Notes on my full-time testing of 7 Dropbox alternatives

Ever since I dropped Dropbox in September of 2013 due to mounting privacy concerns, I’ve been searching for and testing various filesystem syncing solutions to take its place.

This post is a summary of the notes I made during this time.

It’s quite hard finding reviews online that go deeper than the very surface. Most sync software reviews can be summarised as:

Hey, look, here’s a new service that’s a dropbox killer / dropbox alternatives / disruptive in the sync space. Wow, you get N gigabytes of free space, that’s more than dropbox. Look, it seems to be syncing these three files I put in there. That’s great. The End.

I hope the notes in this post can fill a tiny little bit of the giant sinkhole left by the hundreds of vacuous reviews following the template above. Over the past two years, I have used seven different Dropbox alternatives on my primary file collections (just under 50G in total). During each period, I actually committed to the relevant syncing system as my main and only sycing tool and kept notes detailing how this went.

TL;DR In searching for a Dropbox-level solution to synchronise my files between my four computers, I’ve spent some quality time with btsync, syncthing, seafile, CloudStation, SpiderOak, Wuala, Dropbox and unison. This post summarises my experiences. Warning: There is no real winner, but there is quite an amount of hopefully useful information.


I need a system that is able to keep my two main working repositories of files in sync across two laptops and two workstations. I have a Synology DS213j low-power home NAS that can also be used as part of syncing solutions that support it.

The two repositories are:

  • sync-1: 13 gigabytes spread over 100 thousand files. This repo changes quite often. (At the start of the adventures described below, this repo was 15G spread over 150 thousand files.)
  • sync-2: 35 gigabytes spread over 80 thousand files. This repo changes less often.

I should be able to close one laptop, and continue working on my desktop on the same files, without having to think too much about it. The client software should support Linux, because that’s what I mostly use. Preferably, the tool should support delta-syncing (owncloud does not do this, for example), deduplication and LAN sync, because I live an a bandwidth-starved part of the world. Importantly, it should be relatively easy to roll-back inadvertent changes and deletions.

Finally, an important use case for me is syncing git repos that I’m working on. This means that I want to work on some source code in a git repo, then go home without having to commit and push just because I’m going home, and continue working at home on a different computer, perhaps committing and pushing from there when I’m good and ready with my changes.

bittorrent sync

This peer-to-peer personal syncing solution, also called btsync, is often touted as a great dropbox replacement, and is also the one I started using right after I dropped Dropbox. I only have experience with pre-2.0 btsync.

btsync is really fantastically fast. Multiple gigabytes of files can be spread really really quickly through your mesh network.

However, I after upgrading to 1.4 I soon ran into the btsync-simply-refuses-to-sync-and-there’s-nothing-you-can-do-about-it problem also described in this forum topic. This was quite frustrating, to say the least.

I downgraded to 1.3.109, and all was fantastic. It managed to bring my sync-1 repository in sync between 4 nodes in no time at all.

I made sure that all nodes were time-synced using ntp because I had had some snafus with git repositories getting corrupted using btsync.

All was well in the world of syncing, until my Synology, part of my btsync mesh, was down for a few days, whilst all other nodes remained regularly active. When the Synology was switched on again, btsync happily overwrote a newer subdirectory of files with older versions across all nodes.

This last incident, together with the elephant in the room, namely the fact that btsync is closed source and hence quite hard to have audited, or just to be able to fix by myself, led to yet another breakup after some months.

Bye-bye btsync, it’s you, not me.


Syncthing is more or less an open source version of btsync.

The author is passionate about this project, it’s run very well, the tool itself has a gorgeous web-interface and the project’s goals are laudable. This is the peer-to-peer syncing tool you really want to succeed!

