journal format

This doc is for version 1.13. []{.docversions}

$toc$

NAME

Journal - hledger’s default file format, representing a General Journal

DESCRIPTION

hledger’s usual data source is a plain text file containing journal entries in hledger journal format. This file represents a standard accounting general journal. I use file names ending in .journal, but that’s not required. The journal file contains a number of transaction entries, each describing a transfer of money (or any commodity) between two or more named accounts, in a simple format readable by both hledger and humans.

hledger’s journal format is a compatible subset, mostly, of ledger’s journal format, so hledger can work with compatible ledger journal files as well. It’s safe, and encouraged, to run both hledger and ledger on the same journal file, eg to validate the results you’re getting.

You can use hledger without learning any more about this file; just use the add or web commands to create and update it. Many users, though, also edit the journal file directly with a text editor, perhaps assisted by the helper modes for emacs or vim.

Here’s an example:

; A sample journal file. This is a comment.

2008/01/01 income               ; <- transaction's first line starts in column 0, contains date and description
    assets:bank:checking  $1    ; <- posting lines start with whitespace, each contains an account name
    income:salary        $-1    ;    followed by at least two spaces and an amount

2008/06/01 gift
    assets:bank:checking  $1    ; <- at least two postings in a transaction
    income:gifts         $-1    ; <- their amounts must balance to 0

2008/06/02 save
    assets:bank:saving    $1
    assets:bank:checking        ; <- one amount may be omitted; here $-1 is inferred

2008/06/03 eat & shop           ; <- description can be anything
    expenses:food         $1
    expenses:supplies     $1    ; <- this transaction debits two expense accounts
    assets:cash                 ; <- $-2 inferred

2008/10/01 take a loan
    assets:bank:checking  $1
    liabilities:debts    $-1

2008/12/31 * pay off            ; <- an optional * or ! after the date means "cleared" (or anything you want)
    liabilities:debts     $1
    assets:bank:checking

FILE FORMAT

Transactions

Transactions are movements of some quantity of commodities between named accounts. Each transaction is represented by a journal entry beginning with a simple date in column 0. This can be followed by any of the following, separated by spaces:

  • (optional) a status character (empty, !, or *)

  • (optional) a transaction code (any short number or text, enclosed in parentheses)

  • (optional) a transaction description (any remaining text until end of line or a semicolon)

  • (optional) a transaction comment (any remaining text following a semicolon until end of line)

Then comes zero or more (but usually at least 2) indented lines representing…

Postings

A posting is an addition of some amount to, or removal of some amount from, an account. Each posting line begins with at least one space or tab (2 or 4 spaces is common), followed by:

  • (optional) a status character (empty, !, or *), followed by a space

  • (required) an account name (any text, optionally containing single spaces, until end of line or a double space)

  • (optional) two or more spaces or tabs followed by an amount.

Positive amounts are being added to the account, negative amounts are being removed.

The amounts within a transaction must always sum up to zero. As a convenience, one amount may be left blank; it will be inferred so as to balance the transaction.

Be sure to note the unusual two-space delimiter between account name and amount. This makes it easy to write account names containing spaces. But if you accidentally leave only one space (or tab) before the amount, the amount will be considered part of the account name.

Dates

Simple dates

Within a journal file, transaction dates use Y/M/D (or Y-M-D or Y.M.D) Leading zeros are optional. The year may be omitted, in which case it will be inferred from the context - the current transaction, the default year set with a default year directive, or the current date when the command is run. Some examples: 2010/01/31, 1/31, 2010-01-31, 2010.1.31.

Secondary dates

Real-life transactions sometimes involve more than one date - eg the date you write a cheque, and the date it clears in your bank. When you want to model this, eg for more accurate balances, you can specify individual posting dates, which I recommend. Or, you can use the secondary dates (aka auxiliary/effective dates) feature, supported for compatibility with Ledger.

A secondary date can be written after the primary date, separated by an equals sign. The primary date, on the left, is used by default; the secondary date, on the right, is used when the --date2 flag is specified (--aux-date or --effective also work).

The meaning of secondary dates is up to you, but it’s best to follow a consistent rule. Eg write the bank’s clearing date as primary, and when needed, the date the transaction was initiated as secondary.

Here’s an example. Note that a secondary date will use the year of the primary date if unspecified.

2010/2/23=2/19 movie ticket
  expenses:cinema                   $10
  assets:checking
$ hledger register checking
2010/02/23 movie ticket         assets:checking                $-10         $-10
$ hledger register checking --date2
2010/02/19 movie ticket         assets:checking                $-10         $-10

Secondary dates require some effort; you must use them consistently in your journal entries and remember whether to use or not use the --date2 flag for your reports. They are included in hledger for Ledger compatibility, but posting dates are a more powerful and less confusing alternative.

