natbib comes with three bst files, plainnat, abbrvnat and unsrtnat. In addition, the documentation states that 'other style files conforming to the natbib format exist,' and I was wondering where I could find those files, or how I could identify a bst as conforming to the natbib format.

I realize that it is possible to create a custom bst using makebst, or use biblatex instead of natbib. However, I'm specifically interested in finding or identifying existing natbib-compatible bst files.

  • The natbib package is an extremely robust citation management system, and it is compatible with lots and lots of bibliography style files in existence -- including the original or "basic" style files (plain, unsrt, abbrv, and alpha). Do note, though, that natbib, in and by itself, does not provide -- or require -- any particular "format". – Mico Jan 23 '13 at 3:14
  • an "obvious" approach is to search ctan. however, only two .bst files are found there using the search argument natbib bst. so either the documentation for compatible packages is lacking that information, or some applicable packages aren't on ctan. – barbara beeton Jun 10 '13 at 20:05
  • This is a cathedral-bazaar kind of problem: CTAN may have very few files (my own search turned up 35), but googling as I suggest in my answer returns "about 203.000 results". – alexis Jun 12 '13 at 12:53
  • @Juan, I was not suggesting that everyone should roll their own with makebst, instead of looking for an existing style. Rather, I was pointing out that most natbib-compatible styles are makebst styles, so that's how to search for them. A directory of styles indexed by domain/publisher would be nice to have, though. – alexis Jun 13 '13 at 14:45
  • @alexis, thanks a lot for trying to improve your answer. Please note I did not mean that your answer was not satisfactory; the exact opposite! I think it is immensely valuable and does answer the question. Also thanks for your edits and suggested google queries, they seem to be quite useful too. What I was looking for, however, was to go in the exact oposite direction: I don't want more choices! I want less! That's why I suggested listing some common styles, so that I can have a look, pick something that looks nice, but that someone crafted carefully and made sure that works well. – Juan A. Navarro Jun 14 '13 at 8:51

Since it's easy to create natbib-compatible bst files with makebst, there are a lot of those out there. They can be recognized by examining the header. E.g., the following appears near the start:

%% The original source files were:
%% merlin.mbs  (with options: `[long string of options]')
%% ---------------------------------------- 

If your goal is to build an inventory (as opposed to matching a particular style), you can google for some of the strings you find there.

Edit: Apparently my answer wasn't satisfactory to everyone, because the answer has been reopened with a bounty. So let's be more specific: The following google query searches for bst files with the above header. It returns "About 203,000 results", which appear to be (or contain) real merlin-generated bst files. Even allowing for massive duplication, there's plenty to choose from.

"The original source files were" merlin.mbs with options:" +url:bst

And this is the same google query restricted to CTAN ("about 35 results"):

"The original source files were" merlin.mbs with options:" +url:bst site:ctan.org

If your goal is to match a particular style, you can of course just add the style or journal name to the above query.

If these results are still not what you're looking for, I think the question needs to be clarified: What is your purpose of looking for natbib-compatible bst styles? Why is this approach not satisfactory? There should be many other natbib-compatible styles out there (not created with makebst), especially ones derived from the explicitly supported ones. If unsure about a style, you can always just try it out.


Juan Navarro would like to see an annotated index of common natbib styles. But common styles for what? Every discipline has its own style traditions; but because there's also huge variation within disciplines, collections of bst files tend to be domain-specific.

For example, I came across an archive of bst files for biology-- now that makes sense. But every discipline has its own traditions, so that's no use to me as a linguist. (And why limit such a listing to natbib? Why not all bst files?) It's not an accident, I think, that CTAN has relatively few bibliography styles-- they're not very broadly useful, and when you need one, you know exactly what you need so it's easy to search for.

That said, I've occasionally come across collections of bibtex styles. Here are a few:

General purpose

  1. The LaTeX Bibliography Styles Database is, in principle, exactly what you're looking for. It's a collection of styles indexed by the journal for which they're suitable. However, it's not actively maintained, the search function is rudimentary (you can only search by initial prefix of the journal name), and its coverage is not great: There are two thousand records, a good fraction of which seems to be for journals that use the elsevier style.

  2. Reed College has a nice little resource on Choosing a BibTeX style, which includes an annotated list of bst files. Best of all, it covers a range of disciplines.

  3. CTAN has a topic page on Bibtex styles or style generators.


  1. The already mentioned archive of bst files for biology.

  2. AMS has its own collection of LaTeX and BibTeX styles, of course. They are easy to find on CTAN or on the AMS TeX resources.

  3. Some years ago, several editors of linguistics journals collaborated on a Unified stylesheet for linguistics, but few journals have adopted it. Those who do probably already point authors to unified.bst.

These are obviously just random examples. Perhaps other readers can contribute answers pointing to similar resources for their own discipline.

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