Frequently Asked Question List for TeX


Replacing the BibTeX–LaTeX mechanism


As originally conceived, BibTeX was a program for creating bibliographies for technical documents, in English. People have contributed mechanisms for a degree of multilingual use, while an extension (bibtex8) allows use with 8-bit character codes, thus providing some multilingual capabilities. In addition, specialist BibTeX style files are available for use in non-technical papers.

BibTeX uses a style language whose mechanisms are unfamiliar to most current programmers: it’s difficult to learn, but since there are few opportunities to write the language, it’s also difficult to become fluent (in the way that so many people fluently write the equally arcane TeX macro language).

There are two parts to a bibliography system; processing the database of citations, and typesetting the results. The existing BibTeX system provides a means of processing the database, and there are macros built into LaTeX, as well as many LaTeX packages, that process the results.

Whilst a number of approaches have been suggested to go beyond the BibTeX–LaTeX, two stand out for their availability and usage: biblatex and amsref.


The biblatex package provides a programmable approach to creating bibliographies in which control takes place in the (La)TeX code, rather than a BibTeX style file. This means that output can be modified on a per-document basis. Moreover, with full availablity of the data in the LaTeX run, a much wider range of bibliographic outcomes are possible. This is particularly important in supporting citation styles in the humanities. The biblatex package also integrates many ideas from existing BibTeX-focussed systems, meaning that all interfaces are consistent (and compatible).

Extracting data from .bib files for use with biblatex can be achieved using “classical” BibTeX: however, this is limited. The biblatex package is co-developed with the Biber program. This is a Unicode-aware system which can extract data from .bib files, sort according to a range of language criteria, and more. It is tied to biblatex (the output format is targeted at the requirements of biblatex).


The amsrefs uses a transformed .bib file which is expressed as LaTeX macros. (The package provides a BibTeX style that performs the transformation, so that a LaTeX source containing a \nocite{*} command enables BibTeX to produce a usable amsrefs bibliography database.)

FAQ ID: Q-biblatex
Last updated: 2018-05-24