The database

One of the things that makes papis interesting is the fact that there can be many backends for the database system, including no database.

Right now there are three types of databases that the user can use:

  • No database
    database-backend = papis
    use-cache = False
  • Simple cache based database - Configuration option

    database-backend = papis
  • Whoosh based database.
    database-backend = whoosh

If you just plan to have up to 3000 documents in your library, you will have ample performance with the two first options. However if you’re reaching higher numbers, you’ll probably want to use the Whoosh backend for very good performance.

You can select a database by using the flag database-backend.

Papis database

The fact that there is no database means that papis should crawl through the library folder and see which folders have an info.yaml file, which is for slow computers (and harddrives) quite bad.

Papis implements a very rudimentary caching system. A cache is created for every library. Inside the cache the whole information already converted into python is stored.

These cache files are stored per default in


Notice that most papis commands will update the cache if it has to be the case. For instance the edit command will let you edit your document’s information and after you are done editing it will update the information for the given document in the cache. If you go directly to the document and edit the info file without passing through the papis edit command, the cache will not be updated and therefore papis will not know of these changes, although they will be there. In such cases you will have to clear the cache.

Clearing the cache

To clear the cache for a given library you can use the flag --clear-cache, e.g.

papis --clear-cache

Query language

Since version 0.3 there is a query language in place for the searching of documents. The queries can contain any field of the info file, e.g., author:einstein publisher : review will match documents that have a matching author with einstein AND have a publisher matching review. The AND part here is important, since only the AND filter is implemented in this simple query language. At the moment it is not possible to do an OR. If you need this, you should consider using the Whoosh database.

For illustration, here are some examples:

  • Open documents where the author key matches ‘albert’ (ignoring case) and year matches ‘19’ (i.e., 1990, 2019, 1920):

    papis open 'author : albert year : 05'
  • Add the restriction to the previous search that the usual matching matches the substring ‘licht’ in addition to the previously selected

    papis open 'author : albert year : 05 licht'

    This is not to be mixed with the restriction that the key year matches ‘05 licht’, which will not match any year, i.e.

    papis open 'author : albert year : "05 licht"'

Disabling the cache

You can disable the cache using the configuration setting use-cache and set it to False, e.g.


use-cache = False

# Use cache for books but don't use for the rest of libraries
use-cache = True

Whoosh database

Papis has also the possibility to use the blazing fast and pure python Whoosh library. Its performance is orders of magnitude better than the crude cache based database.

Of course, the performance comes at a cost. To achieve more performance a database backend should create an index with information about the documents. Parsing a user query means going to the index and matching the query to what is found in the index. This means that the index can not in general have all the information that the info file of the documents includes.

In other words, the whoosh index will store only certain fields from the document’s info files. The good news is that we can tell papis exactly which fields we want to index. These flags are

The prototype is for advanced users. If you just want to, say, include the publisher to the fields that you can search in, then you can put

whoosh-schema-fields = ['publisher']

and you will be able to find documents by their publisher. For example, without this line set for publisher, the query

papis open publisher:*

will not return anything, since the publisher field is not being stored.

Query language

The whoosh database uses the whoosh query language which is much more advanced than the query language in the Papis database.

The whoosh query language supports both AND and OR, for instance

papis open '(author:einstein AND year:1905) OR title:einstein'

will give papers of einstein in the year 1905 together with all papers where einstein appears in the title.

You can read more about the whoosh query language here.