I found a lot of posts about the same problem but none could help. Can you please help me figure out why I am getting this error? I am using: IEEEtran.bst and IEEEtran.cls. Both of those files and the main .tex file and the references.bib are in one folder. When I try to compile my script, I get this error:

test.bbl(24): Error: LaTeX Error: Something's wrong--perhaps a missing \item.

Here is test.bbl:

% Generated by IEEEtran.bst, version: 1.12 (2007/01/11)
\csname url@samestyle\endcsname
\providecommand{\BIBentryALTinterwordspacing}{\spaceskip=\fontdimen2\font plus
\BIBentryALTinterwordstretchfactor\fontdimen3\font minus
\expandafter\ifx\csname l@#1\endcsname\relax
\typeout{** WARNING: IEEEtran.bst: No hyphenation pattern has been}%
\typeout{** loaded for the language `#1'. Using the pattern for}%
\typeout{** the default language instead.}%
\language=\csname l@#1\endcsname


And my test.tex:


\section{Test Citation}

% ---- Bibliography ----


And the references.bib

 author               = {Adrian, David and Bhargavan, Karthikeyan and Durumeric, Zakir and Gaudry, Pierrick and Green, Matthew and Halderman, J. Alex and Heninger, Nadia and Springall, Drew and Thom{\'e}, Emmanuel and Valenta, Luke and VanderSloot, Benjamin and Wustrow, Eric and Zanella-B{\'e}guelin, Santiago and Zimmermann, Paul},
 booktitle            = {Proceedings of the 22nd ACM SIGSAC Conference on Computer and Communications Security (CCS '15)},
 pages                = {5-17},
 title                = {{I}mperfect {F}orward {S}ecrecy: {H}ow {D}iffie-{H}ellman {F}ails in {P}ractice},
 url                  = {http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/2810103.2813707},
 year                 = {2015},
  • 5
    Your bbl file has no \bibitem. Regenerate it running BibTeX; you need at least one \cite (or \nocite) command in your document.
    – egreg
    Commented Jan 28, 2017 at 18:28
  • 0 down vote There is no point in trying to fix this as the reason this is happening is because the IEEE website gives you a template with an old IEEEtran.bst file. Please update it from ctan.org/tex-archive/macros/latex/contrib/IEEEtran/bibtex Commented Aug 21, 2017 at 13:43
  • I had similar problems -- which says "LaTeX Error: Something's wrong--perhaps a missing \ite m." in Revtex -- but somehow in my case, I need to remove \center in the \begin{figure} ...\end{figure}
    – wonderich
    Commented Jan 3, 2019 at 20:38
  • @egreg you saved my life!
    – Tack_Tau
    Commented Sep 22, 2021 at 0:33

5 Answers 5


You have generated the .bbl file at a time when your document contained no \cite or \nocite command. The error derives from a bad redefinition made by IEEEtran.cls of the \endthebibliography macro.

The standard classes have something like

     {[irrelevant code omitted]}
       {\@latex@warning{Empty `thebibliography' environment}}%

which implies

  \def\@noitemerr{\@latex@warning{Empty `thebibliography' environment}}%

but IEEEtran.cls has


which is plainly wrong.

If you fix it


  \def\@noitemerr{\@latex@warning{Empty `thebibliography' environment}}%


\section{Test Citation}

% ---- Bibliography ----


then also an empty .bbl file (that is, with no \bibitem command) will just produce a warning and not an error.

  • 5
    this saved my sanity while on a deadline for a paper submission :)
    – meetaig
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 22:06
  • 1
    @meetaig You're welcome!
    – egreg
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 22:11
  • Note it could also happen when using software and not compiling by yourself when compiling the wrong tex (e.g. supplementary) that has no citations
    – borgr
    Commented Oct 29, 2019 at 12:54
  • Genius! I was searching around for more than 1 hour.. I am pretty new in LaTex/Overleaf Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 16:52
  • 1
    @QGravity Sorry, but with a different class the problem might be in some other place. Please, open a new question with the details of your setup.
    – egreg
    Commented Nov 24, 2020 at 8:26

In case the error keeps presenting even you already added a \cite{something} in your paper, then you have to clear the auxiliary files.

In details, delete any files ended with .log .aux .bbl .blg. Then compile the document again and voila.

  • 4
    Thanks, that solved the problem that i have + i was citing the wrong key
    – asmgx
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 4:48
  • 3
    Worked for me too. Did not do the things at answer tex.stackexchange.com/a/350921/45967
    – akikara
    Commented Sep 6, 2022 at 16:42

I had exactly the same error message, with an empty .bbl file. If you are using MiKTeX like me, you can try to change \bibliographystyle{IEEEtran} with \bibliographystyle{ieeetran} with all lower case. Then run BibTeX. Finally generate your document running what you are used to. It solved my problem.

I found this solution reading https://ctan.org/pkg/ieeetran, where they provide the latest version of the IEEEtran BibTeX style (which I didn't need to download by the way), and specified that it is contained in TeX Live as IEEE­tran and in MiKTeX as ieee­tran.

  • I was searching for the solution to this more than 30 minutes, thx! Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 19:08

For me, there was no content in the latex files so by just including a temporary citation in the paper solved the problem.


In my case, this was in the context of a BibTex BBL file, which, upon inspection was empty.

Apparently, Overleaf reported the .bib file's name as Mendeley.bib and I included \bibliography{Mendeley}, but the file was silently not found.

Solution: I renamed the .bib file to all lower case and updated the \bibliography entry to match and everything worked as expected.

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