Usage Overview — Paperless-ng 1.5.0 documentation (2024)

Paperless is an application that manages your personal documents. Withthe help of a document scanner (see Scanner recommendations), paperless transformsyour wieldy physical document binders into a searchable archive andprovides many utilities for finding and managing your documents.

Terms and definitions

Paperless essentially consists of two different parts for managing yourdocuments:

  • The consumer watches a specified folder and adds all documents in thatfolder to paperless.

  • The web server provides a UI that you use to manage and search for yourscanned documents.

Each document has a couple of fields that you can assign to them:

  • A Document is a piece of paper that sometimes contains valuableinformation.

  • The correspondent of a document is the person, institution or company thata document either originates form, or is sent to.

  • A tag is a label that you can assign to documents. Think of labels as morepowerful folders: Multiple documents can be grouped together with a singletag, however, a single document can also have multiple tags. This is notpossible with folders. The reason folders are not implemented in paperlessis simply that tags are much more versatile than folders.

  • A document type is used to demarcate the type of a document such as letter,bank statement, invoice, contract, etc. It is used to identify what a documentis about.

  • The date added of a document is the date the document was scanned intopaperless. You cannot and should not change this date.

  • The date created of a document is the date the document was initially issued.This can be the date you bought a product, the date you signed a contract, orthe date a letter was sent to you.

  • The archive serial number (short: ASN) of a document is the identifier ofthe document in your physical document binders. SeeThe recommended workflow below.

  • The content of a document is the text that was OCR’ed from the document.This text is fed into the search engine and is used for matching tags,correspondents and document types.

Frontend overview


TBD. Add some fancy screenshots!

Adding documents to paperless

Once you’ve got Paperless setup, you need to start feeding documents into it.When adding documents to paperless, it will perform the following operations onyour documents:

  1. OCR the document, if it has no text. Digital documents usually have text,and this step will be skipped for those documents.

  2. Paperless will create an archiveable PDF/A document from your document.If this document is coming from your scanner, it will have embedded selectable text.

  3. Paperless performs automatic matching of tags, correspondents and types on thedocument before storing it in the database.


This process can be configured to fit your needs. If you don’t want paperlessto create archived versions for digital documents, you can configure that byconfiguring PAPERLESS_OCR_MODE=skip_noarchive. Please read therelevant section in the documentation.


No matter which options you choose, Paperless will always store the originaldocument that it found in the consumption directory or in the mail andwill never overwrite that document. Archived versions are stored alongside theoriginal versions.

The consumption directory

The primary method of getting documents into your database is by putting them inthe consumption directory. The consumer runs in an infiniteloop looking for new additions to this directory and when it finds them, it goesabout the process of parsing them with the OCR, indexing what it finds, and storingit in the media directory.

Getting stuff into this directory is up to you. If you’re running Paperlesson your local computer, you might just want to drag and drop files there, but ifyou’re running this on a server and want your scanner to automatically pushfiles to this directory, you’ll need to setup some sort of service to accept thefiles from the scanner. Typically, you’re looking at an FTP server likeProftpd or a Windows folder share with Samba.

Dashboard upload

The dashboard has a file drop field to upload documents to paperless. Simply drag a fileonto this field or select a file with the file dialog. Multiple files are supported.

Mobile upload

The mobile app over at allows Android usersto share any documents with paperless. This can be combined with any of the mobilescanning apps out there, such as Office Lens.

Furthermore, there is the Paperless App as well,which not only has document upload, but also document browsing and download features.

IMAP (Email)

You can tell paperless-ng to consume documents from your email accounts.This is a very flexible and powerful feature, if you regularly received documentsvia mail that you need to archive. The mail consumer can be configured by using theadmin interface in the following manner:

  1. Define e-mail accounts.

  2. Define mail rules for your account.

These rules perform the following:

  1. Connect to the mail server.

  2. Fetch all matching mails (as defined by folder, maximum age and the filters)

  3. Check if there are any consumable attachments.

  4. If so, instruct paperless to consume the attachments and optionallyuse the metadata provided in the rule for the new document.

  5. If documents were consumed from a mail, the rule action is performedon that mail.

Paperless will completely ignore mails that do not match your filters. It will alsoonly perform the action on mails that it has consumed documents from.

