is still instructive but does not give you the full hands-on experience. So, if you are reading the browser-version of, open:

in your browser. Mark the whole page and copy-and-paste it into your emacs: Create a new buffer "", do "M-x org-mode" and paste. Continue reading within this new emacs-buffer.

Get org-favtable-el


in your browser. Mark the whole page and copy-and-paste it into your emacs: Create a new buffer "org-favtable.el", do "M-x emacs-lisp-mode" and paste.

To make emacs read and evaluate the the elisp-code you need to "M-x eval-buffer" within the new buffer.


Finally, you have to execute two lines of elisp: place your cursor at the end of each line and type "C-x C-e" (which runs "eval-last-sexp").

(setq org-favtable-id "848c6d2a-6e8b-4c93-8481-19e6db7e6ca8")
(global-set-key (kbd "C-+") 'org-favtable)

First example: Finding a node by its name

Say, your are in a meeting about project "bar" and want to take notes. For this you need to visit the node for project "bar".

Type "C-+" to invoke org-favtable and then type "bar" and RET. This is what you will see:

| R2 | project | bar | support, legal | 8 |   | [2012-12-07 Fr] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:37] |

Just place your cursor at this line in the occur/buffer and type RET to go to this node.

Remark: even though the initial prompt of org-favtable offers only a fixed set of choices, you may just as well type something else (e.g. "bar") to implicitly accept the first choice (here: "occur").

Secound example: Finding a node by keyword

Later you want to take some notes for project "bar" but do not recall its name. However, you know that the project is related with "support".

So you type "C-+" to invoke org-favtable. Then type "support" and RET.

After this you will see these two lines (R2 and R1) from your favtable, which contain the keyword "support":

| R2 | project | bar | support, legal | 8 |   | [2012-12-07 Fr] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:37] |
| R1 | project | foo | support        | 3 |   | [2012-12-03 Mo] |                       |

The first line "R2" is the one with the highest access count (8), because the table is kept sorted for this. And this is already your project "bar". Now just need to hit RET, to visit this node.

Third example: Find the right folder for an incoming mail

This example assumes, that within your email-client you have organised messages in folders, the names of which start with a reference, e.g. "R2 bar".

Compared to the straightforward approach of naming the folder just "bar", the overhead related with including the reference within the name allows you to use org-favtable as your search-engine for email-folders.

This is especially helpful, if you have dozens or even hundreds of folders, too many to spot the right one easily.

Now you get an email related to project "bar" and want to put it into the right folder.

So you type "C-+" to invoke org-favtable and then "bar" and RET.

Just as in the first example, this is what you get:

| R2 | project | bar | support, legal | 8 |   | [2012-12-07 Fr] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:37] |

From this line you can easily spot the reference "R2" and can find the right folder in your email-client.

Fourth example: Create a new reference for a new piece of paper

In a meeting, you get handed over a printout; a discussion starts and you want to keep track of it. And within your org-mode notes you want to refer to the printout, that is the focus of the discussion.

For this you can create a new reference: Type "C-+" to invoke org-favtable and then "ref" and RET.

This will create a new row within your table of favorites with a new reference already filled in (if you try it out yourself, it will probably be "R7"). Now, you can fill out the other columns, especially description and keyboard.

The new reference (e.g. "R7") can be written onto the printout, so that later on (see the next example) you will be able to look it up.

Once you are done, leave the favtable by typing "C-+" and "leave" RET.

Remark: The closely related example below assumes reference "R3"; it is just as good as "R7".

Fifth example: Looking up a reference you find on a piece of paper

Lets assume, that in one of your drawers you find a lengthy printout. On its cover page you spot the handwritten reference "R3".

Remark: If you worked throught the example above, you have created a new reference "R7"; it is just as good as "R3".

First you would like to know the date, when you received this document. For this, simply type "C-+", then "3" and RET.

As a result you will see something similar to the lines below:

4 matches total for "\bRiii\b":
4 matches in buffer:
    330:   page you one of your handwritten references: "Riii". 
    345:   Which is a multi-occur for reference Riii.
    352:    - [ ] Read paper Riii
    377:   | Riii  | paper   | printed report |      |    8 |      | [2012-12-04 Di] | [2013-03-15 Fr 22:07] |

Which is a multi-occur for reference "R3".

