Ebib Manual

Joost Kremers

Ebib is a program with which you can manage biblatex and BibTeX database files without having to edit the raw .bib files. It runs in GNU/Emacs, version 26.1 or higher.

It should be noted that Ebib is not a minor or major mode for editing .bib files. It is a program in itself, which just happens to make use of Emacs as a working environment, in the same way that for example Gnus is.


Package manager

The easiest way to install Ebib is to get it from the Melpa package archive. This also installs the Info file so you can access the Ebib manual within Emacs.

Manual installation

It’s also possible to install Ebib manually. If you prefer this method, then you probably know what you’re doing, so detailed instructions are omitted here. Just be sure to also install the parsebib package, which Ebib depends on.


New features and (possibly breaking) changes to existing features are announced in the NEWS file.

Starting Ebib

Once installed, Ebib can be started with M-x ebib. This command is also used to return to Ebib when you have put the program in the background. To bind this command globally to e.g., C-c e, put something like the following in Emacs’ init file:

(global-set-key (kbd "C-c e") 'ebib)

Ebib can also be called from an Eshell command line. When used in this way, you can provide a filename to load. So, provided a file references.bib exists in ~/Work/Papers/, the following command:

~/Work/Papers $ ebib references.bib

starts Ebib and loads the file references.bib.

Getting Started

A BibTeX database is somewhat of a free-form database. A BibTeX entry consists of a set of field-value pairs and each entry is known by a unique key. The way that Ebib navigates this database is by having two windows, one that contains a list of all the entries in the database, and one that contains the fields and values of the currently highlighted entry.

When Ebib is started (with M-x ebib), the current windows in Emacs are hidden and the Emacs frame is divided into two windows. The top one contains a buffer that is called the index buffer, while the lower window shows the entry buffer. When a database is loaded, the index buffer holds a list of all the keys in the database plus some additional information for each entry: the author or editor, its year of publication, and the title.

Ebib has a menu through which all of its functionality can be accessed. Most functions are also bound to keys, but especially some of the lesser used ones can (by default) only be accessed through the menu.

To quit Ebib and unload all .bib files, type q. Alternatively, type z to put Ebib in the background but keep it active. This way, the .bib files that you have opened remain loaded, and you can return to them by typing M-x ebib again.

Opening a .bib File

To open a .bib file, type o. Ebib reads the file that you specify and reports how many entries it found, how many @String definitions it found, and whether a @Preamble was found. If Ebib encounters entry types in the .bib file that it does not know, a warning will be logged to a special buffer *Ebib-log*. If Ebib finds something that it cannot parse, it will log an error. Ebib attempts to be as liberal as possible, so everything that looks like a BibTeX entry will be read, but if you open a .bib file that wasn’t written by Ebib, it is always a good idea to check the log buffer to see if everything is in order.

In order to parse .bib files, Ebib uses the entry type definitions of bibtex.el, which is fairly complete, but if you use non-standard entry types, you may need to customise bibtex-biblatex-entry-alist or bibtex-bibtex-entry-alist, depending on which of the two you use. If Ebib finds entry types in a .bib file that are not defined, those entries will still be loaded, but their entry type is displayed using Emacs’ error face. The most likely case in which this may happen is when you load a BibTeX file without letting Ebib know the file is biblatex-specific. By default, Ebib assumes that a .bib file it loads is a BibTeX file. If you intend to use biblatex files, make sure to read the section Biblatex vs. Bibtex.

When you open a .bib file, the directory in which you started Ebib is the start directory for file name completion. If you always want Ebib to assume a specific default directory, regardless of the directory in which Ebib is actually started, you can customise the option ebib-default-directory.

Preloading .bib Files

Chances are that you will be doing most of your work with one or a few .bib files. In order to open these files automatically when Ebib is started, set the option “Preload Bib Files” (ebib-preload-bib-files). You may specify the files to preload with their full path or with a relative path. In the latter case, the files are searched for in the directories listed in the option ebib-bib-search-dirs.

Starting a New .bib File

To start a new .bib file from scratch, you first need to give the database a name. So, to start a new database, type o first, and give the new file a name. Once you have done this, you can start adding entries to the database.

Closing a database

If you are done with a database, type c to close it. This unloads the current database (you are asked for confirmation if you have unsaved changes), but it does not leave Ebib, and the other databases you have open will remain so.

The Database View

Once you’ve opened a .bib file, all the entries in the file are shown in alphabetical order (sorted by entry key, though this is customisable) in the index buffer in the top Ebib window. The fields of the first entry and their values are shown in the entry buffer in the bottom Ebib window. The first field is the type field (i.e. Book, Article, etc.)

Below the type field, Ebib displays (up to) four sets of fields. The first set are the so-called required fields, the fields that biblatex / BibTeX requires to be filled. The second group are the optional fields, which do not have to be filled but which are normally added to the bibliography if they do have a value. These two groups are specific to the entry type; they are defined in Emacs and can be customised in the customisation group bibtex.

The third group comprises the so-called extra fields. These fields are usually ignored by biblatex / BibTeX (note that biblatex and BibTeX normally ignore all fields they do not know about), although there are bibliography styles that treat some of these fields as optional rather than as extra. Extra fields are not specific to the entry type. They are defined globally. By default, Ebib defines following extra fields:

The fields url and doi are defined only for BibTeX because biblatex defines them as optional fields for most entry types. If these fields are not sufficient for your use, you can customise the option ebib-extra-fields.

Below the extra fields is one more set of fields. These are fields that exist in the entry but are not defined as part of the entry type nor as extra fields. See the section Undefined Fields for some more information.

The basic motion keys in the index buffer are the following:

Key Action
up p C-p move one entry up
down n C-n move one entry down
Space PgDn move one page up
b PgUp move one page down
g Home move to the first entry
G End move to the last entry

If you have more than one database opened, you can use the keys 19 to jump between databases. The number of each database is shown in the mode line of the index buffer before the database name. (Note that the numbering is dynamic: if you have three databases opened and then close the second, database 3 becomes database 2.) You can also use the left and right cursor keys to move to the previous or next database (these keys wrap).

You can quickly jump to any entry in a database with the key j. This asks you for an entry key (using completion) and then jumps to the corresponding entry. This actually works across databases: the keys that are offered for completion are the keys from all open databases. After selecting a key, Ebib changes to the corresponding database and shows the entry corresponding to the key. Note, though, that you can restrict the jump candidates to the current database by using a prefix argument, i.e., by typing C-u j.

If you use selectrum, ivy or helm or the built-in package ido, using j becomes even more convenient: instead of completing the entry key, you can type any part of the author/editor names, of the title and the year of the entry you want to jump to. You can also see the bibliography file to which the entry belongs. This is a good way to search for a particular entry if you’re not sure of the entry key.

Displaying and Sorting the Entries List

By default, the index buffer displays the list of entries in the database in a table format using the entry key, and the author, year and title fields of each entry. The entries are sorted in ascending order on the first column, which by default is the entry key. You can sort the entries on one of the other columns using the keys < and >. The former performs an ascending sort (smallest to largest, hence the smaller-than sign), the latter a descending sort. They both ask you for the column to sort on. Restoring the default sort can be done with =.

The fields that are displayed in the index buffer can be customised with the user option ebib-index-columns. Each element in this option describes a column and consists of the field to display (which is also the column label), the width of the column and a flag indicating whether the column can be sorted. You can add or remove fields, or reorder the existing ones. Note that the width of the last column is ignored: the last column always takes up all the space that is left.

You can use any biblatex or BibTeX field to define a column in the index buffer. There are a few column labels that do not correspond directly to a field name, however. For example, the column label "Entry Key", which displays the entry key, is not a field. Similarly, there is a column label "Author/Editor", which displays the contents of the author field if it is not empty, and the contents of the editor field otherwise. Furthermore, the column label "Year" does not simply display the contents of the year field. Rather, it first checks the contents of the date field, which is biblatex’s replacement of the year field, and extracts the first year in it. Only if the date field is empty does it display the year field.

Three other column labels have special behaviour: "Title", "Doi", and "Url". These do display information from the fields they correspond with, but in a special way: "Title" tries to make the title look nice by removing braces and LaTeX commands (leaving only their obligatory arguments) and by displaying the arguments of \emph, \textit, \textbf and \textsc in italic, bold or caps. Accented characters that are created using LaTeX commands such as \"{a} are displayed as the actual accented characters and a number of LaTeX commands for special characters are replaced with the corresponding Unicode character.

The column labels"Doi" and "Url" don’t display the contents of these fields, but instead yield a clickable string "www"; clicking on "www" takes you to the relevant web page.

The final predefined column label is "Note". This does not, as might be expected, display the contents of the note field. Rather, it checks whether the entry in question has an external annotation (see Notes Files). For those entries that have an annotation, the "Note" column displays a (clickable) "N". (Keep in mind, though, that if you keep your notes in a single file, adding this column to the index display can slow down the creation of the index buffer (and thus Ebib’s start-up). If you wish to use this column, it is probably best to keep notes in separate files.)

You can define new column labels and redefine the existing ones by customising the option ebib-field-transformation-functions. Note that "Title", "Doi", "Url", and "Note" are actually defined through this option. "Entry Key", "Author/Editor", and "Year" are not (they are hard-coded), but they can be overridden by adding an entry for them in ebib-field-transformation-functions. For example, if you do not wish for TeX markup to be hidden in titles, remove the "Title" entry in this option.

The first column defined in ebib-index-colums is the column on which the entries are sorted by default, i.e., when the database is first opened and when you press =. You can change the default sort field and the default sort direction (which is ascending, i.e., A-Z and 0-9) by customising the option ebib-index-default-sort.

By default, sorting is done on the string representation of the field value, using the function string-collate-lessp. For numeric fields, this may not be appropriate, because it means that the value 10 is sorted between 1 and 2. To specify a custom sort function for particular fields, you can customise the option ebib-field-sort-functions-alist. To sort numeric fields, you can use the predefined function ebib-compare-numerical-strings, but you can also define a custom sort function yourself.

Biblatex vs. BibTeX

BibTeX has long been a core part of the TeX ecosystem, but it has not received any substantial update since 1988(!) and it has next to no support for languages other than English. Compared to BibTeX, biblatex has an expanded set of entry types, allowing for more diverse types of references, a larger number of fields, and a much more sophisticated system of field value inheritances. Most importantly, however, biblatex (and its back-end Biber) has proper Unicode support.

For these reasons, the use of biblatex is highly recommended for anyone using LaTeX. For historical reasons, however, BibTeX is still the default dialect, so if you intend to use biblatex files, you need to tell Ebib that your files are biblatex files.

Setting the BibTeX Dialect

Biblatex files use the same .bib suffix that BibTeX files use. Whether Ebib interprets a file as a BibTeX or a biblatex file is determined by the user option ebib-bibtex-dialect. Possible values for this option are BibTeX and biblatex, the default being BibTeX. (These values are taken from the variable bibtex-dialect-list.)

The dialect specified determines which entry types Ebib recognises and which fields it expects. Reading a file with the wrong dialect setting will most likely result in a series of “Illegal entry type” errors. Note, however, that these entries will still be loaded and displayed, but they will be highlighted with Emacs’ error face. Fields that are not defined for the current dialect are displayed as undefined fields (i.e., below all other fields in the entry buffer).

The option ebib-bibtex-dialect sets the default dialect, which is the dialect that Ebib gives to newly created .bib files and which it assumes for files that are not otherwise specified. If you wish to work with a file that is in a different dialect than what you set as the default, you can set the dialect for this particular file. To do this, load the file and then set the dialect through the menu option «Ebib | BibTeX Dialect» or with the command M-x ebib-set-dialect. You only need to do this once for a file, because the setting is saved in the .bib file in the local variable block. (If no local variable block exists, one is created.) The setting is actually saved as a file-local value for the variable bibtex-dialect, which means that if you should open the file directly in bibtex-mode, Emacs will apply the dialect setting as well.

The mode line of the index buffer shows the dialect that Ebib assumes for the current database. Note that this does not necessarily mean that the dialect is set in the .bib file: if the file does not have a dialect setting, the mode line shows the default setting.

