Tinderbox Forum

Tinderbox MANUAL vs. a Tinderbox REFERENCE FILE vs. the Tinderbox WAY

I’ve bought all the resources (books, Tinderbox series, etc) Eastgate has to offer and I find complete chaos in most of these resources. The organization of most material has become utterly frustrating. I adore complicated tasks, I love deciphiring extreme difficult tools but, oh man oh man for the beautiful and behemoth note tool Tinderbox is, I don’t even know where to start my frustration!!! I’ve literally spent one week Organizing and comprehending what The Tinderbox Tutorials are trying to present me with. I find myself constantly organizing concepts (basically pre-pre-prepping for the pre-prepping of the proper preppingl).There is something inherently wrong in spending such an enormous amount of time understanding how to tackle a learning process. The counter argument I’ve come across usually follows the "well, there are many ways Tinderbox can be used; and while I completely understand the concept and the implications of that remark I’d politely ask not to be presented with the argument at all.
I would greatly appreciate if someone could please help me decide which to focus on, what the differences are between the Tinderbox manual or a Tinderbox reference file. Also, how can the Tinderbox Way comes into play as a reference material…I simply don’t have the time and patience on going over all of the resources and I’d greatly, greatly appreciate some help in deciding to go with the manual or the reference file. Thank you so much for your help


There are a number of resources:

  • Tinderbox Help. This is the formal app Help file and covers most features in outline and lists recent changes. Created by Eastgate.
  • Tinderbox Help menu: “Getting started With Tinderbox” and “Actions And Dashboards”. These are two PDFs created by Eastgate and written to help folk get started and to transition on to more use of Action code automation.
  • The Tinderbox Way. In its 3Rd edition and now an ebook, it is written by Tinderbox’s designer Mark Bernstein and is a mixture of the background issues informing the app’s design and some practical discussion of the features.
  • aTbRef (full title: ‘A Tinderbox Reference File’). This is a free reference, written in Tinderbox and exported as a website. I am it’s author and it is an independent resource (I’m not employed/contracted), although it represents a lot of background discussion with Eastgate. I am also this forums volunteer moderator and general Tinderbox community supporter. aTbRef grew from my need for a goal when learning Tinderbox, especially its HTML export features. The resource aims to document the Tinderbox toolbox. It’s a “what does this do?” guide rather than a “How to do this task?” guide.

The ‘Tinderbox Tutorials’? I’m not sure what these are but may, in part, be my old demo bank most of which was written pre the v6+ change in UI. There are my own Clarify-based tutorials. The v6+ ones still apply though I need to move the hosting of these as the clarify app has been sunset-ed and it’s server dies soon. I’d ignore the Tinderbox Cookbook until you’re happy with the basics of action code. It too is a reference/test set rather than a how-to.

There are other resources and demos around, of varying age - these are difficult to update as constant evolution in the app makes some things obsolete or offers better ways to do the task.

My reference to the app being a toolbox is deliberate as this underpins why there isn’t a ‘right way’ to do things. By analogy, most utilities do one or a few things; often very well, but within a narrow scope that defines the ‘right’ way to do things.

If spinning your wheels with generalities, choose a task, ideally not a massive one, or try and replicate some of the starting moves of others here. As you don’t say what your intended use is, it is—for the reasons stated above—hard to answer this:

My suggestion:

  • Start doing practical experiments. Make a new file each time, so you don’t trip over the detritus of previous experiments. Keep (at least for now) the experiments that work and delete the others.
  • Grab a copy of my ‘starter’ file which is essentially a TBX with some notes and users attributes pre-added to help with rapid testing. The document includes explanatory notes. FWIW, I use it too, regularly, as a quick way to test issues raises here by fellow users.
  • Do practical learning tasks:
  • make a prototype, apply it to some notes, change some aspects of the notes and see how that affects inheritance.
  • experiment with OnAdd, rules.
  • make a simple timeline
  • play with The attribute browser view to compare its on-the-fly classification against agents.
  • make a simple agent to find only a subset of notes and then use the agent action to alter them.
  • …etc.
  • Use the understanding taken from these experiments to work on actual data of your own. But, until you’re confident with a new feature/process, use a small experimental file so you can apply the understanding to your ‘real’ work. If you need lots of data for experimenting, take a copy of some of your real work so you can test without breaking your ‘fair’ copy.

If you get stuck, ask here. We fellow users can help with technique, process and expertise but real tech support stuff (e.g. a file that won’t open) should be followed up directly with Eastgate tech support (info@eastgate.com). When raising issues here, unless very small and self-explanatory it helps to have context, screen-grabs or small TBXs exhibiting the problems are great. the latter are good because others can see/find/fix the problem and share the result.

