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Is there a 'biblatex in a nutshell' guide out there? I'd like if someone explained to me the essentials on how to use biblatex (what lines I have to write in my document, which files I have to have, how many times and what I have to compile), so then I can go to http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/macros/latex/exptl/biblatex/doc/biblatex.pdf to customise it further.

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This question Might be of interest. – Seamus Mar 15 '11 at 13:46

10 Answers 10

up vote 172 down vote accepted

A minimal document for biblatex would be

\bibliography{<database>} % or
% \addbibresource{<database>.<extension>}

which requires a <database> file in .bib format. You then run:

  1. LaTeX
  2. BibTeX
  3. LaTeX

Normally, you'd also select a bibliography style by loading this an an optional argument to the biblatex line


You should use the '8-bit' version of BibTeX as a minimum, rather than the ancient 7-bit BibTeX. At the Command line, this is used by doing

bibtex8 --wolfgang <filename>

where <filename> is the name of your LaTeX file.

There is more you can do, but this should get you started.

For some time, biblatex has supported two 'backends' (the program that extracts references from the .bib file), BibTeX and Biber. As of version 2, Biber is the default backend. In the example above, I've used the BibTeX backend as this is still more widely known and available. On the other hand, Biber is more powerful, and works natively with UTF-8 input. The workflow is pretty similar for Biber. The minimal document for Biber is

\bibliography{<database>} % or
% \addbibresource{<database>.<extension>}

and you then need to run

  1. LaTeX
  2. Biber
  3. LaTeX

As you'll see, this is very little difference from using BibTeX: basically replace 'BibTeX' with 'Biber'. See How to use biber and Biblatex with Biber: Configuring my editor to avoid undefined citations for more on this.

Recent versions of biblatex have deprecated

\bibliography{<database>} % Must be .bib

in favour of the more general


The latter is more general, but you must include the file extension (usually .bib).

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@Igor: The question is about biblatex, so my answer should I hope be reasonable. I'm not sure what you mean by 'please don't mix bibtex.exe with BibTeX': with either a traditional BibTeX style or with biblatex you still need to run BibTeX (unless you are using Biber with biblatex). To do that, most people will be using an IDE which will say 'BibTeX': it's the chose of loading biblatex or using \bibliographystyle that determines what BibTeX does. – Joseph Wright Mar 15 '11 at 16:28
I should add that I doubt you'll find any journals supporting biblatex (it needs e-TeX, which seems to be rare on publication systems, and many journals actually convert to XML at some stage rather than typeset from TeX source directly). – Joseph Wright Mar 15 '11 at 16:29
@slackenerny: Sounds like you want to use biblatex's "shorthand" feature. Ask a question, and I'll try to come up with a working example. :-) – lockstep Mar 15 '11 at 18:50
According to section 3.5.1 of the biblatex documentation, you should use \addbibresource instead of \bibliography, which is deprecated. – doncherry Jan 5 '12 at 13:16
@Igor: I strongly disagree. Of course, if you're forced to use bibtex(because of journal guidelines or for whatever reason) then do it. But then the whole question becomes moot anyway. But if you don't have to use traditional bibtex, for heaven's sake do yourself the favor and use biblatex. It's so much better, that you shouldn't even waste time thinking about changing or not. – Simifilm Jan 5 '12 at 13:56

biblatex comes with a variety of built-in bibliography/citation style families (numeric, alphabetic, authoryear, authortitle, verbose), and there's a growing number of custom styles. That said, here's how to approximately emulate the output of the traditional BibTeX styles plain, abbrv, unsrt, and alpha:

plain --> \usepackage[style=numeric]{biblatex}

abbrv --> \usepackage[style=numeric,firstinits=true]{biblatex}

unsrt --> \usepackage[style=numeric,sorting=none]{biblatex}

alpha --> \usepackage[style=alphabetic]{biblatex}

In the first three instances, you may omit style=numeric as this is the default style of biblatex.

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Section 1 of the biblatex documentation, which you're referring to, reads:

This document is a systematic reference manual for the biblatex package. Look at the sample documents which ship with biblatex [1] to get a first impression. For a quick start guide, browse §§ 1.1, 2.1, 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 3.3, 3.6, 3.7, 3.11.

I just got started with biblatex by reading these sections (and trying out the things described) and I feel like they gave me a thorough overview of the basic functions. Of course, there's a lot among this information that you can just skim or skip, but I think it's good to know what options are out there.

I read into the German article that Herbert referred to as well, but I didn't feel like it really told me what to do and how to get started, but perhaps that's because this is the first time I ever used some kind of bibliography tool in LaTeX.

If you need to decide whether to use BibTeX or Biber as a backend, Alan Munn's extensive (but comprehensible!) answer to bibtex vs. biber and biblatex vs. natbib might be of help to you. I decided to use Biber.

Concludingly, I recommend going straight to the source and getting some first-hand information by reading the mentioned parts of the biblatex documentation.