Alias Types and Fields

The set of entry types defined by biblatex differs from the set used by BibTeX. Mostly, biblatex adds new entry types, but there are a few BibTeX entry types that have been dropped. For legacy reasons, biblatex still recognises these entry types, but it treats them as aliases for some of its own types:

BibTeX Entry type Biblatex entry type
@Conference @InProceedings
@Electronic @Online
@MastersThesis @Thesis with type as ‘Master’s thesis’
@PhDThesis @Thesis with type as ‘PhD thesis’
@TechReport @Report with type as ‘technical report’
@www @Online

If an entry has such an alias as entry type, Ebib displays the entry type that biblatex treats it as in the entry buffer. For example, the entry type alias PhDThesis is shown as PhDThesis [==> Thesis].

Similarly, a number of fields are deprecated but still accepted as aliases:

BibTeX Field Biblatex Field
address location
annote annotation
archiveprefix eprinttype
journal journaltitle
key sortkey
pdf file
primaryclass eprintclass
school institution

These aliases are also indicated in the entry buffer: for example, if an entry has a journal field, its value is shown as the value of the journaltitle field; a tag [<== journal] is placed after the field value, indicating that the value is actually contained in the journal field. The journal field itself is shown as an undefined field, i.e., after all other fields. Displaying the value twice this way means that you can easily copy the value of the journal field to the journaltitle field, if you wish to bring your entries into line with biblatex’s conventions.

Editing the Database

Obviously, Ebib not only allows you to see the BibTeX entries in your .bib files, you can also edit them. This section describes the most important editing facilities.

Adding and Deleting Entries

To add an entry to a database, type a. This creates a new entry with a temporary key and puts you in the entry buffer, where you can edit the fields of the entry. When you finish editing the entry fields, the temporary key is replaced with an automatically created key based on the entry’s content. (Ebib uses the function bibtex-generate-autokey for this; see that function’s documentation string for customisation options.) If you prefer to specify a key yourself, you can unset the option ebib-autogenerate-keys.

Deleting an entry can be done in two ways. The key d deletes an entry from the database. This command asks for confirmation, because once an entry has been deleted in this way, it cannot be retrieved again. Alternatively, you can use k, which kills the current entry, i.e., the entry is deleted from the database and added to the kill ring.

The key y lets you yank an entry from the kill ring into the current database. In order for this to work, the item at the top of the kill ring must be a string that constitutes a properly formatted BibTeX entry. If this is not the case, Ebib gives you a warning and rotates the kill ring, so that you can press y again to (try and) add the next element in the kill ring to the database.

Killing an entry from a database obviously yields a properly formatted BibTeX entry (so you can easily move entries from one database to another by killing and then yanking them), but killing a BibTeX entry from another buffer or copying one from an outside source (e.g., a website) is also possible.

Note that yanking also works with @Preamble, @String and @Comment definitions.

Marking Entries

Commands in the index buffer generally operate on one single entry. Some commands can be performed on multiple entries simultaneously. To do this, first mark the relevant entries with the key m and then perform the command. Commands for which it makes sense automatically operate on all marked entries if there are any.

With a prefix argument, i.e, with C-u followed by m, you can unmark all entries or, if there are no marked entries, mark all entries in the current database.

Editing Field Values

Editing the field values for an entry is done in the lower of the two Ebib buffers, the entry buffer. You can move focus to the entry buffer by typing the command e in the index buffer.

You can move between fields with the same keys that you use to move between entries in the index buffer:

Key Action
up p C-p move one field up
down n C-n move one field down
Space PgDn move to previous set
b PgUp move to next set
g Home move to the first field
G End move to the last field

To finish editing fields and move focus back to the index window, use q.

Editing a field value can be done with e or RET. For most fields, Ebib simply asks you for a string value in the minibuffer. There is no need to put braces {} around field values, Ebib adds them when it saves the .bib file.

Fields for which it makes sense offer completion when you edit them. For example, when you edit the type field, completion is offered on all predefined entry types. Similarly, if you edit the crossref field, Ebib offers completion on the keys in the databases currently open. The keywords field offers completion on all configured keywords (see the section Managing Keywords) and the file field offers file name completion (see Viewing and Importing Files).

For other fields that offer completion, the completion candidates are the values of these fields in other entries in the databases that you’ve opened. Offering these as completion candidates makes it easier to ensure that you enter these values consistently. This of course mainly makes sense for fields that have values that will occur more than once. By default, apart from the fields already mentioned, completion is offered for the author, editor, journal, journaltitle, organization and publisher fields.

In the author and editor fields, completion takes into account that these fields may contain more than one name. Each name is a separate completion candidate: when editing these fields, you can type the individual names, Ebib adds the "and" or the semicolon that separates them.

If you want to edit a field value directly, without completion, you can use a prefix argument: C-u e lets you edit a field as a plain string. If you wish to disable completion permanently for particular fields, or if you want to enable completion for other fields, you can customise the user option ebib-edit-fields-functions.

With fields that can contain lists of values, such as the author and editor fields, but also the file field, Ebib offers multiple completion: you can select one candidate with TAB and then go on to select the next one. When you’ve selected all candidates you want, hit RET. Ebib uses Emacs’ standard completing-read-multiple function for this, but note that crm-separator is set to something appropriate for the field being edited.

@String abbreviations in field values

BibTeX and biblatex provide so-called @String abbreviations, short abbreviations for strings of text that occur often in your database, e.g., publisher names, names of journals, etc.

You can define such abbreviations in Ebib in the strings buffer (see @String Definitions for details). To use a @String abbreviation in a field value, the field’s value must be marked as special. Normally, when Ebib saves the database, it puts braces around field values. If a field has a @string abbreviation in it, it shouldn’t be surrounded with braces, because that would prevent biblatex or BibTeX from expanding the abbreviation.

A special field is a field whose value is not surrounded by braces when the database is saved, so that it is recognised as a field with an abbreviation. To mark a field special, press r. An asterisk will appear before the field, indicating its status. Pressing r again will change the field back to normal. If you press r on a field that does not have a value yet, Ebib will ask you for one.

By default, Ebib shows the expanded value of a field that is marked special. So for example, if you have a @String abbreviation cup for "Cambridge University Press", putting cup in the publisher field and marking it special will show the expanded value Cambridge University Press in the entry buffer. The field is still marked with an asterisk and the expanded value is displayed in a different colour to indicate that it is an expansion. You can turn this behaviour off by unsetting the user option ebib-expand-strings.

Note that a field value can actually be composed of a concatenation of “normal” text and abbreviations. The BibTeX documentation for example explains that if you have defined:

@String{WGA = "World Gnus Almanac"}

you can create a BibTeX field like this:

title = 1966 # WGA

which will produce “1966 World Gnus Almanac”. Or you can do:

month = "1~" # jan

which will produce someting like “1 January” (assuming your bibliography style has defined the abbreviation jan). All this is possible with Ebib, simply by entering the exact text including quotes or braces around the strings, and marking the relevant field as special.

An easy way to enter a @String abbreviation as a field value is to use the key s instead of e. If you type s, Ebib asks you for a @String abbreviation to put in the current field, and automatically marks the field as special. This method uses completion.

Editing Multiline Values

There are two other fields that Ebib handles in a special way when you edit their value. These are the annotation field (or annote in BibTeX), and the abstract field. Most field values normally consist of a single line of text. However, because the annotation and abstract fields are meant for creating annotated bibliographies, it would not be very useful if you could only write one line of text in them. Therefore, when you edit one of these fields, Ebib puts you in a so-called multiline edit buffer. This is essentially a text mode buffer that allows you to enter text freely.

To store the text and leave the multiline edit buffer, type C-c C-c. If you want to leave the multiline edit buffer and discard your changes, type C-c C-k. This command cancels the edit and leaves the multiline edit buffer. The text that is stored in the field you were editing is not altered.

For more details on working with multiline edit buffers, see Multiline Edit Buffers.

When a field has a multiline value, at most ten lines are shown in the entry buffer. If the text is longer, an ellipsis indicator [...] is added after the last line that is displayed. If you want to see the whole contents of a multiline field, you can use v: this will display the contents of the current field in a *Help* buffer (which can be dismissed again with q). It is possible to customise the way a multiline value is displayed in the entry buffer. See the options ebib-multiline-display-function and ebib-multiline-display-max-lines for details.

Note that multiline values are not restricted to the annotation and abstract fields. Any field except the type and crossref fields can in fact hold a multiline value. To give a field a multiline value, use m instead of e.

Copy, Cut (Kill), Paste (Yank), and Delete

A few more commands are available when you’re in the entry buffer editing field values. The commands c, k and y implement copy, kill and yank: c copies the contents of the current field to the kill ring, k kills the contents of the current field to the kill ring, and y yanks (pastes) the most recently killed text in the kill ring. You can type y repeatedly to get the same effect you get in Emacs when you type M-y after an initial C-y.

The contents of a field can also be deleted with the command d. This command does not store the text in the kill ring: once deleted, the text is gone. It therefore asks for confirmation, just to be sure.

Note that y only works when the current field does not have a value yet. This is to prevent you from accidentally overwriting a field value. If you do want to yank text into a field that already has a value, simply hit d first to delete the text.

Undefined Fields

Biblatex and BibTeX ignore fields that they do not know about, which is a property that can be exploited to add any kind of information to an entry. Ebib accommodates this by allowing fields with any name, not just the ones that are predefined. Such undefined fields are displayed last in the entry buffer, following the extra fields.

It is even possible to add such fields to an entry by pressing a in the entry buffer. This asks for a field name and then a value. If you make heavy use of this option, though, it may be better to define the relevant fields through the user option ebib-extra-fields.

Note that if you delete the contents of an undefined field, the field itself is also deleted. (In fact, the field remains in the database until you close the database, but it will not be saved, so the next time you load the .bib file, the field is gone.)

Hidden Fields

Biblatex defines a large number of fields, many of which are optional for most entry types. Displaying all these fields in the entry buffer would not be very practical, because you are most likely interested in only a few of them. For this reason, Ebib defines a (fairly large) number of fields as ‘hidden’, meaning that they are not shown in the entry buffer. You can make these fields visible with the key H in the index buffer. Which fields are treated as hidden is controlled by the option “Hidden Fields” (ebib-hidden-fields), which can be customised.

Most of the fields defined as hidden are biblatex-specific, because BibTeX recognises a much smaller number of fields and there isn’t much of a need to hide the lesser used ones. However, the functionality is available: if you wish to use it, just add the relevant fields to the option ebib-hidden-fields.

Note that a hidden field that has a value is always shown in the index buffer. Hidden fields are only hidden in entries that don’t define a value for them.


Ebib provides the possibility to add a timestamp to every new entry, recording the time it was added to the database. The timestamp is recorded in the (extra) field timestamp, which is hidden by default.

You can tell Ebib to create timestamps by setting the option ebib-use-timestamp. With this option set, a timestamp is included in entries added to the database with a. Ebib also adds a timestamp to entries imported from a buffer or merged from a file, and to entries exported to another database or to a file. When importing or exporting entries, existing timestamps are overwritten. The logic behind this is that the timestamp records the date and time when the entry was added to the database, not when it was first created.

Note that if this option is unset, the timestamp of an entry is retained when it is imported or exported. Therefore, if you record timestamps and want to im-/export entries without changing their timestamps, temporarily unset this option, which can be done in the menu under “Options”.

Ebib uses the function format-time-string to create the timestamp. The format string that Ebib uses can be customised. The default string is "%Y-%m-%d %T (%Z)", which produces a timestamp of the form "2007-03-12 01:03:26 (CET)". This string is sortable and has the additional advantage that it can be converted to Emacs’ internal time representation with the function date-to-time. The format can be customised; see the documentation for format-time-string on the options that are available.

Adding timestamps in a format that date-to-time can parse makes it possible to list the most recent additions to the database. Ebib provides a function to do this: ebib-list-recent, which asks for a number of days and lists the entries that were added since then. See Special Filters for details.

Saving a Database

When you have undertaken any kind of editing action on a database, it is marked as modified, which is indicated in the mode line for the index buffer. A modified database can be saved by typing s. This saves the database to the file it was loaded from without asking for confirmation. (It is similar to C-x C-s in Emacs.) If you are saving a file for the first time after loading it, Ebib creates a backup file. (Ebib honours backup-directory-alist when saving backups. Note that you can also disable backups altogether with the option ebib-create-backups.)

If you want to force-save a database that has not been modified, you can use a prefix argument: C-u s. Ebib still checks whether the underlying file was modified, though. If you also want to forego this check, use a double prefix argument: C-u C-u s. This saves the file unconditionally.