However, besides the fact that the binary took up a little too much RAM on my Synology (this is forgivable, my synology only has 512MB), there were two issues preventing me from using this as my primary sync tool:

  • syncthing does not have filesystem monitoring integrated. This means it needs to scan your whole sync repository every so often for changes. This scan was eating a significant amount of CPU cycles on my laptop.
  • My work laptop very often had issues connecting to my synology at home, even after futzing with port-forwarding on my firewall at home.

I’ll probably check in again after some time to see how my favourite peer-to-peer syncing tool is doing!


Seafile is a fantastic project. In short, it’s sort of a DropBox clone, but both the server and the client are completely open source. As if that wasn’t enough, it supports, optionally, end-to-end client-side encryption.

Because I was not yet ready to invest time and money to setup my own server, and I wanted to evaluate its performance first, I bought a three month subscription to their commercial service, seacloud, for $30.

Uploading my sync-1 repository (15G and 150 thousand files at the time) took about 45 hours.

Soon after this, I started running into issues.

Firstly, every time I moved with my laptop to a new access point (for example between home and work), it would just sit there reporting that it was “syncing”, when in fact it had merely gotten really confused by the changed network connection. Only stopping and starting the client would get it going again.

Secondly, and this was the deal-breaker, even a minute change to a small text file, would result in the seafile client (I tested up to version 4.0.4) using up a whole Core i7 core on my laptop for a few minutes. I logged this as a bug on the seafile github project.

Searching around the net, and reading the comments on the bug I reported, you’ll see that more people are experiencing this error.

Unfortunately, this meant that I had to leave seafile on my journey to a suitable syncing solution. I will keep an eye on it, because it does have amazing potential.

If you’re interested in seafile, you will definitely have to read the blog posts of Pat Regan. They are filled with in-depth information and experiences, very much unlike most other syncing tool reviews on the interwebs.


The Synology NAS is a great product. They’re basically efficient little Linux machines with a whole bunch of Synology-written and packaged software to boost your home network’s utility. I have the DS213j.

CloudStation is Synology’s answer to Dropbox.

The out-of-the-box experience is really smooth. Configuring it on the Synology server is well done, whilst the client installs easily on your Linux (or Windows or MacOS) machines.

Uploading my 15G, 150 thousand file (at that point) sync-1 repository took about 40 hours in total. This is with me sitting on the same LAN as the Synology. The poor little thing is just very under-powered.

On my main Linux laptop, I could not get the file manager sync status icon overlays working, and together with Synology support I was not able to get this problem sorted.

I could live with no icon overlays, convenient as they may be, but the deal-breaking was a day or so later when the CloudStation client started acting up.

As I was editing a Python source code file, the client kept deleting the file, as I was working on it, and making it appear as filename_hostname_date_Conflict.ext. The first time I simply renamed this file back, thinking some once-off issue with the sync, but CloudStation stubbornly kept on deleting my file and creating the conflict-named one.

Synology, I love you, but CloudStation is OUT!


This is probably the most well-known Dropbox alternative that supports end-to-end encryption. It’s even been name-dropped by Edward Snowden, which is high praise in these circles.

Although SpiderOak as a company has a solid reputation, and has released a number of open source encryption-related software packages, the SpiderOak client itself is closed-source. This means we have nothing more than SpiderOak’s word that their client is indeed performing the end-to-end encryption in a secure way, and is not adding some backdoor key to every packet passing from your computer to their servers. I do think that their service has a higher chance of not beeing snoopable than, say, Dropbox.

In any case, I signed up for the new (at the start of 2015) $12 / month 1 terabyte package and again started uploading my sync-1 repo. SpiderOak was the slowest of the bunch: It took about 60 hours to upload the complete repository.

SpiderOak is significantly more flexible than Dropbox. You can configure it to backup any number of directory trees on your computers. Once a tree has been backed up, it becomes part of your SpiderOak cluster and is visible from all other nodes. To sync, directories on multiple computers, you first have to setup backup on all computers for the tree in question, and only once all backups are complete, you can configure a sync involving any number of those backed-up directories.

