My thoughts about viewing backlinks

It’s been discussed here that backlinks are in the works and that a panel is being considered. As a Bear user who’s used various methods of viewing this type of information in other apps over the past year or so, I thought I’d post my thoughts about some of them.

There are multiple ways to view a note’s related information - a side panel of backlinks is only one of them.

Backlinks (or lInked mentions)

Backlinks (or linked mentions) are used in many other apps to help answer the question “What other notes are related to this note?”. Contextual backlinks can help answer “Why are they related?”

Here are some ways I’ve observed people answering these and other similar questions in Obsidian to which Bear is often compared here during backlink discussions:

A diagram showing multiple ways in Obsidian to view info related to a note named “The Salad Car”

  1. Search (for unlinked mentions)
  2. Search (for linked mentions or “backlinks”)
  3. Dataview Query (DQL or JS)
  4. Inline linked/unlinked mentions
  5. Panel of linked/unlinked mentions
  6. Graph


In Obsidian, a search for a linked mention (#2) shows the same information as the linked mentions in a side panel (#5). The same goes for unlinked mentions (#1).

Some Bear users :smile: have found related information for a note by using search - either manual or X-Callback-URL search actions. So, searching for linked mentions provides the same information (i.e, note and context) as the proposed panel of linked mentions:

Snapshot showing Bear’s X-Callback-URL search action for a linked mention and context provided in note preview


With Obsidian, some users don’t like the look of inline linked/unlinked mentions (#4) or the side panel (#5). They prefer to use Dataview queries to get at a subset of linked information (“visits” in the example) in a more aesthetic table view (#3).

Snapshot of a Dataview query showing visits to a restaurant which is a subset of all linked mentions

Inline Backlinks

Some users don’t use the backlinks panel but prefer to view them inline instead (#4). For them, looking down can be more natural than looking to the side.

Side Panel

As thoroughly discussed in this forum, some users don’t like skipping to the bottom of a note and prefer a side panel of linked/unlinked mentions (#5). In Obsidian, there are additional features such as aliases and linking. Will Bear have similar features to make further use of the mention exposed in a panel?


Some Obsidian users collapse the side panel and disable inline backlinks. They use the graph to visualize them.

Snapshot of a graph showing backlinks for a note

Of course, some people use any combination of the above.

People have different ways of accessing information that may be relevant to a given note. A side panel is just one of them. Since many users don’t use the panel in other apps for the reasons stated above, I thought I’d provide a summary of other related methods with some graphics for reference, lest a future backlinks feature in Bear ends up just being a search redundancy.

I hope that any Bear’s backlinks “viewer” developed:

  • maintains Bear’s minimalist sensibilities and flexibility, first and foremost
  • provides some additional navigation functionality beyond a simple list of mentions and context which is already available via Bear’s powerful search
  • is either a tab next to the stats and TOC or a panel that floats, closes, or hides in some fashion

I have some things to say about improving one’s writing process and workflow to make all of this easier, but that’s another post.


how do you search for linked mentions ?

When I search for: [[name of the link it’ll consider just the brackets and the first word. I have numerous notes whose title begins with the same word :thinking:

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By searching for the term with both square double braces.

[[name of note]]

But, when I’m often needing a list of notes linked to a particular note, I’ll just put a X-Callback-URL search action inside the note.


I’ll do this for unlinked mentions too. Searching with one click!


Many thanks. It was, one has to put the WHOLE name of the note in brackets into search.
:pray: thanks !

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Thanks for this summary. I can guarantee we’ll keep backlinks minimalist and coherent with the rest of the app and they will be most likely placed next to TOC.

I don’t fully understand what you mean about “additional navigation” here.

We are a little puzzled about unlinked mentions. I personally don’t understand when they are useful and I have a strong feeling for notes with common short titles (e.g. “groceries” or “homework”) they are basically just undesired noise. Does someone use them?

We are also conflicted about the wiki link aliases. I get they can be useful to “fit” the note title inside a phrase but why not use a regular markdown link?

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That markdown link will be considered as backlink in the linked note?

Why i would prefer wililinks with aliases rather than markdown links?

  • Because it is easier, you don’t have to catch the id of the linked note, means to search for the note. Ideally you would create wikilinks with aliases also with the autocompletion panel
  • It is more consistent
  • Already existing wikilinks could be changed more quickly by just adding alias in them
  • I do not work with other markdown tools on the same notes (after export) so i am not very sure. But probably you have compatibility. Bears ID of a note is unknown for other apps

Second brain methodologist definitely need them in the sense of discovering unforeseen connections. Bear is definitely a pkm app for sure, but i never understood it as second brain app. If i would have the feeling there are some notes that should link to a special note i rather would use the search function

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By “navigation”, I simply meant that if there’s going to be a list of backlinks that you will be able to select one to navigate (jump, move, etc.) to the link in the other note. I think you already discussed doing this elsewhere here.

Unlinked mentions are used in a backlinks pane to find occurrences of the unlinked mention so that you can link it directly from the panel without having to search (see diagram). Without that feature, I don’t see the point. In Bear, you could just search for this to find them:

-[[The Salad Car]] “The Salad Car”

Aliases are used in a few ways for internal links (not external). In the diagram, the alias for [[The Salad Car]] is “my hangout”. Maybe that’s all you wrote for two years before you started a note for the place. But, you want all those old mentions of “my hangout” to link to the new note called “The Salad Car”. So, you specify an alias in the note. However, a simple find/replace would probably solve this problem.