I hope that helps. :slight_smile:


There were two CDs published by Eastgate 6 or 7 years ago (?), that included Tinderbox 5.9.1, Twig, and a large amount of materials and examples that time has passed by, because Tinderbox has matured into v7.

IMO, trying to read all the manuals and examples Eastgate has ever published is somewhat like reading all of the manuals for versions 1 - 15 of FileMaker before starting to use FIleMaker 16. History is interesting, but forensics are not needed when learning a new skill. If I am going to learn new software I start with the current manuals and ignore everything that came before.

Read v7’s Help, Getting Started with Tinderbox (in the Help menu) and, maybe, The Tinderbox Way v3. The latter if you need a broader background in the kind of work that tools like Tinderbox can do. But as @mwra says: “start doing practical experiments” – you will not destroy Tinderbox or your computer by using the software, so jump into the shallow end and have fun.


I have expressed my opinion about this problem before (Struggling with Tinderbox and a suggestion, for example).

I find only two tools really relevant for starting up from zero.

  1. the Getting Started manual
  2. some tutorials by Mark years ago; here is one of them: http://shoantel.clarify-it.com/d/gyjw3t

I have also suggested not to try to learn the basics from the http://www.acrobatfaq.com/atbref7/index.html

That is a reference system; not a guide for a beginner.

Most of the resources you mentioned assume basic understanding of TB. Therefore, I suggest you to start with the manual. And, then, use the searching tool in the two forums (the old forum and this one) so solve some specific problems.

A bit to late, already spent the $80 or $90 on them CD’s and I’d probably spend another $40 on the third one - which supposedly should arrive soon!! Heck, the versions are so old most features have been discontinued or changed drastically that it naturally forces someone to…just triiiip. The adage “well, you learn with experience and never repeat again”; unfortunately the concept of hope tends to be a bit in disagreement with Darwin’s … I seem not able to “evolute” properly when that hope hangs around. Let’s hope ( there it is again) the third CD will contain material that’s a bit closer to the software’s recent version and not “38 releases behind” and let’s HOPE that the extremely overlapping material that requires “46 Tbrx software versions” to browse thorough? and…ok, ill stop now. But still, for the tool it’s intended to be, I find it a bit amusing the structural chaos it delivers.
But yeah, thanks for your input, I am starting to feel a bit of direction coming my way. Thx a bunch.

That hasn’t crossed my mind but you do have a solid point “this is a reference system not a guide for a beginner” I see! I tried to get a feel of what would suit my style of learning and kept going between different reference material and I still felt with very little direction. Now don’t get me wrong, eventually this is really not all that complicated but why waste time trying to figure out which learning process would suit me? There is already an enormous amount of material to cover, I expect that I am “fed” that process without having to struggle all that much, which hI have really…a lot.
Either way, I appreciate the input. Cheers!

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I, on one hand, and surely everyone else feel a tremendous amount of gratitude for all that you do here. I’ve noticed you’re involvement all over this forum and each and every time I’ve sensed the effort and your consistent and selfless need to help everyone. With that said I must say that, well, you do rock!!!
Now, I tend to be one of those individuals that absolutely obsesses about the need to know every bit of information something has to offer and for that reason, finding myself going in circles (with all the money spent on getting that direction from the start) my frustration arose; a clear and logical starting point is a must for my learning style, and as hard as I tried I couldn’t figure a proper direction; I have really struggled in this case. Considering that I do fiddle with a great number of other difficult tools, it is critical that I inch towards this tinderbox tool with a somewhat wiser approach. I now do feel, thanks to you and the other folks that have replied to my silly question, a bit more direction. I will for sure utilize this forum quite a bit but until then will try to get some concepts down. Would you agree with [Desalegn] method: 1) Getting Started 2) User Manual…? OR should I disregard the Getting started if I thoroughly go through the User Manual? Again, thanks for all the your help.


If you go throught the user manual and understand it well, you can leave the Getting started guide out. But, for my clumsy brain, the Getting started guide was the simplest, and most straightforward source to start with TB.

I also complained about the disorganization of the materials for a long time in the old forum. WE all face that stage of frustration…(I felt bad about it all when I recently learned that Tinderbox is a project by one man, Mark Berstein. For a long time, I assumed a team of developers and manual writers etc. )

  • another good advice that helped me was to avoid to attempt to learn everything about TB. TB is not sth to master in a short time, really. It is designed in a more free form; like programming languages. The difference is: TB can be very simple at the same time. Just use it like simple note organizer. When the need arises for doing some task, you search around-> keep on growing in complexity slowly.

I agree with Desalegn about avoiding trying to learn everything.

