Lotus Notes Database FAQ

Lotus Notes database FAQs for IT professionals who don’t have extensive experience with the HCL Notes and Domino platform

Lotus Notes Database FAQ

For IT professionals who have limited experience with Lotus Notes / HCL Notes and Domino, the task of managing and/or migrating Lotus Notes and Domino databases can be daunting, especially if they inherited them. As companies reduce their Domino footprint or transition away from the Notes/Domino platform, these professionals may find themselves tasked with the responsibility of ensuring that critical business data is not lost or compromised. 


What is a Lotus Notes database? 

A Lotus Notes database is a collection of documents that are organized according to a predefined structure or template. Each database is stored as a separate NSF (Notes Storage Facility) file on a Lotus Domino server, which is a central repository for all Lotus Notes databases. 

The most common database template is the Mail database, followed by the Document Library, Discussion, and Team Room templates. These out-of-the-box templates as well as new ones can be customized by adding design elements and code. 

Because the data (documents), database structure (forms, views), and code components of a Lotus Notes database are combined into a single NSF file, this file can be thought of as an application/database that includes both the data and the logic required to process that data. This allows Lotus Notes databases to be self-contained and portable, with all the necessary data and logic stored in a single NSF file. 

What is a Lotus Notes database replica? 

A Lotus Notes database replica is a special copy of a Notes database that is typically used independently but is occasionally synchronized with the original database. Replicas are a key feature of Lotus Notes and allow users to access and work with databases even when they are not connected to the server where the original database resides. 

Two replicas can replicate with each other as long as their replica IDs match, even if the file names, documents, or database designs differ. It’s important to note that a database replica is distinct from a copy created by selecting File > Application > New Copy. While a copied database may appear identical to the original, it cannot replicate with the original database because it doesn’t share the same replica ID. 

Replicas are created for various reasons, such as to improve performance by reducing server load, to provide offline access to databases, or to distribute data across multiple servers for redundancy and fault tolerance. Replication can be configured to occur automatically on a scheduled basis or manually by the user. Replication can also be restricted by access controls to ensure that only authorized users can create or access replicas of a database. 

What is the difference between Lotus Notes and SharePoint data models? 

SharePoint lists are based on a list-centric data model in which each record is stored as a separate list item and related information can be stored in separate lists. Document libraries are a special type of SharePoint list. 

Lotus Notes databases, on the other hand, are based on a document-centric data model in which each document contains all the information related to a single record. 

Notes documents can be seen as a combination of SharePoint pages and list items. The documents are created based upon predefined Notes forms, which determine the document layout and the field set. 

Lotus Notes also supports document hierarchy through so-called “response documents,” which allows you to create a tree-like structure of related documents. In this case, each document represents a separate record, but you can link them together in a parent-child relationship. 

If you are looking to migrate a Lotus Notes database to SharePoint or simply to move historical Notes data to SharePoint, then check out our whitepaper with more details about the topic: Lotus Notes Data Migration for SharePoint Admins

What is the difference between Lotus Notes and SQL databases? 

Lotus Notes databases store information in the form of documents and can be considered to be semi-structured NoSQL databases (as opposed to SQL or relational databases). 

Each document in a Lotus Notes database can be compared to a row in an SQL table. In a simple database scenario, it is possible to export data from a Notes view (which is a collection of Notes documents) to a CSV file and import it into a relational database table. 

However, in most cases, exporting data from Notes is more complicated because it requires the handling of various document elements, such as rich text fields, specific document layouts, document links, file attachments, and document hierarchy. These elements require additional effort to ensure that the exported data maintains its structure and integrity when transferred to another database system. Learn more: Migrating Lotus Notes Data To SQL 

My IBM Notes 8.5 client cannot open a database due to “invalid NSF version” – What can I do?

Follow these steps to downgrade the ODS version of your NSF database:

  1. Check the current DB’s ODS version: Database properties > Info > ODS version.
  2. Open command prompt and cd to the Notes folder
  3. Once you are in the Notes folder run ncompact -R
  4. Check the ODS version again, it should be lower version.

