Let us assume you are working on a document with a small group. Each member uses his/her favorite reference manager. You share the document and the bibtex file with a version control system (say git).

Each time somebody changes, not only the references change, but also other nuisance occurs:

  • White spaces change
  • Some reference managers change capitalization of keywords ("author" vs. "Author")
  • Some add a line which indicates which version of their program edited the file (i.e. JabRef).

How do I solve this collaboration problem?

  • Do I need to force each member to use/ buy the same software?
  • Does each member has to use the same version?
  • Is there a standardized version of the bibtex-format?
  • Is there a git filter, which normalizes the nuisances?
  • 1
    For the .bib file, maybe you could use Biber to (pseudo-)convert the file so as to standardize it before check-in. For the .tex file, you might need to write in that third way and rely on other tricks to minimize the 'differences'.
    – jon
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 16:48
  • 1
    I wonder what one can say here beyond 'You need a common policy'. The same applies to any sources in version control. For example, for your .tex files you presumably have some guideline as to whether to have one line per sentence, one line per paragraph or a hard wrap limit (64/72/79 chars common).
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented May 31, 2015 at 9:17
  • I wonder if there is any filter to reformat the file before committing the change? This will require to remove white space, remove headlines like "Created by JabRef Version 2.7" and fix title and other formats. Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 1:35

1 Answer 1


I had exactly the same issue, my only solution was mendeley as a one-stop-product. Meaning, I am putting in all my references including the pdfs and use a shared folder. With this you are already having just ONE version of everything. You are avoiding with this solution the problems you already mentioned, but also the citation key issue. Imagining that two people are referring to different documents using the same citation key. What a mess...

So again what I did is the following and this is my solution with overleaf as my central writing tool:

  1. Using Mendeley Group Folder Function (free for up to 3 users and a total of 100 MB space, very neat if you want to share the PDF files)
  2. I explicitly synchronize the *.bib file to a shared gdrive folder (dropbox works fine as well)
  3. I link this particular file with Overleaf via the feature "Upload from URL" using https://sites.google.com/site/gdocs2direct/
  4. Now I put in a new reference in Mendeley, press sync, file is saved on gdrive, refresh in overleaf. DONE

Why I am not using the direct import possibility of Mendeley and Overleaf? Simply because in that scenario Overleaf is importing from the Mendeley web interface. Unfortunately, Mendeley is not providing in that case certain information such as when the sources was access (for instance URLs).

I hope this answers your question, but I am afraid, if you try to find a middle ground in converting each file of each of your group member to fit a certain style, you will not finish your work in 2030...However, let me know if you find a nice solution :)



  • I am not quite yet satisfied with the answer since this is very far away from the current workflow. It will force each contributor to have a mendeley account and an overleaf account.
    – Lukas
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 12:55
  • To some extend yes, however you would only need one paid Overleaf account. For mendeley it depends on the number of researcher (max.3) and the file size (100 MB), if you could still use the free version. You have to imagine following very simple example: Julian Storm, Interesting Study (2009) Julian P. Storm, Interesting study (2009) How would the system be able to verify which version is the correct one and additionally how should the "translation" model look like when you have countless options for each case. So in my opinion you need one database.
    – Matt_rockx
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 13:07

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