In the desktop application for Mendeley, it's possible to import a PDF and have the bibliographic data automatically extracted (or perhaps looked up, I'm not sure). This feature is more or less reliable. However, Mendeley's code is closed source (they once promised to release the source, but then they were bought by Elsevier). I'm looking for an open source tool that takes one or more PDFs as input and returns a bibtex entry for each.

I've found the following, but couldn't get either of them to work:

At present, the fastest alternative I know is to copy/paste the title into Google Scholar, and click the link to bibtex. That's very nice, but I'm wondering if there is something more automated.

  • 3
    Have you tried Zotero? In its free version, it can handle a limited number of pdf's at at time but will extract the info from the pdf, provided it exists. Jan 8, 2014 at 11:59
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    Be careful with bibtex metadata provided by Google Scholar. Though it is a great tool without a doubt, the bibtex entries may be incomplete and should at the very least be proofread prior to publication, assuming you are using those in a paper. Jan 8, 2014 at 15:00
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    I got pdfmeat working just now on OS X. Had to modify path to FireFox cookies, and pip install what it complained it was missing. P.S. didn't know about that tool. Thanks for the link.
    – mankoff
    Jan 8, 2014 at 20:20
  • @PeterJansson Thanks; you should post that as an answer! Jan 9, 2014 at 7:50
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    @MarcClaesen, treat all BibTeX entries you get from elsewhere with suspicion. E.g. the BibTeX entries given by ACM for their publications are uniformly atrocious (wrong capitalization, useless fields, the works).
    – vonbrand
    Feb 15, 2016 at 20:41

6 Answers 6


I use Zotero which in itself is a system for handling references, it comes as both a plugin to Firefox and as standalone. I use the standalone version to extract reference information from pdf and then export to, in my case, BibTeX .bib format. There are possibilities to export to other formats as well.


This doesn't answer your entire question, but may be useful (for example, you might have got the papers from a list of DOIs in the first place).

Assuming these are PDFs with CrossRef DOIs, if you can extract the DOI from the PDF, you can get citation directly from CrossRef's API. For the DOI 10.5555/12345678, the query:



    doi = {10.5555/12345678},
    url = {http://dx.doi.org/10.5555/12345678},
    year = 2008,
    month = {aug},
    publisher = {{CrossRef}},
    volume = {5},
    number = {11},
    pages = {1--3},
    author = {Josiah Carberry},
    title = {Toward a Unified Theory of High-Energy Metaphysics: Silly String Theory},
    journal = {Journal of Psychoceramics}

You could write a very small script to scan a list of DOIs and download the citations.

  • The month entry should be integer.
    – ado sar
    Jun 18, 2022 at 21:17

NB: My answer does not differentiate between open and closed sourced projects and I have not used any of the seemingly big list of solutions.

This SO answer suggests that the 2010 London Dev8D meeting, whatever that is, ran a contest for meta data extraction and resulted in pdfssa4met. I cannot find any documentation on the meeting and anything else that came out of it. The JISC ConnectedWorks project produced a review document that considered Zotero, Mendeley, Google Scholar, CB2BIB, Metadata Extraction Tool, pdfssa4met, pdfmeat, GNU libextractor, FITS, Apache Tika, XPDF, PDFTOHTML, pdf2xml, CiteSeerX, and Paperpile. This list seems to leave out some other solutions, although it is possible that they rely on the same underlying technology. This answers to this TeX.SX question suggests BibDesk and JabRef do metadata extraction. Papers also seems to do metadata extraction. This blog reviews the metadata extraction performance of WizFolio.

There is also Mr. dLib, pdfextract and TeamBeam which seem to have scholarly papers associated with them and therefore seem to be misssed by the JISC review (or developed afterwards). I also found exiftool.


cb2Bib is a tool to extract bibtex entries from PDF files.

The following will command extract bibtex entries from PDF file using cb2Bib command line

c2bconsole --doc2bib paper2.pdf references.bib --sloppy


Disclaimer: This is a short version of an answer posted at tex.sx. This solution is not perfect, but might be a good start. I am one of the authors of JabRef and like open source development.

JabRef is an MIT-licensed open-source BibTeX and BibLaTeX bibliographic manager actively developed on GitHub. It offers the functionality to import bibliographic data from PDFs.

  1. Create or open a .bib file.

  2. Go to "Quality" -> "Find unlinked files". menu entry for starting find linked files

  3. The "Find unlinked files" dialog opens. Find unlinked files dialog

  4. Choose a directory using the "Browse" button.

  5. Click on "Scan directory".

  6. In "Select files", the files not yet contained in the database are shown. scan result

  7. To create entries for all files, click on "Apply".

  8. For each file, an import dialog is shown metadata dialog

    The dialog shows the XMP metadata stored in the PDF in the area "XMP-metadata". If this data fits your needs, select "Create entry based on XMP data". Typically, the XMP-metadata is not good enough. Choose "Create entry based on content".

  9. Click on "OK" to start the import

  10. A dialog asking for the link is opened Link to file dialog You can choose "Leave file in its current directory" to keep the file where it is. Typically, this is that what one wants. In case you choose "Move file to file directory", you can also choose to rename the file to the generated BibTeX key.

  11. Press OK to link the file to the BibTeX entry

  12. This happens for each file. After that, the "Find unlinked files" dialog is shown. Just click on "Close" to close it.


You might want to look at pdf-extract: https://github.com/CrossRef/pdfextract

It doesn't seem to be very actively maintained, but promises to do what you want.

  • 1
    Thanks for the suggestion. As far as I can tell, pdfextract is designed to extract references in a paper, so it wouldn't give you a bibtex entry for the paper that you run it on. Nov 30, 2016 at 12:28

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