Technical Information

This section contains details of how novelWriter stores and handles the project data.

How Project Data is Stored

All novelWriter files are written with utf-8 encoding. Since Python automatically converts Unix line endings to Windows line endings on Windows systems, novelWriter does not make any adaptations to the formatting on Windows systems. This is handled entirely by the Python standard library. Python also handles this fairly well when working on the same files on both Windows and Unix-based operating systems.

Main Project File

The project itself requires a dedicated folder for storing its files where novelWriter will create its own “file system” where the folder and file hierarchy is described in a project XML file. This is the main project file in the project’s root folder with the name nwProject.nwx. This file also contains all the meta data required for the project, and a number of related project settings.

If this file is lost or corrupted, the structure of the project is lost, although not the text itself. It is important to keep this file backed up, either through the built-in backup tool, or your own backup solution.


The novelWriter project folder is structured so that it can easily be added to a version control system like git. If so, you may want to add a .gitignore file to exclude files with the extensions .json as JSON files are used to cache the index and various run-time settings and are generally large files that change often. You’d also want to exclude the cache folder.

The project XML file is indent-formatted, suitable for diff tools and version control since most of the file will stay static, although a timesetamp is set in the meta section on line 2 each time the file is saved, and various meta data entries are incremented on each save.

Project Documents

The project documents are saved in a folder in the main project folder named content. Each document has a file handle taken from the first 13 characters of a SHA256 hash of the system time when the document was first created. The documents are saved with a filename assembled from this hash and the file extension .nwd.

If you wish to find the physical location of a document in the project, you can either look it up in the project XML file, select Show File Details from the Document menu when having the document open, or look in the ToC.txt file in the root of the project folder. The ToC.txt file has a list of all documents in the project and where they are saved.

The reason for this cryptic file naming is to avoid issues with file naming conventions and restrictions on different operating systems, and also to have a file name that does not depend on what the user names the document within the project, or changes it to. The file meta data in the project tree is mainly saved in the project XML file, although some basic meta data is added to the header of each document file.

Each document file contains a plain text version of the text from the editor. The file can in principle be edited in any text editor, and is suitable for diffing and version control if so desired. Just make sure the file remains in utf-8 encoding, otherwise unicode chatracters may become mangled when the file is opened in novelWriter again.

The first lines of the file may contain some meta data starting with the characters %%~. These lines are mainly there to restore some information if it is lost from the project file, and the information may be helpful if you do open the file in an external editor as it contains the document label and the document class and layout. The lines can be deleted without any consequences to the rest of the content of the file, and will be added back the next time the document is saved in novelWriter.

The File Saving Process

When saving the project file, or any of the documents, the data is first saved to a temporary file. If successful, the old data file is removed, and the temporary file becomes the new file. This ensures that the previously saved data is only replaced when the new data has been successfully saved to the storage medium.

For the project XML file, a .bak file is in addition kept, which will always contain the previous version of the file, although when auto-save is enabled, they may have the same content. If the opening of a project file fails, novelWriter will automatically try to open the .bak file instead.

Project Meta Data

The project folder contains a subfolder named meta, containing a number of files. The meta folder contains semi-important files. That is, they can be lost with only minor impact to the project.

If you use version control software on your project, you can exclude this folder, although you may want to track the session log file. The JSON files within this folder can safely be ignored.

The Project Index

Between writing sessions, the project index is saved in a JSON file in meta/tagsIndex.json. This file is not critical. If it is lost, it can be rebuilt from within novelWriter from the Tools menu.

The index is maintained and updated whenever a document or note is saved in the editor. It contains all references and tags in documents and notes, as well as the location of all headers in the project, and the word counts within each header section.

While the integrity of the index is checked when the file is loaded, the check is not very deep and it is possible to corrupt the index if the file is manually edited and manipulated. If so, novelWriter may crash during launch. If this happens, you must delete the index file and rebuild the index.

Cached GUI Options

A file named meta/guiOptions.json contains the latest state of various GUI buttons, switches, dialog window sizes, column sizes, etc, from the GUI. These are the GUI settings that are specific to the project. Global GUI settings are stored in the main config file.

The file is not critical, but if it is lost, all such GUI options will revert back to their default settings.

Session Stats

The writing progress is saved in the meta/sessionStats.log file. This file records the length and word counts of each writing session on the given project. The file is used by the Writing Statistics tool. If this file is lost, the history it contains is also lost, but it has otherwise no impact on the project.

Project Cache

The project cache folder contains non-critical files. If these files are lost, there is no impact on the functionality of novelWriter or the history of the project. It contains temporary files, like the preview document in the Build Novel Project tool.

It should be excluded from version control tools if such are used.