I have a folder on my computer and it contains a (high) number of math papers of many different authors. Some of them are published, some of them are on the arXiv, some are never going to be published or uploaded to the arXiv.

My question is the following: is there a script or some kind of automated way for producing a big BibTeX file containing the bibliographic data of all the papers in that folder?

Some observations:

  1. Such a script should basically look for the data on arXiv, Mathscinet, Google scholar mainly. It's clear that not all the entries in my folder will admit a complete bibliographic information (e.g. the papers not intended for publication) so the script would probably return some errors or some partial information. Everything should be, in any case, checked by a human being.

  2. It is possible that some software like Bibdesk, Jabref, Zotero or Mendeley offer some service like this. I tried to look for this kind of feature but I haven't found anything explicitly about it. I actually have Bibdesk and I like it a lot, so a solution involving Bibdesk would be really appreciated.

  3. It would be nice if the script had a feature to produce citation keys in a standard way. For instance the paper "Blabla and blable in Mathematics by Auth1 and Auth2" would have a citation key "auth1_auth2:blabla_and_blable_in_mathematics".

  4. A partial solution seems to be that suggested here: http://www.math.tamu.edu/~comech/tools/bibget/. I haven't checked if this works well; if it does one could combine this script with a similar one that would search the arXiv.

Thank you in advance

  • 3
    Welcome, this seems to be about data processing, data mining, data parsing and other stuff, but not BibTeX directly. Seems like this very localised question might be more suited on another site of the network.
    – Johannes_B
    Dec 14, 2016 at 18:43
  • 1
    What format(s) do you have those papers in? PDF? Zotero (and I think Mendeley also) can extract information from PDF and then search the web to complete/verify the record. Both can export to bibtex. To what degree this can be scripted I don't know. Dec 14, 2016 at 19:01
  • @johannes_B. You are probably right, and if I have to be honest I don't know anything about these data mining and stuff. The problem sounded so elementary that there should be a known solution involving the software I mentioned above. Dec 14, 2016 at 19:26
  • @Michael. I have .pdf's and some .djvu with very very few .ps and .dvi. I am a bit afraid these software might mess up the bibtex file. I'll give them a try in any case. Dec 14, 2016 at 19:30
  • @LorenzoMantovani - you could use djvups (djvu.sourceforge.net/doc/man/djvups.html) dvips and ps2pdf first to convert everything else to pdf. Dec 14, 2016 at 20:24

4 Answers 4


Disclaimer: This solution is not perfect, but might be a good start. The parsing of PDFs was written by me because, I had a huge set of PDFs not available in my BibTeX database. There might be other alternatives such as Papers and Mendeley which are said to have a good PDF parsing and BibTeX export. I am one of the authors of JabRef and like open source development.

JabRef is an MIT-licensed open-source BibTeX and BibLaTeX bibliographic manager actively developed on GitHub. It offers the functionality to import bibliographic data from PDFs.

Adjust the JabRef key generation pattern to fit your needs

JabRef offers a BibTeX key generation and offers different patterns described at https://help.jabref.org/en/BibtexKeyPatterns. In your case, the closest match is [authors]:[camel].

  1. Open the preferences Options Preferences

  2. Navigate to "BibTeX key generator" BibTeX key generator preferences

  3. Change the default pattern to [authors]:[camel]. authors camel

  4. Click "OK"

Link the PDFs to your bib file

  1. Create or open a .bib file.

  2. Go to "Quality" -> "Find unlinked files". menu entry for starting find linked files

  3. The "Find unlinked files" dialog opens. Find unlinked files dialog

  4. Choose a directory using the "Browse" button.

  5. Click on "Scan directory".

  6. In "Select files", the files not yet contained in the database are shown. scan result

  7. To create entries for all files, click on "Apply".

  8. For each file, an import dialog is shown metadata dialog

    The dialog shows the XMP metadata stored in the PDF in the area "XMP-metadata". If this data fits your needs, select "Create entry based on XMP data". Typically, the XMP-metadata is not good enough. Choose "Create entry based on content".

  9. Click on "OK" to start the import

  10. A dialog asking for the link is opened Link to file dialog You can choose "Leave file in its current directory" to keep the file where it is. Typically, this is that what one wants. In case you choose "Move file to file directory", you can also choose to rename the file to the generated BibTeX key.

  11. Press OK to link the file to the BibTeX entry

  12. This happens for each file. After that, the "Find unlinked files" dialog is shown. Just click on "Close" to close it.

