How to organize Files into Folders

Summary :

How to organize PDF and HTML files into folders so that the interesting one(s) to read can be found when needed.

The Challenge :

Nowadays we just Google whenever we need information about a subject.

Introductory information can always be found on Wikipedia.

But what to do with scattered off-line information kept in local PDF and HTML files.

Why bother :

Older references once found and read are often removed from the WEB after some time. I am a person who wants to be able to re-read older references to help my memory so I need an off-line system.

And once the number of off-line files passes ~100 then they must be organized in order to be handy. I am way past that limit.

OneNote 2016 :

Other concepts like OneNote are also very useful.

I use OneNote 2016 as the first stop to manage shorter texts typically captured from the WEB, but I find OneNote less suited for longer texts which I prefer to have as a PDF file.

Using the old desktop version has several benefits :

  • It allows you to do proper backups. Read the horror story about having no backup when the Microsoft OneNote server mess-up : https://community.spiceworks.com/topic/2246511-onenote-has-a-dark-side-stop-using-onenote-until-you-read-this
  • It allows you to export the full Notebook or just a Section or just a Page to a PDF file which may include automatically generated Bookmarks after some unknown rule.

As a OneNote page can be arbitrary long then converting something from OneNote to a PDF file will introduce arbitrary page shifts which will not always look good. Fortunately one can load the PDF file into Word 2016 which can be used to do layout corrections and add any missing Bookmarks and save the new content as a PDF file.

  • The continuously updating OneNote iPad app handles the older OneNote 2016 files.

Preamble :

This is an Age Old Subject. So what new twists can possibly be added to this subject.

To get started, I will just refer to what others has written, so here is a nice text with a nice text layout :

The Folder and Files Organization Objective :

What they advise to do makes sense. What they end up suggesting is a ( very ) deeply nested folder structure in which each folder level gets more specific/detailed.

My PDF documents are not sharply dividable into just one specific topic so creating a deeply nested folder structure actually adds confusion instead of enlightening.

So in my case I will add additional constraints :

  • I don’t want endlessly deep folder nesting. I limit nesting to max two folder overview levels and one level with files.
  • I don’t want folders including only one or two files.
  • I don’t want folders including 100’s of files.
  • Everything should look the same whether viewed on a PC or viewed on an iPad.

What I have come up with is :

  • A file naming template.
  • A concept of how to use folder names as index cards into the content of a folder.
  • Use a special character ¤ to separate items when listed on the same line ( file name or folder name ).

The funny character ¤ is a classic character called “generic currency” character and it is included even in modern character sets, like ISO/IEC 8859. Texts including this character looks the same on both a Windows PC and on an iPad. For some strange reason it is never used for anything, but as it visually looks good it is the perfect item separator character when making a filename which should include various information.

The File Name Template :

I have therefore created my own file naming template using the ¤ character and some spacing surrounding it as :

Title & Version ¤ Year ¤ Pages ¤ Writer ¤ Publisher

This format is sufficiently general to handle PDF files as well as HTML files.

PDF and HTML are the two basic file formats I use for documentation. Other documents like Word files or Excel files is converted to PDF as the information is not supposed to be live documents to be modified.

Sometimes HTML content can be converted to PDF too, but HTML pages usually don’t have a layout intended to be separated into pages so converting those files to PDF makes for a poor reading experience. So I prefer to keep HTML content as a HTML file. There is one noteworthy exception here. It is possible to capture a WEB page as an image and convert that image to a single page PDF file. See the Firefox plug-in : FireShot.

Title is obvious.

Version could be any brief marking, like v2 or 2nd. Don’t waste many character on that.

Year is obvious. Use 1978 and not just 78. I considered putting year first as it indicates the relevance of a file. Something written in 1930 is probably not as up-to-date and relevant as something written in 2010. But in the end and because having a lot of texts without date stamping I settled for making it entry two.

Pages is obvious. It conveniently indicates the complexity of the file. Something 3 pages long is probably not as comprehensive as something 300 pages long. HTML files are not separated into pages so there is no length info for such a file.

Writer is obvious. I don’t always include the Writer as I don’t know the writer anyway.

Publisher is obvious. A book like text may include a Publisher. But it is more relevant for WEB content where naming the company publishing the information could be important.

