Phenote User Guide

From phenoscape

This guide covers the use of Phenote specifically for the Phenoscape configuration. Some more general documentation can also be found at the Phenote website.

System requirements

Phenote runs on most modern platforms, but requires Java 1.5 (aka Java 5) or later. An appropriate Java is included with Mac OS X 10.4 or newer (Phenote cannot run on Mac OS X 10.3). For Windows, you can download the latest Java from If you're running Linux, please consult your system documentation for how to get Java.



Phenote can be downloaded from the OBO Sourceforge project site. There are separate downloads available for Mac and Windows, as well as a download of the application source code. Download the appropriate zip file for your platform.

  • Mac: Double-click the downloaded file to unzip it. You should see the application, "". Drag it anywhere you like to install. Double-click the application to launch Phenote.
  • Windows: Double-click the downloaded file. Click on "Extract all files" in the resulting window. Use the Extraction Wizard to put the Phenote folder wherever you want. Launch Phenote by double-clicking "Phenote.bat" inside the Phenote folder. It will take several seconds for the Phenote window to appear. Do not attempt to run Phenote from "inside" the zip file - it will not work properly without first extracting the files to another folder.
  • Linux/Unix: forthcoming

First run

The first time you launch Phenote you will be presented with a window from which you can choose a configuration. Select "phenoscape" and press OK. This window can be accessed any time via the Settings > Set Configuration... menu item. You will also likely be presented with the ontology update window. Choose "Update All" and continue. Once Phenote has finished starting up, choose the Phenoscape interface layout via the View > Layouts > Phenoscape menu item.

Using the docking interface

Docking components

Phenote's interface consists of "docking" components which can be arranged into any layout the user prefers. A default layout for Phenoscape can be accessed via the menu item View > Layouts > Phenoscape. Each component can be minimized or closed using the window-like controls in its title tab. Pressing the arrow in a title tab will pop out a component into its own floating window. Pressing the arrow in the floating component's title tab will return it to the main window. Components can be grouped together in tab groups, where only one of the tabbed components is shown at a time. Click on a title tab to bring a component to the front. If there is not enough space, all tabs in a tab group may not be visible. In this case, left and right arrows will appear in the control tab for that group, which can be used to cycle through the components. Alternatively the downward pointing arrow can be used to display a selectable menu of the tabbed components.

Locking the interface layout

The docking layout can be "locked" so that you don't accidentally rearrange your components (annoyingly easy to do). Choose the Settings > Lock Docking Components menu item.

Displaying specific components

Components that are not currently displayed can be accessed through the View > Show menu. Components are grouped into functional collection submenus. Some components can be opened repeatedly to display multiple instances (e.g. Complete Ontology Tree View), while others will only display a single instance (e.g. Annotation Editor).

Working with files

File names

Phenote can work with only one "project" (set of phenotype annotations) at a time. You can choose a place to save the current annotations via the File > Save menu item, or the Save toolbar button. In the Save dialog, choose the Format "Tab Delimited", and append the extension ".tab" to the end of the filename you enter. Right now this is the responsibility of the user; in the future Phenote should take care of appending this for you. The Phenoscape configuration saves data for a project in 3 files; for this reason it is a good idea to create a separate folder in which to save each project's files. Your phenotype annotations are saved with the filename you provide. Phenote will also save a file containing Taxon List entries in the same folder, with "-taxon-list" appended to the name you gave the main file. When opening or saving a project in Phenote, just choose the main phenotype annotations file - the taxon list file will automatically be opened and saved at the same time. The third file in your project folder is an optional NEXUS file containing a tree relating your taxa. More information on this file can be found in the Phylogeny Chooser section.

If you give your annotations file the name "", the following files may be present in your project folder:

  • - this is the main annotations file you choose for opening and saving
  • - this file will be automatically found by Phenote when you choose your main annotations file
  • fish_phenotypes.tre - this file can contain a phylogeny of your taxa in NEXUS format

Saving changes

If you have made edits to your current document, but have not yet saved, you will see an unsaved changes marker in your window titlebar. On the Mac, this will be a black dot inside the red window close button. On Windows and other platforms, there will be a bullet character in front of the window titlebar text. When you save, using the File > Save menu item, the unsaved changes marker will disappear. If you quit Phenote without saving, you will be warned that there are unsaved changes and given the opportunity to save.