You can also save a database to another name with w. This command is similar to C-x C-w in Emacs: the new .bib file becomes associated with the database. This command can also be prefixed with C-u in order to overwrite any existing file without asking for confirmation.

Note that by default, Ebib uses a single TAB to indent fields inside BibTeX entries. If you prefer to use spaces, set the option ebib-save-indent-as-bibtex. When this option is set, Ebib uses the value of the variables bibtex-entry-offset and bibtex-field-indentation to compute how many spaces to use to indent fields.

Exporting Entries

Sometimes it can be useful to copy entries from one database to another, or to create a new .bib file with several entries from an existing database. For this purpose, Ebib provides exporting facilities. To export an entry to another database that you have open in Ebib, use the command x. This command operates on a single entry or on all marked entries.

You can also export entries to a file. To do this, call the command x with a prefix argument: C-u x and type the name of the file to export the entries to. If the file already exists, Ebib appends the entries to it. Note that in this case, there is no check to see if the exported entries already exist in the target file, so you may end up with duplicate entries in this way.

Apart from entries, it is also possible to export the @Preamble and @String definitions. The @Preamble definition is exported with the command X in the index buffer. @String definitions can be exported in the strings buffer: x in this buffer exports the current string, while X exports all @String definitions in one go. All these commands function in the same way: when used without a prefix argument, they ask for an open database to export the entry to. With a prefix argument, they ask for a filename, and then append the relevant data to that file.


Both Biblatex and BibTeX allow entries to refer to other entries through the crossref field. If an entry has a crossref field, Ebib displays the field values that nte entry inherits from its parent entry. To indicate that they are just inherited values, they are marked with ebib-crossref-face, which by default inherits from font-lock-comment-face. These values are merely displayed for convenience: they cannot be edited. (They can be copied, however).

Biblatex’s inheritance rules are fairly sophisticated: they depend on the fields and on the types of the child and parent entry. Ebib fully supports this inheritance schema. Since inheritance rules can be customised in biblatex, they are defined in Ebib in the customisable option ebib-biblatex-inheritances. This is set up with the default inheritance relations defined by biblatex, but can be customised if needed.

BibTeX’s inheritance mechanism is much more simplistic. A field in a child entry that does not have a value simply inherits the value of the same-name field in the parent entry. Customisation is not possible here, neither in BibTeX nor in Ebib.

If you are viewing an entry that has a crossref field and you want to go to the parent entry you can type C. This command reads the value of the crossref field and then jumps to the entry it contains. If you want to do the reverse, i.e., see if the current entry is the parent of any other entries, you can use the same key C: if you type C on an entry that does not have a crossref field, Ebib starts searching the database for the current entry key.

Note that after Ebib has jumped to the first child entry, you cannot type C again to find the next one. Since you are now on a child entry, this key would take you back to the parent entry. In order to find the next child entry, you have to type RET, as with a normal search. (Also, if the cross-referenced entry appears alphabetically before the cross-referencing entry, you need to type g and then /.)

Note that if you want to use biblatex’s or BibTeX’s cross-referencing mechanism, the option ebib-save-xrefs-first needs to be set (which it is by default). This tells Ebib to save all entries with a crossref field first in the .bib file. Without this, cross-referencing will not work reliably.

Sorting the .bib File

By default, the entries in the database are saved to the .bib file in alphabetical order according to entry key. (Entries with a crossref field are saved first, but also sorted alphabetically) For most purposes, this is sufficient, but in some cases (e.g., in ConTeXt), it is necessary to have more control over the order of entries in the .bib file.

Ebib allows you to specify the sort order in the .bib file with the user option ebib-sort-order. This is a list of sort levels: entries are first sorted using the first sort level. If two entries cannot be sorted on the first sort level, they are sorted on the second level, etc.

Each sort level is a list of field names (as case-insensitive strings). Entries are sorted based on the first field in this list that yields a value. So if the first sort level is (author editor), an entry is sorted on the author field if it has a value and on the editor field otherwise. If neither the author nor the editor field yields a value for a particular entry, that entry is sorted on the BibTeX key.

If two or more entries yield the same value for the first sort level, meaning that they cannot be sorted on that level, are sorted on the second sort level. If, for example, the second sort level is (year), entries from the same author are sorted on the year of publication.

The difference between two sort fields within one sort level and two sort levels is that a second sort field is an alternative for the first field when it has no value, while a second sort level is an additional sort criterion when two or more entries cannot be sorted on the first level, because they have identical values.

By default, the option ebib-sort-order has no value, which means that the entries in the .bib file are sorted according to entry key. If you wish to make use of this option, you will most likely want to set the first sort level to (author editor) and the second to (year). Keep in mind that if you do set this option, you need to unset the option ebib-save-xrefs-first (see Cross-referencing). It is pointless to set a sort order if cross-referenced entries are saved first.

@Preamble Definition

Apart from database entries, BibTeX allows three more types of elements to appear in a .bib file. These are @Preamble, @String and @Comment definitions. Ebib provides facilities to handle these, which are discussed here and in the following sections.

Ebib allows you to add one @Preamble definition to the database. In principle, BibTeX allows more than one such definition, but one suffices, because you can use the concatenation character # to include multiple TeX or LaTeX commands. So, rather than having two @Preamble definitions such as:

@Preamble{ "\newcommand{\noopsort}[1]{} " }
@Preamble{ "\newcommand{\singleletter}[1]{#1} " }

you can write this in your .bib file:

@Preamble{ "\newcommand{\noopsort}[1]{} "
         # "\newcommand{\singleletter}[1]{#1} " }

Creating or editing a @Preamble definition in Ebib is done by hitting (uppercase) P in the index buffer. Ebib uses the multiline edit buffer for editing the text of the @Preamble definition, which means that C-c C-c stores the @Preamble text and returns focus to the index buffer, while C-c C-k returns focus to the index buffer while abandoning any changes you may have made. (For details on using multiline edit buffers, see Multiline Edit Buffers.)

In order to create a @Preamble as shown above in Ebib, you only have to type the text between the braces. Ebib takes care of including the braces of the @Preamble command, but otherwise it saves the text exactly as you enter it. So in order to get the preamble above, you’d have to type the following in Ebib:

"\newcommand{\noopsort}[1]{} " # "\newcommand{\singleletter}[1]{#1} "

Note that when Ebib loads a .bib file that contains more than one @Preamble definition, it concatenates all the strings in them in the manner just described and saves them in one @Preamble definition.

@String Definitions

If you press (uppercase) S in the index buffer, Ebib hides the entry buffer in the lower window and replaces it with the strings buffer. In this buffer, you can add, delete and edit @String definitions.

Adding a @String definition is done with the command a. This will first ask you for an abbreviation and then for the value to be associated with that abbreviation. Once you’ve entered these, Ebib will sort the new abbreviation into the buffer.

The following keys are available in the strings buffer:

Key Action
up p C-p move one string up
down n C-n move one string down
Space PgDn move ten strings up
b PgUp move ten strings down
g Home move to the first string
G End move to the last string
e edit a @String value
d delete a @String definition
c copy a @String value
x export a @String definition
X export all @String definitions

It is not possible to cut the value of a @String definition, because they must have a value. Yanking has not been implemented in the strings buffer, but you can use C-y / M-y in the minibuffer when editing a @String value.

@String definitions, like field values, can contain other abbreviations. That is, you can define an abbreviation up with the value {University Press}, and then define another abbreviation cup with the value {Cambridge } # up. This will expand to "Cambridge University Press". When Ebib detects such a ‘nested’ @String definition, it will display the full expansion in the strings buffer next to the value. Note that for this to work, such values need to be marked special, just like field values that contain @String definitions.


If Ebib finds a @Comment in a .bib file, it will read it and store it in the database. When the database is saved, all the @Comments will be saved with it, at the top of the file, immediately after the @Preamble (with the exception of a @Comment surrounding a Local Variables: block, which is saved at the end of the file). There is no way to edit comments, nor can you specify where in the .bib file a comment is placed, but they won’t be lost.

Creating Entry Stubs

If you have a directory full of (pdf) files of articles that you want to add to your database, Ebib can make the task a little bit easier by creating entry stubs for all the files. You can do this with the command M-x ebib-add-file-entry. This command asks you for a file or a directory and creates an entry in the current database for that file or each file in the directory. The entries only contain a file field pointing to the file, all the other information still has to be filled out by hand, but this way you can at least keep track of which files are already in your database. The keys of these entries are temporary keys. They will be replaced by more permanent keys automatically when you edit the entries.

Multiline Edit Buffers

As mentioned several times before, field values that contain newlines (so-called multiline fields) and the @Preamble are edited in a so-called multiline edit buffer. This section discusses the details of this buffer.

Ebib enters a multiline edit buffer in one of three cases: when you edit the @Preamble definition, when you hit m in the entry buffer to edit a field as multiline, or when you hit e on the annote/annotation or abstract fields, or on a field whose value already is multiline.

The major mode that is used in multiline edit buffers is user-configurable. The default value is text-mode, but if you prefer to use some other mode, you can specify this through the customisation option ebib-multiline-major-mode.

Three commands are relevant for interacting with Ebib when you’re in the multiline edit buffer, which are bound to key sequences in the minor mode ebib-multiline-edit-mode, which is activated automatically in the multiline edit buffer.

ebib-quit-multiline-buffer-and-save, bound to C-c C-c, leaves the multiline edit buffer and stores the text in the database. If you invoke this command when you’ve deleted all contents of the buffer (including the final newline!) and you were editing a field value or the @Preamble, the field value or preamble is deleted. (This is in fact the only way to delete the @Preamble definition. Field values on the other hand can also be deleted by hitting k or d on them in the entry buffer.)

ebib-cancel-multiline-buffer, bound to C-c C-k, also leaves the multiline edit buffer, but it does so without storing the text. The original value of the field, string or preamble will be retained. If the text was modified, Ebib will ask for a confirmation before leaving the buffer.

ebib-save-from-multiline-buffer, bound to C-c C-s, can be used in the multiline edit buffer to save the database. This command first stores the text in the database and then saves it. Because Ebib does not do an autosave of the current database, it is advisable to save the database manually every now and then to prevent data loss in case of crashes. It would be annoying to have to leave the multiline edit buffer every time you want to do this, so this command has been provided to allow you to do this from within the buffer.

Note that you do not need to finish a multiline edit before you can return to the database and possibly edit other fields and even entries. Ebib keeps track of which field in which entry of which database a multiline edit buffer belongs to, so you can keep a multiline edit buffer open while doing other work. It is even possible to have several multiline edit buffers open at the same time. Ebib makes sure that when you finish one, its contents is stored in the correct place.

The key combinations of the multiline edit buffer strictly speaking violate Emacs’ suggested key binding conventions. They are defined in the keymap of a minor mode (ebib-multiline-mode, to be specific), but a minor mode keymap should only use key bindings of C-c plus a non-alphanumeric character. The bindings do follow practical conventions, however: they are used for similar functions in e.g., Org’s capture mechanism, in message-mode, in VC, magit, etc. For this reason, Ebib uses them as well.

If you find that these key bindings conflict with key bindings in the major mode you use in the multiline edit buffer, you can change them, of course. To do this, put something like the following in your init file:

(with-eval-after-load 'ebib
  (define-key ebib-multiline-mode-map
    "\C-c c" nil)
  (define-key ebib-multiline-mode-map
    "\C-c | c" 'ebib-quit-multiline-buffer-and-save)

  (define-key ebib-multiline-mode-map
    "\C-c s" nil)
  (define-key ebib-multiline-mode-map
    "\C-c | s" 'ebib-save-from-multiline-buffer))

  (define-key ebib-multiline-mode-map
    "\C-c k" nil)
  (define-key ebib-multiline-mode-map
    "\C-c | k" 'ebib-cancel-multiline-buffer)

This removes the key bindings for C-c c, C-c s and C-c k and sets up C-c | c, C-c | s and C-c | k for use in the multiline edit buffer. You can obviously use other keys if you prefer.

Main and Dependent Databases

A common workflow with bibliographic data is to have a single database containing all entries one works with and to export a .bib file for a paper or book with only the relevant entries. Ebib enables such a workflow with so-called dependent databases. A dependent database, as the name suggests, depends on another, normal database that is called its main database. The dependent database contains a subset of the entries of its main database and all the data of the entries is shared by both databases. If you edit an entry in the dependent database, the edit shows up in the main one as well, and vice versa.