SO also supperts lan sync, and has been designed from the start to support per-user de-duplication of file blocks, even although file blocks are encrypted. Furthermore, they’ve also managed an rsync-like efficient file transfer with encrypted blocks. Pretty nifty!

After having completed the backup and sync setup of sync-1 on two laptops and two workstations, I was quite happy with SpiderOak’s flexibility, and the apparent security of the software, so I decided to add sync-2 to the mix, but only for two of the computers.

After the long process of getting everything synced up and starting to think that SO was going be The One, I started running into issues. Firstly, SO loves your RAM. At one point, the client was taking up just under 1GB of RSS on my main Linux laptop. Ouch.

I could probably have learned to live with that, were it not for the fact that the client is just extremely slow to pick up new changes on the filesystem and especially so when adding new computers to your sync network (that syndication process, anyone?). At the end of the work day, I would often have to wait quite a whie for SO to sync all the last changes I had made so I could go home.

Perhaps more insidious than that, was the behaviour that SO would have huge but silent problems with starting to sync again after laptop resume. I would get home, resume my laptop, and after 30 minutes SO would still show no activity whatsoever, in picking up new changes from the SO servers, or picking up changes on my laptop. I would have to kill the client and start it up again.

All in all, SO is probably the service that I wanted the most to succeed, but in the end, these opaque anomalous behaviours and the continuous waiting killed it for me. Sorry SO, I really want to see this work…


After the SpiderOak adventure, I briefly tried the other end-to-end encrypted file syncing service, this one from Switzerland. It’s called Wuala, and it belongs to La Cie, which belongs to Seagate, a US company, so we can unfortunately not count Wuala’s Swiss origins as a privacy plus.

In any case, Wuala does not have a free tier anymore, so I ponied up a few euros for the 20G package. I was planning to start by testing just my sync-1 repository.

When this started to upload my files, it surprised me by maxing out my admittedly puny almost 1 Mbit/s upstream. At work, where we are fortunate enough to have 20 Mbit/s symmetric optic fibre, it managed to get up to 3 to 4 Mbit/s, which is quite good considering that that fibre is shared by a number of engineers.

I was also quite impressed by the Java client application. It had similar flexibility to SpiderOak, but was much more user-friendly. Also the real-time per file sync feedback (only in the app itself) was significantly more useful than SpiderOak’s log-style reporting of syncinc activity.

As Wuala was uploading from my laptop, I thought: Hey, let’s install Wuala on my workstation as well. The sync-1 file tree there is identical to that on my laptop. Any self-respecting file sync service should be able to handle this in its stride, and perhaps with two computers encrypting and uploading I could get slightly higher throughput.

Well, it turns out that Wuala is quite lacking in this regard. As soon as I started up the client on my workstation, on the already identical file repos, the clients on both laptop and workstation started throwing up numerous error dialogs about file conflicts.

I was quite surprised by this. I expected a mature syncing service like Wuala to handle this in its stride. It has all of the file block hashes, so at the very least it should realise that a bunch of blocks already exist on its servers, skip the already present blocks, and just continue with its merry life.

At this point, I was not in the mood to continue with Wuala, and so I said good bye.

Dropbox remission

After Wuala, and almost two years of searching, I was ready to give up. Finding a tool or system that would satisfy all my requirements had already cost me too much time. I was ready to tell the NSA: “Oh go ahead, run your algorithms over all my data. Read my files. Do that thing that you do, I just want to SYNC!”

I signed up for the Dropbox 1 TB package and started uploading sync-1, now whittled down to about 100 thousand files and 12G.

Wow, it was just as fast and as pretty as I remembered it!

However, I soon came across files that simply refused to synchronise. Dropbox would get stuck at “Uploading N files…” for hours, and N would remain constant. Finally I had to resort to uploading these files through the web interface. This cost me time (that thing I was trying to save) but got the job done.

