For the institute I work at, we plan to automatically generate bibliography entries for widely used reference managment systems. In another question, someone said that I shouldn't bother with BibTeX since it is outdated anyway.

So, what do people use nowadays for reference management in LaTeX documents? I only found biber, which uses the same format as BibTeX. Are there any other reference managers that define their own formats and that are worthwhile to support?

4 Answers 4


You should not mix up the the bib file-format and bibtex. Bibtex is a program that sorts and formats entries of the bib-file according to a style you specify. Bibtex has a few disadvantages, especially now when more and more people use utf8 as a file encoding.

The problem of using a bib file with bibtex was always that you had to chose a style (\bibliographystyle) which is rather difficult to customise.

Biblatex is now a novel way of managing the look of your ciations in the text and the entries in the bibliography. As a backend (for sorting and such things) it can use either bibtex or biber. Biber is certeinly the future as it supports utf8, improved crossref's and more.

Biblatex still uses a bib file as database, so this is not outdated.

Now when you start from scratch, it is advisible to use biblatex because it is so easy to customise as it uses latex-macros. Your database can still be a bib file and you can use a tool such as jabref, mendeley, zotero or ... to maintain it

  • 4
    you cannot use bibtex for sorting when your data has UTF characters
    – user2478
    Jan 31, 2011 at 15:05
  • yes sorry, that was what i wanted to say realy, maybe it was not that clear +1
    – Martin H
    Jan 31, 2011 at 15:19
  • @piquadrate, I use Zotero + bilatex + biber + TexStudio to automagically automate bibliography citation in LaTeX with auto-generated citation keys, if interested you may have a look at my answer here
    – doctorate
    May 18, 2013 at 20:59

As the person who claimed that BibTeX is outdated, I'm glad to see that others already clarified what I meant. The bibliography database format itself is not outdated in any way—it is also used by newer bibliography sorting programms (bibtex8, bibtexu, Biber) and reference management systems like JabRef. What is outdated (IMO) is the bibtex program because it chokes on non-ASCII database entries and forces you to write awkward replacements like {\"a} instead of ä. bibtex8 includes support for 8-bit encodings, but still doesn't support Unicode. bibtexu claims to support UTF-8 bibliographies, but seems to lack good documentation, and a few users complained about flaws. The state-of-the-art LaTeX bibliography solution is definitely the biblatex package in conjunction with the Biber program. Databases for use with biblatex are often backwards-compatible to traditional BibTeX databases. I think that the Database Guide (section 2) of the biblatex manual provides some very good guidelines how BibTeX databases should be composed. Encoding issues are completely gone thanks to Biber, so you should output simple UTF-8 text without any escape sequences other than those mandated by the LaTeX syntax (e.g., \&, \#). In contrast to traditional BibTeX, you don't have to enclose title in another pair of braces since the casing is left untouched by Biber. Also you should emit as many fields as possible—BibLaTeX already supports many fields that are not supported by many traditional styles (e.g., doi or eprint), and superfluous fields are ignored and cause no trouble. Many digital libraries emit too few fields—e.g., only those supported by the RIS format (which you should support, too).

  • 1
    There are still problems for all of those who are using pdftex together with biber. pdftex knows only the utf8 characters which are defined in the inputenc package. But biber will export a bbl with full unicode support. Only with xetex or luatex you can be sure, that there will be no problems with biblatex and biber.
    – user2478
    Jan 31, 2011 at 19:16
  • @Herbert. My understanding is that Biber can be told to export the .bbl file using different encodings by biblatex (there is a section on this is the Biber manual). This aovids using UTF8 with pdfLaTeX.
    – Joseph Wright
    Jan 31, 2011 at 19:26
  • @Joseph, will not work in all cases. In the development version is now a --bblsafechars, which exports a bbl, which will not have problems with pdflatex.
    – user2478
    Jan 31, 2011 at 20:01
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    I'd like to mention that biber is not in fact limited to the .bib format, it now has a modular driver architecture and will be extended to enable it to read other data sources. This work has just started in earnest - the latest biber has beta support for RIS, for example. You can mix and match as many data sources of any supported type too. You can also use http and ftp URIs instead of filenames, as long as they return a .bib or .ris file
    – PLK
    Feb 14, 2011 at 16:51

it depends on what you really need. If you can use an already existing BibTeX style and have yor bibliography data in latin 1 encoding, then there is no need to switch to biber, which supports full UTF encoding. Using biber implies also using the package biblatex, otherwise it makes no real sense. There are no other programs which can read data files and creating a formatted bbl file which then is read by LaTeX and friends.


Did you look at biblatex:

The biblatex package is a complete reimplementation of the bibliographic facilities provided by LaTeX in conjunction with BibTeX. It redesigns the way in which LaTeX interacts with BibTeX at a fairly fundamental level. With biblatex, BibTeX is only used to sort the bibliography and to generate labels. Instead of being implemented in BibTeX's style files, the formatting of the bibliography is entirely controlled by TeX macros. Good working knowledge in LaTeX should be sufficient to design new bibliography and citation styles — there is no need to learn BibTeX’s postfix stack language. Just like the bibliography styles, all citation commands may be freely (re)defined.

from http://www.ctan.org/tex-archive/help/Catalogue/entries/biblatex.html

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