To create a dependent database, type M c in the database that is going to be the main database. Ebib asks you for a file name and then creates a new empty database. You can associate this database with a text buffer in the normal way (see Associating a Database with a Text Buffer). At this point, when you insert a citation into the text buffer with M-x ebib-insert-citation, Ebib offers all entries of the main database for completion, not just the ones that are already in the dependent database. If you select an entry that is not in the dependent database yet, it is added to it.

It is also possible to add entries in the usual way, i.e., by pressing a in Ebib’s index buffer. If you do this in a dependent database, instead of creating a new entry, you are prompted for an entry from the main database to add to the dependent one. In the main database, you can also push entries to a dependent database with the command M a. This command also works on marked entries, making it possible to add multiple entries to a dependent database in one go.

Deleting an entry in a dependent database only removes it from the dependent database, not from the main database. If you delete an entry from the main database that is also present in a dependent database, it is removed from both, given that a dependent database can only have entries that also exist in the main database.

A database can serve as the main database for more than one dependent databases, but the reverse is not possible: each dependent database can only have one main database.

If you save a dependent database, it is saved as a normal, standalone .bib file that can be used with biblatex or BibTeX. When you reopen the file in Ebib, a special comment at the top of the file makes sure that Ebib recognises it as a dependent database and loads the main database as well, if necessary. Note that when Ebib opens a dependent database, it only reads the entry keys from the .bib file. The data of each entry is taken from the main database. This means that if you edit a dependent database’s .bib file outside of Ebib, the changes you make are ignored when you open the file in Ebib.

Inserting Citations into a Text Buffer

Single Citations

When you’re in a text buffer and you have Ebib open in the background (i.e., you lowered Ebib with z), you can insert a citation with the command ebib-insert-citation. This command asks for a key and inserts a citation with that key in a (user-selectable) form that is appropriate for the current buffer. By default, this is set up for LaTeX and Pandoc Markdown buffers. There is some support for Org mode as well, as discussed below.

When you invoke ebib-insert-citation, Emacs prompts you for a key from the database(s) associated with the current buffer and for a citation command to use. You can use TAB completion when typing the key. If you have selectrum, ivy or helm installed, however, Ebib uses a more sophisticated method: instead of typing just the key, you can type (parts of) the author name, publication year and title in order to find the reference you wish to cite.

You can define different citation commands for each type of file that you use. That is, you can have one set of citation commands for LaTeX files, another set for Org files, etc. For LaTeX buffers, the citation commands that have been predefined are those used by biblatex (well, the most common ones, anyway). If you use BibTeX, you may need to customise the option ebib-citation-commands, as discussed below, Defining Citation Commands.

For Markdown buffers, three commands have been predefined: text, which inserts a citation of the form @Jones1992, paren, which inserts a citation of the form [@Jones1992] and year, which inserts [-@Jones1992]. Since these are the only types of citations that Pandoc Markdown knows, you shouldn’t need to change anything.

Ebib also provides a way to insert citations into a buffer from within Ebib. If you’re in the index buffer and press i, Ebib asks you for a buffer to insert the citation into (which defaults to the buffer you started Ebib from, or the buffer you previously inserted an entry into), a citation command and also any optional arguments, and then inserts a citation at the current cursor position in the buffer you’ve supplied.

Citations with multiple keys

Most citation commands in LaTeX can take multiple keys. To add more than one key to a citation, you can mark them in Ebib’s index buffer with m and then insert them into a text buffer with i. If you use ivy or helm, the standard method that these packages provide for selecting and acting on multiple candidates can be used if you insert a citation from within your text buffer with ebib-insert-citation. If you use selectrum or Emacs’ built-in completion method, you can enable selection of multiple keys by setting the option ebib-citations-insert-multiple. With this option set, you can select multiple keys when calling ebib-insert-citation by selecting a candidate and then pressing TAB. Once you hit TAB, you need to add an ampersand & as a separator (possibly surrounded by spaces) and then you can select the next candidate. Finish by typing RET.

Note that selectrum automatically adds the ampersand for you, so you don’t need to type it: after hitting TAB, you can immediately start selecting the next candidate. If you use default completion, however, you need to type it yourself.

Also note that with default completion, TAB completes partial input strings just as it does in normal completion. It only selects the candidate once you’ve typed enough to narrow down the choices to a single candidate. With selectrum, TAB always selects the currently highlighted candidate. This is the default behaviour of TAB in both completion systems, so should not be confusing.

This method of multiple selection may be somewhat cumbersome and it is likely unfamiliar to most users. For this reason, it is not enabled by default, but it is there if you want to use it.

Key Bindings

Of course, the easiest way to use the commands discussed here is to bind them to a key sequence. For example, the following binds C-c b to ebib-insert-citation in AUCTeX’s LaTeX mode:

(define-key 'LaTeX-mode-map "\C-cb" 'ebib-insert-citation)

Note that commands of the form C-c <letter> are reserved for the user, and should therefore not be set by any package. For this reasons, Ebib does not set this command itself.

ebib-insert-citation recognises the major mode of the buffer it is called from and uses this information to determine which kinds of citations to insert. So you can bind the ebib-insert-citation to the same key sequence in every text mode in which you use citations and Ebib will do the right thing.

Defining Citation Commands

Citation commands are defined for specific major modes. Ebib defines commands for latex-mode (a.k.a. LaTeX-mode), for org-mode and for markdown-mode. As mentioned, the commands defined for LaTeX are those used by biblatex. If you use something else, you may need to set up some commands yourself. This can be done by customising the option “Citation Commands” (ebib-citation-commands).

Each command consists of an identifier, which you type when Ebib prompts you for a citation command, plus a format string, which is used to create the actual citation command.

The identifier should be a simple string which you can type easily when Ebib asks you for a citation command (TAB completion is available, though). The format string can contain a few directives, which are used to add the citation key and any optional arguments. The following directives are recognised:

the entry key to be inserted.
an argument, for which the user is prompted.
optional material surrounding a %A directive.
a so-called repeater, which contains material that can be repeated. If present, the repeater must contain the entry key directive %K.
a description, for which the user is prompted. Mainly for use in Org citations.

In the simplest case, the format string contains just a %K directive: \cite{%K}. In this case, %K is replaced with the citation key and the result inserted. Usually, however, citation commands allow for optional arguments that are formatted as pre- or postnotes to the citation. For example, using the biblatex package, you have citation commands available of the form:

\textcite[cf.][p. 50]{Jones1992}

In order to be able to insert such citations, the format string must contain %A directives:


With such a format string, Ebib asks the user to provide text for the two arguments and inserts it at the locations specified by the directives. Of course, it is possible to leave the arguments empty (by just hitting RET). With the format string above, this would yield the following citation in the LaTeX buffer:


The empty brackets are completely harmless, because LaTeX will simply ignore the empty arguments. However, you may prefer for the brackets not to appear if the arguments are empty. In that case, you can wrap the brackets and the %A directives in a %<...%> pair:


Now, if you leave the arguments empty, Ebib produces the following citation:


Note however, that this format string is problematic. If you fill out the first argument but not the second, Ebib produces the wrong format string:


If only one optional argument is provided, biblatex assumes that it is a postnote, while what you intended is actually a prenote. Therefore, it is best not to make the second argument optional:


This way, the second pair of brackets is always inserted, regardless of whether you provide a second argument or not.

Biblatex commands also accept multiple citation keys. When you call ebib-insert-citation from within a LaTeX buffer, you can only provide one key, but when you’re in Ebib, you can mark multiple entry keys and then use i to insert them to a buffer. In this case, Ebib asks you for a separator and then inserts all keys into the position of %K:


It is, however, also possible to specify in the format string that a certain sequence can be repeated and how the different elements should be separated. This is done by wrapping that portion of the format string that can be repeated in a %(...%) pair. Normally, you’ll want to provide a separator, which is done by placing it between the % and the closing parenthesis:


This format string says that the directive %K can be repeated and that multiple keys must be separated with a comma. The advantage of this is that you are no longer asked to provide a separator.

It is also possible to put %A directives in the repeating part. This is useful for biblatex’s so-called multicite commands that take the following form:

\footcites[cf.][p. 50]{Jones1992}[][p. 201]{Haddock2004}

Multicite commands can take more than one citation key in braces {} and each of those citation keys can take two optional arguments in brackets []. In order to get such citations, you can provide the following format string:


Here, the entire sequence of two optional arguments and the obligatory citation key is wrapped in %(...%), so that Ebib knows it can be repeated. If you now mark multiple entries in Ebib, press i and select the footcites command, Ebib will put all the keys in the citation, asking you for two arguments for each citation key.

Of course it is also possible to combine parts that are repeated with parts that are not repeated. In fact, that already happens in the previous example, because the part \footcites is not repeated. But the part that is not repeated may contain %A directives as well:


Multicite commands in biblatex take two additional arguments surrounded with parentheses. These are pre- and postnotes for the entire sequence of citations. They can be accommodated as shown.

Lastly, a citation command can also contain a %D directive. This is mainly for use in Org citations, which take the form [[ebib:<key>][<description>]]. The description is not an argument to the citation command but the string that will be displayed in the Org buffer.

Associating a Database with a Text Buffer

The commands ebib-insert-citation and ebib-entry-summary must consult the database or databases loaded in Ebib, and Ebib tries to be smart about which database(s) to consult. How Ebib decides which databases to consult depends on the major mode of the text buffer.

In a LaTeX buffer, Ebib looks for \addbibresource commands or a \bibliography command and uses the files specified in them. If the variable TeX-master is set (which is used by AUCTeX to keep track of a file’s master file), the master file is searched instead.

In non-LaTeX buffers, Ebib first checks if pandoc-mode is active; if it is, Ebib uses the value of the bibliography option. If pandoc-mode is not used, Ebib simply uses all databases that are currently open.

Keep in mind that Ebib tries to determine the relevant databases only once per buffer. It stores the result of this search and uses it the next time either of these commands is used. Therefore, if you add, rename or remove bibliography files in your project, you may need to reload the file (use M-x revert-buffer or C-x C-v RET).

You can override Ebib’s automatic association of .bib files to a buffer by setting the variable ebib-local-bibfiles to a list of files. This can be done as a file-local or a directory-local variable, or as a customisable option.

Currently, Org mode does not have real support for citations (though support is planned for a future release). Ebib provides a way to add links to BibTeX entries to an Org file which, with some coaxing, can be used as citations.

If you call ebib-insert-citation in an Org buffer, you can add a link to an entry in a .bib file that’s open in Ebib. The link has the form [[ebib:<key>][<description>]]. The description is a user-provided string, which you are prompted for, but a default description is provided, which you can accept by pressing RET. This default description is created by the function in ebib-citation-description-function which uses the author name and publication year to create a description.

If you use this type of Org link, you may want to load the org-ebib package, which allows you to open Ebib with org-open-at-point (by default bound to C-c C-o), taking you to the entry in the link (provided its database is opened in Ebib).

The org-ebib package also allows you to create Org links to Ebib entries with org-store-link when you’re in the entry buffer. Links created in this way have the same form, but they can also specify the .bib file containing the entry by adding an @ sign after the key and the name or full path of the file. Which type of link is produced is controlled by the user option org-ebib-link-type.


Ebib provides several ways of searching through your database(s). This section describes two simple search strategies: jumping to an entry and searching for a string or regular expression. The next section discusses a more powerful search mechanism in the form of filters.

If you want to look for a particular entry, the easiest way to do this is to use j. This command (ebib-jump-to-entry) asks for an entry key, offering completion while you type. Note that you can use this command to search for an entry in all open databases. If you want to restrict it to just the current database, use a prefix argument: C-u j.

If you use selectrum, ivy or helm, this method is actually very convenient, because completion is more sophisticated: you can search not on entry key but on any part of the author/editor name, the title and the year.

If you want to search the entire contents of your entries, not just the author/editor names and the titles, you can use /. This command (ebib-search) searches for a string (more precisely, a regular expression) starting from the current entry (i.e., not from the first entry) and will display the entry with the first occurrence of the search string that it finds. All the occurrences of the search string in that entry are highlighted.

