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A reference manager with single source of truth: the .bib file. Inspired by beets

Project description

A reference manager with a single source of truth: the .bib file. Inspired by beets.


There are many reference managers out there, so why writing another one? Bibo is different for a few reasons:

  1. It relies solely on your .bib file to track information. This is bibo’s main selling point! Your .bib file and your other files (PDFs, for example) are exactly where you want them to be. You have full control over your data.
  2. Being a command line tool, integration with other command line applications is easy and powerful.
  3. It’s extensible with plugins (more on this later).



  1. On linux, make sure to install xclip.
  2. Optionally, define the EDITOR environment variable to an editor of your choice (this is usually already set on unix systems).
  3. Optionally, for improved presentation, install bibtex.

pip installation

pip install bibo

On linux / mac you might need to prepend the above command with sudo for system wide installation, or, preferably, use the --user flag like this:

pip install --user bibo

For more information see the official packages installation guide.

Quick start guide

Setup your database

The --database argument

When running bibo you should tell it where your .bib file is. For example, to list the entries in your database, run

bibo --database /path/to/your/database.bib list

If you don’t yet have a .bib file, or want to start working on a new one pass a path to where you want your .bib file to be and bibo will create the new file for you.

The BIBO_DATABASE environment variable

Most of the time you will probably use the same .bib file. So, instead of passing the --database argument whenever you call bibo you can define the BIBO_DATABASE environment variable with the path to your .bib file. From now on, if you don’t pass the --database argument explicitly, bibo will use this predefined database. Note that this is the only bit of configuration bibo uses. Everything else is in your .bib file!


To check all of bibo’s commands run

bibo --help

To read additional information about each command and its arguments run, for example

bibo list --help


Listing all entries in the database, or filtered with search terms (see bellow). For example

bibo list Albert Einstein

will list all entries with the values ‘Albert’ and ‘Einstein’ in any field (or type / key). Use the --raw option to list the raw bibtex entry, without fancy formatting, or provide a bibstyle to adapt the listing to specific citing format. Valid bibstyles are determined by the bibtex software, check out this for reference. The default bibstyle is plain.


To add a new entry to the database, copy the bibtex citation from, let’s say, google scholar, and run

bibo add

Bibo will open your editor and paste the clipboard content to it. You are free to edit this content and save it to add the entry to the database.

If you want to include a file (a PDF, for example) run the same command with --file /path/to/file at the end. After saving the bibtex citation in the editor bibo will search through the already existing paths in your database, find the most commonly used one, and copy the file you specified to there, renaming it to the bibtex key. If you don’t want this automatic destination heuristic you can specify the destination yourself by adding --destination /path/to/folder/.


Try running

bibo open Albert Einstein

Lets assume that there’s a single entry in the database by Albert Einstein (more about search terms below), and the file / url / doi field is defined. An open command will open the file / URL / DOI of this entry, with precedence following this order. A file will be opened with the appropriate application. If it’s a PDF it will probably be your PDF reader. But it can also be a presentation, .zip file, or even a folder. URLs and DOIs would be opened by your web browser.


The edit command allows you to edit a single entry by key. You can set a field / key / type by running, for example

bibo edit einstein_paper tags=interesting

Setting the key / type is the same.

If the value is omitted your editor will open with the current content of the field (or empty if there was no title). Saving will update the database.

The edit command is also used to link a file to the entry. It is done exactly the same way as the add command.


The remove command is used to remove an entry by key, like that

bibo remove einstein_paper

It can also remove one or more fields, for example

bibo remove einstein_paper tags review


Most of bibo’s commands expect you to provide search terms. Some of them, like the open command, will only work if the search terms matches a single entry in the database. A single search term matches an entry if it appears in the type, key, or any of the fields of the entry. If multiple search terms are provided an entry should match all of them. Note that search terms are case insensitive. In addition, it is possible to match against a specific field with, for example author:einstein or year:2018. You can match against type / key in a similar fashion, with, let’s say type:book.


To activate auto-complete, if you’re using Bash add the following to your .bashrc

eval "$(_BIBO_COMPLETE=source bibo)"

If you’re on zsh add this to your .zshrc

eval "$(_BIBO_COMPLETE=source_zsh bibo)"

Now, while in the middle of a command, press <TAB> to auto-complete options, arguments, or keys from your .bib database.

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