With all that information to be included in a file name it is important to be as brief as possible. Ignoring the Writer and/or Publisher when necessary. Keeping the length shorter than ~ 100 characters is fine.

Using Folders as Index Cards to Information in a Folder :

It is important to notice that an iPad list folders mixed with files when listed alphabetically. This is an Apple thing and in my opinion quite stupid. I want folders naturally listed in front of files so something must be done to ensure that the iPad also list folders ahead of files. A little file naming ingenuity makes it possible.

Folders at the Highest nesting level :

At the highest folder nesting level there are only folders. Below is a listing of the first entries. The full list includes about 100 folders which is the maximum number of folders I want to to scroll through. The content is sometimes re-arranged to keep that limit :

A ¤=¤
Audio - .Acoustics ¤
Audio - .Brüel & Kjær ¤
Audio - .Engineering ¤
Audio - Amplifiers ¤
Audio - Driver Units, Crossover and more
Audio - HI-FI ¤
Audio - Media and Music and more
Audio - Reviews
Audio - Software
Audio - Speakers ¤
B ¤=¤
Basic - LabVIEW and the Nat. Inst. world -¤- 27
Basic - MATLAB and Octave ¤
Basic - Python -¤- 10
C ¤=¤
CAD - Electrical ¤
CAD - Math ¤
CAD - Mechanical ¤
D ¤=¤
DSP - .Analog Devices ¤
DSP - Basic Concepts ¤
DSP - Converter Principles ¤
DSP - Digital Communication ¤
DSP - Digital Filters ¤

I try to group content into a few all-encompassing subjects, like Audio, Basic ( important knowledge ), CAD, DSP and so on. I have about 15 such subjects. But it changes as I sometimes re-group the content within the subjects.

My lastest change was the introduction of the Mechatronics subject, which is an important engineering container concept including items from control theory, DSP, mechanical analogies and other sub-subjects. Which may introduce the need for cross subject links.

The listing includes these special attributes :

A ¤=¤ Which is a visual separator ( empty folder ) between each subject. I try to use a single character for clarity.

Audio – .Acoustics ¤ Where Audio is the subject. The dot or point in .Acoustics is used for sorting, forcing Acoustics to be listed first, as well as to indicate this is an important item within this subject. The final ¤ character indicates that there is a organized sub folder here including files for the subject.

Audio – Reviews The absence of the ¤ character indicates that there is an un-organized sub folder here including a mess of files.

Basic – LabVIEW and the National Instruments world -¤- 27 The presence of the -¤- 27 characters indicates there is an organized nested sub folder including 27 folders. This concept is a way to avoid having too many folders at the highest nesting level.

Sub folders at the next highest nesting level :

The next highest nesting level may contain :

  • Either files for the subject.
  • Or it may contain more folders related to the subject to avoid having too many folders at the highest nesting level.

Basic – LabVIEW and the National Instruments world -¤- 27 indicated 27 sub folders. This is a folder listing :

A - Language, Classic and NXG ¤
B - Actor Framework and OOP ¤
C - Project, SVN, EXE-built and more ¤
D - Digital Signal Processing ¤
E - MathScript, Matlab and HiQ ¤
F - Vision ¤
G - SQL ¤
H - Remote Panels and Computing ¤
I - Sim and Control, Simulink, PID and Fuzzy Logic ¤
J - Kalman Filtering ¤
K - Test Automation ¤
L - Python and LabPython ¤
M - Assorted ¤
N - Toolkits ¤
O - References ¤
P - NI-DAQ, VISA, PXI and more ¤
Q - DLL, CIN and more ¤
R - DMA, Buffers and more ¤
S - myRIO and CompactRIO ¤
T - ELVIS ( look in the Mechatronics chapter )
U - Hardware and more ¤
V - CVI aka LabWindows Language ¤
W - ComponentWorks ¤
X - Measurement Studio ¤
Y - ActiveX, ATL, COM and OLE ¤
Z - Multisim ¤
Ø - Newsletter and more ¤

I listed the full content to show that it may be convenient to add a character is front, like A – in order to control what is listing first ( most often used or most relevant or whatever ).

But the folder could also have looked like the folder listing shown for the highest nesting level. The only rule here is that it should look good to the reader ( me ).