Posting dates

You can give individual postings a different date from their parent transaction, by adding a posting comment containing a tag (see below) like date:DATE. This is probably the best way to control posting dates precisely. Eg in this example the expense should appear in May reports, and the deduction from checking should be reported on 6/1 for easy bank reconciliation:

2015/5/30
    expenses:food     $10   ; food purchased on saturday 5/30
    assets:checking         ; bank cleared it on monday, date:6/1
$ hledger -f t.j register food
2015/05/30                      expenses:food                  $10           $10
$ hledger -f t.j register checking
2015/06/01                      assets:checking               $-10          $-10

DATE should be a simple date; if the year is not specified it will use the year of the transaction’s date. You can set the secondary date similarly, with date2:DATE2. The date: or date2: tags must have a valid simple date value if they are present, eg a date: tag with no value is not allowed.

Ledger’s earlier, more compact bracketed date syntax is also supported: [DATE], [DATE=DATE2] or [=DATE2]. hledger will attempt to parse any square-bracketed sequence of the 0123456789/-.= characters in this way. With this syntax, DATE infers its year from the transaction and DATE2 infers its year from DATE.

Status

Transactions, or individual postings within a transaction, can have a status mark, which is a single character before the transaction description or posting account name, separated from it by a space, indicating one of three statuses:

mark   status


unmarked ! pending * cleared

When reporting, you can filter by status with the -U/--unmarked, -P/--pending, and -C/--cleared flags; or the status:, status:!, and status:* queries; or the U, P, C keys in hledger-ui.

Note, in Ledger and in older versions of hledger, the “unmarked” state is called “uncleared”. As of hledger 1.3 we have renamed it to unmarked for clarity.

To replicate Ledger and old hledger’s behaviour of also matching pending, combine -U and -P.

Status marks are optional, but can be helpful eg for reconciling with real-world accounts. Some editor modes provide highlighting and shortcuts for working with status. Eg in Emacs ledger-mode, you can toggle transaction status with C-c C-e, or posting status with C-c C-c.

What “uncleared”, “pending”, and “cleared” actually mean is up to you. Here’s one suggestion:


status meaning


uncleared recorded but not yet reconciled; needs review

pending tentatively reconciled (if needed, eg during a big reconciliation)

cleared complete, reconciled as far as possible, and considered correct

With this scheme, you would use -PC to see the current balance at your bank, -U to see things which will probably hit your bank soon (like uncashed checks), and no flags to see the most up-to-date state of your finances.

Description

A transaction’s description is the rest of the line following the date and status mark (or until a comment begins). Sometimes called the “narration” in traditional bookkeeping, it can be used for whatever you wish, or left blank. Transaction descriptions can be queried, unlike comments.

Payee and note

You can optionally include a | (pipe) character in a description to subdivide it into a payee/payer name on the left and additional notes on the right. This may be worthwhile if you need to do more precise querying and pivoting by payee.

Account names

Account names typically have several parts separated by a full colon, from which hledger derives a hierarchical chart of accounts. They can be anything you like, but in finance there are traditionally five top-level accounts: assets, liabilities, income, expenses, and equity.

Account names may contain single spaces, eg: assets:accounts receivable. Because of this, they must always be followed by two or more spaces (or newline).

Account names can be aliased.

Amounts

After the account name, there is usually an amount. Important: between account name and amount, there must be two or more spaces.

Amounts consist of a number and (usually) a currency symbol or commodity name. Some examples:

2.00001
$1
4000 AAPL
3 "green apples"
-$1,000,000.00
INR 9,99,99,999.00
EUR -2.000.000,00
1 999 999.9455
EUR 1E3
1000E-6s

As you can see, the amount format is somewhat flexible:

  • amounts are a number (the “quantity”) and optionally a currency symbol/commodity name (the “commodity”).

  • the commodity is a symbol, word, or phrase, on the left or right, with or without a separating space. If the commodity contains numbers, spaces or non-word punctuation it must be enclosed in double quotes.

  • negative amounts with a commodity on the left can have the minus sign before or after it

  • digit groups (thousands, or any other grouping) can be separated by space or comma or period and should be used as separator between all groups

  • decimal part can be separated by comma or period and should be different from digit groups separator

  • scientific E-notation is allowed. Be careful not to use a digit group separator character in scientific notation, as it’s not supported and it might get mistaken for a decimal point. (Declaring the digit group separator character explicitly with a commodity directive will prevent this.)