After one and a half weeks, my Linux workstation which had been inactive for a few days, was switched on again for the first time. All of a sudden, massive file activity on my laptop.

Hey, a mass deletion of all my source code!

I know that source code was not deleted on the Linux workstation. I don’t know how this deletion could have been triggered, but it was.

No problem right? Let’s just go to the dropbox events interface, and undelete those files. Wait what? The events interface refuses to work, instead just reporting “There was a problem completing this request”:


I can undelete the files via the file browsing interface, but they’re spread out and that would take ages. Fortunately I had a good backup of the whole sync-1 repo so I could restore from there.

Dropbox support has been really helpful and said they would undo the mass deletion events. However, it’s now four days later; my files have not been restored, and the dropbox events interface is still broken.

If this had been my primary file store and I didn’t have the great backups I did, this would have been a complete nightmare. As it stands, I’ve unlinked and uninstalled dropbox from everywhere, but I would still like to have my files restored, and the mystery of the events interface solved.

My confidence in dropbox (it NEVER disappointed me in the years before 2013) has taken a severe knock. Added to its security issues, we’ll have to see what happens to our relationship in the coming time.

Unison 2.48.3

In the meantime, I’ve returned to my very old friend unison. I used this in the years before dropbox to keep my stuff synchronised.

Furthermore, the unison boys and girls have been busy in the meantime. In version 2.48.3, there’s even a neat filesystem monitor with which you can setup lightning fast automatic bi-directional file syncing. It’s all very nerd-DIY, but for some of us that’s a plus.

unison is terribly efficient at transferring changes to and fro. It makes use of the rsync-algorithm, with added niceties like duplicate detection shortcuts. I’ve now set it up in a star topology with my synology. I’ve setup daily incremental backups on the synology so that I have at least some form of roll-back and deletion recovery.

At the moment, because I’m still a little shaken by the mass deletion event, I have the unison GUI running. I simply press A to have it scan and sync any specific file tree that I’ve setup. It takes about a second for sync-1, and I get a list of the changes it makes so I can check that it’s not nuking half of my files.

unison makes me work harder, but of all of the solutions discussed in this post, it gives me the most control.

Other sync systems

This is for sync systems that are still on my list to try, or that I used very briefly.


Git-based open source syncing system. By design, unable to synchronise git repositories. The author does not feel that this is an issue.

After a healthy bout of laughing, I nuked it from all of my computers.


Mega does end-to-end encryption, and its client is open source. I would like to try this at some point, but at the moment I have to focus on, you know, actually working.

Parting words

There you have it: A whole bunch of words about a whole bunch of personal syncing solutions. I have not yet found The One, although at this moment unison is doing the job quite well, albeit with some klunkiness.

I would love to hear your thoughts on and your motivation of your favourite syncing tool in the comments below, or over at Hacker News!

Use the hardware-based full disk encryption your TCG Opal SSD with msed

My blog post on usable hardware-based SSD encryption has seen a great deal of activity. Although that post dealt primarily with the ATA security based type of hardware-based full drive encryption, readers from all over joined the discussion in the comments to talk about an increasing number of new self-encrypting drives supporting the TCG Opal standard.

Up until recently, configuring these TCG Opal drives was only possible under Windows, or under Linux with a commercial solution that was not available to mere end-users. Fortunately, a programmer named r0m30 stepped up to the challenge and has developed an open source utility called msed and an accompanying pre-boot authorization (PBA) image with which the super fast encryption function on these drives can be fully configured and used also in pure Linux systems.

This post summarises how I built, configured and installed msed and its PBA on my Ubuntu 14.04.1 machine with its Samsung 850 PRO 512G TCG Opal-compliant SSD.

How does TCG Opal drive encryption work?

Many modern SSDs perform transparent AES encryption on all written data in hardware. One advantage of this approach is that the whole drive can be secure erased by simply generating a new set of encryption keys. Another advantage is that users can have all of their data fully encrypted at rest without any performance hit whatsoever. Also, third-party software-based drive encryption negatively affects SSD performance and longevity, for the largest part because this data is basically incompressible when it hits the drive.

