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Mendeley is (mainly) a proprietary social network to share basic citation data and research papers. see also

Are there any free and open source substitutes for this service?

A technical possibility: users could collect BibTeX data and a hash and share this information. It would be very useful to have such a free service because every journal provides the citation data in a different format. That includes false field entries, broken files and hidden download buttons on the website.

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migrated from Nov 20 '12 at 15:13

This question came from our site for users of TeX, LaTeX, ConTeXt, and related typesetting systems.

You might find some options here:… – Scott H. Nov 12 '12 at 19:44
@WilliamGunn your employer can call it what it wants, but the client software is closed, the server software is closed and the data is only open in the loosest sense of the word. If you want the data to be considered open, provide a nightly push of the entire database that can be downloaded without an API. – StrongBad Nov 5 '14 at 10:01
I guess I'm confused as to what the question is about. Is the question about open source software that can manage references, or is it about something that does exactly what Mendeley does, but is 100% open source as opposed to only partially composed of open source components, or is it about the catalog, which if you want a nightly dump of 17 TB, be my guest, but available via nightly dump isn't in the definition of open data. – William Gunn Nov 5 '14 at 20:39
@WilliamGunn to be fair I don't know what open data really means, so I asked over at OpenData.SE. – StrongBad Nov 6 '14 at 11:07
Jonas, do you only need the software to be open source software? Or do you also need the data to be open data (freely reusable license, such as CC-BY-SA or CC0)? By data I mean everything that is shared between users, presumably citations and "social" information. – nic Nov 6 '14 at 11:22

7 Answers 7

The only alternative that comes to my mind is Zotero:

  • It is open-source,
  • it comes as a standalone application or as a Firefox add-on,
  • it integrates with Word or OpenOffice,
  • it syncs with the Zotero server,
  • it has BibTeX export,
  • ...
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Is it truly free? I think that the client only is; the server is proprietary. – Federico Poloni Nov 27 '12 at 12:27
What functions don't work without the server? Except syncing to the server, of course? – matth Nov 27 '12 at 12:34
You can run a WebDAV server, no sweat: – AABoyles Aug 2 '13 at 15:44
@FedericoPoloni I think you are misinterpreting the "free" in free software: Zotero is still developed and distributed under AGPL. That does not mean that the developers may not charge for their server services. Furthermore, there is the possibility to run your own WebDAV server as Tony pointed out. – non-numeric_argument Nov 20 '13 at 10:03
@FedericoPoloni First, Zotero itself provides some sourcecode for running a dataserver. Second, the Freemium storage and syncing service by Zotero Server resembles Mendeley very much. The other reommended open source software BibDesk has no server or sync functionality whatsoever and I do not know of any open source software which is an original desktop reference manager which comes with that funtionality (of course, there are open source web-based reference manager). – non-numeric_argument Nov 22 '13 at 14:01

I really liked Mendeley's potential but got frustrated with both their pricing model (maybe I just never learned how to use the software correctly) and it consistently butchering imported BibTeX entries.

I've been a pretty happy BibDesk user for a long time, it is true open source software, but unfortunately it has not been ported outside of the OS X environment, so this is only a qualified answer.

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BibDesk, indeed, is an excellent tool. It doesn't offer a built in syncing feature across computers, but this can be achieved in other ways such as Dropbox or git. I highly recommend BibDesk! – crash Nov 30 '12 at 12:41


Haven't tried it yet but seems to stand out as the leading open-source alternative to mendeley.

Docear is basically a marriage of JabRef and Freeplane. It uses JabRef as a backend for its reference management and Freeplane to organize references, annotations you make in the pdf, and any other information (including images, links and crossreferences) in a mind-map.

As the original author of this answer pointed out it is indeed open-source—licensed under the GNU General Public License.

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I have tried any number of reference management programs (from EndNote to Mendeley and back), and have come to the conclusion that the most important criterion is that the reference manager directly, natively writes in .bib, or some other text-based, open-source format.

This has several advantages:

  • no proprietary or otherwise lock-in
  • future-proof
  • fast and robust
  • if all else fails, you can always fix it "by hand" in a text editor
  • works well with LaTeX, no "lost in BibTeX-Export" problems
  • works nicely with versioning software (such as git), which requires text files for meaningful diffs.
  • especially with git, you have maximum peace of mind about just what exactly is happening with your library.

This leaves a pretty small number of editors:

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I love jabref. Hasn't let me down yet. – Kallus Feb 14 at 3:42

We have developed an open source solution, downloadable from or from GitHub, that allows users to collaboratively share and refine their scientific bibliographic metadata.

The system relies on a "peer-to-peer" and "open-data" approach as well as on a "clone-and-refine" algorithm. It can import data from external web services.

The more the system is used, the more the information that flows on the network become clean.

Moreover, using Scientilla, any user can obtain the whole metadata shared through the network.

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I visited your website. I am just feeling that your website lacks some snapshots of the software you have developed. – Enthusiastic Student Jun 28 at 7:48

Finally I found I, librarian on which is a kind of mixture between Filestorage-Server, JabRef and a personal open source Mendeley server.

Interested users may try the demo account on the website.

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No, there isn't anything that is an exact copy of Mendeley, the server, the clients, the API, and the content, but all composed of 100% open source software.

For the record, Mendeley does contain some open source and the API is freely available, so if you wanted to build an application of service to the scholarly community, you'd probably be better off building your own open source client but leveraging the messy and difficult bits that we've already solved and make available via API, such as the metadata extraction and impact tracking bits.

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The question doesn't ask for an "exact copy," it asks for a substitute. – ff524 Nov 5 '14 at 21:15
Nearly all software "does contain some open source", but that is very different from "being open source". – nic Nov 6 '14 at 11:19

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