You can use any of these variations when recording data. However, there is some ambiguous way of representing numbers like $1.000 and $1,000 both may mean either one thousand or one dollar. By default hledger will assume that this is sole delimiter is used only for decimals. On the other hand commodity format declared prior to that line will help to resolve that ambiguity differently:

commodity $1,000.00

2017/12/25 New life of Scrooge
    expenses:gifts  $1,000
    assets

Though journal may contain mixed styles to represent amount, when hledger displays amounts, it will choose a consistent format for each commodity. (Except for price amounts, which are always formatted as written). The display format is chosen as follows:

  • if there is a commodity directive specifying the format, that is used

  • otherwise the format is inferred from the first posting amount in that commodity in the journal, and the precision (number of decimal places) will be the maximum from all posting amounts in that commmodity

  • or if there are no such amounts in the journal, a default format is used (like $1000.00).

Price amounts and amounts in D directives usually don’t affect amount format inference, but in some situations they can do so indirectly. (Eg when D’s default commodity is applied to a commodity-less amount, or when an amountless posting is balanced using a price’s commodity, or when -V is used.) If you find this causing problems, set the desired format with a commodity directive.

Virtual Postings

When you parenthesise the account name in a posting, we call that a virtual posting, which means:

  • it is ignored when checking that the transaction is balanced

  • it is excluded from reports when the --real/-R flag is used, or the real:1 query.

You could use this, eg, to set an account’s opening balance without needing to use the equity:opening balances account:

1/1 special unbalanced posting to set initial balance
  (assets:checking)   $1000

When the account name is bracketed, we call it a balanced virtual posting. This is like an ordinary virtual posting except the balanced virtual postings in a transaction must balance to 0, like the real postings (but separately from them). Balanced virtual postings are also excluded by --real/-R or real:1.

1/1 buy food with cash, and update some budget-tracking subaccounts elsewhere
  expenses:food                   $10
  assets:cash                    $-10
  [assets:checking:available]     $10
  [assets:checking:budget:food]  $-10

Virtual postings have some legitimate uses, but those are few. You can usually find an equivalent journal entry using real postings, which is more correct and provides better error checking.

Balance Assertions

hledger supports Ledger-style balance assertions in journal files. These look like =EXPECTEDBALANCE following a posting’s amount. Eg in this example we assert the expected dollar balance in accounts a and b after each posting:

2013/1/1
  a   $1  =$1
  b       =$-1

2013/1/2
  a   $1  =$2
  b  $-1  =$-2

After reading a journal file, hledger will check all balance assertions and report an error if any of them fail. Balance assertions can protect you from, eg, inadvertently disrupting reconciled balances while cleaning up old entries. You can disable them temporarily with the --ignore-assertions flag, which can be useful for troubleshooting or for reading Ledger files.

Assertions and ordering

hledger sorts an account’s postings and assertions first by date and then (for postings on the same day) by parse order. Note this is different from Ledger, which sorts assertions only by parse order. (Also, Ledger assertions do not see the accumulated effect of repeated postings to the same account within a transaction.)

So, hledger balance assertions keep working if you reorder differently-dated transactions within the journal. But if you reorder same-dated transactions or postings, assertions might break and require updating. This order dependence does bring an advantage: precise control over the order of postings and assertions within a day, so you can assert intra-day balances.

Assertions and included files

With included files, things are a little more complicated. Including preserves the ordering of postings and assertions. If you have multiple postings to an account on the same day, split across different files, and you also want to assert the account’s balance on the same day, you’ll have to put the assertion in the right file.

Assertions and multiple -f options

Balance assertions don’t work well across files specified with multiple -f options. Use include or concatenate the files instead.

Assertions and commodities

The asserted balance must be a simple single-commodity amount, and in fact the assertion checks only this commodity’s balance within the (possibly multi-commodity) account balance.
This is how assertions work in Ledger also. We could call this a “partial” balance assertion.

To assert the balance of more than one commodity in an account, you can write multiple postings, each asserting one commodity’s balance.

You can make a stronger kind of balance assertion, by writing a double equals sign (==EXPECTEDBALANCE). This “complete” balance assertion asserts the absence of other commodities (or, that their balance is 0, which to hledger is equivalent.)

2013/1/1
  a   $1
  a    1€
  b  $-1
  c   -1€

2013/1/2  ; These assertions succeed
  a    0  =  $1
  a    0  =   1€
  b    0 == $-1
  c    0 ==  -1€

2013/1/3  ; This assertion fails as 'a' also contains 1€
  a    0 ==  $1

It’s not yet possible to make a complete assertion about a balance that has multiple commodities. One workaround is to isolate each commodity into its own subaccount:

2013/1/1
  a:usd   $1
  a:euro   1€
  b

2013/1/2
  a        0 ==  0
  a:usd    0 == $1
  a:euro   0 ==  1€

Assertions and prices

Balance assertions ignore transaction prices, and should normally be written without one:

2019/1/1
  (a)     $1 @ €1 = $1

We do allow prices to be written there, however, and print shows them, even though they don’t affect whether the assertion passes or fails. This is for backward compatibility (hledger’s close command used to generate balance assertions with prices), and because balance assignments do use them (see below).