These are the ODS versions with their respective Notes client versions:

  • ODS 43 (Version 6 & 7)
  • ODS 48 (Version 8)
  • ODS 51 (Version 8.5 & 9)
  • ODS 52 (Version 9.0.1)
  • ODS 53 (Version 10 & 11)
  • ODS 55 (Version 12)

So, for your 8.5 Notes client this version should be ODS 51 or lower.

How to export Lotus Notes data to CSV or Excel 

If you just need columns from a Notes view to be extracted from a Lotus Notes database, you can perform a simple extract to CSV. This should be fairly straightforward: 

Open the Lotus Notes client, select a view, choose File > Export, save as a Comma Separated Value (CSV), and you’re all set. 

This is a quick solution in some situations, but let us stress once again the fact that the Lotus Notes database is a semi-structured database, so you cannot preserve historical records in this way. Simply exporting Lotus Notes data to CSV will almost certainly result in the loss of some information, such as rich text, images, tables, file attachments, document links and relationships, field groupings, and certain metadata. 

How to open a Lotus Notes database 

In the Notes client, click on the File > Open > Notes Application (or use Ctrl+O) and choose the NSF file using the “Browse” button to open the application/database. Alternatively, you can also double click on the NSF file in the File Explorer to run the Notes client and open the database simultaneously. 

If you have appropriate permissions for the database, as defined in the access control list (ACL), you should be able to open the database in the Notes client. However, you may still receive the following error when attempting to open a local database: “The database has local access protection and you are not authorized to access it locally.” In that case, you will need to remove local database encryption, as explained in the following section. 

How to remove encryption from a Lotus Notes database 

When local database encryption is turned on, Lotus Notes encrypts the database using the public key associated with the user ID. As the user has the corresponding private key in their user ID, they are the only person who can decrypt the database. 

Therefore, in order to remove encryption from the database, you will need to use the same user ID. Here are the steps to follow: 

  1. In your Notes client, right click on the database and select Application > New Copy. 
  1. In the Copy Application window, select “Application design and documents” (or select “Application design only” if you want to create an empty database) and uncheck Access Control List. 
  1. Click on the Encryption button and select Do not locally encrypt this database option. Click OK, and one more time in the Copy Application window. The new database will be created in your Lotus Notes workspace. 
  1. Optionally: Right click on the new database in the Lotus Notes workspace and select Application > Access Control. Set the database ACL Default user to Manager. 

You can also remove encryption from a Lotus Notes database without creating a new copy. Make sure to compact the database in the final step: 

  1. Open the Database Properties dialog box for the selected database (File > Application > Properties).  
  1. On the first tab, set Encryption Settings: “Do not locally encrypt…” and click OK.  
  1. Go to the Info tab and click on the Compact button. 

How to backup a Lotus Notes database 

Regular backup of Domino servers is essential for organizations to protect their data and ensure business continuity. What should be included in a backup? All Domino server data files, including databases, template files, Notes.ini file, and ID files should be included. HCL Domino 12 provides a greatly enhanced native backup and restore solution for Domino

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of myths and misconceptions about backup and archiving. The key difference between regular data backup and data archiving is that data backup is primarily used for disaster recovery purposes, while data archiving is focused on preserving data for long-term access and retention. 

Especially during the Lotus Notes migration and Domino server decommissioning, the role of compliance archiving of historical data is often neglected. Even if the active data has been migrated and backups are preserved, the job isn’t complete without properly archived historical records. Learn more: Lotus Notes Backup: The myth of “sunset it and forget it.” 

How to archive a Lotus Notes database 

Check out this guide to learn about the pros and cons of two Lotus Notes archiving methods

Basically, you can opt to use the standard archiving feature that comes with HCL Lotus Notes to archive your data in the NSF format, or you may wish to use specialized archiving tools for Lotus Notes and export Lotus Notes data into open formats such as PDF/HTML and XML/JSON/CSV, and host the data either on SharePoint, or in the file system, or on the Flex Server. 

How to check a Lotus Notes database size 

To check the size of a Lotus Notes database, you can follow these steps: 

  1. Open the Lotus Notes client and navigate to the database you want to check. 
  1. Right-click on the database icon and select “Database Properties” from the context menu. 
  1. In the Database Properties dialog box, click on the “Info” tab. 
  1. The database size is displayed in the “Size” section, which shows the occupied disk space and number of Notes documents. 

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