Sub folders at the lowest nesting level :

The lowest nesting level ( either second or third ) holds the actual files related to the subject. Here is a listing :

-1  = Introductions and Tutorials
-3  = Comprehensive Texts
-4  = Fluffy Texts
-5  = Comprehensive Documentation
-6  = LabVIEW Technical Resource
#1
#1  = Documentation Resources Index ¤ 2018.html
#1  = Get Start with LabVIEW ¤ 2013 ¤ 89p ¤ NI.pdf
#1  = Introduction to LabVIEW ¤ 2016 ¤ 71p.pptx
#1  = LabVIEW Fundamentals ¤ 2005 ¤ 165p ¤ NI.pdf
#1  = Tips Labview Development ¤ 2007 ¤ 39p.pdf
#3
#3  = LabVIEW - User Manual ¤ 2003 ¤ 349p ¤ NI.pdf
#4
#4  = Best Pract. for BDs and FPs ¤ 2011 ¤ 115p.pdf
#4  = GPOWER XNodes and VIMs ¤ 2016 ¤ 33p.pdf
#4  = SW Eng Tools with LabVIEW - Hands On ¤ 43p.pdf
#4  = LabVIEW - Dev Guidelines ¤ 2003 ¤ 97p ¤ NI.pdf
#4  = LabVIEW - Meas. Manual ¤ 2000 ¤ 358p ¤ NI.pdf
#4  = LabVIEW - Meas. Manual ¤ 2003 ¤ 159p ¤ NI.pdf
#4  = LabVIEW Graph Dev - Hands On ¤ 2006 ¤ 126p.pdf
#4  = What is LV used for ¤ ViewPoint Systems.html
#5
#5  = G Prog Reference Manual ¤ 1998 ¤ 667p ¤ NI.pdf
#5  = Func and VI Ref Manual ¤ 1999 ¤ 609p ¤ NI.pdf
#5  = LabVIEW Version 5.1 Addendum ¤ 1999 ¤ 108p.pdf
#5  = The LabVIEW Style Book ¤ 363p.pdf
#6
#6  = LabVIEW Technical Resource 1996 Q3 ¤ 24p.pdf
#6  = LabVIEW Technical Resource 1999 Q3 ¤ 8p.pdf
#6- = Tech. Res. Introduces Bundled Value Packs.pdf

The listing include both folders ( in bold ) and files ( in blue-ish ). ( I have shortened some file names to avoid line wrap-around in this post ).

The listing also include these special attributes :

#1 Which is a visual separator ( empty file ) between each group. I try to use a single character for clarity.

-1 The minus sign preceding the number or character is important as it controls what an iPad lists first. So the folder names starts with this character to ensure they are listed first.

The folders shown first are empty and are only used as a convenient Index Card content overview of the files.

Both the iPad and a computer indicates folders with one type of icon and files with other types of icons which adds to the ease of content overview.

The first six numbers ( 0 to 5 ) shown in the folder names are reserved to always read this ( when included ) :

-0  = Recommended Texts
-1  = Introductions and Tutorials
-2  = Brief Concise Texts
-3  = Comprehensive Texts
-4  = Fluffy Texts
-5  = Comprehensive Documentation

The recommended text is listed first. The other texts are listed in “heavy” order.

The remaining numbers ( 6 to 9 ) and characters ( A to Y ) can be included as needed. Z has a special meaning. It is listed last and indicates that the subject includes one or more zip files that may be convenient to have here :

-Z  = ZIPs and more

Round-Up :

This concludes the description of my preferred off-line file organization. The basic idea is to present the files attractively in my preferred style. It requires some discipline to maintain but as long as the organization can be done on a PC ( using Total Commander ) it is manageable.

Take notice of the use of folders as a Content or Index Card listing giving a quick impression of the files content within a subject folder. That concept can be tweaked as desired.

iPad and PDFs

Summary :

How to use the iPad as a reading tool for a large library of files.

The use of two specific apps is suggested :

  • FileExplorer Pro does almost all what is needed.
  • And Files complements FileExplorer Pro very well for the missing parts.

Which easily handles the suggested use of a :

  • A ( simple in-expensive ) personal Network Server ( SMB or WEBdav ).

The Challenge :

iOS does not directly allow an old iPad to access external storage, like an USB storage of some kind. Not even in version 13.

So what to do when you want to browse your library of 30GB of PDF files and HTML files. Thousands of files ..

