double-entry bookkeeping is a process for doing this reliably. For every movement of value (a transaction), both the source and destination are recorded. Simple arithmetic invariants help prevent errors.
In traditional double-entry bookkeeping, value at any point in time is tracked in various accounts, classified as asset (owned), liability (owed) or equity (invested). Two more classifications track changes during some period: revenues (inflows) and expenses (outflows).
Transactions consist of debits (increases to asset or expense accounts, or decreases to liability or equity accounts) or credits (decreases to asset or expense accounts, or increases to liability or equity accounts).
In 2003, John Wiegley invented Ledger: a plain text data format and command-line reporting tool for efficient double-entry-style accounting. This idea went viral among software developers and technical folk, and we now have 5+ actively-developed Ledger-likes such as hledger and Beancount, with 40+ add-on tools and an active community. This site was created in 2016 to introduce our tools, documentation, and practices.
Accounting data is valuable; we want to know that it will be accessible for ever - even without software. We want to know when it changes, and revision-control it. We want to search and manipulate it efficiently. So, we store it as human-readable plain text.
We simplify debits and credits by using signed numbers instead - positive for inflows to an account, negative for outflows from an account.
Ledger-likes also, at their core, tend towards functional operation: they read the input data without changing it, and output a report. This simple model makes them easy to understand and rely on.
who is this for ?
Techies, power users, and do-it-yourself-ers, for now. If you need a complete GUI providing lots of guidance, you may prefer to use something else.
must I edit text and type cryptic commands ?
Not entirely! "Plain Text Accounting" is a broad description, referring mainly to the data format. We don't object to additional GUIs, and they are coming.
who is using it, and how ?
See Who's using Ledger? for some stories.
what are the alternatives ?
FOSS tools like GNUCash, Grisbi, KMyMoney. Proprietary tools like Quicken/Quickbooks, You Need A Budget. Online tools like Xero, FreeAgent. (There are many). Spreadsheets. Paper accounting. A bookkeeper.
why is this better than QuickBooks ?
Your data remains accessible. No yearly fees. Free software you can fix and port. Cross platform. Scriptable. Efficient.
how do I communicate with my accountant ?
Clean up text reports by hand, print them as PDF, export CSV reports to a spreadsheet..
what if my accountant only uses QuickBooks ?
You'll need a new accountant, or a duplicate set of books in QuickBooks, or to pioneer *ledger -> QuickBooks exporting.
can I use this to do my taxes ?
You can use this to track and report the data needed for tax reporting. Fill out and submit tax forms with another tool, or by hand.
|Project, start date||Last release||Code, committers||Mail list, size||IRC, size|
|Ledger, 2003||2016/01||C++ 101||ledger-cli 650||#ledger 75|
|hledger, 2007||2015/10||Haskell 30||hledger 75||#hledger 30|
|Beancount, 2008||Python 8||beancount 70||#beancount 5|
|Abandon, 2013||2015/11||Scala 5|
|Ledger in Go, 2013||Go 2|
|Project, start date||Last release||Code|
|cl-ledger, 2007||Common Lisp|
|sm-Ledger, 2007||Squeak Smalltalk|
C-c C-aadd a transaction,
C-c C-bamount calculator,
C-c C-etoggle cleared