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Observable Platform and notebooks FAQ

How are Observable projects different from notebooks?

Observable projects are primarily focused on the presentation of data in dashboards, while notebooks are great for ephemeral, ad hoc data exploration. Projects are file-based while notebooks exist entirely on the Observable website.

Observable projects consist of source files (Markdown, JavaScript, etc.) that go through a compilation step before being deployed to the server. This lets them perform time-consuming tasks like querying data or pre-computing models offline, so the experience for the final user is much snappier.

While the underlying code in Observable notebooks can always be inspected by the user, projects give the author more control over what gets exposed and what is hidden. Authors have more control over the layout of their pages as well, which makes them more suitable for dashboards.

A few more differences:

  • Notebooks use Observable JavaScript, while projects use vanilla JavaScript
  • Projects can also use other languages in data loaders, such as Python, R, Rust, etc., together with the rich libraries available in these languages
  • Notebooks are created and edited in the browser, while projects are created in your favorite programming environment using the open-source Observable Framework
  • Notebooks have collaboration built in, while projects can use git or other methods to collaborate
  • Notebooks live on Observable, while projects can be deployed anywhere–including on Observable, which was purpose-built for displays of data and includes SSO, workspace management, etc.

We see notebooks as a separate approach to analyzing and visualizing data, but also as a way of exploring data before building a data app as a project.

Are notebooks going away?

No! Notebooks are working just as they have before, and will stay available indefinitely. They support rich collaboration with forking and branching, live multiplayer editing and commenting, as well as tools like data table and chart cells, which makes them a great place to explore, document, and prototype SQL and JavaScript for projects.

I teach using Observable, will I still be able to use my materials next semester?

Yes. We appreciate the many professors who are using Observable to teach, and know that your time is valuable. You can continue to use notebooks or switch to projects. We will be providing a structure for you to work from, just like we have with notebooks.

Observable Framework is the collection of tools that process your source files written in Markdown, JavaScript, Python, R, etc., into compressed and optimized HTML and JavaScript to be served to your users quickly and efficiently.

A project is a collection of such files, which can then be deployed to a hosting service.

The Observable platform is our hosting service for projects, which also provides access control, collaboration features, etc.

Can I transition my existing notebooks?

Yes! We are working on a way to transform an existing notebook into a project that can serve as a starting point for a project.

What if my question wasn't covered here?

Please join us on Slack or post on the forum!