I spent an hour on Friday pocking the brain of a senior colleague and among other things I realized how disorganized (comparing to his) is my ever growing collection of scientific papers, references, electronic textbooks, and monographs.

I started looking around for a a decent BibTex aware collection manager. By decent I mean a relatively simple, open source, (my OS of choice is OpenBSD), self hosted (no dark clouds please), collection manager which is capable of importing BibTeX references either from BibTeX files or online sources like MathSciNet or BibTeX search, with BibTeX syntax checker (an example would be biblean) which stores BibTeX records in searchable SQL database (again Nelson Beebe's bibsql and bibtosql come to mind). I also would like to attach these BibTeX records to full text PDFs as well as possibly TeX sources for the articles I wrote. In another words I would like to use BibTeX files as a metadata for PDFs and TeX sources.

Such things of course exist MathSciNet would be an example but with exception of Tellico bloatware I have not found anything that comes close to what I want. It seems that I should be able to hack something on my own using Pybtex as this interesting post reveals.

Any comments, references, or suggestions? I actually want to do mathematics not play with publishing tools but if I could get something workable in few evenings I would not mind getting my hands dirty. I would in particular appreciate the comments of Nelson Beebe and authors of Pybtex. I am also finding another interesting thoughts.

A possible approach to my problem is to tag files with BibTeX records and have tag aware file manager or even tag aware file system. I see interesting tools




  • What is your colleague using?
    – cfr
    Oct 31, 2016 at 3:35
  • I am not sure I will ask him. I was just overwhelmed by the depth and the clarity of his insight about the mathematics question I asked that it took me little bit of after thought to realize the other less important things. His desktop was running KDE/Ubuntu so it could be many different things including Zotero or Mendeley which are not available on OpenBSD Oct 31, 2016 at 4:13
  • 3
    It is worth considering JabRef: jabref.org
    – twsh
    Apr 3, 2020 at 10:18

1 Answer 1


I would recommend you use Mendeley. Mendeley is a research paper/pdf management tool.

When you import (drag and drop, add file, ...) to Mendeley, it will automatically look up info (DOI, title, author, conference, year, ...). If you login, Mendeley will sync your paper (including PDF file), and you can login and sync from any device.

However, the sync feature of Mendeley is a paid option (free for 2GB, 5GB cost 5usd/month and so). This is not a problem until you have more than 2GB worth of papers.

Or, you can use Mendeley offline (no sync), then sync data folder with 3rd party solution like Dropbox/Onedrive/Google Drive/... (cheaper storage)

If you want a free, open-source solution, use Zotero. Zotero also does automatic lookups like Mendeley. However, its UI is a bit difficult to understand. Zotero has a paid option for sync too, but you can manually set up WebDAV (example: pCloud 10 GB for free).

Both solutions Zotero and Mendeley can export .bib files.

  • 2
    Mendeley's .bib export appears to be sub-par at times (I have not used it myself, but I have answered some questions on this site about .bib files exported by Mendeley, where it was suggested to me that there was no way to make Mendeley export better quality output). Additionally Mendeley is now owned by Elsevier and the customer support seems to be lacking at times (again, those are second-hand experiences).
    – moewe
    Mar 10, 2019 at 6:35
  • 1
    Zotero generally seems to export better-formatted .bib files the export can be customised with Better BibTeX for Zotero to quite some degree. Zotero has a dedicated support forum and devs seem to be rather quick to answer there.
    – moewe
    Mar 10, 2019 at 6:37

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