Ebib searches all the fields of each entry. It is not possible with / to specify the fields to search. (You can use filters for that.) Note that if the search term is found in a field with a multiline value, Ebib will highlight the ellipsis symbol [...] that is displayed after the last line of the field value.

A search term may of course appear more than once in the database. To search for the next occurrence, type RET. This continues searching for the search term in the rest of the database. Again, the first entry found to contain the search string is displayed. Note that the search does not wrap: if the end of the database is reached, Ebib stops searching and informs you that no further occurrence of the search string was found. If you want to continue searching from the top, type g and then continue the search with RET.

Note that once you’ve started a search with /, Ebib activates a transient key map called ebib-search-map. It is this map that holds the binding for RET to continue searching after the current entry and of the key g to jump to the top of the database. There are also bindings for the left and right cursor keys, which take you to the previous and next database, so you can continue searching there.

Exiting a search (i.e., getting rid of the transient key map) is done by pressing any key other than RET, g or the left/right cursor keys. The search is ended and the command associated with this key is executed normally. If you want to repeat a previous search, you can pass a prefix argument to /. So typing C-u / starts searching for the previous search string again.

Note that if you start a search in a filtered database (i.e., a database in which not all entries are visible; see the next section), only the visible entries are searched. If the search string is present in the database but not in one of the visible entries, Ebib will respond with a “search string not found” message.


Ebib also has a much more sophisticated search mechanism that makes use of filters. A filter is basically a search expression that selects entries from the current database. When you apply a filter to a database, only the entries that match are shown. With filters, you can, for example, select all entries from a database that contain the string “Jones” in their author field. A filter can be as complex as you want: you can select all entries that do not contain “Jones” in the author field, or all entries that contain “Jones” in either the author or the editor field, or all entries that contain “Jones” in the author field, and “symbiotic hibernation” in the keyword field, etc. Basically, the filter can consist of an arbitary number of search criteria combined with the logical operators and, or and not.

Simple Selection

Creating a filter is simple: press &, and Ebib will ask you for a field to select on, and for a regular expression to select with. So if you want to select all entries that contain "Jones" in the author field, you press & and type author as the field and Jones as the regexp to filter on. Ebib then runs this filter on the database, and only shows those entries that match the filter. To indicate that a filter is active, the active filter is displayed in the mode line of index buffer. (The filter can be displayed in Lisp form, if you prefer: customise ebib-filters-display-as-lisp to do so.)

If you don’t want to filter on one specific field but rather want to select all entries that match a certain regexp in any field, you can type any as the field to filter on. So specifying any as the field and Jones as the regexp will give you all entries that have a field that contains "Jones" in them.

Note that you can also select items based on their entry type. In order to do that, you need to specify =type= as the field to search, which is the field name under which Ebib stores the entry type internally. (There is also a “normal” field called type, hence the equal signs.) If you search the =type= field, only exact matches are returned, so if you search for book, only the entries that are of type book are returned, not those of type inbook. You can use TAB completion in this case, by the way.

If you specify the keywords field, the keywords associated with your database are available for TAB completion as well. Though you can enter any search term, of course.

Complex Filters

Once you have filtered your database, you can refine or extend it. For example, suppose you have a filter selecting all entries with "Jones" in the author field and want to add all entries that have "Jones" in the editor field to your selection. In this case you need to do a logical or operation: you want to select an entry if it contains "Jones" in the author field (which you already did) or if it contains "Jones" in the editor field.

A short sidenote: the first impulse in a case like this might be to use and instead of or: after all, you want to select all entries that contain "Jones" in the author field and all entries that contain "Jones" in the editor field. However, the filter that you build up is used to test each entry individually whether it meets the selection criterion. An entry meets the criterion if it contains "Jones" in the author field or if it contains "Jones" in the editor field. Therefore, or is the required operator in this case. If you would use and, you would only get those entries that contain "Jones" in both the author and editor fields (i.e., most likely none at all).

To perform a logical or operation, press the key | (the pipe bar). As before, you will be asked which field you want to filter on, and which regexp you want to filter with. Ebib will then update the index buffer.

It is also possible to perform a logical and on the filter. Use this if you want to select those entries that contain "Jones" in the author field and e.g. "symbiotic hibernation" in the keyword field. A logical and operation is done with the key &. (Note: this is the same key that is used to create the filter. In fact, you can create a filter with | as well: when used in an unfiltered database, & and | are equivalent. They are only different when a filter is already active.)

Both the & and | commands can be used with the negative prefix argument M-- (or C-u -, which is identical). In this case, the search criterion is negated. That is, the negative prefix argument performs a logical not operation on the search criterion. For example, if you want to select all entries from a database that do not contain “Jones” in the author field, you can do this by typing M-- & and then filling out the relevant field and regexp.

There is another way of performing a logical not operation, which is only available when a filter is active: by pressing the key ~, you invert the current filter. That is, if you have a filtered database with all the entries containing "Jones" in the author or in the editor field, and you press ~, the selection is inverted, and now contains all entries that do not have "Jones" in the author or editor field.

Although ~ and the negative prefix argument to & or | both perform logical not operations, they are not equivalent: ~ negates the entire filter built up so far, while the negative prefix argument only negates the single selection criterion you enter with it.

When a filter is active, the filter itself is displayed at the top of the index buffer. If the index window is too small to display the entire filter (which can easily happen if Ebib is set to split the frame vertically rather than horizontally), you can press F v (uppercase F, small v), which will display the filter in the minibuffer.

To cancel the filter and return to the normal view of the database, press F c. For convenience, this action is also available with c, which normally closes a database. If a filter is active, however, it simply cancels the filter. (If you find this behaviour confusing, you can rebind the c key to the function ebib-close-database. See Modifying Key Bindings for details.)

By default, a filter does not check the values of fields in cross-referenced entries. The rationale for this is that if a filter applies to, e.g., an entry of type Collection, any InCollection entries contained in it will match the filter, which is not always desirable. If you do wish to include cross-referenced entries, however, you can press F x, which toggles the inclusion of cross-referenced entries. If you wish to include cross-referenced entries by default, customise the user option ebib-filters-include-crossref.

Storing and Saving Filters

When you cancel a filter, it is automatically stored so that it can be reapplied later. To reapply a filter, type F L. This will reapply the last used filter regardless of which database you’re in. That is, you can use this to search more than one database without having to type the filter over and over.

However, Ebib only stores one filter this way. If you want to store more filters, you have to name them. You can store the currently active filter or the last used filter with F s. Ebib will ask you for a name for the filter in order to identify it later. (By default, filter names are case-insensitive, but if you prefer to use case-sensitive filter names, you can unset the option ebib-filters-ignore-case.) When Ebib is closed, all stored filters are saved to a file and they’re automatically reloaded when you open Ebib again. Stored filters are not associated with a particular database: once a filter is stored, it is available to all databases.

You can apply a stored filter with F a. This will ask for the name of a filter and apply it to the current database. You can extend the filter in the normal way, though the changes will not be stored automatically. To store it, type F s again. You can store the extended filter under the old name, in which case Ebib will ask you for confirmation, or under a new name, which will store it as a new filter, keeping the old one.

The file that Ebib uses to store filters is ~/.emacs.d/ebib-filters, although that can of course be customised (ebib-filters-default-file). As mentioned, stored filters are saved automatically when Ebib closes, but you can also save them manually with F S. Note that if there are no stored filters when Ebib is closed (or when you press F S), the file is deleted.

You can also save your filters to a different file with F w. Such a filter file can be reloaded later with F l. If you load filters from a file while you still have stored filters, you are asked if you want to replace them completely or if you want to add the new filters to the existing ones. In the latter case, however, filters whose name conflict with existing filters are not loaded. (Ebib will log a message about this when it happens.)

To see what filters are currently stored, use F V. If you want to rename a filter, you can do so with F R.

Note that cancelling a filter with F c does not delete it from the list of stored filters, it will remain available for later application. If you want to delete a filter from the list of stored filters, use F d. You can also delete all stored filters with F D. These deletion commands do not ask for confirmation, but if you delete any filters by accident, you can reload them from ~/.emacs.d/ebib-filters with F l.

Special Filters

Filters are essentially Lisp expressions that consist of the functions and, or, and not, together with a special macro contains. However, filters are not limited to these forms. They can essentially contain any Lisp expression. It is not possible to create such special filters interactively, but it is possible to write such filters and put them in a filter file, or to write a function that creates such a special filter.

A filter is a Lisp expression that should return either t or nil, indicating whether the entry being tested matches the filter or not. The contents of the entry is available in a variable ebib-entry. This variable is given a value by the function that runs the filter, but it is not passed as an argument. Rather, it is a dynamic variable, which means that the file that defines the filter function should declare the variable with (defvar ebib-entry). When the filter is run, the value of ebib-entry is an alist of fields and their values. These include the fields =key= and =type= for the entry key and type. For example:

(("author" . "{Noam Chomsky}")
 ("title" . "{Syntactic Structures}")
 ("publisher" . "{The Hague: Mouton}")
 ("year" . "{1957}")
 ("timestamp" . "{2007-12-30 12:00:00 (CET)}")
 ("file" . "{c/Chomsky1957.pdf}")
 ("=type=" . "book")
 ("=key=" . "Chomsky1957"))

An Example: Listing Recent Additions

One special filter is included with Ebib. It filters recent additions to the database. The command that creates the filter is ebib-list-recent:

(defun ebib-list-recent (days)
  "List entries created in the last DAYS days."
  (interactive "nNumber of days: ")
  ;; Save the database's current filter, if there is one.
  (let ((filter (ebib-db-get-filter ebib--cur-db)))
    (when filter (setq ebib--filters-last-filter filter)))
      ;; Calculate the from-date in Emacs' time format.
      ((date (time-subtract (current-time) (days-to-time days)))
       ;; Create a Lisp expression that will function as the filter.
       (filter `(ebib--newer-than (quote ,date))))
    ;; Install it as the current database's filter.
    (ebib-db-set-filter filter ebib--cur-db)
    ;; Update the current entry key.
    (ebib-db-set-current-entry-key (ebib--get-key-at-point) ebib--cur-db)
    ;; Update the display, so that only filtered entries are visible.

First, this function saves the current filter if there is one. It then calculates a date in Emacs’ internal time format by subtracting the number of days provided by the user from the current date and creates a Lisp expression that tests whether an entry’s timestamp is earlier or later than this date. This expression is then installed as the filter for the current database. A call to ebib--update-buffers then updates the display, taking the filter into account.

The function ebib--newer-than is defined as follows:

(defun ebib--newer-than (date)
  "Function for use in filters.
Return t if the entry being tested is newer than DATE.  DATE must
be a list of the format returned by `current-time' and is
compared to the timestamp of the entry being tested.  If the
entry has no timestamp, or a timestamp that cannot be converted
into a date representation, return nil."
  (let ((timestamp (cdr (assoc-string "timestamp" ebib-entry))))
    (when (and timestamp
               (setq timestamp (ignore-errors (date-to-time timestamp))))
      (time-less-p date timestamp))))

This function obtains the time stamp of the entry being tested from the variable ebib-entry and then tries to convert it to Emacs’ time format. If successful, it compares this time to the date passed as an argument and returns t if the latter precedes the former.

Properties of Filtered Databases

When a filter is active, there are a few things that are not possible or function differently. First, it is not possible to add or delete entries, either interactively or by merging or exporting. Exporting from a filtered database or saving a filtered database is also disabled. Editing existing entries is possible, however. Note that if the entry doesn’t match the filter anymore after the edit, it doesn’t disappear from view. For that, you need to reapply the filter with F r.

It is also possible to mark entries. Marked entries stay marked when you cancel the filter, so in order to do something with all the entries matching a filter, you can mark them all in the filter view with C-u m, then cancel the filter and perform an action on them.

If a database has an active filter, the save command is disabled, because it would not be clear whether you want to save the entire database or just the filtered entries. If you want to save only the filtered entries to a file, you can use the command w (or the menu option “Database | Save As”). This also saves the @String, @Preamble and @comments, as well as any file-local variables, so you will have a self-contained .bib file with only the filtered entries. In order to save the entire database, you need to cancel the filter. (After saving, you can reapply the filter with F L, of course.)

One final note: of all the filter-related commands, ~, F c, F r, F s and F v are only available when a filter is active. The other commands operate on the stored filters and can be used when no filter is active.