Assertions and subaccounts

Balance assertions do not count the balance from subaccounts; they check the posted account’s exclusive balance. For example:

1/1
  checking:fund   1 = 1  ; post to this subaccount, its balance is now 1
  checking        1 = 1  ; post to the parent account, its exclusive balance is now 1
  equity

The balance report’s flat mode shows these exclusive balances more clearly:

$ hledger bal checking --flat
                   1  checking
                   1  checking:fund
--------------------
                   2

Assertions and virtual postings

Balance assertions are checked against all postings, both real and virtual. They are not affected by the --real/-R flag or real: query.

Assertions and precision

Balance assertions compare the exactly calculated amounts, which are not always what is shown by reports. Eg a commodity directive may limit the display precision, but this will not affect balance assertions. Balance assertion failure messages show exact amounts.

Balance Assignments

Ledger-style balance assignments are also supported. These are like balance assertions, but with no posting amount on the left side of the equals sign; instead it is calculated automatically so as to satisfy the assertion. This can be a convenience during data entry, eg when setting opening balances:

; starting a new journal, set asset account balances 
2016/1/1 opening balances
  assets:checking            = $409.32
  assets:savings             = $735.24
  assets:cash                 = $42
  equity:opening balances

or when adjusting a balance to reality:

; no cash left; update balance, record any untracked spending as a generic expense
2016/1/15
  assets:cash    = $0
  expenses:misc

The calculated amount depends on the account’s balance in the commodity at that point (which depends on the previously-dated postings of the commodity to that account since the last balance assertion or assignment). Note that using balance assignments makes your journal a little less explicit; to know the exact amount posted, you have to run hledger or do the calculations yourself, instead of just reading it.

Balance assignments and prices

A transaction price in a balance assignment will cause the calculated amount to have that price attached:

2019/1/1
  (a)             = $1 @ €2
$ hledger print --explicit
2019/01/01
    (a)         $1 @ €2 = $1 @ €2

Transaction prices

Within a transaction, you can note an amount’s price in another commodity. This can be used to document the cost (in a purchase) or selling price (in a sale). For example, transaction prices are useful to record purchases of a foreign currency. Note transaction prices are fixed at the time of the transaction, and do not change over time. See also market prices, which represent prevailing exchange rates on a certain date.

There are several ways to record a transaction price:

  1. Write the price per unit, as @ UNITPRICE after the amount:

    2009/1/1
      assets:euros     €100 @ $1.35  ; one hundred euros purchased at $1.35 each
      assets:dollars                 ; balancing amount is -$135.00
    
  2. Write the total price, as @@ TOTALPRICE after the amount:

    2009/1/1
      assets:euros     €100 @@ $135  ; one hundred euros purchased at $135 for the lot
      assets:dollars
    
  3. Specify amounts for all postings, using exactly two commodities, and let hledger infer the price that balances the transaction:

    2009/1/1
      assets:euros     €100          ; one hundred euros purchased
      assets:dollars  $-135          ; for $135
    

(Ledger users: Ledger uses a different syntax for fixed prices, {=UNITPRICE}, which hledger currently ignores).

Use the -B/--cost flag to convert amounts to their transaction price’s commodity, if any. (mnemonic: “B” is from “cost Basis”, as in Ledger). Eg here is how -B affects the balance report for the example above:

$ hledger bal -N --flat
               $-135  assets:dollars
                €100  assets:euros
$ hledger bal -N --flat -B
               $-135  assets:dollars
                $135  assets:euros    # <- the euros' cost

Note -B is sensitive to the order of postings when a transaction price is inferred: the inferred price will be in the commodity of the last amount. So if example 3’s postings are reversed, while the transaction is equivalent, -B shows something different:

2009/1/1
  assets:dollars  $-135               ; 135 dollars sold
  assets:euros     €100               ; for 100 euros
$ hledger bal -N --flat -B
               €-100  assets:dollars  # <- the dollars' selling price
                €100  assets:euros

Comments

Lines in the journal beginning with a semicolon (;) or hash (#) or star (*) are comments, and will be ignored. (Star comments cause org-mode nodes to be ignored, allowing emacs users to fold and navigate their journals with org-mode or orgstruct-mode.)

You can attach comments to a transaction by writing them after the description and/or indented on the following lines (before the postings). Similarly, you can attach comments to an individual posting by writing them after the amount and/or indented on the following lines. Transaction and posting comments must begin with a semicolon (;).