Another use of aliases is when the linked phrase is long but you need to repeatedly link to it in a document while maintaining readability. You can make the alias shorter. You could use markdown for this using the note’s identifier and X-Callback-URL open note action, but that just opens the note. It’s not an internal link. Is there another way?

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating Bear do any of this. I’m just pointing out that the use of backlinks in other apps gets complex. It’s not just a binary “panel/no panel” use of them in other apps.

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I think to navigation also belongs to use the content of the backlinks note to jump, f.e. a wiki link or tag or markdown link inside the backlink

Thank you for pointing that out. Therefore i am not so indifferent anymore to unlinked mentions

In special apps like roam research or logseq as bulletlist orientated pkm apps you even have a different usage of backlinks than in obsidian. You can mimic a database view and many notes are just a collection of backlinks, f.e. a tag in roam research and logseq is nothing else than a separate note. That is the reason why in these apps the backlinks have to be inline. The backlinks can even be filtered by containing tags and wikilinks. I made quickly 3 notes to demonstrate what i mean. There are many things going on in the video:

What should be considered by the devs is: How much of the context should be shown? It do not harm to have an option like in obsidian for showing more context. That option leads to show either the whole paragraph or in case of bullet list all subbullets. In the fourth pane that would makes sense imo

For me, there are several reasons to favor some sort of alias notation:

  1. using regular Markdown links necessitates callback URLs and they show up as external, obfuscating the true nature of an aliased internal link
  2. There’s no obvious way to get the Bear callback URL link to a note from the UI so creating an alias this way is cumbersome. You have to remember the notation, type it out, copy the note’s identifier, etc. Passable if you only do it once in a blue moon. Downright prohibitive when you want to use it extensively. (And using a heavily inflected language, like Polish in my case, you really want to use it extensively.)
  3. Using a callback URL creates a pointer back to Bear which is kept even if I transfer that text outside of Bear. Having self-contained text and having pointers to an app are two very different use cases. I almost never want to share text that points back to my Bear instance.
  4. An alias using a wikilink is self-explanatory, whereas a markdown link isn’t. Compare:
    I like [[Italy|Italian]] cuisine to I like [Italian](bear://x-callback-url/open-note?id=F426EE7E-51AE-47B4-81AB-66BE0EA96C86-37281-0000008FC946248D) cuisine. In the former example, you see at a glance what note is being referred. In the latter, you don’t.

Hope that helps.

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In your list, #1 and #4 are explaining the same issue.

Re: #3 - internal links won’t function in an exported document either. Callback URLs and internally linked aliases would both be non-functional once you export the document.

For #2, you don’t have to remember the callback URL open note action if you choose to use native text replacements that work on both macOS and iOS.

  • ⌘ K
  • type word and text replacement


Doesn’t seem too prohibitive to me on a routine basis.

Also, consider the idea of setting several hundred aliases in documents over the course of several years. At that point, it may be challenging to write many sentences without unwanted aliasing to notes.

Just in case it’s useful to anyone, I just tried making an unlinked mentions x-callback URL and this is what worked for me:

I made a Shortcut to create the links and markdown-format them, and the result looks like this:

Works nicely and looks fine. From my point of view I can’t see how a backlinks pane would offer anything the search results in Bear don’t already (image preview as part of the context, for example?) so for me a simple native implementation of what this shortcut does - in terms of presenting an advanced search - would be great and all I’d need.

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They are not, my friend. I’m not sure how to explain better.

Let me try and explain this better. If I export to another Markdown app that supports aliases, and I also export the target note, then the link will work within the new app. E.g., I have Obsidian, Taio, and iA Writer all pointed to the same folder of Markdown files, and they can all “understand” the same notation for aliases and resolve the links. But even if I don’t do that, at least I’m exporting something easily parsable for a human reader which cannot be said of callback URLs.

Linking to the title instead of the note ID comes with its own problems. It gets broken if you rename the target note since it doesn’t get auto-updated like wikilinks. Also, you have to substitute some characters (e.g., spaces become “%20”) for it to work, so it’s hardly user-friendly.

Take my word for it, it is. Source: I’m using aliases heavily in apps that support it (Logseq, Obsidian, iA Writer), and I’ve tried making it work in Bear. It’s night and day in terms of convenience and function.

I feel like something is getting lost in translation here. Can it be that you’re conflating unlinked mentions and aliases? Those are two very different things. And within the domain of aliases, I’m not even asking to create permanent note aliases but merely to allow for alternate display names for wikilinks. E.g., [[note name|display text]] will be visible as a link saying “display text” but linking to the note “note name”. It’s a one-off, and it’s a function you can completely ignore if you don’t want to use it, and it won’t interfere with your life in any way. I think you interpreted it differently which I guess would explain the combative tone.

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Number 1 is related to how easy it is to create a note and number 4 how easy you can recognise link and alias after creation. For sure markdown links are possible but they are not userfriendly.

And when it comes to the syntax I have no argument against that syntax that seems to be the most common one.

Good idea to have an all-purpose Shortcut to add both links to a note. Previously, I was just adding linked mentions with a Shortcut. I like your use of the “back” emoj in the link. In dark mode, it’s subdued next to the word “link”.

Any places where Bear users are sharing shortcuts? I don’t see that many on Reddit.


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I’ll take this alias discussion over to the alias thread.

I haven’t found anywhere where there are loads of Bear shortcuts. I’ve been creating my own “review notes” shortcuts that combine randomness, creation date prioritisation and simplistic anki-like algorithms for reviewing old notes and using them a lot for a while. I’m by no means a Shortcuts expert but they do the job.

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