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We write scientific papers with contributing authors in multiple companies. My company maintains a bibliography file which provides all references and which resides inside our company network and is inaccessible to the outside. The LaTeX source resides in an SVN repos available to all contributors.

Or in other words: LaTeX sources A are public. Large bibliography file B is located privately. The information contained is not confidential, though, and could be shared. As long as we don't start maintaining multiple files. When I edit and build, I have A and B available and can build the document. But a coauthor from another company has only A available and cannot build.

What options exist to share a self-contained buildable set of files among all authors? Solutions can be changes in build and files or system architecture, too.

Ideas from my side:

  • Current option: Share the .bbl file. But coauthors complain that this causes problems sometimes. What problems could there be? Will this file be overwritten with an empty file when no .bib is present?
  • A script that copies the current .bib to the public SVN everytime I build. But I don't know how that could be scripted.

But maybe there are alternatives I haven't thought about.

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I would suggest extracting the cited items like the solution to this question: How to split all BibTeX referenced entries from a big BibTeX database to a copy? –  YuppieNetworking Apr 18 '11 at 9:47
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You could place the .bbl file into the main file as shown in Inlining BibTeX bibliography in LaTeX file, but this doesn't help you much if the content changes frequently. –  Martin Scharrer Apr 18 '11 at 9:53
    
The link about splitting you provided, YuppieNetworking, comes closest to a solution, I think. But I cannot mark a comment as an answer, I think. –  Hauke Apr 19 '11 at 12:29

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

My recommendation is to follow your suggestion:

Current option: Share the .bbl file. But coauthors complain that this causes problems sometimes. What problems could there be? Will this file be overwritten with an empty file when no .bib is present?

If you do this by cutting and pasting the .bbl file in place into the main Latex source (that is, delete the \bibliography{bibfile} and insert the contents of the .bbl file at that point), then it generally reduces problems, at least from the point of view of editing that one document. There are some issues, however:

  1. The link between the document's bibliography and the repository is broken. The most important consequence of this is that any corrections to the imported bibliography will need to be made separately to the repository.
  2. If you want to add new bibliographic items, doing so using Bibtex becomes more complex. Similarly the rare case of wanting to change citation style becomes somewhat more tricky as well.

Neither of these issues are particularly troublesome. Your other suggestion,

A script that copies the current .bib to the public SVN everytime I build. But I don't know how that could be scripted.

reduces both of these issues, but at the expense of creating new problems and requiring you to solve a nontrivial implementation problem.

The advantages of incorporating a .bbl file into the main document are:

  1. There is no parallel problem of keeping the current Latex document and current .bib file up to date. Up-to-dateness being the principal source of difficulty in collaborative editing (and one that is almost completely solved if everyone uses a DVCS like git), this is an important advantage. I try to ensure that in my editing work with clients that there is only one file to be edited per assignment because of the reliability with which not doing so causes difficulties.
  2. Bibtex has problems representing what Chicago calls "informal sources", that is, sources that do not have ISBN or ISSN numbers. You can work around these issues if you can edit the output of Bibtex.
  3. It is more convenient to edit the reference list in the order in appears in the output than to go hunting about a .bib file. Most reference lists have errors in them ; the likelihood of these errors increases quite a bit if the author has high confidence in the quality of the bibliographic database they are based on.
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I haven't fully understood why, but when a user checks out the file package that includes the .bbl, it can be built with pdflatex. However, if the user (accidentally) builds say bibtex or latex, the build process deletes the .bbl which from that point forward causes errors, of course (and the .bbl would have to be checked out again). This fact makes this option too frail for the just-need-to-make-a-quick-fix-and-don't-want-to-worry-about-this-stuff-coauthors‌​. I think this is the "problem" they mentioned. –  Hauke Apr 19 '11 at 12:27
    
@Hauke: Right. This problem is avoided if you insert the .bbl file in place of the \bibliography{bibname} command. Then the bibliography contents no longer depend on external files. The only confusion will be if the user runs Bibtex, a new .bbl file will be generated which Latex will ignore: this could be an issue for users who think the bibliography in the manuscript should be updated. But if you never give them a .bib file in the first place, the users are unlikely to have this misconception. –  Charles Stewart Apr 19 '11 at 13:12

Since quite recently, biblatex has a new command for including bibliographies, \addbibresource, which supports remote access. The biblatex manual shows an example

\addbibresource[location=remote]{ftp://192.168.1.57/~user/file.bib}

I also use bibliography management software, with popular alternatives such as mendeley and zotero, and use it to share some collections with my coworkers.

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This is a good-to-know! I have to see if I can somehow make our curated bibliography file publicly readable. Then this would become an option. –  Hauke Apr 19 '11 at 9:27

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