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You might want to add that the (great) sample documents can be found on your computer in the Tex tree at texmf/doc/latex/biblatex/examples or online. – matth May 9 '13 at 8:24

I too would like to find what the OP is asking about (an introductory-type document on BibLaTeX). I haven't found one yet, but here are two documents that I did find useful towards that end:


Broken link now, but what I found most helpful is here:

3.5 The latest and greatest: biblatex

A radical reimplementation of bibliography support is biblatex. Bibliography styles aren’t writ- ten in the unfamiliar .bst syntax but in LaTEX, and the role of BibTEX is reduced to collecting and sorting the bibliographic data. LaTEX itself selects, arranges and formats the information from the bibliographic entries. Advantages include

  • many variations in bibliography style can be realized simply with package options, without editing .bst files

  • better support for non-Western languages

  • more citation options, because LaTEX has access to all the bibliographic information

  • easy per-chapter bibliographies

Fortunately, an old BibTEX database is still compatible with biblatex.

Getting started with biblatex. You can easily experiment with biblatex. For starters, use the package option natbib or natbib=true so that you don’t need to change the cite commands in your LaTEX source just yet. Latexbib uses mostly the same database format and requires only a few small changes in the preamble and at the end of your document. Biblatex preamble commands for the example below:


and near the end:


Note that with biblatex the \bibliography command should be in the preamble.


This is now (8/10/2013) also a broken link, and that's too bad because I found the document very helpful two years ago. I still have both these files, but I can't do justice to this second one in the answer here. I've attached an image of the first page, but would gladly post the pdf if it was possible. A BibLaTeX demonstration (plus the code), by Charlie Tanksley, May 19, 2010

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The first of the two links has about 1.5-2 pages on biblatex starting on pg. 6, section 3.5 (with a nice introductory feel to it, from my newbie perspective), but thanks @JosephWright for the feedback re comment vs. answer. Still learning TeX.sx, and all that feedback is helpful to me, so thanks (can't upvote comments, I guess, so maybe thanks are ok in comments? feedback welcome on this too). – TeXnewbie Nov 28 '11 at 2:29
Neither of these links appear to exist – mrmagooey Jul 9 '13 at 5:07
You shouldn't really use \bibliography at all, but \addbibresource. Note that the latter requires the full filename, e.g mybib.bib, not just mybib. – Torbjørn T. Aug 10 '13 at 21:23
@TeXnewbie Documents similar to the first seem to exist at facultyfp.salisbury.edu/despickler/personal/Resources/… and tex.aanhet.net/rugtex/course/latexcourse.pdf, perhaps you want to put one of these links in your answer? Also, it’d be great if you could use the blockquote markup to indicate the quoted passages. – doncherry Apr 15 '14 at 12:03
Here is Charlie Tankslie's tutorial: github.com/charlietanksley/charlietanksley_net/blob/master/… – Nhaps Jul 14 '15 at 21:23

If you are familiar with German, you'll find a two-part introduction in "Die TeXnische Komödie", the journal of DANTE: DTK 2/2008, DTK 4/2008.

You can start with one of the default settings, e.g.:

\nocite{*} % adds all entries in the bib file to the bibliography

There are a lot of examples in your local TeX installation (at texmf/doc/latex/biblatex/examples/).

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As I remarked at Joseph's answer: According to section 3.5.1 of the biblatex documentation, you should use \addbibresource instead of \bibliography, which is deprecated. (Also see Joseph's comments). – doncherry Jan 5 '12 at 14:33
deprecated is not not defined ... – Herbert Jan 5 '12 at 14:34
Sorry, I don't think I follow. I just wanted to say that the author of biblatex recommends using \addbibresource, so I thought it might be a good idea to endorse this usage in a beginner's guide. – doncherry Jan 5 '12 at 14:41
@doncherry Use of \bibliography (at least for now) is acceptable. \addbibresource is probably recommended because it offers many more features. – Audrey Jan 8 '12 at 20:46

Maybe this local guide will do to English-reading people.

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For French-speaking people, this site tries to popularise LaTeX among students in humanities. You can download from this page a .pdf of about 60 pages entitled "Biblatex expliqué à Mademoiselle Michu, étudiante en sciences humaines" (something like "Biblatex explained to Miss Jane Bloggs, a Student in Humanities"), that I find a rather good and simple approach.

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Be aware though that this document is quite old (from September 2010) and might therefore contain outdated information and use deprecated commands. (It does not mention Biber, for example; the new backend is superior to BibTeX in many ways.) It also contains some spelling errors in English command/field names. – moewe Apr 8 '14 at 15:06

If you read French, you could look at http://www.ctan.org/pkg/latex-sciences-humaines.

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If you can read a little of French, here are the slides of a LaTeX course I give about biblatex and csquotes.

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Here is a minimal working example.

First file, doc.tex:

According to \cite{foo1999} blah blah.

Second file, database.bib:

  author={Doe, John},
  journal={International Journal of Nonsense},

To compile:

pdflatex doc
bibtex doc
pdflatex doc
pdflatex doc

Result in doc.pdf:

Screenshot of <code>doc.pdf</code>

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Isn't all of that already contained in Josephs answer along the information that \biibliography is deprecated? – Johannes_B Feb 8 at 13:20
@Johannes_B: This is obviously based on Joseph's answer, but in a MWE form, i.e. you can just copy-paste it and have it work, unlike the original which requires more attention. I'll make it CW. – Georges Dupéron Feb 8 at 14:05
It will fail with biber as backend. – Johannes_B Feb 8 at 14:12
@Johannes_B Not being a user of biber, I don't know how it differs from bibtex. I don't see another answer giving a clear example for `biber, so please do edit my answer to provide a MWE that works for it too! – Georges Dupéron Feb 8 at 14:22

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