Using Phenote components

Annotation Editor

The editor component displays a detailed data entry interface for the currently selected row in one of the table components. It edits the most recently focused table component. Sometimes when Phenote is first launched, no table has yet been focused and the editor displays a blank canvas - just click on a table to see an editing interface. The displayed entry fields correspond to the columns of the focused annotation table. Most fields are either free text or autocomplete. Free text fields accept any input, while autocomplete fields will display a drop-down menu when you begin typing. Autocomplete fields help you to find, and force you to choose, a valid ontology term. The Term Info component will update with detailed information for each ontology term as you move through the autocomplete menu.

Some autocomplete fields are configured to choose terms from more than one ontology. In this case a popup menu in front of the field will allow you to search within either ALL or just one of the configured ontologies.

Some autocomplete fields are followed by a "Comp" button. Press this button to open the post-composition dialog, in which you can create a more specific ontology term by creating relationships to existing terms using the genus-differentia method.

Two additional types of fields are the list field and the pick list field. A list field displays an uneditable list of values in its text box. Edit the values by using the corresponding annotation table (e.g. the Specimens table). A pick list field is similar to a list field, but its values are chosen by clicking the "Edit" button next to the field to choose from values entered into another list field. For example, the "Voucher(s)" field is configured to pick from values entered into the "Specimens" list field.

Term Info Browser

The term info component displays detailed information about ontology terms as they are selected elsewhere in the interface. You can view the term's definition, synonyms, relationships to parent and child terms, and several other properties. Parent and child terms are displayed as hyperlinks which can be clicked to display information about those terms in the info component.

Annotation Table

This is the data table containing the phenotype annotations stored in your main data file. Add, delete, and duplicate rows (phenotype annotations) using the toolbar buttons above the table. Select a row to edit its values in the Annotation Editor component. You may need to click the title tab of the Annotation Table for the Annotation Editor to display the appropriate entry fields. You can select multiple rows in order to enter the same value in a field for them all simultaneously (bulk editing). Individual values can also be edited directly in the table by double-clicking the cell. However, fields containing lists of values cannot be edited within the table.

The rows visible in the table can be filtered using the search field at the bottom of the panel. The default setting, "Simple Filter", filters rows based on simple text matching of its input with values in any table column. You can filter on a particular column by selecting its name using the popup menu. If the chosen field accepts ontology term values, the filter input will change to an ontology term autocomplete interface. You can select how ontology term values are matched using the Exact/Inherit radio button. The "Inherit" option allows not only exact matches, but also any values which ontologically inherit from the input term. For example, using the "Inherit" option, a user can enter a taxonomic order such as "Siluriformes" and match any rows containing values that are species within this order.

Taxon List and Specimens

Both of these tables behave in much the same way as the main annotation table. However, they also have some specialized features.

Taxon List

You can enter the list of taxa described in a publication into the Taxon List table. You can pick taxa from this table in order to annotate their phenotypes. Select a taxon by using the checkbox on its row. All the checked taxa can be copied into the main Annotation Table by pressing the Generate Characters button in the component's toolbar. The other extra buttons in the Specimen List toolbar manipulate the checkboxes in various ways. Since all the copied rows will be selected in the Annotation Table, you can apply the same phenotype to them all by using the bulk editing features of the Annotation Editor component. Because the values are copied between tables when you use the Generate Characters function, keep in mind that modifications made to taxon information in the Taxon List will not be applied to phenotype annotations already created in the Annotation Table.


The Specimens table displays the list of specimens entered for the taxon currently selected in the Taxon List. Unlike other tables, the Specimens table does not use the Annotation Editor; all editing is done directly in the table. This allows you to work with the Taxon List and Specimens table simultaneously without repeatedly updating which table is being modified by the editor component.

Phylogeny Chooser

The Phylogeny Chooser component can display an evolutionary tree relating the species in the Taxon List. By selecting nodes on the tree, you can select particular taxa in the Taxon List to use for a phenotype annotation.

