read-only & fiddle-only notebooks ?

I’m often wanting to work in a mode where my changes to a notebook would not be saved in that notebook.

For example:

  • testing a hypothesis I have on something, not realizing that I’m working on a notebook that’s not mine (in particular in a team).
  • using a notebook that I developed as a generic tool for datasets, and fiddling with parameters and inputs to adjust them on my current dataset’s peculiarities.
  • using a notebook that has an example dataset, and replacing it with my own data.

In these cases it might be useful to be able to “lock” a notebook in a read-only state, so that my changes to it are either just local (as when I work on someone else’s notebook not in my team), or at least force me to remember to do a fork.

I know I can always roll-back my changes, but it feels like the notebook is in a dirty state in between. Also when working in a team, it might create problems.

(Of course there’s a solution which is to fork before you start anything. But it’s not as comfortable as what happens on other people’s notebooks, where you can fiddle with the contents without consequence.)


You can click on “View History” in the menu in the upper right and then fiddle with the locked version there or you can navigate to the latest “version-pinned” URL

A few related feature requests come to mind:

  • Could we get a keyboard shortcut for entering the history mode?
  • I wish it were easier to get the latest version number. Having to reopen the notebook in history mode to get the version number can be painful for notebooks with a lot of computationally-heavy cells (see also: Feature requests: diffs / history in safe mode). Previously I could just click on the link to the file, but ever since it’s been removed I’ve had to mess around with the notebook URL to get to the .js?v=3 file instead. Maybe htttps:// could redirect to the latest version-pinned URL?

This may also apply to trashed notebooks: A notebook in the trash can only be viewed and edited after I restore it, even though there are no technical reasons for this limitation (I can remove the overlay and start editing, although saving produces an error message).

I’d imagine a trashed notebook should be viewable inside a sandbox, just like notebooks authored by others.

There’s definitely some tension between notebook-as-in-progress-publishable-document vs. notebook-as-playground.

I also have some notebooks where just fiddling subjectively feels lower-friction than forking or making a new notebook and importing relevant parts.

I’m not sure a no-saved-changes mode is the right solution though. It’s yet one more feature for newcomers to learn about and the platform to maintain, and the fork-fiddle-trash workaround isn’t really too onerous.

Another workaround is to open the notebook in a different (not logged in) browser or in an “incognito” window.