Some examples:

# a file comment

; also a file comment

comment
This is a multiline file comment,
which continues until a line
where the "end comment" string
appears on its own (or end of file).
end comment

2012/5/14 something  ; a transaction comment
    ; the transaction comment, continued
    posting1  1  ; a comment for posting 1
    posting2
    ; a comment for posting 2
    ; another comment line for posting 2
; a file comment (because not indented)

You can also comment larger regions of a file using comment and end comment directives.

Tags

Tags are a way to add extra labels or labelled data to postings and transactions, which you can then search or pivot on.

A simple tag is a word (which may contain hyphens) followed by a full colon, written inside a transaction or posting comment line:

2017/1/16 bought groceries    ; sometag:

Tags can have a value, which is the text after the colon, up to the next comma or end of line, with leading/trailing whitespace removed:

    expenses:food    $10   ; a-posting-tag: the tag value

Note this means hledger’s tag values can not contain commas or newlines. Ending at commas means you can write multiple short tags on one line, comma separated:

    assets:checking       ; a comment containing tag1:, tag2: some value ...

Here,

  • a comment containing” is just comment text, not a tag

  • tag1” is a tag with no value

  • tag2” is another tag, whose value is “some value ...

Tags in a transaction comment affect the transaction and all of its postings, while tags in a posting comment affect only that posting. For example, the following transaction has three tags (A, TAG2, third-tag) and the posting has four (those plus posting-tag):

1/1 a transaction  ; A:, TAG2:
    ; third-tag: a third transaction tag, <- with a value
    (a)  $1  ; posting-tag:

Tags are like Ledger’s metadata feature, except hledger’s tag values are simple strings.

Directives

A directive is a line in the journal beginning with a special keyword, that influences how the journal is processed. hledger’s directives are based on a subset of Ledger’s, but there are many differences (and also some differences between hledger versions).

Directives’ behaviour and interactions can get a little bit complex, so here is a table summarising the directives and their effects, with links to more detailed docs.


directive end directive subdirectives purpose can affect (as of 2018/06)


account any text document account names, all entries in all declare account types & files, before or display order after

alias end aliases rewrite account names following inline/included entries until end of current file or end directive

apply account end apply account prepend a common parent to following account names inline/included entries until end of current file or end directive

comment end comment ignore part of journal following inline/included entries until end of current file or end directive

commodity format declare a commodity and its number notation: number notation & display following entries style in that commodity in all files;
display style: amounts of that commodity in reports

D declare a commodity, number commodity: all notation & display style for commodityless commodityless amounts entries in all files;
number notation: following commodityless entries and entries in that commodity in all files;
display style: amounts of that commodity in reports

include include entries/directives what the included from another file directives affect

P declare a market price for a amounts of that commodity commodity in reports, when -V is used

Y declare a year for yearless following dates inline/included entries until end of current file

And some definitions:


subdirective optional indented directive line immediately following a parent directive

number how to interpret numbers when parsing journal entries (the notation identity of the decimal separator character). (Currently each commodity can have its own notation, even in the same file.)

display style how to display amounts of a commodity in reports (symbol side and spacing, digit groups, decimal separator, decimal places)

directive which entries and (when there are multiple files) which files scope are affected by a directive


As you can see, directives vary in which journal entries and files they affect, and whether they are focussed on input (parsing) or output (reports). Some directives have multiple effects.

If you have a journal made up of multiple files, or pass multiple -f options on the command line, note that directives which affect input typically last only until the end of their defining file. This provides more simplicity and predictability, eg reports are not changed by writing file options in a different order. It can be surprising at times though. <!– TODO: retest For example, in:

hledger -f a.aliases -f b.journal

you might expect account aliases defined in a.aliases to affect b.journal, but they will not, unless you include a.aliases in b.journal, or vice versa. –>

Comment blocks

A line containing just comment starts a commented region of the file, and a line containing just end comment (or the end of the current file) ends it. See also comments.

Including other files

You can pull in the content of additional files by writing an include directive, like this:

include path/to/file.journal

If the path does not begin with a slash, it is relative to the current file. The include file path may contain common glob patterns (e.g. *).

The include directive can only be used in journal files. It can include journal, timeclock or timedot files, but not CSV files.

