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Preslav Rachev
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Switch Between Multiple Obsidian Configurations With Ease

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TL;DR: You can use multiple config folders inside the same Obsidian vault - you just need to keep their names separate.
Note: If you are using the paid Obsidian Sync plugin, you might have a few more options. This post is for everyone using standard file-syncing solutions like iCloud, Google Drive, or DropBox.

One of the decisions the Obsidian team took early on was to develop a mobile client. And not just a scaled-down mobile version - the Obsidian app running on your phone is a replica of the one you have on your laptop or desktop. This, of course, brings a few complications in and of itself, particularly when it comes to the ergonomics of using the same app on a desktop, mobile phone, or tablet.

The first time I tried Obsidian on my iPad Mini, I realized that a few things needed an immediate change. The font was too small, and the default theme used too much real estate. So I tweaked those to my liking.

Happy with my tablet setup, when I returned to my work machine, I was greeted with a “surprise” - the new theme had permeated onto my desktop, and the font was too big. All the changes I’d done on mobile had snuck through the iCloud cracks onto my desktop instance.

Of course, in retrospect, I should have known that from the very beginning. Obsidian keeps all a vault’s settings, including 3rd-party plugins, in a folder called .obsidian. Using iCloud to synchronize my entire vault inevitably caused all my settings to affect every Obsidian instance that used the same vault.

There are some tricks for excluding folders from getting synced in iCloud (like adding an empty  .nosync file in it), but that’s an insufficient solution. It will inevitably lead us to spend time tweaking the settings every time we use a new instance. Not optimal.

The Solution #

The trick lies in figuring out that an Obsidian instance can run off a different .obsidian folder. You can have multiple config folders inside the same Obsidian vault - you just need to keep their names separate.

How do you then tell Obsidian to use which folder? The option is (somewhat obscurely) tucked at the bottom of the Settings/About page.

By default, it is empty, meaning that the instance uses .obsidian to store all settings. If you now put a name, e.g. .obsidian.phone, or .obsidian.ipad, Obsidian will copy all the existing settings into the new folder and set it to be active, leaving the existing one intact. You can now use that on your new device and adjust your settings accordingly. Nothing will be changed in your other instances.

This method isn’t exactly perfect, either. For example, if you install a new plugin, or change a setting that makes sense on all devices, you will have to do that for all separate config folders. As far as I know, there is nothing like a central configuration that multiple folders can share. That said, Obsidian is improving so rapidly these days that I am sure that a better way to maintain custom configurations across instances will appear in the near future. If a better option already exists, please let me know and I will update this post accordingly.

Did you like this post? Part of it will make it into my upcoming book on using Obsidian for writing books. Be among the first and secure yourself an early draft of the book.

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