Importing BibTeX entries

Manually entering new BibTeX entries can be tedious and error-prone. If an entry is already available in digital form somehow, there are other ways to get entries into Ebib.

Merging .bib files

In the index buffer, the Ebib menu has an option to merge a second .bib file into the current database. Ebib reads the entries in this file and adds them to the database. Duplicate entries (that is, entries with an entry key that already exists in the database) will normally not be loaded. Ebib logs a warning about each duplicate entry to its log buffer and displays a warning after loading the .bib file when this happens. However, if you’ve customised Ebib to automatically generate keys, duplicate entries will be merged into the current database under a unique key.

Importing entries from a buffer

Another way to add entries to a database is to import them from an Emacs buffer. If, for example, you find ready-formatted BibTeX entries in a text file or on the internet, you can copy & paste them to any Emacs buffer (e.g. the *scratch* buffer), and then execute the command M-x ebib-import-entries. Ebib then goes through the buffer (or the active region) and loads all BibTeX entries it finds into the current database (i.e. the database that was active when you lowered Ebib). Text in the buffer that is not part of a BibTeX entry is ignored.

If a BibTeX entry in the buffer lacks an entry key (which sometimes happens with BibTeX entries found on the internet), Ebib will generate a temporary key for it of the form <new-entryXX>, where XX is a number. You can change such keys by hitting E in the index buffer. Such a key will also automatically be replaced with a more sensible key if you edit the entry. See the option “Autogenerate Keys” (ebib-autogenerate-keys) for details.

Integration with the Biblio package

Biblio is a package with which you can browse a number of online bibliographic databases and import BibTeX entries based on their DOI. If you use Biblio, you can add support for it to Ebib by loading the package ebib-biblio in your init file and adding two keybindings: one to ebib-index-mode-map and one to biblio-selection-mode-map:

(require 'ebib-biblio)
(define-key ebib-index-mode-map (kbd "B") #'ebib-biblio-import-doi)
(define-key biblio-selection-mode-map (kbd "e") #'ebib-biblio-selection-import)

Or with use-package:

(use-package ebib-biblio
  :after (ebib biblio)
  :bind (:map ebib-index-mode-map
              ("B" . ebib-biblio-import-doi)
              :map biblio-selection-mode-map
              ("e" . ebib-biblio-selection-import)))

If you now call biblio-lookup, you can use the key e (or any other key you choose, of course) in Biblio’s selection buffer to import the selected entry into the current Ebib database.

Additionally, you can use the key B in Ebib’s index buffer to import an entry into the current database if you have its DOI. Here, too, you can choose a different key, of course.

When fetching entries via Biblio, Ebib checks for duplicates based on the key of the new entry. This will only work reliably if both Ebib and Biblio are configured to automatically generate BibTeX keys. Ebib does this by default (see the option ebib-autogenerate-keys), Biblio can be configured to do so by setting the option biblio-bibtex-use-autokey.

Ebib and Biblio both use the functionality of bibtex.el to generate keys. Refer to the documentation string of the function bibtex-generate-autokey to find out how to customise this functionality.

Multiple Identical Fields

Under normal circumstances, a BibTeX entry only contains one occurrence of each field. If biblatex or BibTeX notices that an entry contains more than one occurrence of a required or optional field, it issues a warning. Ebib is somewhat less gracious, it simply takes the value of the last occurrence without giving any warning. (Note, by the way, that biblatex will use the value of the first occurrence, not the last.) When extra fields appear more than once in an entry, biblatex does not warn you, since it ignores those fields anyway. Here, too, Ebib’s standard behaviour is to ignore all but the last value.

However, some online reference management services “use” this feature of BibTeX in that they put multiple keywords fields in the BibTeX entries that they produce. If you were to import such an entry into Ebib, you would lose all your keywords except the last one. To remedy this, you can tell Ebib that it should allow multiple occurrences of a single field in a BibTeX entry. You can do this by setting the customisation option “Allow Identical Fields”.

With this option set, Ebib collapses the multiple occurrences into a single occurrence. All the values of the different occurrences are collected and stored in the single occurrence, separated by the default keywords separator (ebib-keywords-separator). That is, Ebib does not retain the multiple occurrences, but it does retain the values. So suppose you have an entry that contains the following keywords fields:

    author = {Jones, Joan},
    year = {1998},
    keywords = {sleep},
    keywords = {winter},
    keywords = {hibernation}

If you load this entry into Ebib with the option “Allow Identical Fields” set, you will get the following:

    author = {Jones, Joan},
    year = {1998},
    keywords = {sleep, winter, hibernation}

Linking to external resources

BibTeX entries can contain links to external files, URLs and DOIs. Ebib offers several facilities to work with these.

Viewing and Importing Files

If you have electronic versions of the papers in your database stored on your computer, or any other file associated with your entries (e.g., notes, if you store those in separate files) you can use Ebib to call external viewers for these files or have them opened in Emacs. The interface for this is similar to that for calling a browser: if you press f in the index buffer, Ebib searches the file field for a filename and when it finds one, calls an appropriate viewer. In the entry buffer, you can use f on any field and it will check that particular field for a file name. It is also possible to have more than one filename in a field. In that case, Ebib asks you which one you want to open.

The file names in the file field do not have to have full paths. You can set the option “File Search Dirs” to a list of directories that Ebib should search when opening a file from the file field. Note that Ebib searches only the directories in this list, not their subdirectories. However, you can specify a relative path in the file field: if you put something like a/Abney1987.pdf in the file field, Ebib searches for the relevant file in a subdirectory a/ of the directories listed in the option “File Search Dirs”. As an extra service, Ebib also searches for the base filename, i.e., Abney1987 in this particular case.

Ebib can call different external programs depending on the file extension of the relevant file. The option ebib-file-associations allows you to specify which programs to call for which types of files. By default, .pdf and .ps files are handled, by xpdf and gv, respectively. You can specify further file types by their extensions (do not include the dot). The program is searched for in exec-path, but you can of course specify the full path to the program.

If you need to pass further command-line options to the executable, you can do so, but you will need to include a directive %s in the string, which will be replaced with the full path to the file you are opening. If you have special requirements that cannot be handled in this way, you can also specify an Elisp function to handle the file. This function should take one argument, the path of the file being opened.

If you do not specify any program for a particular extension (or if you remove the extension from ebib-file-associatons altogether), Ebib opens the file in Emacs itself, using find-file. Use this if you want to read pdf files in Emacs, for example, with doc-view-mode or pdf-tools.

If the file field of an entry is empty, pressing f causes Ebib to search for a pdf file with a name based on the entry key. By default, Ebib just appends .pdf to the entry key and tries to find a file by the name thus created. If you want, you can modify the file name that Ebib searches for by setting the option ebib-name-transform-function to a function that performs the transformation. This function takes the key of the current entry as its argument (as a string), and should return the file name to use (without .pdf, which is added automatically). Note that you can use the function ebib-get-field-value to access the values of the entry’s fields (you need to pass ebib--cur-db for the db argument).

There are two functions that can help you to attach files to your database: ebib-download-url and ebib-import-file. By default, these are not bound to any keys, but they can of course be called with M-x. The first of these, ebib-download-url attempts to convert the URL in the url field into a URL that points to a pdf file, downloads that file, renames it and saves it in the first directory in ebib-file-search-dirs. The name under which the file is saved is created by applying the function in ebib-name-transform-function to the entry key and adding .pdf to it.

How a URL should be converted to a URL pointing to the pdf file depends on several factors, of course. The option ebib-url-download-transformations is used to decide how to convert a particular URL. Currently, only three internet archives are supported: arXiv, lingBuzz and JSTOR. Suggestions for other sites are of course welcome.

The function ebib-import-file can be used to import a file into the database that is stored on your computer somewhere. It asks for the file name, renames the file and moves it to the first directory in ebib-file-search-dirs. The file name is created in the same way as with ebib-download-url: by applying the function in ebib-name-transform-function to the entry key. The extension of the original file is maintained, however, so it doesn’t just work for pdf files.

Both ebib-download-url and ebib-import-file add the imported file to the file field if it is not already there.

Editing the file field

As mentioned above, editing the file field is a bit different from editing other fields. Instead of typing the full contents of the file field, you are asked to specify a single file name. When you hit RET, Ebib adds the filename to the file field, appending it to any existing contents (adding a separator if necessary), and then asks you for the next file. If you don’t want to add another, just hit RET. The default separator is "; " (semicolon-space), but this can be customised (see the option “Filename Separator” for details). The advantage of this method is that you can use TAB completion to complete file names.

The first directory in the option “File Search Dirs” is used as the starting directory for filename completion when editing the file field. Note that when completing file names, Ebib does not take the directories in “File Search Dirs” into account: completion is done using the standard Emacs file name completion mechanism. However, when you enter a file name, Ebib checks if it is in a (subdirectory of) one of the directories in “File Search Dirs”, and if so, cuts off the relevant part of the file name to turn it into a relative path. (You can disable this behaviour with the option ebib-truncate-file-names: if unset, file names are always stored as absolute paths.)

Calling a Browser for URLs and DOIs

With most scientific literature nowadays being available on-line, it is common to store URLs and DOIs in a BibTeX database. Biblatex has standardised fields for this information, for BibTeX, Ebib adds these fields to each entry.

To open a URL in your default browser, you can type u in the index or entry buffer. Ebib takes the URL stored in the url field of the current entry and passes it to your browser. If you happen to have more than one URL stored in the relevant field, Ebib will ask you which one you want to open. Alternatively, you can use a prefix argument: typing M-2 u sends the second URL to your browser.

It is not even necessary that the relevant field contains only URLs. It may contain other text mixed with the URLs: Ebib simply searches the URLs in the field and ignores the rest of the text. Ebib considers every string of characters that starts with http:// or https:// and that does not contain whitespace or any of the characters " ' ; < or > as a URL. The semicolon is included here even though it is actually a valid character in URLs. This is done for consistency, because the semicolon (actually, semicolon+space) is the standard separator for files in the file field and in this way, you can use the same separator to distinguish multiple URLs in the url field.

By default Ebib also regards everything that is enclosed in a LaTeX \url{...} command as a URL. So if you use ; to separate URLs and then happen to run into a URL that contains a semicolon, you can enclose it in \url{...} and it will be recognised properly. You can, of course, customise the regular expression that controls this behaviour. See the option “Url Regexp” for details.

Similarly, with the key I in the index buffer you can send a DOI to a browser. The DOI must be stored in the doi field. Unlike URLs, there can only be one DOI in this field. The whole contents of the field is assumed to be the DOI and is sent to the browser, prepended with the string https://dx.doi.org/ if necessary.

Ebib uses the Emacs function browse-url to call the default browser on the system. If you prefer to use another browser, however, you can specify this with the option “Browser Command”.

Notes files

Ebib supports the annotation field (or annote field in BibTeX), but if you prefer to keep notes outside the .bib file, there is an easy way to do that as well. When you hit N on an entry in the index buffer, Ebib creates a note for the entry, which is saved in a separate file. If an entry already has a note associated with it, N opens it. By default, notes are created as Org entries. (Changing that is possible, though it’s somewhat involved.)

In the entry buffer, the first few lines of the note are shown under a pseudo-field external note. This is not an actual field in the .bib file, even though it is displayed as such. (You can customise this behaviour.)

When you record a new note, Ebib pops up a buffer and adds the note to the end of the relevant notes file. If you prefer, you can also use Org mode’s capture system to record new notes. This has the advantage that you have more control over the location where a note is stored and that you can have more than one capture template.

Note that with Ebib version 2.30, the functionality for notes files has changed and it may be necessary to update your configuration. See Upgrading from earlier Ebib versions below for details.

Configuring files for storing notes

By default, Ebib saves each note to a separate file in the first directory listed in ebib-file-search-dirs. Since this is also the main directory for your .bib files, it is advisable to use a different directory, which you can do by customising the option ebib-notes-directory.

Instead of using a separate file for each note, you can also store multiple notes in a notes file. To do this, you need to configure the option ebib-notes-storage and set it to multiple-notes-per-file. Having done this, you can add the files you wish to use for notes to ebib-notes-locations. You can also add directories to this list: all Org files in those directories are considered notes files. (This does not mean that they must contain notes. Ebib searches all Org files in ebib-notes-locations for notes, but it won’t complain if it doesn’t find any, or if any of the files contain more than just notes.)