Default year

You can set a default year to be used for subsequent dates which don’t specify a year. This is a line beginning with Y followed by the year. Eg:

Y2009      ; set default year to 2009

12/15      ; equivalent to 2009/12/15
  expenses  1
  assets

Y2010      ; change default year to 2010

2009/1/30  ; specifies the year, not affected
  expenses  1
  assets

1/31       ; equivalent to 2010/1/31
  expenses  1
  assets

Declaring commodities

The commodity directive declares commodities which may be used in the journal (though currently we do not enforce this). It may be written on a single line, like this:

; commodity EXAMPLEAMOUNT

; display AAAA amounts with the symbol on the right, space-separated,
; using period as decimal point, with four decimal places, and
; separating thousands with comma.
commodity 1,000.0000 AAAA

or on multiple lines, using the “format” subdirective. In this case the commodity symbol appears twice and should be the same in both places:

; commodity SYMBOL
;   format EXAMPLEAMOUNT

; display indian rupees with currency name on the left,
; thousands, lakhs and crores comma-separated,
; period as decimal point, and two decimal places.
commodity INR
  format INR 9,99,99,999.00

Commodity directives have a second purpose: they define the standard display format for amounts in the commodity. Normally the display format is inferred from journal entries, but this can be unpredictable; declaring it with a commodity directive overrides this and removes ambiguity. Towards this end, amounts in commodity directives must always be written with a decimal point (a period or comma, followed by 0 or more decimal digits).

Default commodity

The D directive sets a default commodity (and display format), to be used for amounts without a commodity symbol (ie, plain numbers). (Note this differs from Ledger’s default commodity directive.) The commodity and display format will be applied to all subsequent commodity-less amounts, or until the next D directive.

# commodity-less amounts should be treated as dollars
# (and displayed with symbol on the left, thousands separators and two decimal places)
D $1,000.00

1/1
  a     5    ; <- commodity-less amount, becomes $1
  b

As with the commodity directive, the amount must always be written with a decimal point.

Market prices

The P directive declares a market price, which is an exchange rate between two commodities on a certain date. (In Ledger, they are called “historical prices”.) These are often obtained from a stock exchange, cryptocurrency exchange, or the foreign exchange market.

Here is the format:

P DATE COMMODITYA COMMODITYBAMOUNT
  • DATE is a simple date

  • COMMODITYA is the symbol of the commodity being priced

  • COMMODITYBAMOUNT is an amount (symbol and quantity) in a second commodity, giving the price in commodity B of one unit of commodity A.

These two market price directives say that one euro was worth 1.35 US dollars during 2009, and $1.40 from 2010 onward:

P 2009/1/1 € $1.35
P 2010/1/1 € $1.40

The -V/--value flag can be used to convert reported amounts to another commodity using these prices.

Declaring accounts

account directives can be used to pre-declare accounts. Though not required, they can provide several benefits:

  • They can document your intended chart of accounts, providing a reference.

  • They can store extra information about accounts (account numbers, notes, etc.)

  • They can help hledger know your accounts’ types (asset, liability, equity, revenue, expense), useful for reports like balancesheet and incomestatement.

  • They control account display order in reports, allowing non-alphabetic sorting (eg Revenues to appear above Expenses).

  • They help with account name completion in the add command, hledger-iadd, hledger-web, ledger-mode etc.

The simplest form is just the word account followed by a hledger-style account name, eg:

account assets:bank:checking

Account comments

Comments, beginning with a semicolon, optionally including tags, can be written after the account name, and/or on following lines. Eg:

account assets:bank:checking  ; a comment
  ; another comment
  ; acctno:12345, a tag

Tip: comments on the same line require hledger 1.12+. If you need your journal to be compatible with older hledger versions, write comments on the next line instead.

Account subdirectives

We also allow (and ignore) Ledger-style indented subdirectives, just for compatibility.:

account assets:bank:checking
  format blah blah  ; <- subdirective, ignored

Here is the full syntax of account directives:

account ACCTNAME  [ACCTTYPE] [;COMMENT]
  [;COMMENTS]
  [LEDGER-STYLE SUBDIRECTIVES, IGNORED]

Account types

hledger recognises five types (or classes) of account: Asset, Liability, Equity, Revenue, Expense. This is used by a few accounting-aware reports such as balancesheet, incomestatement and cashflow.

Auto-detected account types

If you name your top-level accounts with some variation of assets, liabilities/debts, equity, revenues/income, or expenses, their types are detected automatically.

Account types declared with tags

More generally, you can declare an account’s type with an account directive, by writing a type: tag in a comment, followed by one of the words Asset, Liability, Equity, Revenue, Expense, or one of the letters ALERX (case insensitive):

account assets       ; type:Asset
account liabilities  ; type:Liability
account equity       ; type:Equity
account revenues     ; type:Revenue
account expenses     ; type:Expenses
Account types declared with account type codes

Or, you can write one of those letters separated from the account name by two or more spaces, but this should probably be considered deprecated as of hledger 1.13:

account assets       A
account liabilities  L
account equity       E
account revenues     R
account expenses     X
Overriding auto-detected types

If you ever override the types of those auto-detected english account names mentioned above, you might need to help the reports a bit. Eg:

; make "liabilities" not have the liability type - who knows why
account liabilities   ; type:E

; we need to ensure some other account has the liability type, 
; otherwise balancesheet would still show "liabilities" under Liabilities 
account -             ; type:L

Account display order

Account directives also set the order in which accounts are displayed, eg in reports, the hledger-ui accounts screen, and the hledger-web sidebar. By default accounts are listed in alphabetical order. But if you have these account directives in the journal:

account assets
account liabilities
account equity
account revenues
account expenses

you’ll see those accounts displayed in declaration order, not alphabetically:

$ hledger accounts -1
assets
liabilities
equity
revenues
expenses

Undeclared accounts, if any, are displayed last, in alphabetical order.