TCG Opal is a new standard for communicating with supporting drives concerning their encryption functionality. Furthermore, it includes a really elegant way to have the user supply their authorization credentials.

In its default state, the main disc area is completely locked and inaccessible. However, when the system is booted, the encrypted disc exposes a fake disc from its firmware, called the shadow MBR (master boot record), 128MB in size. Usually this shadow MBR is flashed with the pre-boot authorization (PBA) image, which is in essence a small operating system (including MBR, boot sector, filesystem) that asks the user for their drive password, which it then communicates to the disc via OPAL commands. If the password is valid, the disc unlocks itself, and then the real operating system is loaded up.

This white paper by HP contains an explanation of the provisioning and boot process on page 5. To summarise: Once correctly configured, a system with such an OPAL-compliant disc will request the drive password at boot. The drive will only unlock and decrypt if the correct password is supplied.

Building msed and its PBA image from source

r0m30 programmed a suitable PBA image based on the syslinux open source, and a utility called msed for the provisioning (setting password, writing PBA image) of OPAL drives.

Because this software performs a security critical function, I reviewed as much as possible of the source code in syslinux/com32/msedpba (the Opal-specific part of the PBA) and of the whole msed utility, including the script that builds the PBA image. (I also spent some hours disassembling the binary PBA image.)

After this mini review, it was of course preferable to build and use my own binaries.

To build both the PBA image and msed from source, I did the following:

# I retrieved these sources on Tuesday 2015-02-10
git clone
git clone
cd syslinux
# make clean is going to fail trying to get the EFI submodule. ignore.
make clean
make bios
cd ../msed/image
sudo ./buildbiospba
# remember the location of the resultant .img file!
gunzip biospba-0.20beta.img.gz
# now let's build msed itself
cd ..
# I'm on x86_64, adapt to your own architecture!
make CONF=Release_x86_64
# copy the image to the same location as the msed binary
cp image/biospba-020beta.img .

Stripping the msed binary at top-level, I found an md5sum-identical binary to the 0.20.0 one that I downloaded from r0m30’s site:

cpbotha@meepz97:~/build/msed/msed/dist/Release_x86_64$ md5sum msed 
3a22c344ecbfa15b43ae7764341060ab  msed

Installing the msed PBA

This is very important: I’ve configured my BIOS to boot in legacy mode, i.e. NOT UEFI. The msed documentation also states that this is necessary. It also makes sense, because the PBA image is a legacy boot image!

msed needs libata.allow_tpm to be configured for the running kernel. I edited /etc/default/grub so it looked like this:

GRUB_CMDLINE_LINUX_DEFAULT="quiet splash libata.allow_tpm=1"

… after which I did update-grub and then rebooted. After reboot, msed --scan gave me sensible output.

It was now time to configure the drive for encryption. I found this quite stressful; I’ve had near-bricking experiences with expensive Intel 520 SSDs during some of my previous ATA security experiments with flakey BIOS implementations (Insyde H20, what a mess). In any case, I followed this procedure:

# set the drive password: mine is long, but no spaces, no special chars
./msed --initialsetup mylongpassword /dev/sda
# write the PBA into the shadow MBR
./msed --loadPBAimage mylongpassword biospba-0.20.img /dev/sda
# activate the shadow MBR
./msed --setMBREnable on mylongpassword /dev/sda
# activate drive locking
./msed --enableLockingRange 0 mylongpassword /dev/sda

After this, I switched the machine off, and on again. Lo and behold! I was prompted for my OPAL password at bootup, and could let myself in.

To test, I booted up the machine with a Linux Live USB. In place of the encrypted disk I could only see the shadow MBR.


TCG Opal is a great way of using your SSD’s hardware-based full disc encryption. I am very grateful to r0m30 for creating msed and its PBA image: These are crucially important open source tools for working with Opal discs.

