I have my own master bibtex files that I use in all my research papers, which I strive to keep up-to-date.

However, I have numerous co-authors with whom I am writing papers, and they sometimes send me their bibtex files as they contribute to our common article tex file. Occasionally, their files contain entries for the same articles in my master file, with the same bibtex reference name (whatever that is called).

Can I just save their file in my bib folder and then use it like this in my tex file?


What I would want is that in the cases that our bibtex names are the same, then it uses my bibtex file first. Is that what occurs?

I am on a grant deadline, so I'd really appreciate a fast answer. And I'd rather not have to sort through the bibtex file comparing entries, if I can be confident that my file will get preference by being first on the list, since there are hundreds of entries in the files.

Thanks very much and I'm very happy for this resource.

  • Are you prepared to run an external program on the bibtex files? – Loop Space Oct 2 '10 at 18:50
  • Andrew, I suppose I would be willing to do that, but what would you have in mind? Part of the context here is that I have a lot of collaborators, and this is a problem that keeps arising for me, but I'm not satisfied with my current approaches to it. But I'll follow your links below, and see what's there. – JDH Oct 6 '10 at 2:38

I'm sure it took you longer to write the question than it would have taken for you simply to test it yourself... but yes, that is how it works.

EDIT: here is a testcase:

  author = {a1},
  title = {a1},
  journal = {a1},
  year = {a1},
  volume = {a1},
  pages = {a1}

  author = {b1},
  title = {b1},
  journal = {b1},
  year = {b1},
  volume = {b1},
  pages = {b1}
  author = {b2},
  title = {b2},
  journal = {b2},
  year = {b2},
  volume = {b2},
  pages = {b2}

  author = {c2},
  title = {c2},
  journal = {c2},
  year = {c2},
  volume = {c2},
  pages = {c2}
  • 1
    Thanks very much! But I don't think it took me longer... – JDH Oct 2 '10 at 1:16
  • But I've realized that this solution leads to double entries in my references section, so it isn't really the right way to do it. I still have to check through the files and unify things. – JDH Oct 2 '10 at 1:42
  • 5
    @Lev: Yes, it took longer, but it also contributed to the community. I'm not going to vote your answer down, but I think you should reflect on that... – Brent.Longborough Oct 2 '10 at 8:47
  • 2
    Nothing needs to be debugged---I just didn't explain fully. The double entries arose merely from the instances where we had different reference names for the same reference, and so I meant only that I had to unify those entries. My question was less a programming question than a question about how best to manage the situation of co-author bibtex files with incompatible reference names or entries. – JDH Oct 2 '10 at 23:16
  • 1
    @JDH: So really there's two questions: how to deal with duplicates with the same reference, which Lev seems to have answered, and how to manage collaborative bibliographies. For the latter, there have already been some questions on that: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/1612/… tex.stackexchange.com/questions/1385/… – Loop Space Oct 5 '10 at 13:13

If you and your friends can stick to a single convention, you'd be fine. For example, I use citation keys of the form


for any paper with "foo" as the (last name of) the first author, written in 2003, with title words beginning with letters "b", "a", etc. Titles with fewer than 4 words yield fewer letters, of course. All words in the title are used, even e.g. "of", because if you let people decide on which words to skip, different people will skip different words.

I use ascii characters, i.e. I ignore accents on names. I also ignore dashes and spaces in names, e.g. "de Long" or "de-Long" both become "delong".

The scheme is simple enough to generate on the fly (i.e. you won't have to look in your bib file to remember a key, if you remember enough about the paper to be citing it in the first place). It does a good job at avoiding collision, too.

The scheme will annoy authors other then the first one. It will annoy people who insist on having accents in their names, or in the words of their titles. And it will be thwarted by people who republish papers in a given year with similar (or the same) titles. Too bad.

  • Yes, I have such a scheme for myself, and I have imposed it on several of my younger co-authors, but more experienced new co-authors often have their own system, and this leads to the difficulty. After all, we can't both be expected to adopt the other's longstanding system, and it seems to defeat much of the advantage of bibtex (one master file, kept up-to-date) to have a different bibtex file for every article or collaboration. – JDH Oct 2 '10 at 23:12

What is about JabRef ?

You can mark some of bibtex entries and copy to your main bibtex file. This should be one way to avoid the duplicate.


I am not sure whether it will help you in any way, but this tool Bibcut looks useful for multi-author/multi-bib-file problems. You may have a look!

  • The new link for Bibcut is: http://cb-development.dyndns.info/ – user6922 Jul 26 '11 at 21:26
  • @LaTeX_fan: Thank you for the update. Note that you can suggest edits for posts directly with the 'edit' link below them. – Caramdir Jul 26 '11 at 21:46

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