The actions all ensure that the same mail is not consumed twice by different means.These are as follows:

  • Delete: Immediately deletes mail that paperless has consumed documents from.Use with caution.

  • Mark as read: Mark consumed mail as read. Paperless will not consume documentsfrom already read mails. If you read a mail before paperless sees it, it will beignored.

  • Flag: Sets the ‘important’ flag on mails with consumed documents. Paperlesswill not consume flagged mails.

  • Move to folder: Moves consumed mails out of the way so that paperless wontconsume them again.


The mail consumer will perform these actions on all mails it has consumeddocuments from. Keep in mind that the actual consumption process may failfor some reason, leaving you with missing documents in paperless.


With the correct set of rules, you can completely automate your email documents.Create rules for every correspondent you receive digital documents from andpaperless will read them automatically. The default action “mark as read” ispretty tame and will not cause any damage or data loss whatsoever.

You can also setup a special folder in your mail account for paperless and useyour favorite mail client to move to be consumed mails into that folderautomatically or manually and tell paperless to move them to yet another folderafter consumption. It’s up to you.


Paperless will process the rules in the order defined in the admin page.

You can define catch-all rules and have them executed last to consumeany documents not matched by previous rules. Such a rule may assign an “Unknownmail document” tag to consumed documents so you can inspect them further.

Paperless is set up to check your mails every 10 minutes. This can be configured on the‘Scheduled tasks’ page in the admin.


You can also submit a document using the REST API, see POSTing documents for details.

Best practices

Paperless offers a couple tools that help you organize your document collection. However,it is up to you to use them in a way that helps you organize documents and find specificdocuments when you need them. This section offers a couple ideas for managing your collection.

Document types allow you to classify documents according to what they are. You can definetypes such as “Receipt”, “Invoice”, or “Contract”. If you used to collect all your receiptsin a single binder, you can recreate that system in paperless by defining a document type,assigning documents to that type and then filtering by that type to only see all receipts.

Not all documents need document types. Sometimes its hard to determine what the type of adocument is or it is hard to justify creating a document type that you only need once or twice.This is okay. As long as the types you define help you organize your collection in the wayyou want, paperless is doing its job.

Tags can be used in many different ways. Think of tags are more versatile folders or binders.If you have a binder for documents related to university / your car or health care, you cancreate these binders in paperless by creating tags and assigning them to relevant documents.Just as with documents, you can filter the document list by tags and only see documents ofa certain topic.

With physical documents, you’ll often need to decide which folder the document belongs to.The advantage of tags over folders and binders is that a single document can have multipletags. A physical document cannot magically appear in two different folders, but with tags,this is entirely possible.


This can be used in many different ways. One example: Imagine you’re working on a particulartask, such as signing up for university. Usually you’ll need to collect a bunch of differentdocuments that are already sorted into various folders. With the tag system of paperless,you can create a new group of documents that are relevant to this task without destroyingthe already existing organization. When you’re done with the task, you could delete thetag again, which would be equal to sorting documents back into the folder they belong into.Or keep the tag, up to you.

All of the logic above applies to correspondents as well. Attach them to documents if youfeel that they help you organize your collection.

When you’ve started organizing your documents, create a couple saved views for document collectionsyou regularly access. This is equal to having labeled physical binders on your desk, exceptthat these saved views are dynamic and simply update themselves as you add documents to the system.

Here are a couple examples of tags and types that you could use in your collection.

  • An inbox tag for newly added documents that you haven’t manually edited yet.

  • A tag car for everything car related (repairs, registration, insurance, etc)

  • A tag todo for documents that you still need to do something with, such as reply, orperform some task online.

  • A tag bank account x for all bank statement related to that account.

  • A tag mail for anything that you added to paperless via its mail processing capabilities.

  • A tag missing_metadata when you still need to add some metadata to a document, but can’tor don’t want to do this right now.


Paperless offers an extensive searching mechanism that is designed to allow you to quicklyfind a document you’re looking for (for example, that thing that just broke and you boughta couple months ago, that contract you signed 8 years ago).

When you search paperless for a document, it tries to match this query against your documents.Paperless will look for matching documents by inspecting their content, title, correspondent,type and tags. Paperless returns a scored list of results, so that documents matching your querybetter will appear further up in the search results.

By default, paperless returns only documents which contain all words typed in the search bar.However, paperless also offers advanced search syntax if you want to drill down the resultsfurther.