Solving the Ubuntu 14.04 – NVIDIA 346 – nvidia-prime black screen issue

For a project that I’m currently helping with, we needed recent OpenGL features that are only available on NVIDIA drivers with version 340 and later.

Unfortunately, I have one of those NVIDIA Optimus laptops. Up to now, Bumblebee worked a treat (I would recommend this system in most cases), but for this project I needed the whole of X to run on the NVIDIA, so I had to make use of nvidia-prime to switch between Intel and NVIDIA mode.

After upgrading to the nvidia-346* packages from the xorg-edgers PPA, switching to nvidia mode by typing prime-select nvidia and then logging out and in to X, I was greeted by a black screen.


Many hours of experimentation, script tracing and web searching later I made the following observations:

  • gpu-manager, part of ubuntu-drivers-common (in my case version 1:, runs every time you start and stop your display manager (in other words, when you log out and back in) and then rewrites the /etc/X11/xorg.conf based on what it finds in the system.
  • In theory, with prime support in the NVIDIA drivers, xrandr is used to connect the output of NVIDIA adapter to the Intel adapter, which then displays the output. See the NVIDIA driver documentation for more details. The 90-nvidia.conf script in /usr/share/lightdm/lightdm.conf.d/ (part of the nvidia-prime package) calls /sbin/prime-offload, which will automatically take care of the xrandr setup for you.
  • gpu-manager was rewriting my xorg.conf file incorrectly, at least according to NVIDIA’s xrandr documentation. The primary issue was that gpu-manager was using the intel driver for the intel, instead of the modesetting driver.

The solution

All of this lead to the following (working: now tested on two setups) solution:

  • Switch to console (Ctrl-Alt-F1) and stop lightdm: sudo service lightdm stop
  • Disable gpu-manager by commenting out everything in /etc/init/gpu-manager.conf
  • Switch to nvidia mode by doing sudo prime-select nvidia
  • Change your /etc/X11/xorg.conf to look like this, making sure that the nvidia BusId is correct (check with lspci):
    Section "ServerLayout"
     Identifier "layout"
     Screen 0 "nvidia"
     Inactive "intel"
    Section "Device"
     Identifier "intel"
     Driver "modesetting"
    Section "Screen"
     Identifier "intel"
     Device "intel"
    Section "Device"
     Identifier "nvidia"
     Driver "nvidia"
     BusID "PCI:1:0:0"
    Section "Screen"
     Identifier "nvidia"
     Device "nvidia"
     Option "UseDisplayDevice" "None"
  • In the comments, Christopher May-Townsend made this brilliant suggestion. By doing sudo chattr +i /etc/X11/xorg.conf you can prevent any process from changing the file. We highly recommend that you do this, as users have reported that even after disabling the gpu-manager upstart job, it still manages to change the xorg.conf during reboot.
  • Start X up again with sudo lightdm start

If you are still greeted by a black screen, switch back to the console, and double-check that the xorg.conf has not again been rewritten to its pre-modesetting state. (if you’ve used the chattr trick above, you should be fine)

If you want to switch back to Intel you will have to stop lightdm, re-enable gpu-manager, make xorg.conf editable again with sudo chattr -i /etc/X11/xorg.conf, activate intel mode with sudo prime-select intel and then restart X with sudo service lightdm start.

It’s very possible that later versions of gpu-manager might have fixed this behaviour.

Let me know in the comments if this worked for you!

Sending emails with math and source code

Org mode is great for authoring rich documents with syntax highlighted source code, LaTeX math and images. It even supports evaluating live snippets of code embedded in the text. It does all of this whilst remaining a plain text format.

Imagine how useful it would be to author programming-related or technical emails using this functionality?

Imagine no more! org-mime, part of the org mode contrib, does this for a number of emacs-based mail clients. However, our preference is for mu4e, which is not part of that list.