Think about TBX as an IDE for a programming language. You need to learn the interface, but the tool will only require mastery of the things you want to do with it. Few use all of the tools available. I for one use just a few since I’m mostly processing notes and organizing ideas for my own work.

Just like learning a programming language, the best way to become competent is to pick a project to work on then use examples from other people’s work as inspiration and information about techniques. Some ideas will stick and others won’t as you go on to other projects.


The Help file has the basics but is not exhaustive (and not intended as such). I’d suggest starting with working through the Getting Started doc and using aTbRef for looking up functional detail questions arising at the former. As you get started it helps to have at least one practical task in mind and to get in the habit of doing small experiments (in files you’ll ditch) to help cement your learning of new techniques. Although aTbRef was originally an exploration of export techniques it’s usable as a TBX too. You can download it and use it locally as these days Tinderbox has Find at both note and $Text levels. If you do use the TBX, you might want to turn off auto-update of agents as there are a fair few and once populated at doc open aren’t needed if you’re just reading the content.

My contribution here is partly just virtuous circles. Sine I first went online in about '92 I’ve learned mostly via the kindness of strangers so try to pass something back. Plus, by analysing other’s problems it keeps me learning.

I hope you get some traction soon and don’t forget to come back with and questions.


Concept of notes and attributes is critical.

I initially started by:

  1. creating a new Tinderbox document.
  2. Set the view to outline
  3. Create a note by clicking on the sidebar and pressing the return button.
  4. Put some text in the note content area
  5. Hit the + button to the right of the note title to open the attribute groups
  6. Selected appearance group and started adding each attribute in this group one by one. The learning occured when I understood what each attribute did.

This was enough to get me started and I moved on from there learning about agents, actions other higher order concepts.


John, I have felt the same way for a long time. I invested a lot of time in the initial stages to gather my notes into TB and also to write many new notes, but I couldn’t see the point of it other than as an outliner or a pretty map. I made progress with prototypes, but struggled to get much further. Since then, I have continued to read posts on this forum.

After reading your post, I opened my TB file to have another look. It’s been a while since I did that. And then the penny dropped. Suddenly I could see how I could further explore and develop my notes, as well as continue writing. For me, that’s a breakthrough and I attribute it to this forum with its examples of problems and the subsequent advice from other posters.

It wasn’t one tip or piece of advice that made the penny drop, it was the culmination of many.

My newbie advice is to keep reading all resources and keep asking questions.


Most old users (like me) know Tinderbox is always a journey through complex structures with a powerful tool. One also has always some point of dissent with the thing.

To me the best introduction ever is that of Dominique Renauld

Begin by using Tinderbox as a simple note-taking tool.

Grow slowly on that.

THen use it as a way to organize the notes.

Ant thats the best entry point. ALl the other things you can do are limitless. Only your imagination can limit you.

Have fun experimenting.

And ask the forum for advice n specific items.

Goo luck, Rigas


Thank you, I really appreciate your input!

Not really essential but I have a hard time deciphering what Dominique is saying in this particular video :))))

What sort of task, problem or challenge do you hope Tinderbox will help you with?

What kind of other software tools have you already used or learned to help with what you’re hoping to do with Tinderbox?

Do you have any experience writing software?

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I’m a recovering IBM mainframe programmer & a HUGE amount programming is done by making a copy of an existing chunk of code or entire program & then modifying it to do something “new.”

It helps while learning a new programming tool—and clearly Tinderbox is very much a programming toolkit—is to keep a laser focus on doing a very tiny thing… & then build on that.

As humans were were not born walking & running… first we had to learn to roll over, then to raise our heads, then to crawl, then to sit up, etc., etc.

Writing books or programs—in my mind there’s not a whole lot of difference—is one disorganized step at a time. The organization we strive for only appears from the mists of wandering around in a chaotic swamp.

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Tinderbox has features that can be program-like, but it would be a narrow view to consider it a programming tool. It’s best to come to Tinderbox without a technical mindset.

In my opinion.

Writing a book (or any other sort of document) is programming. I may start with a grand scheme, top-down vision, but eventually I’ll have to put it all together with bits & pieces from the bottom-up.

Assembling a legal contract is programming. Lawyer takes a bunch of boiler plate off the shelf & tweaks it here & there.

Just depends on how you look at it.

I am completely aware of this “timeline mist” concept and I have to agree with you. I am in a complete chaotic swamp and from my research thus far, Tinderbox is the only thing that comes close to what I am trying to achieve (or so I believe); but than again, considering I’m in that “mist”, what I am trying to achieve might have a different end result, but in the course of achieving the right tools need to be on my side.