Note that sorting is done at each level of the account tree (within each group of sibling accounts under the same parent). And currently, this directive:

account other:zoo

would influence the position of zoo among other’s subaccounts, but not the position of other among the top-level accounts. This means: - you will sometimes declare parent accounts (eg account other above) that you don’t intend to post to, just to customize their display order

  • sibling accounts stay together (you couldn’t display x:y in between a:b and a:c).

Rewriting accounts

You can define account alias rules which rewrite your account names, or parts of them, before generating reports. This can be useful for:

  • expanding shorthand account names to their full form, allowing easier data entry and a less verbose journal

  • adapting old journals to your current chart of accounts

  • experimenting with new account organisations, like a new hierarchy or combining two accounts into one

  • customising reports

Account aliases also rewrite account names in account directives. They do not affect account names being entered via hledger add or hledger-web.

See also Cookbook: Rewrite account names.

Basic aliases

To set an account alias, use the alias directive in your journal file. This affects all subsequent journal entries in the current file or its included files. The spaces around the = are optional:

alias OLD = NEW

Or, you can use the --alias 'OLD=NEW' option on the command line. This affects all entries. It’s useful for trying out aliases interactively.

OLD and NEW are case sensitive full account names. hledger will replace any occurrence of the old account name with the new one. Subaccounts are also affected. Eg:

alias checking = assets:bank:wells fargo:checking
# rewrites "checking" to "assets:bank:wells fargo:checking", or "checking:a" to "assets:bank:wells fargo:checking:a"

Regex aliases

There is also a more powerful variant that uses a regular expression, indicated by the forward slashes:

alias /REGEX/ = REPLACEMENT

or --alias '/REGEX/=REPLACEMENT'.

REGEX is a case-insensitive regular expression. Anywhere it matches inside an account name, the matched part will be replaced by REPLACEMENT. If REGEX contains parenthesised match groups, these can be referenced by the usual numeric backreferences in REPLACEMENT. Eg:

alias /^(.+):bank:([^:]+)(.*)/ = \1:\2 \3
# rewrites "assets:bank:wells fargo:checking" to  "assets:wells fargo checking"

Also note that REPLACEMENT continues to the end of line (or on command line, to end of option argument), so it can contain trailing whitespace.

Multiple aliases

You can define as many aliases as you like using directives or command-line options. Aliases are recursive - each alias sees the result of applying previous ones. (This is different from Ledger, where aliases are non-recursive by default). Aliases are applied in the following order:

  1. alias directives, most recently seen first (recent directives take precedence over earlier ones; directives not yet seen are ignored)

  2. alias options, in the order they appear on the command line

end aliases

You can clear (forget) all currently defined aliases with the end aliases directive:

end aliases

Default parent account

You can specify a parent account which will be prepended to all accounts within a section of the journal. Use the apply account and end apply account directives like so:

apply account home

2010/1/1
    food    $10
    cash

end apply account

which is equivalent to:

2010/01/01
    home:food           $10
    home:cash          $-10

If end apply account is omitted, the effect lasts to the end of the file. Included files are also affected, eg:

apply account business
include biz.journal
end apply account
apply account personal
include personal.journal

Prior to hledger 1.0, legacy account and end spellings were also supported.

A default parent account also affects account directives. It does not affect account names being entered via hledger add or hledger-web. If account aliases are present, they are applied after the default parent account.

Periodic transactions

Periodic transaction rules describe transactions that recur. They allow you to generate future transactions for forecasting, without having to write them out explicitly in the journal (with --forecast). Secondly, they also can be used to define budget goals (with --budget).

A periodic transaction rule looks like a normal journal entry, with the date replaced by a tilde (~) followed by a period expression (mnemonic: ~ looks like a recurring sine wave.):

~ monthly
    expenses:rent          $2000
    assets:bank:checking

There is an additional constraint on the period expression: the start date must fall on a natural boundary of the interval. Eg monthly from 2018/1/1 is valid, but monthly from 2018/1/15 is not.

Partial or relative dates (M/D, D, tomorrow, last week) in the period expression can work (useful or not). They will be relative to today’s date, unless a Y default year directive is in effect, in which case they will be relative to Y/1/1.

