Using Outline Paths

What is an outline path?

On your computer you use file paths to locate files.

Outline paths are similar, but used to locate rows in your outline. Simple outline paths look just like file paths. More powerful outline paths that work more like database queries are also possible.

One important difference between outline paths and file paths is that outline paths often locate many rows, while file paths locate individual files.

Where are outline paths used?

Outline paths don't do much on their own, but they are an important building block for other features. Here are some places where they are being used today:

  1. Bike's AppleScript dictionary contains a query command that takes an outline path and returns the path result.

  2. Bike Shortcut actions contain a "Query Rows" action that takes an outline path and returns matching rows.

  3. The Choice Palette settings uses an outline path to specify the initial set of rows to be displayed in the choice palette before filtering is performed.

In future Bike releases I expect outline paths to start taking a more central role. For example they will be an important part of Bike's stylesheet/theme system. They will also be an important part of filtering Bike outlines.

Outline Path Explorer

Use the Outline Path Explorer to play with outline paths and learn how they work.

To open the Outline Path Explorer:

  1. Open the outline that you would like to query

  2. Open menu Window > Outline Path Explorer

Type an outline path in the top text field in the Outline Path Explorer window. The path results are displayed in a label to the trailing side of the search field. Matching rows are highlighted in green. Matching text runs are highlighted in darker green. Last you see a diagnostics text area that shows how your outline path was understood.

The outline shown in the Outline Path Explorer shows outline text and all outline attributes. For example above each row you will see @id, @level, and @type because every row has those attributes. You might also see other attributes, for example a checked off task will include a @done attribute. There are the attributes you can use in your outline paths.

Basic Paths

Unlike file paths the default test is "contains text" instead of "equals file name". Outline paths often have multiple matching rows.

  • /a

    Select top level rows containing "a"

  • /a/b

    Select "b" children of top level "a" rows

  • .a

    A relative path that selects the current row if it contains "a". Generally you won't need to use relative paths. But it's good to know that they exist, and good to know that paths need to start with / or . to match rows. Otherwise see "Value Expressions".

Path Expressions

Use union, except, and intersect to combine the results of multiple outline paths.

  • /a union /b

    Top level rows that contain "a" or "b"

  • /a except /b

    Top level "a" rows removing "b" rows

  • /a intersect /b

    Top level rows that contain "a" and "b"

  • (/a union /b) except /c

    Top level rows that contain "a" or "b", but not "c"

Path Steps

Paths are divided into steps. For example the path /a/b has two steps. Each step contains filtering logic. You don’t have to include all filtering options in each step. For example the following steps have the same behavior.

  • /a

    Simple top level contains "a"

  • /* a

    Same behavior as above, but makes the row type test explicit. * means match "any" row type.

  • /* @text contains "a"

    Same behavior as above, but makes the predicate test explicit. See "Step Predicate" below to learn how predicates work.

Step Axes

By default each step passes the children of the matched rows to the next step. This is because "child" is the default axis. Other axes are also possible.

For example, say you want to search your entire outline for the text "pizza". That would be difficult if each step could only process the children of the previous step. To search the entire outline we would need to keep creating longer paths to seach each level of the outline:

  • `/pizza`

  • `/*/pizza`

  • `/*/*/pizza`

To solve this we can use the "descendant" axis. It selects all descendants of the rows passed into the step. You can search for pizza anywhere in your outline using the // descendant axis like this:

  • //pizza

    Descendant axis, selects all descendants of the outline root. They are then filtered to only the ones that contain pizza.

Advanced step axes

Another useful axis is "parent". This uses the same .. sytax that file paths use to go to the parent directory.

  • //pizza/

    First use the descendant access to find "pizza". Then use the .. parent axis select the parents of those "pizza" rows, and then filter those parents to those that contain "box. You've found the pizza boxes!

The above examples use the shortcut form of the descendant and parent axes. There is also a more general form where you enter the axis name followed by ::. This is needed because there are more axes and some don't have shortcut forms:

  • ancestor::

    All ancestors of the rows passed into the step

  • ancestor-or-self::

    All rows passed into the step and their ancestors

  • parent:: or shortcut ..

    All parents the rows passed into the step

  • self:: or shortcut .

    All rows passed into the step

  • child::

    All children of the rows passed into the step

  • run::

    All text runs of the rows passed into the step. This step is unique because you are filtering on text runs and their attributes, not rows. This query uses the text run axis to find all bold text in your outline //*/run::@strong.