Matching documents with logical expressions:

shopname AND (product1 OR product2)

Matching specific tags, correspondents or types:

type:invoice tag:unpaidcorrespondent:university certificate

Matching dates:

created:[2005 to 2009]added:yesterdaymodified:today

Matching inexact words:



Inexact terms are hard for search indexes. These queries might take a while to execute. That’s why paperless offersauto complete and query correction.

All of these constructs can be combined as you see fit.If you want to learn more about the query language used by paperless, paperless uses Whoosh’s default query language.Head over to Whoosh query language.For details on what date parsing utilities are available, seeDate parsing.

The recommended workflow

Once you have familiarized yourself with paperless and are ready to use itfor all your documents, the recommended workflow for managing your documentsis as follows. This workflow also takes into account that some documentshave to be kept in physical form, but still ensures that you get all theadvantages for these documents as well.

The following diagram shows how easy it is to manage your documents.

Usage Overview — Paperless-ng 1.5.0 documentation (1)

Preparations in paperless

  • Create an inbox tag that gets assigned to all new documents.

  • Create a TODO tag.

Processing of the physical documents

Keep a physical inbox. Whenever you receive a document that you need toarchive, put it into your inbox. Regularly, do the following for all documentsin your inbox:

  1. For each document, decide if you need to keep the document in physicalform. This applies to certain important documents, such as contracts andcertificates.

  2. If you need to keep the document, write a running number on the documentbefore scanning, starting at one and counting upwards. This is the archiveserial number, or ASN in short.

  3. Scan the document.

  4. If the document has an ASN assigned, store it in a single binder, sortedby ASN. Don’t order this binder in any other way.

  5. If the document has no ASN, throw it away. Yay!

Over time, you will notice that your physical binder will fill up. If it isfull, label the binder with the range of ASNs in this binder (i.e., “Documents1 to 343”), store the binder in your cellar or elsewhere, and start a newbinder.

The idea behind this process is that you will never have to use the physicalbinders to find a document. If you need a specific physical document, youmay find this document by:

  1. Searching in paperless for the document.

  2. Identify the ASN of the document, since it appears on the scan.

  3. Grab the relevant document binder and get the document. This is easy sincethey are sorted by ASN.

Processing of documents in paperless

Once you have scanned in a document, proceed in paperless as follows.

  1. If the document has an ASN, assign the ASN to the document.

  2. Assign a correspondent to the document (i.e., your employer, bank, etc)This isn’t strictly necessary but helps in finding a document when you needit.

  3. Assign a document type (i.e., invoice, bank statement, etc) to the documentThis isn’t strictly necessary but helps in finding a document when you needit.

  4. Assign a proper title to the document (the name of an item you bought, thesubject of the letter, etc)

  5. Check that the date of the document is correct. Paperless tries to readthe date from the content of the document, but this fails sometimes if theOCR is bad or multiple dates appear on the document.

  6. Remove inbox tags from the documents.


You can setup manual matching rules for your correspondents and tags andpaperless will assign them automatically. After consuming a couple documents,you can even ask paperless to learn when to assign tags and correspondentsby itself. For details on this feature, see Matching tags, correspondents and document types.

Task management

Some documents require attention and require you to act on the document. Youmay take two different approaches to handle these documents based on howregularly you intent to use paperless and scan documents.

  • If you scan and process your documents in paperless regularly, assign aTODO tag to all scanned documents that you need to process. Create a savedview on the dashboard that shows all documents with this tag.

  • If you do not scan documents regularly and use paperless solely for archiving,create a physical todo box next to your physical inbox and put documents youneed to process in the TODO box. When you performed the task associated withthe document, move it to the inbox.

Usage Overview — Paperless-ng 1.5.0 documentation (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Manual Maggio

Last Updated:

Views: 6076

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (49 voted)

Reviews: 80% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Manual Maggio

Birthday: 1998-01-20

Address: 359 Kelvin Stream, Lake Eldonview, MT 33517-1242

Phone: +577037762465

Job: Product Hospitality Supervisor

Hobby: Gardening, Web surfing, Video gaming, Amateur radio, Flag Football, Reading, Table tennis

Introduction: My name is Manual Maggio, I am a thankful, tender, adventurous, delightful, fantastic, proud, graceful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.