Fortunately, it seems mu4e has orgmode support integrated. To get this working, configure the following in your ~/.emacs.d/init.el:

;; configure orgmode support in mu4e
(require 'org-mu4e)
;; when mail is sent, automatically convert org body to HTML
(setq org-mu4e-convert-to-html t)

When composing a new email, switch on the special mu4e / orgmode mode with M-x org~mu4e-mime-switch-headers-or-body (it will automatically switch between compose mode and orgmode depending on whether your cursor is on the headers or in the body).

You should add the following options to your org mode body. The first configures LaTeX (math) to be converted using imagemagick (instead of MathJax or dvipng), and the second removes the table of contents.

#+OPTIONS: tex:imagemagick
#+OPTIONS: toc:0

When you want to send the email, move to the headers, and then do C-c C-c. Because org-mu4e-convert-to-html is set to true, the orgmode body will automatically be converted to HTML before being sent.

Until my pull request is merged in, you will have to make the following change to function org~mu4e-mime-convert-to-html() in org-mu4e.el:

(insert (org~mu4e-mime-multipart
                  body html (mapconcat 'identity html-images "\n")))

should be:

(insert (org~mu4e-mime-multipart
                  raw-body html (mapconcat 'identity html-images "\n")))

In other words, body becomes raw-body, else your outgoing mails will have HTML in their text parts, instead of plain text.

In that same function, you might also want to change:

(org-export-preserve-breaks t)


(org-export-preserve-breaks nil)

So that the HTML email does not get hard linebreaks.

Following are examples of some of the elements you might include in such a rich text email. They should appear in your rich text capable email client as follows:

Here are the originals:

A section with some math

We can easily include math using LaTeX:

\[ C(p,t) = \lbrace x_0(p,t), x_1(p,t), \cdots, x_{N-1}(p,t) \rbrace\tag{1} \]

Some syntax highlighted C++

Syntax highlighted source code, for all of the languages supported by emacs (a very long list):

int main() {
    // Recently discovered trick, local functions in C++!
    struct Kludge {
        static int doSomething(int x) {
            return x * 2;

    for (int i=0; i < 10; i++) {
        cout << Kludge::doSomething(i) << endl;

    return 0;

Inline GraphViz DOT evaluation for graphs using Emacs, org-mode and org-babel

With Emacs, org mode and org-babel, it’s possible to evaluate source code samples embedded in your org files and have the output of said evaluation appear inline. This makes for a beautiful literate programming environment. It also enables one to include graphs in one’s documents (org mode, PDF, HTML presentations or blog posts) by using for example GraphViz.

This blog post (obviously authored using Emacs and Org mode) contains short instructions for doing so.

First follow the org-babel documentation and enable source code evaluation for dot by adding the following to your Emacs init.el:

 '((dot . t)))

Then create a new document, and add something like the following dot source code sample to it:

#+BEGIN_SRC dot :file dot_success.png :cmdline -Kdot -Tpng
  digraph {
  // graph from left to right
  node [shape=box];

  id [label="Install Graphviz"]
  conf [label="Configure org-babel"]
  dot [label="DOT in org-mode"]

  id -> conf
  conf -> dot
  dot -> "Profit"
  dot -> "Success" [style=dotted]

Now press C-c C-c to evaluate this code. Emacs will generate the configured output file dot_success.png and then link to it in an automatically created #+RESULTS section right below it.

You can press C-c C-x C-v to toggle display of inline images to see it directly in Emacs. Alternatively, use M-x org-display-inline-images to switch this on. Whenever you change the DOT source code (press C-c ‘ to edit the dot source code in a separate buffer), just press C-c C-c to re-execute the updated source.

In any exported documents (for examlpe this blog post), only the output graph itself will appear, like this:

Exported as a PDF with C-e l o it looks like this.

In your Emacs, it should look like this:

This approach should work for any of the many languages supported by org-babel. Let me know in the comments what you come up with!