GitLab: Your unlimited note-taking and knowledge base app

Notes! Notes! Notes!

Last updated: 09 Nov 2021

We all take notes in life: college lectures, personal research for best deals, personalized food recipes, and more.

In this article, we will create a home inventory system, because that is the simplest form of note-taking or knowledge base. You might also be excited that this particular home inventory system efficiently keeps your home organized; virtually zero effort, consistently clutter-free.

But why not just use pen and paper? Or even the Notes.app on your iPhone or Google Keep on your Android phone?

Note-taking, enhanced

3 features make your notes infinitely more valuable:

  • They’re cloud-based

    Keeping them on the cloud means you can access them everywhere.

    See a shop selling discounted can openers? Check your home inventory to see whether you already have one at home!
  • They’re version controlled

    Whether you’re working alone or in a team, version control let’s you write notes quickly, without planning paralysis nor fear of accidental overwriting.

    No one in the household can accidentally erase/overwrite important notes in your home inventory system.
  • They’re updated collaboratively by a team

    Working together is synergistically and exponentially more productive than working alone.

    Your entire household can add items to your home inventory system. No more buying one can opener for each member of the family!

GitLab has all 3 features for free.

Let’s get started on GitLab right away! Create an account at GitLab.com, login, and read on!

Projects let us collect and organize our notes

We create a project in our GitLab account. Click on the button “New Project”, near the top of your GitLab account page.

“New Project” button

Click on “Create blank project”.

Create blank project

Give your project a name, such as “Home Inventory”.

Project name.

Set your project’s visibility to “Private”.

Visibility level

Uncheck (deselect) the option for an initial README file. (You also won’t need SAST, since you won’t be doing any programming in your note-taking or knowledge base project.)

No initial README. Don’t need SAST.

With all fields filled up appropriately, click the “Create Project” button.

Our first file

Our project is now still empty. We create our first file in the project.

Click on “New file” button. You’ll enter the Web IDE graphical user interface (you can’t use any others for the first file).

“New file” button

By default, you’ll start committing your work on the main branch (blue highlight). Click on the “New file” icon (red highlight), or the equivalent “New file” green button.

“main” branch (blue), and “New file” icon (red).

The name of our first file must be exactly README.adoc. Click “Create file” button to create this first file.

First file’s name must be “README.adoc”.

We’ll be using the Asciidoc format; just follow our simple example for now (we’ll explore Asciidoc via fun deep dives in other articles).

Type these 3 lines into our first file. The first line is the document title, the second automatically generates a table of contents, and the third allows us to manually insert line breaks within paragraphs (we’ll later see why this is useful).

Just a title in our first document. And some configuration.

How do we save these 3 lines into our first file? Our first file isn’t even actually created yet. Let’s save this new file.

Commit your work

All your work on GitLab is saved by “commits”. Each commit is like one checkpoint or savepoint.

Commit this first piece of work — 3 lines in Asciidoc format — by clicking on the “Commit” button. GitLab also indicates that 1 file is changed — our new file that is yet to be created.

“Commit” button.

Ever had Google Docs save hundreds of versions of your document and you can’t tell which version contains what? This is where annotation of each savepoint comes in useful.

Annotate your commit, then click the “Commit” button below.

Click on the project name at the top-left of your screen to exit the Web IDE user interface.

You should see your first file README.adoc in your Files Viewer (Sidebar: RepositoryFiles); the Sidebar is on the left, and you can expand/collapse it.

Files Viewer is launched from the Sidebar.

Our first home inventory box

Let’s start using our home inventory system right away! We create our first box.

In the Files Viewer, click the “Add” dropdown (scan right from branch name main near top-left of your screen) that gives us the option to create new files/directories. Click on “New file”.

“Add” dropdown allows us to add/create new stuff.

Create a new file named Box-01.adoc.

Home Inventory System tip: We should not be having more than 99 boxes. If we do, it may be time to consolidate some of the boxes into bigger boxes.

Our first box to clear clutter!

Type in the usual first 3 lines:

Top 3 lines for our new document Box-01.adoc.

Commit this new file. (We’ll gain access to a Preview function soon after, not now.) Annotate the commit with “Add Box 01”, target main branch, and commit.

Create the new file.

Now we can add items to Box 01. Click “Edit”.

Edit “Box-01.adoc”.

First, we need to describe how to access this box. Use the line numbers on the left to know where we are in the document. (Asciidoc format allows only one top-level section: the title that is denoted with a single =. All other sections are == or lower.)

How do we find this box?

Home Inventory System tip: Don’t shift the box around once you’ve documented how to access it!

Our first home inventory item(s)

We add our first home inventory item into our first box.

Our first item! A can opener!

Home Inventory System tip: Fields like “Model” and “Price” don’t have to be consistent. Let your household naturally firm up such fields/formats over time. Keep your item entry free-form and fast to type in; don’t discourage usage of the system.

For good measure, and also to showcase the automated Table of Contents, we add a second item into the box. (The single = error is intentional. In the next article, we will correct this typo as we demonstrate collaborative updates to projects.)

Our second item. Another can opener?

Home Inventory System tip: No need to arrange items neatly in the box. Dump them in, pack them tight for maximum space use. Frequently used items — less than 5% of our total possessions, usually — should be in convenient drawers instead.

Before we commit these 2 items, let’s look at the preview of our document. Click on “Preview”. (Preview only works when editing files, not when creating new files.)

You’ll see the automatically generated Table of Contents, and your file contents beautifully formatted. Asciidoc is a competent format.

Now, commit your entry of the 2 items.

2 items entered. Commit.

Searching through your boxes

Now, we see how GitLab allows us to “rummage” through our boxes in a split second. Let’s search for “can opener”, via the search box at the top-middle of the screen. Choose the first search option to limit the search to our project.

Search for items in our boxes.

We find 2 can openers. This allows you to tell your household something like “nobody buys another can opener, please check our inventory first!”.

2 can openers found.

Version Control: Know who changed what

Open the Version Graph (Sidebar: RepositoryGraph). You’ll see 3 commits:

README.adoc created, Box-01.adoc created, Box-01.adoc edited.

Clicking on the 2nd commit will show you what changed in that commit.

Box-01.adoc created. 3 lines added.

Version control lets you track exactly who changed what.

What’s next?

We’ve seen how GitLab lets your notes be cloud-based, as well as version controlled.

In another article, we’ll be exploring how to properly use GitLab for collaborative update of a project. (TODO: Write this article!)

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Jon writes technology tutorials, fantasy (a dream), linguistics (phonology, etymologies, Chinese), gaming (in-depth playthrough-based game reviews).

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