Two spaces after the period expression

If the period expression is followed by a transaction description, these must be separated by two or more spaces. This helps hledger know where the period expression ends, so that descriptions can not accidentally alter their meaning, as in this example:

; 2 or more spaces needed here, so the period is not understood as "every 2 months in 2020"
;               ||
;               vv
~ every 2 months  in 2020, we will review
    assets:bank:checking   $1500
    income:acme inc

Forecasting with periodic transactions

With the --forecast flag, each periodic transaction rule generates future transactions recurring at the specified interval. These are not saved in the journal, but appear in all reports. They will look like normal transactions, but with an extra tag named recur, whose value is the generating period expression.

Forecast transactions start on the first occurrence, and end on the last occurrence, of their interval within the forecast period. The forecast period:

  • begins on the later of

    • the report start date if specified with -b/-p/date:

    • the day after the latest normal (non-periodic) transaction in the journal, or today if there are no normal transactions.

  • ends on the report end date if specified with -e/-p/date:, or 180 days from today.

where “today” means the current date at report time. The “later of” rule ensures that forecast transactions do not overlap normal transactions in time; they will begin only after normal transactions end.

Forecasting can be useful for estimating balances into the future, and experimenting with different scenarios. Note the start date logic means that forecasted transactions are automatically replaced by normal transactions as you add those.

Forecasting can also help with data entry: describe most of your transactions with periodic rules, and every so often copy the output of print --forecast to the journal.

You can generate one-time transactions too: just write a period expression specifying a date with no report interval. (You could also write a normal transaction with a future date, but remember this disables forecast transactions on previous dates.)

Budgeting with periodic transactions

With the --budget flag, currently supported by the balance command, each periodic transaction rule declares recurring budget goals for the specified accounts. Eg the first example above declares a goal of spending $2000 on rent (and also, a goal of depositing $2000 into checking) every month. Goals and actual performance can then be compared in budget reports.

For more details, see: balance: Budget report and Cookbook: Budgeting and Forecasting.

Transaction modifiers

Transaction modifier rules describe changes that should be applied automatically to certain transactions. They can be enabled by using the --auto flag. Currently, just one kind of change is possible: adding extra postings. These rule-generated postings are known as “automated postings” or “auto postings”.

A transaction modifier rule looks quite like a normal transaction, except the first line is an equals sign followed by a query that matches certain postings (mnemonic: = suggests matching). And each “posting” is actually a posting-generating rule:

= QUERY
    ACCT  AMT
    ACCT  [AMT]
    ...

These posting rules look like normal postings, except the amount can be:

  • a normal amount with a commodity symbol, eg $2. This will be used as-is.

  • a number, eg 2. The commodity symbol (if any) from the matched posting will be added to this.

  • a numeric multiplier, eg *2 (a star followed by a number N). The matched posting’s amount (and total price, if any) will be multiplied by N.

  • a multiplier with a commodity symbol, eg *$2 (a star, number N, and symbol S). The matched posting’s amount will be multiplied by N, and its commodity symbol will be replaced with S.

Some examples:

; every time I buy food, schedule a dollar donation
= expenses:food
    (liabilities:charity)   $-1

; when I buy a gift, also deduct that amount from a budget envelope subaccount
= expenses:gifts
    assets:checking:gifts  *-1
    assets:checking         *1

2017/12/1
  expenses:food    $10
  assets:checking

2017/12/14
  expenses:gifts   $20
  assets:checking
$ hledger print --auto
2017/12/01
    expenses:food              $10
    assets:checking
    (liabilities:charity)      $-1

2017/12/14
    expenses:gifts             $20
    assets:checking
    assets:checking:gifts     -$20
    assets:checking            $20

Auto postings and transaction balancing / inferred amounts / balance assertions

Currently, transaction modifiers are applied / auto postings are added:

Note this means that journal entries must be balanced both before and after auto postings are added. This changed in hledger 1.12+; see #893 for background.

EDITOR SUPPORT

Add-on modes exist for various text editors, to make working with journal files easier. They add colour, navigation aids and helpful commands. For hledger users who edit the journal file directly (the majority), using one of these modes is quite recommended.

These were written with Ledger in mind, but also work with hledger files:


Editor


Emacs http://www.ledger-cli.org/3.0/doc/ledger-mode.html

Vim https://github.com/ledger/vim-ledger

Sublime Text https://github.com/ledger/ledger/wiki/Editing-Ledger-files-with-Sublime-Text-or-RubyMine

Textmate https://github.com/ledger/ledger/wiki/Using-TextMate-2

Text https://github.com/ledger/ledger/wiki/Editing-Ledger-files-with-TextWrangler Wrangler