  • descendant:: or shortcut //

    All descendants of the rows passed into the step

  • descendant-or-self:: or shortcut ///

    All rows passed into the step and their descendants

  • following-sibling::

    All siblings after the rows passed into the step

  • following::

    All rows (in outline) following the rows passed into the step

  • preceding-sibling::

    All siblings before the rows passed into the step

  • preceding::

    All rows (in outline) before the rows passed into the step

Step Type

Each step can include a row type test at the start.

  • //task

    Match all rows of type task

  • /heading//task

    Match all tasks that are contained by a top level heading.

  • //"task"

    Match all rows that contain the text "task". When you want to search for text that in some way conflicts with outline path syntax put that text in quotes to make it a value.

List of row types
  • body

  • heading

  • quote

  • code

  • note

  • unordered

  • ordered

  • task

  • hr

  • * Matches any type

Step Predicate

Each step can include a predicate test. You can then combine predicates with and, or, and not. Use @ to name the row attribute to testing against.

  • //@done

    Matches rows that have a @done attribute.

  • //not @done

    Matches rows that do not have a @done attribute.

  • //@text contains "get rich"

    Match rows that contain the text "get rich". This example uses the contains relation.

  • //@text contains "get rich" and not @done

    Combine predicates. Use it to find all rows that will make you rich and are unfinished!

More on row attributes

Each row in your outline has associated attributes that you can use in outline path predicate tests.

Some attributes are built in to all rows, other attributes are optional and maybe be set by scripts or other features within Bike. For example when you click the checkmark of a task row it adds the @done attribute.

Open Window > Outline Path Explorer and notice that the outline view showns each row's attributes. The built in attributes include:

  • @id

  • @type

  • @level

  • @text

More on comparison relations

Use the following relations in your comparision predicates:

  • beginswith

  • contains

  • endswith

  • matches

  • =

  • !=

  • <

  • <=

  • >

  • >=

Use relation modifiers in brackets after the relation to change how it is evaluated. For example beginswith[s] will perform a case sensitive test instead of the default case insensitive test. The available modifiers are:

  • i Case insensitive compare (default)

  • s Case sensitive compare

  • n Numeric compare

    Values are converted to numbers before comparing. This means "01" will equal "1.0", which is not true when doing the default string compare.

Step Slice

Each step produces a list of ordered matches. Use position based slicing if you want to limit the step results by position.

  • //a[1]

    Match the first row that contains "a"

  • //a[-1]

    Match the last row that contains "a"

  • //a[2:]

    Match rows 2 through last that contain "a".

  • //a[2:-1]

    Match rows 2 through last that contain "a".

  • //a[2:-2]

    Match rows 2 through last -1 that contain "a".

  • //a[2:4]

    Match second, third, and fourth rows that contain "a".

Value Expressions

You have already seen many value expressions such as a, "a", and @attribute. They all generate a value that can be used in your outline path logic. Here are all the value expressions supported in outline paths:

  • hello world

    Unquoted text value expression that evaluates to hello world.

  • "hello world"

    Quoted text value expression that evaluates to hello world. Quoting is need when your text conflicts with other outline path syntax.

  • @attribute

    Attribute value expression that returns the value of the attribute named "attribute" for the current row (or current run when using the run:: axis). This value expression will always return nil if it's not used within a path step.

  • count(//a)

    Function value expression that returns the count of rows containing "a".

  • $variable

    Variable value expression that returns the value of the variable named "variable". Currently no variables are set, but in the future I think they will be important for some advanced features. For example $now will be current time. $focused will be id of focused row. Those will be useful for outline paths in stylesheets.

  • 1 or (1 + 1) / 2

    Math value expression that evaluates to 1. Math operators (+, -, *, /) require single whitespace on either side. This is so / doesn't conflict with path step separator. It doesn't make sense to use Math operators with text. 1 + "1" is an invalid path. 1 + @attribute is ok, but will return nan if the attribute can't be converted to a number. You aren't likely to need math expressions in your path with Bike's current features, but I think they will become more useful as outline paths evolve.

If you don't start your outline path with a / or a . then it is treated as a value expression. For example try typing 1 + 2 in the Outline Path Explorer and note how no rows are matched, but the result of the value expression is displayed trailing the text field.

Using value expressions in this way isn't terribly useful right now... but it's a fun trick! :)

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