What is good reference management software on Linux

Have you ever written a paper so long that you thought you would never see the end of it? If so, you know that the worst part is not dedicating hours on it, but rather that once you are done, you still have to order and format your references into a structured convention-following bibliography. Hopefully for you, Linux has the solution: bibliography/reference management tools. Using the power of BibTex, these programs can help you import your citation sources, and spit out a structured bibliography. Here is a non-exhaustive list of open-source reference management software on Linux.

1. Zotero

Surely the most famous tool for collecting references, Zotero is known for being a browser extension. However, there also exists a convenient Linux stand alone program. Among its biggest advantages, Zotero is easy to use, and can be coupled with LibreOffice or other text editors to manage the bibliography of documents. I personally appreciate the interface and the plugin manager. However, Zotero is quickly limited if you have a lot of needs about your bibliography.

2. JabRef

JabRef is one of the most advanced tools out there for citation management. You can import from a plethora of format, lookup entries from external databases (like Google Scholar), and export straight to your favorite editor. JabRef integrates your environment nicely, and can even support plugins. And as a final touch, JabRef can connect to your own SQL database. The only downside to all of this is of course the learning curve.

3. KBibTex

For KDE adepts, the desktop environment has its own dedicated bibliography manager called KBibTex. And as you might expect from a program of this caliber, the promised quality is delivered. The software is highly customizable, from the shortcuts to the behavior and appearance. It is easy to find duplicates, to preview the results, and to export directly to a LaTeX editor. But the best feature in my opinion is the integration of Bibsonomy, Google Scholar, and even your Zotero account. The only downside is that the interface seems a bit cluttered at first. Hopefully spending enough time in the settings should fix that.

4. Bibfilex

Capable of running in both Gtk and Qt environment, Bibfilex is a user friendly bibliography management tool based on Biblatex. Less advanced than JabRef or KBibTex, it is fast and lightweight. Definitely a smart choice for making a bibliography quickly without thinking too much. The interface is slick and reflects just the necessary functions. I give it extra credits for the complete manual that you can get from the official download page

5. Pybliographer

As indicated by its name, Pybliographer is a non-graphical tool for bibliography management written in Python. I personally like to use Pybliographic as the graphical front-end. The interface is extremely clear and minimalist. If you just have a few references to export and don't really have time to learn how to use an extensive piece of software, Pybliographer is the place to go. A bit like Bibfilex, the intent is on user-friendliness and quick use.

6. Referencer

Probably my biggest surprise when doing this list, Referencer is really appealing to the eye. Capable of integrating itself perfectly with Gnome, it can find and import your documents, look up their reference on the web, and export to LyX, while being sexy and really well designed. The few shortcuts and plugins are a good bonus along with the library style interface.

To conclude, thanks to these tools, you will not have to worry about long papers anymore, or at least not about the reference section. What did we miss? Is there a bibliography management tool that you prefer? Let us know in the comments.

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Adrien Brochard

I am a Linux aficionado from France. After trying multiple distributions, I finally settled for Archlinux. But I am always trying to improve my system by stacking up tips and tricks.

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6 thoughts on “What is good reference management software on Linux

  1. I looked at biblio software add-ons five+ years ago, and at that time, about the only thing that would find obscure references and work with, at the time, Open Office, on-line was Zotero.

    Probably, things have improved now, but at the time there was quite a bit of stuff the 'nearly worked' or only worked for simpler use cases.

  2. Throughout my recent Honours BA degree, I used Zotero for my reference management. On a number of occasions I received compliments from lecturers on good referencing which I felt undeserved, as it was entirely down to Zotero and its integration with LibreOffice. The ease of use of Zotero also encouraged more frequent referencing, which no doubt was considered appropriate. As a firefox add-on, the ability to extract metadata from websites made getting details easy, while the ability to reference web pages was increasingly helpful, especially for my dissertations. I am left with a dataset which details my entire degree. I did not use the online backup, preferring not to use such cloud services, but backing up the Zotero datasets locally was easy and straight forward.

  3. One of the larger challenges with Zotero is its storing the database using SQLite, instead of a plain text file. That leads to issues with synchronization. Zotero's real strength is its screen-scraping capabilities that are unmatched.

    I find Jabref the best tool to store the database in an open, text oriented format. Recently, I have started using Docear: http://www.docear.org/ - which is a different beast, but incorporating JabRef with mindmap capabilities and the ability to extract PDF annotations.

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