Why bother :

The 9.7″ iPad has a superior display. It is bright, high resolution and it has the right display proportions, 4:3 ( 2048×1536 ). So in portrait orientation it resembles reading a book. And it is lightweight. It doesn’t get better than that.

What not to do :

Have a little horror/fun reading this procedure how to transfer PDF files to an iPad :


The Solution – Preamble :

I have tinkered to find the proper solution for years. The primary problem is that I don’t like the way Apple wants me to do things.

What I describe next is what really works for me. Maybe others will benefit from reading about my setup.

Apple wants me to copy any file I want to read into the storage space allocated for the file reader, say iBooks. That cumbersome procedure would be OK if I knew which file I wanted to read, in advance. But often I don’t know that or I jump from one reading one file to reading another. Just browsing.   

Apple also wants me to put all files into one big container. No separation of related files into sub folder. Apple prefers to have you tag the files and sort files according to their tags. This concept has worked in iTunes for decades, so it does work. But not for books though as there is no standard concept of tagging books.

But I won’t rely on embedded tagging. I am basically a Windows guy. I want file separation in folders and sub folders. And I want to see files arranged according to their names in folders named according to subject.

One option would be to copy all of the files to the storage space for the preferred file reader. The space is there. But you will soon figure out that you have problems :

  • Can you cluster your files into folders of related content. Not all file readers support that.
  • Can you see a nice organized listing of the files. And not just a mess of file icons and a silly shortened version of the file name. Again not always.
  • Can you re-organize the files if you rename a file or want to put it into another folder. Again not always.

Any seasoned iPad user will recognize these problems and will know that an iPad isn’t the space and isn’t the tool, where you want to keep the files you want to manage.

The Solution – The Network part :

The White Knight To The Rescue is the concept of Cloud space, or in broader terms (personal-) Network space.

Some put the files and folders onto a Cloud space. It could be Dropbox, iCloud or OneDrive and more. I don’t quite like that solution because it means that you will need access to public WWAN or LAN and you will need to download files from the Cloud. Which may be slow and may cost you. Among other limitations.

I prefer the personal Network space solution. This solution means that you establish your own mobile personal Server and your own private speedy WLAN and access the files using the iPad when you need a file. And you can just manage the files to your liking using your normal computer. No need to sync to any iPad or Cloud.

In order for the personal Network space solution to work you need an app on the iPad that :

  • can connect to the server without fuzz, that is having a proper UI,
  • present the content in an organized way,
  • transfer the file you want to read to the iPad without fuzz,
  • open the file for reading and finally when done reading,
  • delete the file copy on the iPad.    

When you look at it then you realize that the iPad concept is really not designed for this kind of use. You need an app that is both a competent network connector, a competent file browser and a competent file reader. Competent in the way I understand it. Which may be different from what other understands as competent.

Quite surprisingly these apps exist and at least one of them is just right for this purpose.

The Solution – The Devices part :

In order to select the right app then you have to figure out what kind of network protocol you want to use. I see two protocol candidates :

  • SMB and
  • WEBdav

SMB is the protocol a NAS uses. You don’t want to tug around a real NAS but there are some smaller one’s ( with less features ).

WEBdav is a protocol WEB designers use to manage files. It is a protocol for file exchange, but for some reason not popular and mostly not properly supported by apps even if they claim to support it.

A mobile SMB server could be this one :

The Verbatim MediaShare Wireless. The size is like a 2.5″ hard disk. It is not heavy.

The thing includes a decent battery lasting hours, but includes no internal storage. So you insert a SD card and/or attach an USB SSD disk/stick. It supports ExFAT and NTFS but not HFS.

It generates its own network ( 10.10.10.254 ) and it supports pass-through to another LAN and the Internet. And pass-through really works as claimed which is a major feat.

It actually supports bridging between its own network and computers on the home network. Quite impressive.

It is not a media server like most NAS’s. No Twonky server or anything.

The best thing is that it is surprisingly cheap ( in 2020 ). 25$ or so. 

A mobile WEBdav server could be this one :

The SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick. The size can be judged by the copper cover for the USB connector. So it is small.

The thing includes a tiny battery ( for a few hours ) and internal storage in selected sizes. It is formatted in ExFAT. So you just connect it to the computer to manage the files to your liking. The storage is speedy as a good SD storage, but not SSD speedy.