The procedure for creating a new note depends on the setting of ebib-notes-storage. If this option is set to one-note-per-file (the default), Ebib creates a new note file in ebib-notes-directory and gives it a name that consists of the entry key plus the extension “.org”. Before creating the file name, however, Ebib applies the function in ebib-notes-name-transform-function to it, or, if this is not set, the function in ebib-name-transform-function. This means that you can configure the name of the new note file to whatever you prefer. (See Viewing Files for some examples of the changes that can be applied. Note that if you do not wish to apply any changes but also do not want the function in ebib-name-transform-function to be applied, you can set ebib-notes-name-transform-function to identity.)

If ebib-notes-storage is set to multiple-notes-per-files, Ebib won’t create a new file when you create a new note. Instead, it will ask you for the file to save the note to and offer the files in ebib-notes-locations as candidates. If you don’t want to be asked, you can set the option ebib-notes-default-file: new notes are then automatically stored to that file. You can subsequently use Org to move notes around or archive them.

New notes are created based on a template (ebib-note-nemplate). By default, the note is a top-level item with an Org headline consisting of the author(s), year and title of the entry. The entry also has a :PROPERTIES: block containing a custom ID for the entry, which consists of the entry key. If ebib-notes-storage is set to multiple-notes-per-fil, this custom ID is essential, because it is what Ebib uses to find the note. (If you use one-file-per-note, the file name is used to identify an entry, even though the custom ID is still included.)

The template can of course be customised. Details are discussed below.


If ebib-notes-storage is set to multiple-notes-per-file, Ebib uses three hooks to control the way a note is displayed. By default, when you jump to a note from Ebib, the Org file is narrowed to the subtree containing the note and point is positioned at the note’s heading.

When an existing note is displayed, the hook ebib-notes-open-note-after-hook is run. By default, this contains two functions: org-back-to-header, which puts point at the start of the note, and org-narrow-to-subtree, which narrows the notes buffer to just the note you’re viewing.

When a new note is created, the hook ebib-notes-new-note-hook is run. By default, this contains the function org-narrow-to-subtree. Point is not positioned at the heading, but after the title and the :PROPERTIES: block, so that you can start typing right away. (The position of point can be customised in the template.)

Because both these hooks narrow the notes buffer, the buffer must be widened again when searching for another note. This is handled by the hook ebib-notes-search-note-before-hook, which is run every time Ebib searches a note and by default contains the function widen, so that the entire buffer is searched.

All three hooks are customisable. For example, if you prefer not to narrow the buffer, simply remove the corresponding functions from the hooks.

Upgrading from earlier Ebib versions

Ebib 2.30 added the option to have more than one file with multiple notes. This unfortunately required some changes to the customisation options, which means that you may need to revisit your configuration.

If you have been using one file per note, there is nothing you need to do. This is now the default method and the user option ebib-notes-directory has not changed.

If, however, you have been storing your notes in a single file, you will need to set the user option ebib-notes-storage to multiple-notes-per-file. Furthermore, the option ebib-notes-file has been deprecated in favour of ebib-notes-default-file. Although ebib-notes-file is still an alias for the new option, it is a good idea to update your configuration. You may also want to check out the new option ebib-notes-locations, which allows you to have more than one Org file for your notes.

Customising the notes file format

When creating a new note, the default template creates an Org entry whose header consists of the author or editor, the year of publication and the title. The entry has a :PROPERTIES: block containing a Custom_id:. This can all be customised (although it is important to keep the Custom_id: property.) To see how this can be done, it is easiest to look at the default template first:

"* %T

This template contains two format specifiers: %K and %T. %K is replaced with the key of the entry prepended with the string "Custom_id: " in order to create an Org property. The %T specifier is replaced with the title of the note, which consists of the author (or editor), the year of publication and the title of the bibliography entry. The template also contains the string "%%?", which indicates the position of the cursor when a new note is created. (For backward compatibility, the string ">|<" can also be used to indicate the cursor position, although this does not work if you use org-capture to record new notes.)

To change the template, you must customise the option ebib-notes-template. If you use Org for your notes and keep your notes in a single file, the template must contain a :PROPERTIES: block with the %K format specifier, because it is required in order to identify the note and connect it to its BibTeX entry. Without it, Ebib won’t be able to tell whether an entry has a note or not and won’t be able to display it.

If you use a separate file for each note, the notes are identified by the file name, so there’s no real need for the :PROPERTIES: block, but it can still be useful if you use other Org-based tools on your note files (or if you ever want to collect your notes into a single file but keep them available for Ebib.)

There are a few more specifiers that may be used in the template: %F creates an Org link to the file in the BibTeX entry’s file field, %D creates an Org link to the DOI in the entry’s doi field, and %U an Org link to the entry’s url field. There is also a %L specifier, which creates an Org link to the entry’s file, its DOI, or its URL, whichever is found first.

It is possible to change the strings that the specifiers produce, or to add new specifiers, by customising the option ebib-notes-template-specifiers. This option contains pairs of characters and functions. Each function takes two arguments, key and db, the key of the entry for which a note is created and the database in which it is stored. It should return a string (possibly empty), which replaces the specifier in the template. In order to change the string that a specifier is replaced with, write your own function and set ebib-notes-template-specifiers to use it.

When the specifier functions are called, the key argument is set to the key of the current entry and the db argument to the current database. With these arguments, it is possible to, e.g., retrieve the value of a specific field in the entry:

(ebib-get-field-value <field> key db 'noerror 'unbraced 'xref)

where <field> is the field as a (case-insensitive) string whose value is to be retrieved.

Instead of a function, you may also provide a variable. The variable’s value is then used to replace the specifier.

Because the template can be customised and the major mode is determined from the file extension, it is in principle possible to use another format than Org for notes. In this case, it is easier to use separate note files, but as long as you have a %K directive in your template (and an appropriately defined function for it, see the option ebib-notes-template-specifiers), it should still be possible to use a single notes file. (Emphasis on should, however, because this has not been tested.) You will also need to customise the three hooks discussed above in this case.

Displaying notes

If an entry has an external note, the first few lines are shown in the entry buffer as a field called external note. The number of lines to show can be customised with the option ebib-notes-display-max-lines, which defaults to 10. If you prefer, you can also have the entire note shown, not just the first few lines, by customising the option ebib-notes-show-note-method. The note is then shown in a separate buffer that is displayed when an entry has a note. This setting is only really convenient if you use a multiple notes per file, because the buffer is not closed after displaying the note. If you use a separate file for each note, you’ll end up with a lot of open buffers. (Showing only the first few lines in the entry buffer does not have this limitation, as it just reads the text of the note from the file, it does not visit the file in a buffer.)

Note also that displaying the note inline in the entry buffer is only possible with Org files, so your notes must use Org mode for it to work. Showing the entire note in a separate buffer can be done with any format, but only works if you use Ebib’s default window layout (see the section Window Management for details), because that is the only window layout that ensures that the note can be displayed without getting in the way.

Using org-capture to record notes

Instead of using Ebib’s own system to record notes, you can also use org-capture to do so. This has two advantages: first, Org capture templates allow you to specify the type of the note and the location where the note is to be stored more precisely than what Ebib’s system allows. Second, you can define more than one template, so you can capture different kinds of notes or record them in different files.

Note that org-capture is only used for creating new notes, not for displaying existing notes. Therefore, you still need to configure Ebib to look for notes in the right locations.

When using org-capture, you’ll most likely want to set ebib-notes-storage to multiple-notes-per-file. (Though technically it would be possible to have a single file for each note, there is little reason to go through the trouble of setting that up.) In addition, you’ll need to set ebib-notes-locations to the files and/or directories you use to store notes. There is no point but also no harm in setting ebib-notes-default-file; this setting is ignored when you create notes through org-capture but Ebib still uses it to search for existing notes.

In order to use org-capture for creating notes, you need to set ebib-notes-use-org-capture and you need to add an entry to org-capture-templates that you can use to create a note. This entry can have any key, description, type and target you like, but the template should be a function.

The following is an example entry for org-capture-templates:

 "BibTeX note"
 (file+headline "~/Work/Bibtex/Bib_Notes.org" "Bibliography Notes")
 (function ebib-notes-create-org-template))

Because you are free to set the type and target to anything that org-capture accepts, you have more control over the way a note is created and where it is stored.

As mentioned, the only part of this entry that should not be changed is the last line. This line specifies that the actual template is created by the functionebib-notes-create-org-template. This function takes ebib-notes-template and converts it into a template that org-capture can use.

The %-directives in ebib-notes-template are interpreted by Ebib, not by the Org capture mechanism. It is therefore still essential that it contains a %K directive to create an identifier that Ebib can find.

It is possible to add org-capture directives to the template, though. To do this, put an additional % before the directive. For example, org-capture can add a time stamp with %t. In order to add a time stamp to a bibliography note, write %%t:

(setq ebib-notes-template
      "* %T\n:PROPERTIES:\n%K\n:END:\n%%t\n%%?\n")

ebib-notes-create-org-template strips off one % and passes the result on to org-capture, which then sees %t and replaces it with a time stamp. (Note that this is the reason why the cursor position is indicated with %%?: ebib-notes-create-org-template converts it to %?, which is used by org-capture to position the cursor.)

Note that this org-capture-templates entry should only be selected when creating a note from within Ebib. The function ebib-notes-create-org-template needs some information about the current entry to function properly and this can only be provided when it is called from Ebib. Therefore, you may want to disable the entry altogether when you call org-capture from somewhere else. You can do this by configuring the option org-capture-template-contexts:

(setq org-capture-template-contexts
      '(("e" ((in-mode ebib-index-mode)))))

The "e" is the key that you’ve chosen for your template. This setting ensures that the org-capture template associated with the key "e" is only shown when org-capture is called from a buffer with major mode ebib-index-mode, which is Ebib’s index buffer.

You can also bypass the org-capture selection buffer altogether and open an org-capture buffer immediately with the appropriate template. To do this, set ebib-notes-use-org-capture to the key of the template that you use for Ebib notes ("e" in the current example):

(setq ebib-notes-use-org-capture "e")

This will cause org-capture to bypass the selection buffer and immediately put you in the edit buffer with the relevant template.

Alternatively, it is also possible to set up more than one org-capture entry for Ebib notes. This can be useful if you want to use different locations for storing notes or store different types of notes. If you do so, you still need to use the same function ebib-notes-create-org-template to create the actual template, however. org-capture itself does not know about Ebib’s databases and cannot access them. This is what ebib-notes-create-org-template is for.

If you wish to associate each org-capture entry with a different template, you can do so by setting ebib-notes-template to a list. Each element of the list should itself be a list of two items, the key of the relevant template in org-capture-templates and the template to use.

Note that Ebib only searches for a single note for each entry, so if you create more than one, Ebib only displays and opens the first one it finds. More than one note for an entry can still be useful, though, for example as a reading list or to export entries to some Org-based format. (You can customise ebib-notes-template-specifiers and add new %-forms, as discussed above.)

Note that Ebib also provides an Ebib-friendly command to call org-capture directly. This command, ebib-org-capture (not bound to any key by default), takes the same arguments as org-capture and can be used in the same way. It makes sure that ebib-notes-create-org-template can find the current entry and then calls org-capture.

Managing a reading list

Ebib offers the ability to manage a reading list as an Org file. In order to make use of this functionality, you must set the option ebib-reading-list-file to a file in which the reading list is stored. Once you’ve specified a file, you can add the current entry to the reading list with R a. The mode line of the entry buffer will show [R] to indicate that the current entry is on the reading list.

A reading list is simply an Org file with one entry (i.e., heading) per item. Each entry is marked with TODO, so that the items can be included in the Org agenda. If you prefer to use another todo state, you can customise the option ebib-reading-list-todo-marker. You can mark an entry as done from within Ebib with the key R d. This will change the todo state of the item to DONE (customisable through the option ebib-reading-list-done-marker). With R v you can view the reading list.

The format of a reading list item can be customised in much the same way that notes are. The default template for reading list items is provided by the option ebib-reading-list-template, and the specifiers that can be used in this template are in ebib-reading-list-template-specifiers. Most of the specifiers are the same as for the notes template, with the exception of %K. For the reading list, this specifier uses a different function, which adds a prefix reading_ to the key. In this way, the custom ID of a reading list item and a note will not interfere. Furthermore, the reading list template accepts a specifier %M, which is replaced with the todo marker specified in the option ebib-reading-list-todo-marker (by default TODO).