  13. The entry editor with the last imported entry is shown entry editor

  14. You can now save the file and are finished.

  15. Optional: Click on "General" to see the linked file General tab

  16. Optional: Click on "BibTeX source" to see the BibTeX source BibTeX source

  17. Optional: You have to shrink it to see the entry in the entry table Enlarge the JabRef window and use the mouse at the upper border of the entry editor Shrunk entry editor

  18. Optional: Press Esc to show the entry preview Entry preview

Further information

PDFs for which it works

The importer based on the content has been written for IEEE and LNCS formatted papers. Other formats are not (yet) supported. In case a DOI is found on the first page, the DOI is used to generate the BibTeX information.

The next development step is to extract the title of the PDF, use the "Lookup DOI" and then the Get BibTeX data from DOI functionality from JabRef to fetch the BibTeX data.

We are also thinking about replacing the code completely by using another library. This is much effort and there is no timeline for that.

Better filenames

JabRef also offers to change the filenames. You can adapt the pattern at Preferences -> Import Preferences -> Import

Select "Choose pattern" and choose "bibtexkey - title" enter image description here This results in the setting ´\bibtexkey\begin{title} - \format[RemoveBrackets]{\title}\end{title}`.

This makes the filenames start with the bibtey key followed by the full title. In the concrete case, \bibtexkey only may be the better option as the described bibtey key already contains the title.

Tested JabRef versions

One has to use a recent version of JabRef. With JabRef 3.6, this feature did not work: https://github.com/JabRef/jabref/issues/2214


JabRef used to have support for Mr.DLib, which returned back a full BibTeX entry or a PDF. Due to unclear copyright situation of a used library, this service was removed. Further, Mr.DLib changes its focus and will provide literature recommendations. See https://github.com/JabRef/jabref/pull/2189.

Related Questions:

  • Nice, but what if I already have the PDFs (named after the scheme "AuthorYear-Title") saved locally and the bibtex entries in my database (via each journal's "Export citation" function), and now just want to link the PDFs to their corresponding record? "Link files automatically" does not do the trick, no matter which settings I adjust. And your method would create a new entry for every PDF, which is not what I want.
    – winkmal
    May 12, 2017 at 13:08
  • @rotton This is a different use case. I think, following should work: 1) Adjust the pattern at the import settings accordingly? 2) Quality -> Automatically set file links. Step 2 uses the filename pattern from step 1 to find the corresponding file. You have to ensure that the bib file correctly points to the directory of the PDFs.
    – koppor
    May 23, 2018 at 13:54

On a Unix system (e.g., Ubuntu) install xapers:

sudo apt-get install xapers

Xapers will extract meta-information from the PDF such as the doi. This can then be used to query http://dx.doi.org/

This bash script provides a good start:


for f in *.pdf; do
  id=`xapers scandoc $f | head -n1`
  echo $f $id
  echo "`curl -LH 'Accept: application/x-bibtex' $url`"$'\n' >> bibfile.txt
  • 1
    (+1) I'd never have found this otherwise. But, it is highly misleading to suggest this is Ubuntu-specific. Ubuntu gets it because Debian has it, but it is not limited to Debian either. You just need a suitable system for Python v.3 and the other dependencies - almost any recent GNU/Linux will do and probably most similarly Unix-ish systems.
    – cfr
    Aug 6, 2018 at 22:21
  • @cfr you are completely right. I have updated the response. Sep 19, 2018 at 8:29

For the sake of completeness, I will provide an Emacs specific answer.

If you are an Emacs user or can be bothered to install Emacs for this specific purpose, take a look at this package:


It contains a function called org-ref-pdf-dir-to-bibtex. It tries to aggregate all the bibtex information from a directory of *.pdf files. From my experience it does not work with very heterogeneous directories i.e. papers from very different sources. If your files are mostly from arXiv, this probably works pretty well though, since the package supports arXiv specifically.

In case you still experience conflicts, you can also use org-ref-pdf-to-bibtex to process single files with a little bit of interaction. This may e.g. be relevant, if the parser finds two possible candidates for the DOI in the file. In this case it is quiet often very simple to select the right candidate from the dialog that pops up.



It's a Python library that does exactly what it says.



$ pdf2bib file.pdf
⟨⟹ prints the bib content⟩

In my experience, it works perfectly; except when it does not have a DOI, then the program will try to search the text of the PDF on Google and take the first search result containing a DOI (which is of course not the paper needed)

The same question can also be found on another site: citations - Is there an open source tool for producing bibtex entries from paper PDFs? - Academia Stack Exchange. There are more solutions there.

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