It generates its own network ( 172.25.63.1 ) when not connected to USB and it should support pass-through to another LAN and the Internet. Pass-through usually fails so don’t count on that feature.

The drive functionality is very robust and if a file gets locked the app software can fix that. I have not lost any files or have had any file system corruption which is quite nice for a hot-plug device.

The thing is also surprisingly cheap ( in 2020 ). 25$ or so for 64GB.

The Solution – The App(s) part :

So now remains to find the iPad apps that will support these servers and have the desired PDF file reading characteristics :

  • Built-in file manager that supports the desired servers.
  • Connects to the server without fuzz. And remembers the selected setup.
  • Immediate start of file transfer when clicking on a file without unnecessary questions, like where to copy to and similar ( and worse ) annoyances.
  • Does not create a local copy just for reading a remote file.
  • Includes file name phrase search which is useful when locating a file among thousands.
  • File selection lists are multi line so long titles can be read in full length.
  • Supports chapter index ( aka Content Index ) lookup.
  • Supports go-to desired page or at least search for page number.
  • Supports phrase search in the file.
  • Both landscape and portrait view supported.
  • Supports expand-to-width view.
  • Optional : Supports viewing 2 pages at the same time.

I have -only- found this app :

FileExplorer Pro

  • Supports both SMB and WEBdav.
  • Supports all the desired features except for the 2 page viewing mode.

The mentioned servers also comes with their own app including a file browser and a file reader ( for both HTML and PDF ). But the problem is that the included file readers are bare bones as available in the development kits for iOS. No search, No page scroll. Not usable for reading anything except pamphlets and such.

There are more apps that will read from one or both of the servers. A listing of other reputed and (well-known) candidates could be :

FileBrowser

  • Simple browsing.
  • Does not generate a local file copy.
  • No distinctive PDF reading features except page view.

Documents 5

  • Cannot connect to anything even if it thinks it does.
  • Pity because it is a nice PDF reader.

GoodReader

  • Very unfriendly file browser and a very clumsy file selection procedure.
  • Pity because it a superior PDF reader and PDF editor.

There aren’t that many apps that are candidates. Which makes sense when you think of all the disciplines a good app must master.

The Solution – Summary :

This concludes my exploration into having a nice PDF reading setup :

  • It works reliable.
  • It is affordable.
  • It is easy to maintain.
  • It is easy to carry around.
  • It works as long as you need if you bring along a little Powerbox. 

I have stated that the setup is intended to be used in a scenario to conveniently select a file from thousands such.

Actually I would use the same setup to manage just 10 files.

The Solution – Integrating with Files :

The newer versions of iOS includes a useful app called Files. It is an app that let other apps expose their files to the Files app. Files can then do something with those files.

FileExplorer Pro supports Files. So when selecting FileExplorer Pro as the server in Files then Files can browse the content. Files show file names abbreviated ( shows start and end but cuts the middle part ) which is quite annoying but still usable.

The reason to bother using Files at all is that it has a few browsing tricks :

  • It allows you to simply jump from file to file within a folder while Quick View a small part of the file. Just like browsing through a mail listing in Outlook. The app jumps from file to file when swiping left-right. Swiping up-down selects page.
  • It has a chapter index pull-down like viewing option while viewing a file. Except that it shows a listing of the files within the folder instead. So one can easily jump one selected file to another.
  • There is no file name search nor text search for phrases within a file.
  • It has built-in basic viewers of various file types. Fine for browsing.

Files complements FileExplorer Pro very well for the missing parts.

And now for something different :

There is an iOS app that offers an alternative route to transfer PDF files.

PDF Reader PRO

This app opens its local space for a browser located on your computer. You can then see what is located on the apps local iPad space and upload additional content from the computer. It is a unusual way of doing things and could be quite usable. And the PDF reader/editor is very competent.

File handling in the app is a mess however. No proper folder concept. The uploaded files cannot be downloaded by the same browser mechanism. It has been so for years. So the browser concept is obviously deprecated. The app also connects to a WEBdav server. Except it doesn’t work.

Pocket Drive

This app supports the same browser concept as PDF Reader Pro. The UI is a mess however. I guess it targets multimedia use.

Link to a 2020 review of 15 PDF apps which focus on general PDF use :