It seems there are a lot of people who know about .NDL files and an equal number that don't. If you haven't created or used an NDL before, read on. If you have, you might want to skip to the bottom and see a really cool way to use them.
Creating an NDL
An NDL file is basically a document, view or database link that can reside out in your file system. It is represented by a Notes icon and when clicked will open the corresponding element. It will probably make more sense to you if you see it in action, so try the following steps:
1. Create a link to the view, document or database of your choice in the standard way (e.g. Edit - Copy As Link - View Link).
2. Open Notepad (or your favorite text editor) and paste into the body of the new document. You should see some XML looking stuff, which is how Notes represents a link.
3. Save this file, giving it any name you choose (a descriptive name such as "Tasks By User View" is best) and using .ndl as the file extension.
Take a look at the location in which you saved the link. You should see the icon for the file you just created.
Now double-click the link and check out what happens. Takes you right to the element in question. Pretty cool!
Uses for NDLs
NDLs can have many uses, but I would imagine the primary reason most NDLs are created is to send links to users in other mail systems. I know in the past that the Exchange Connector used them and of course CoexLinks does this too. I know several companies that also use NDLs on their intranets, allowing users to launch Notes documents directly from the browser.
These applications aside, I think that NDLs can be very handy from a productivity standpoint. In the old days, I used to have a single directory that I would use to store NDL files that linked to documents and views I used all the time. If I was in the middle of a task and needed to switch to one of those elements, I would just Alt-Tab to that open directory window and click the necessary NDL. If you spend some time thinking about the items in Notes that you use frequently, you'll probably come up with a pretty good list. Creating NDLs for each of these elements is a simple way to speed access to them.
You might wonder why you would use this method over, say, just creating a document in Notes where you store all of your links. This is probably just as good an option as using NDLs, but I chose this approach for two reasons. One, it was faster for me to Alt-Tab to the open window rather than navigating to another Notes document and two, it allows me to have access to these elements quickly even when I'm not in Notes. In fact, if Notes isn't open, invoking the NDL will open the client and then navigate directly to that element. From a productivity standpoint, this seemed to work very well for me. However, my life wasn't quite complete until I found ActiveWords.
NDLs on steroids...Combining them with the power of ActiveWords
Watch out, 'cause I'm going into all out fanboy mode for a minute. One of the greatest software purchases I ever made was a little product called ActiveWords. ActiveWords is a program that allows you to truly take control of your computer. Basically, when ActiveWords is running, it is monitoring everything you type, no matter where you are. When you type a word or phrase that you've setup as an ActiveWord, you can immediately trigger an action to happen. For example, when I type 'xl' and then hit the space bar twice, Microsoft Excel launches. If I type 'gm' and double space, my browser launches and takes me to Gmail. Whenever I want to insert my signature into a document, I just type 'sig' and bam...it appears. ActiveWords even has a cool module that corrects common spelling errors as you type! There are many types of actions that you can associate with ActiveWords. You can use it to substitute text, launch programs, open directories, etc. I don't want to turn this into a big ActiveWords commercial, but trust me when I say you need to do yourself a favor and head over to their site! Check out the demos and then download the free trial. It really is a revolutionary product.
Anyway, back to the point of the post. Combing ActiveWords and NDL files has allowed me to become even more efficient when working with Lotus Notes. Basically, when I have a commonly used link, I create the NDL file, place it into my NDL directory and then I associate an ActiveWord with that NDL. I can be most productive when my flow state isn't interrupted when trying to find information and I find that this combination is incredibly powerful. Let's say I'm working on a document and I need some detail about one of the servers in my domain. In a traditional scenario, I would have to open the NAB, navigate to the Servers view and then find the info I was looking for. Using NDLs and ActiveWords, I can maintain my context and just type 'server' and trigger ActiveWords (I do this by hitting space twice, although you can change the trigger in the options). The 'server' ActiveWord is setup to open 'LNServers.ndl', so as soon as I trigger it, the NDL is executed and the NAB opens right to the view I need. If you consider how often you access common elements in Notes, this simple action can add up to some significant time savings.
As with most of my posts, this one was written in response to an e-mail I received. Perhaps you'll find NDL files to be as useful as I have. If you have another approach that you use for accessing commonly needed elements in Notes, please feel free to share in the comments. If you have any other tricks for being really productive in Notes, I'd love to hear those too. If you're interested in a live demo of ActiveWords, please don't hesitate to ask. You can find me at the upcoming ILUG 2007 and Lotus Developer 2007 conferences. Cheers!
P.S. I have no stake in ActiveWords except for being a very satisfied customer. It's a software package that performs one particular function and does so exceedingly well. I highly recommend checking it out. I believe the purchase price is very reasonable for the value it adds.