Are there any good introductory references for the syntax to create a BibTeX style (.bst) file, whose ease of reading is closer to an introductory text for a programming language than to a formal specification document for a programming language?

Obviously, as modifying bibliography styles is an advanced topic for a single facet of the TeX ecosystem, there's not going to be the same kind of pedagogical literature on the subject as e.g. for LaTeX. But I'm hoping for something that would allow me to grok, and write, a style file after an hour or two of reading rather than after a day or two of study.

  • I particularly like this document: lsv.ens-cachan.fr/~markey/BibTeX/doc/ttb_en.pdf
    – Corentin
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 12:46
  • Do you want to write from scratch (hard) or only modify existing styles?
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 12:51
  • 2
    @Corentin Perhaps better to give a 'canonical' link: ctan.org/pkg/tamethebeast
    – Joseph Wright
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 12:51
  • @JosephWright: it is probable that I can do what I want by modifying existing styles, but if a good introductory reference can let me see what is possible from scratch, my notion of what I'd like to achieve may expand to meet the boundaries of the feasible. Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 12:59
  • @JosephWright I agree, it is probably better to use the ctan link; I was pointing directly to the author's personal page.
    – Corentin
    Commented Sep 13, 2012 at 13:25

2 Answers 2


The document by Nicolas Markey Tame the BeaST is a very good reference. It contains a general presentation of BibTeX, and chapter 4 is devoted to editing .bst files. The overall structure of a .bst file is explained, as well as the Reverse Polish Notation used by bibtex, and the main functions are described. As far as I'm concerned, I've always found it very helpful.

Otherwise there is also Designing BibTeX files, by Oren Patashnik, the author of BibTeX (I don't know if there is a "canonical" link to this pdf, if so please feel free to edit my answer).


there should be some documentation in your local TeX installation:


and if you are familiar with german:

https://archive.org/details/pdfy-DTVSHmzsr3tqPmMh, which is an archived version of the document formerly at http://archiv.dante.de/dante/events/dante2002/handouts/raichle-bibtexprog.pdf

  • 1
    The German document no longer seems to live at that address. Does anybody know where (if anywhere) it might still be available? Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:08

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