Inputting a phylogeny

The tree can be input by pasting a Newick-format phylogeny into the text field at the bottom of the component. Alternatively, the tree can be obtained from a properly-named NEXUS file in the same folder as your main data file. You can manually create this file outside of Phenote, and then copy it into place with the correct name. More easily, you can use the "NEX" button in the Phylogeny Chooser toolbar to write out a default NEXUS file containing an unresolved phylogeny of all taxa presently entered into your Taxon List. You can then open this file in a program such as Mesquite or MacClade to correct the topology of the tree. The tree you want to use should be the first stored tree in the NEXUS file. If you later add taxa to your taxon list, Phenote cannot merge them into an existing NEXUS file. You should add them manually to an existing tree.

Making selections

Drag-select or click nodes on the phylogeny in order to select their descendant taxa. Individual nodes can be selected or deselected via control-clicking. Press the "Apply Selection" button (a blue square) in the Phylogeny Chooser toolbar to select the checkboxes of matching taxa in the Taxon List. The tree can contain either more or fewer taxa than are actually present in the Taxon List, but taxon names must exactly match those in the TTO for the phylogeny to be useful.

Scratch Lists

The Scratch Lists component lets you create temporary annotation tables in which you can create template annotations (which you will usually only partially fill in). These template annotations can be dragged onto the main annotation table to start new phenotype annotations. Use the toolbar buttons to create and delete scratch list tables. You can double-click table cells to name a list anything you want. Select a scratch list name and press the table button in the Scratch Lists toolbar to display the annotation table for that list.

If you change the name of a scratch list while its table is open, the table component's title tab will not update until it is closed and re-opened. Also, keep in mind that scratch lists are temporary ("scratch") and are not saved with your data file.

Complete Ontology Tree View



The following table describes the entry fields in the PhenoScape configuration. Phenote does not force you to fill in them all, but see the table for when to use each field.

Field Usage
Publication the publication describing the character state
CrossRef has a free-text query form for looking up DOIs
Taxon Genus & species
Catalog Number museum lot ID
Specimen Count number of specimens from lot examined
Preparation type of specimen preparation (skeleton, cleared & stained, etc.)
Entity term from anatomy ontology (currently using zebrafish)
Quality term from PATO - should be "value" term, unless you are filling in an absolute measurement (e.g. "length")
Related Entity term from anatomy ontology - only use if the Quality term descends from "relational quality of continuant"
Measurement absolute measurement - useful as value for terms such as "length"
Unit unit of measurement, if Numerical Value is filled in
Compare To a taxon to which this phenotype is in comparison to (optional)
Textual Description textual description of character state in publication
Image URI web link to an image, if available

Please report any issues you come across by using the Phenote tracker.

Troubleshooting problems

Accessing Phenote configuration and logs

The Phenote settings folder contains your chosen configuration, cached ontology files, interface layouts, and log files. Its location is platform-dependent:

  • Mac/Linux/Unix: A folder named ".phenote" within your user home directory. Because its name begins with a ".", this folder is typically invisible and must be accessed via the terminal interface. You can view this folder in the Mac Finder by selecting the Go > Go to Folder... menu item, and entering "~/.phenote".
  • Windows: A folder named ".phenote" in "C:\Documents and Settings\<your user name>". If you are the only user on your machine, your user name may be "Administrator".

If you are having problems, you may want to look at the contents of the file "phenote_log4j.log", found in the "log" folder within the Phenote settings folder. A Phenote developer can examine this file for the cause of errors you may be experiencing.

Known issues

  • There is a serious problem with Undo for delete actions in tables. Using Undo will cause some existing rows to be displayed twice in the table. Avoid Undo for now.
  • Phenote will not launch without a live internet connection. This is a bug in the ontology updating feature.
  • Phenote will not launch if it attempts to load an ontology which contains a file error. This is a bug in Phenote's ontology loading code. If an ontology maintainer posts a faulty ontology to the web repository, Phenote will fail the next time it updates that ontology. Report the error to the maintainer of the broken ontology.
  • The Phenoscape interface layout will not be a choice in the View > Layouts menu if you ran an earlier version of Phenote before this feature was included. This is a bug in Phenote's layout menu code. If you move the "perspectives" folder from within the Phenote settings folder to the Trash, you should see the Phenoscape layout option when you relaunch the application.