Please note, that in the cited example output above, the reference "R3" has been replaced with "Riii". This avoids, that this citation itself appears in your output again, if you try yourself.

The output tells you, where in all your org-mode files, you have used reference "R3"; that way it should be easy, to find your org-mode notes about this paper. The list also includes the matching line from your favtable, which tells you, when this reference has once been created.

Example nodes

The subnodes below are made up to be used within the examples above. Their contents is therefore fictous.

TODO R1 Project foo

  • [ ] Read paper R3

TODO R2 Project bar

  • [ ] Talk to Jim

DONE R5 Project baz

  • [X] Clean up directory R4

TODO R6 Project qux

  • [ ] Clean running shoes

A sample table of favorites

|     | Type    | description    | Keywords       |         |      |                 |                       |
| Ref |         | ;c             |                | count;s | link | created         | last-accessed         |
|     |         |                |                |         | <4>  |                 |                       |
| R2  | project | bar            | support, legal |       8 |      | [2012-12-07 Fr] | [2013-03-16 Sa 10:24] |
| R5  | project | baz            | financial      |       5 |      | [2012-12-05 Mi] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:03] |
| R6  | project | qux            | sport          |       3 |      | [2012-12-08 Sa] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:01] |
| R3  | paper   | printed report |                |       3 |      | [2012-12-04 Di] | [2013-03-15 Fr 22:07] |
| R1  | project | foo            | support        |       3 |      | [2012-12-03 Mo] | [2013-03-15 Fr 19:26] |
| R4  | folder  | directory      |                |       2 |      | [2012-12-08 Sa] | [2012-12-08 Sa 23:04] |

The commands of org-favtable

When you invoke org-favtable, it prompts you to choose one from a fixed set of commands:

occur: If you supply a keyword (text): Apply emacs standard
  occur operation on the table of favorites; ask for a
  string (keyword) to select lines. Occur will only show you
  lines which contain the given keyword, so you can easily find
  the right one. You may supply a list of words seperated by
  comma (\",\"), to select lines that contain any or all of the
  given words.

  If you supply a reference number: Apply emacs standard
  multi-occur operation all org-mode buffers to search for a
  specific reference.

  You may also read the note at the end of this help on saving
  the keystroke RET to accept this frequent default command.

head: If invoked outside the table of favorites, ask for a
  reference number and search for a heading containing it. If
  invoked within favtable dont ask; rather use the reference or
  link from the current line.

ref: Create a new reference, copy any previously selected text.
  If already within reftable, fill in ref-column.

link: Create a new line in reftable with a link to the current node. 
  Do not populate the ref column; this can later be populated by
  calling the \"fill\" command from within the reftable.

leave: Leave the table of favorites. If the last command has
  been \"ref\", the new reference is copied and ready to yank.
  This \"org-mark-ring-goto\" and can be called several times
  in succession.

enter: Just enter the node with the table of favorites.

goto: Search for a specific reference within the table of

help: Show this list of commands.

+: Show all commands including the less frequently used ones
  given below. If \"+\" is followd by enough letters of such a
  command (e.g. \"+fi\"), then this command is invoked

reorder: Temporarily reorder the table of favorites, e.g. by
  count, reference or last access.

fill: If either ref or link is missing, fill it.

sort: Sort a set of lines (either the active region or the
  whole buffer) by the references found in each line.

update: For the given reference, update the line in the

highlight: Highlight references in region or buffer.

unhighlight: Remove highlights.

missing : Search for missing reference numbers (which do not
  appear in the reference table). If requested, add additional
  lines for them, so that the command \"new\" is able to reuse

statistics : Show some statistics (e.g. minimum and maximum
  reference) about favtable.

Please note, that you are not required to explicitly choose one. Simply typing something else (e.g. "237") accepts the default-command and supplies your input as an argument.

Further Reading, Version, Contact

org-favtable.el itself contains embedded documentation, which can be easily accessed through the command "help". Most, but not all of it has already been cited within this document.

As of [2013-03-17 So] this document describes version 2.2 of org-favtable.

Remaining questions can be directed to:

I would be glad to help.

Documentation from the website (either in its HTML format or in its Org format) is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License version 1.3 or later. The code examples and css stylesheets are licensed under the GNU General Public License v3 or later.