Most aspects of the reading list can be customised. First, the option ebib-reading-list-add-item-function holds a function that places point where the new item should be inserted. By default, it puts point at the end of the buffer. Second, ebib-reading-list-remove-item-function holds the function that marks a reading list item as done. By default, it is set to ebib-reading-list-mark-item-as-done, which simply changes the todo state of the item to DONE, but you can set it to a function that does something else (for example, completely removing the entry from the list).

The option ebib-reading-list-item-active-function holds a function that should return t if the current entry is on the reading list and is still active. The default function simply checks if the entry’s todo state is equal to ebib-reading-list-todo-marker.

Lastly, there are two hooks, ebib-reading-list-new-item-hook and ebib-reading-list-remove-item-hook. The former is run immediately after a new reading list item is inserted in the reading list file (but before saving it), the latter immediately after calling the function in ebib-reading-list-remove-item-function (also before saving the buffer). By default, these hooks are empty.

Managing Keywords

Biblatex supports a keywords field, which can contain a (comma-separated) list of keywords for an entry. BibTeX does not support this field directly, but Ebib includes a keywords field in the extra fields for BibTeX entries. Ebib offers some special facilities for editing this field.

Ebib keeps a list of keywords used in your database(s) and offers these for completion when you edit the keywords field. You can enter a keyword and accept it with RET, after which you will be asked for the next keyword. Just hitting RET without any input finishes the edit and returns focus to the entry buffer. (With selectrum, ivy or helm the key binding to finish editing the keywords field is different; the prompt will indicate what key to press). You can, of course, also enter a keyword that is not on the completion list. If you do, it will be added to the list.

If you need to edit a keyword or remove one from the list, you need to edit the keywords field directly. To do this, use a prefix argument: C-u RET instead of just RET to edit the field. Note, though, that this does not update the completion list.

The keywords completion list is composed of the keywords in all the .bib files you have open and is available in every database. If you open another .bib file, its keywords are added to the completion list. (Note that if you close a database, its keywords are not removed from the completion list, since Ebib does not keep track of which keywords are used in which database.)

Using a Canonical Keywords List

By default, the completion list does not contain keywords that are not used in any of your .bib files. If you wish to use a set of canonical keywords that are always offered for completion, regardless of whether they are used in a currently opened .bib file or not, you can set the option “Keywords” (ebib-keywords). This can be a list of keywords or the name of a file containing the keywords. If it is a file name, the file should be a simple text file with one keyword per line.

If you set this option, keywords in a database that are not in the canonical list are displayed in Ebib’s warning face (ebib-warning-face). You can add them to the canonical list with the key sequence K s, which will ask you for the keyword to add, or with K c, which adds all keywords of the current entry to the canonical list. You can also remove all keywords from the keywords field that are not in the list of canonical keywords with the key sequence K p.

Even if you use a list of canonical keywords, you can still enter keywords that are not in the list when you edit the keywords field. If you do so, the new keywords are added to the list automatically. If you do not wish this to happen, unset the option “Keywords Add New To Canonical”.

If new keywords were added to the list of canonical keywords, you will be asked if you wish to save the list when you quit Ebib. If you always want this to happen without asking for confirmation, set the option “Keywords Save On Exit” to always. Note that you can also save the list manually with the key sequence K S (capital K, capital S).

If you haven’t configured a list of canonical keywords, the key sequence K S creates one from the keywords used in your open .bib files. The list is then saved to your customisation file (usually ~/.emacs.d/init.el). If you prefer to keep your keywords in a separate file, you need to create the file yourself (as mentioned, one keyword per line; keywords may of course contain spaces), and configure the option “Keywords” (ebib-keywords) yourself.

Window Management

By default, Ebib takes over the entire Emacs frame it is started in, displaying the index window at the top and the entry window below it. There are a few options to change this behaviour, however. They are all part of the customisation group ebib-windows, and allow you to specify two alternative ways to deal with Ebib windows. The main layout option is simply called “Layout” and has four options: use the full frame (the default), use the current window, use the right part of the frame, or display only the index window.

If you set the layout to use only the right part of the frame, the Ebib buffers are displayed on the right of the frame, with the (usually larger) left part of the frame displaying some other buffer, normally the buffer from which you called Ebib. The width of the Ebib windows can be set with the option “Width”, which defaults to 80, and which can be specified as an absolute value (the number of columns), but also as a value relative to the current window. In that case, you must specify a value between 0 and 1. Note that when this option is used, the key z does not hide the Ebib buffers, it simply switches to a non-Ebib window in the same frame. You can use (uppercase) Z to hide the Ebib buffers. Furthermore, with this option, the multiline edit buffer is not displayed in the same window as the entry buffer. Rather, Ebib uses another, non-Ebib window to display it.

The fourth option that Ebib provides is to only show the index buffer on start-up. In this case, Ebib does not display the entry buffer when it is started. Instead, only the index buffer is displayed, which can be navigated in the usual manner. The entry buffer is only displayed when you add or edit an entry. When you’ve finished editing and move back to the index buffer, the entry buffer is hidden again.

The entry buffer is also displayed if you press RET. When you do this, the index buffer remains selected, so you can use this to display the fields of an entry without moving focus to the entry window. If you navigate the index buffer, the entry buffer remains visible, updating its contents as you move around.

In this case, too, the key z does not hide the index window. Rather, it just selects another, non-Ebib window. In order to hide the index window, you can use (uppercase) Z.

If you set Ebib’s layout to display only the index buffer on startup, you can additionally set the option “Popup Entry Window”. Normally, Ebib will reuse an existing window to display the entry buffer (and restore its original buffer when you leave the entry buffer). With this option set, however, Ebib uses the Emacs function display-buffer-popup-window to create a new window (which is destroyed again when you leave the entry buffer).

Further relevant options are “Window Vertical Split”, which displays the index buffer to the left of the frame rather than at the top, and “Index Window Size”, which determines the size of the index window (either its height or its width, depending on whether the index window is displayed at the top or on the left of the frame.)

Copying Entries to the Kill Ring

Ebib offers several ways to copy an entry to the kill ring (and the system clipboard), which you can then insert into another buffer or another application. You can copy the entry key (C k; note that this is capital C followed by k, not C-k!) the entire BibTeX entry (C e), a full reference as would appear in a list of references (C r) or a citation, by default of the Author-Year type (C c).

The functions that copy a reference or citation make use of templates that specify how such a reference/citation should be formatted. These templates can be customised: the relevant options are ebib-reference-templates and ebib-citation-template. (The latter should not be confused with ebib-citation-commands, which defines templates for inserting citation commands into a LaTeX / Markdown / etc. buffer.)

These templates are strings that contain directives for inserting specific fields from the entry being copied. As an example, a simple template for an author-year citation would be the following:

"{Author} ({Year})"

The directives are marked by braces {} around a field name. In the resulting citation, they are replaced by the contents of the fields. (The field names are case-insensitive, they could also be written as "{author} ({year}).")

Alternative fields can be separated by a pipe bar |:

"{Author|Editor} ({Date|Year})"

This template uses the Author field unless it’s empty, in which case the Editor field is used. Similarly for the year: first the contents of the Date field is checked. The Year field is used if the Date field is empty.

If none of the fields in a directive has any contents, the directive is discarded completely. Most reference templates for example include a directive for the Doi or Url field:

"{Author|Editor} ({Date|Year}). {\"Title\"}. {Publisher}. {Doi|Url.}"

If the Doi and Url fields are both empty, the directive is simply ignored.

A directive may contain punctuation before or after the field name (or sequence of field names), which is dropped if the field is empty. The {Doi|Url.} directive in the previous example contains a full stop, which is only included in the reference if the Doi or Url field is present.

The contents of the fields is used literally, with two exceptions: the Date field may contain a full date+time specification or even a date range, but only the year (or the year of the first date in a date range) is used. Similarly, the Title field is stripped of LaTeX markup. (See the user option ebib-TeX-markup-replace-alist if you want to customise what exactly is stripped.)

Printing the Database

Sometimes it may be useful to have a .pdf file or print-out of your database. Although Ebib does not actually do the printing itself, it can create a LaTeX file for you that you can compile and print. In fact, there are two ways of doing this.

The print options are available in the Ebib menu when the index buffer is active. You can print the entries as index cards or as a bibliography.

If you print your entries as a bibliography, Ebib creates a simple LaTeX document that essentially contains a \nocite{*} command followed by a \printbibliography command, adding a \addbibresource command referring to the current database. You can then run the usual sequence of LaTeX, Biber, LaTeX, LaTeX on this file, creating a document containing a list of all the references in your database. (Obviously, BibTeX is also supported.)

If you choose to print as index cards, Ebib also creates a LaTeX file. However, instead of simply providing a \nocite{*} command, this file contains a tabular environment for each entry in the database listing all the fields of that entry and their values.

The entries are separated by a \bigskip, but if you set the option Print Newpage in the customisation buffer (or in the Print menu), the entries are separated by a \newpage, so that every entry is on a separate page. The latter option is useful when printing actual index cards (though you’d probably have to change the page size with the geometry package as well).

By default, the index cards only show single-line field values. That is, multiline values are normally excluded. If you want to include multiline values in the print-out, you have to set the option Print Multiline in the Options menu or in Ebib’s customisation buffer. With this option set, Ebib includes all multiline values in the LaTeX file that it creates. Note however that Ebib does not change anything about the formatting of the text in a multiline value. So if you plan to make (heavy) use of this option, make sure that the way you type your text conforms to LaTeX’s conventions (e.g. empty lines to mark paragraphs, etc.) and doesn’t contain any characters such as & that are illegal in LaTeX. (Or, alternatively, use LaTeX code in your multiline fields.)

As mentioned, when you “print” the database, Ebib really just creates a LaTeX file. More precisely, it creates a temporary buffer and writes the LaTeX code into it, and then saves the contents of that buffer to a file. After it has done that, Ebib lowers itself and instruct Emacs to open the file in a buffer, which will then be properly set up as a LaTeX buffer. From there you can run LaTeX and view the result.

Before doing all this, Ebib asks you which file to write to. Be careful with this: since this is supposed to be a temporary file, Ebib simply assumes that if you provide a filename of an existing file, it can overwrite that file without warning!

A better way to tell Ebib which file to use is to set the option “Print Tempfile” in Ebib’s customisation buffer to some temporary file. When this option is set, Ebib will always use this file to write to, and will not ask you for a filename anymore.

Note that both print options operate on all entries of the database or on the selected entries.

The option “Print Preamble” and “LaTeX Preamble” allow you to customise the preamble of the LaTeX file that is created.


Ebib can be customised through Emacs’ standard customisation interface. The relevant customisation group is (obviously) called ebib, which has five subgroups: ebib-faces, ebib-filters, ebib-notes, and ebib-keywords, whose functions should be obvious, and ebib-windows, where options for Ebib’s window management can be set. All options are documented in the customisation buffers. You can go to Ebib’s customisation buffer with M-x customize-group RET ebib RET, or by using the menu «Ebib | Options | Customize Ebib».

In the index buffer, Ebib’s menu has an Options submenu. This menu gives you quick access to Ebib’s customisation buffer, and it also provides checkboxes for several settings that can be toggled on and off. All of these settings have defaults that can be defined in the customisation buffer. Setting or unsetting them in the Options menu only changes them for the duration of your Emacs session, it doesn’t affect the default setting.

The same is true for the printing options that are in the Print menu. When set or unset in the menu, the default values specified in the customisation buffer do not change.

Modifying Key Bindings

If you would like to change Ebib’s standard key bindings, or if you would like to bind a command that is only available through the menu to a key, you can do so by adding the relevant key bindings to Emacs init file. The relevant key maps are ebib-index-mode-map, ebib-entry-mode-map, ebib-strings-mode-map for the index, entry, and strings buffer, and ebib-multiline-mode-map, which contains the key bindings in multiline edit buffers.

In addition, ebib-search-map is a transient key map that is activated when ebib-search is called, and ebib-filters-map, ebib-keywords-map and ebib-reading-list-map are key maps (set up using define-prefix-command) that contain bindings for filters, keywords and the reading list, respectively. Finally, there is ebib-log-mode-map which is active in Ebib’s log buffer.