Developer(s)The BibDesk Team
Initial release2002; 22 years ago (2002)
Stable release
1.8.15 / January 4, 2023; 14 months ago (2023-01-04)
Written inC, Objective-C
Operating systemmacOS

BibDesk is an open-source reference management software package for macOS, used to manage bibliographies and references when writing essays and articles.[1][2][3] It can also be used to organize and maintain a library of documents in PDF format and other formats. It is primarily a BibTeX front-end for use with LaTeX, but also offers external bibliographic database connectivity for importing, a variety of means for exporting, and capability for linking to local documents and automatically filing local documents. It takes advantage of many macOS features such as AppleScript and Spotlight.

First launched publicly in 2002, BibDesk is under continuing development by various contributors via SourceForge.[4] The original developer was Michael McCracken, and much of the code has subsequently been written by Adam Maxwell and Christiaan Hofman.[5] Also available directly from SourceForge, it is currently bundled with the MacTeX distribution of TeX Live.[6]


BibDesk offers an iTunes-like Cocoa-based graphical user interface for creating, editing, managing, and searching BibTeX databases.[7] It supports BibTeX features such as macros and crossrefs.[8]


Users can add new items to a BibTeX database, and copy items between databases, by dragging or pasting, or by using one of the included macOS services.[9] BibDesk enables one-click importing of items from several kinds of external groups:[10]

BibDesk can also import records in RIS format.[12] It can import from other formats with the help of command-line conversion tools such as BibUtils.[13]

In addition, users can combine the Firefox extensions Zotero and Zot2Bib[14] to do one-click importing of references from Firefox to BibDesk using Zotero's ability to harvest references from a wider variety of websites.[15]


BibDesk permits articles residing on a user's computer to be linked to BibDesk database entries via drag and drop or a menu command or scripting, and BibDesk can optionally auto-file linked PDFs or other external files into a user-specifiable folder.[16] There is a graphical interface for managing custom database fields,[17] as well as a variety of ways to annotate citations.[18]

Within BibDesk, references can be organized in groups and smart groups (similar to playlists and smart playlists in iTunes),[19] and in field groups (a simple kind of smart group based on database fields).[20] Multiple groups can be selected to display a list of references in any group (union) or in all groups (intersection).


References can be cited in any document by copy and paste or drag and drop from BibDesk, or via a macOS service.[21] A custom URI scheme, x-bdsk://citekey, allows hyperlinking to BibDesk references from any other application.[22] In addition, a reference can be opened quickly in BibDesk by first selecting any cite key in a LaTeX document or other text document and then using the provided macOS service "Show Reference With Cite Key" (which, like all services, can be assigned a custom keyboard shortcut).[23] Cite key autocomplete is available in some applications (including TeXShop) via a macOS service.[24]


A quick search field permits searching any field in a database,[25] or any associated PDF annotations created in Skim (an open-source PDF reader created by BibDesk's developers), or the entire content of any linked external files.[26] A more detailed "find and replace" window allows finding and replacing text in any field, with support for regular expressions.[27]

The entries of any BibTeX database that has been opened and saved in BibDesk are made accessible to Spotlight searches anywhere in macOS, so any system-wide Spotlight searches will also search title, author, abstract, and keywords fields of BibDesk databases.[28] Individual references are listed in Spotlight and, when opened, will be selected in BibDesk.

BibDesk database entries can also be searched with some other macOS applications such as Alfred[29] and DEVONthink.[30]


References can be exported via a menu command, cut and paste, drag and drop, or a macOS service.[31] Although it was created to import and export in BibTeX format for use in LaTeX documents, BibDesk has a built-in graphical editor for creating custom export templates using Apple's key-value coding,[32] which the user can program to export selected references in any citation style or in any structured text format.[33] Sample templates are included for plain text, RTF, HTML, RSS, and some other XML formats, and other templates are available on the BibDesk wiki.[34]

BibDesk can format entire bibliographies internally either via previews that use BibDesk's export templates or via previews of LaTeX output. In its previews of LaTeX output, BibDesk can automatically produce citations in any of the basic BibTeX styles or in any style for which the user has a BibTeX style (.bst) file.[35]

BibDesk does not itself contain citation styles (such as APA, MLA, Chicago) and does not support Citation Style Language (CSL).[36] Users who wish to use BibDesk but need to use CSL can export a BibTeX file to another application that supports CSL, such as Zotero,[37] or Pandoc,[38] which when combined with Markdown can also serve as a simpler alternative to LaTeX for producing academic writing.[39]


BibDesk offers automation using AppleScript,[40] and using other scripting languages via AppleScript.[41] Example scripts are available on the BibDesk wiki and elsewhere.[42]

System requirements

The following table shows which version of BibDesk is compatible with each version of macOS.[4][43]

Operating system version Last compatible BibDesk version
Mac OS X v10.2.8 "Jaguar" 1.1.8
Mac OS X v10.3.9 "Panther" 1.2.11
Mac OS X v10.4.11 "Tiger" 1.3.22
Mac OS X v10.5.8 "Leopard" 1.5.10
Mac OS X v10.6.8 "Snow Leopard" 1.6.22
Mac OS X v10.7.5 "Lion" 1.7.9
OS X v10.8.5 "Mountain Lion"
OS X v10.9 "Mavericks" latest
OS X v10.10 "Yosemite"
OS X v10.11 "El Capitan"
macOS v10.12 "Sierra"
macOS v10.13 "High Sierra"
macOS v10.14 "Mojave"
macOS v10.15 "Catalina"
macOS v11 "Big Sur"

See also


  1. ^ O'Malley, Kevin (3 February 2004). "LaTeX: it's not just for academia, part 1". O'Reilly Media. Retrieved 9 March 2017. BibDesk is a Mac OS X BibTeX bibliography manager. Basically, it provides a GUI for managing your BibTeX files. If you are more comfortable using a GUI for managing citations, this program is a good choice.
  2. ^ Courtland, Rachel (1 May 2008). "Programs promise to end PDF paper-chase". Nature. 453 (7191): 12. doi:10.1038/453012b. PMID 18461713. Researchers are buzzing about a new type of software that allows them to manage their research paper downloads from online journals much more effectively. [...] Users have responded excitedly to the software, arguing on the blogosphere about the various merits of programs from the free BibDesk to Sente.
  3. ^ Fenton, William (3 March 2016). "5 tools that make managing, sharing citations less of a headache". PC Magazine. Retrieved 9 March 2017. Interested readers might consider RefDB, BibDesk, or the Docear suite.
  4. ^ a b "BibDesk wiki". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  5. ^ "BibDesk wiki: developer information". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  6. ^ "MacTeX: more packages". TeX Users Group. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  7. ^ "BibDesk wiki: BibDesk 2.0 design document". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  8. ^ "BibDesk help: 2. BibTeX intro". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  9. ^ "BibDesk help: 5.2 Importing references". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  10. ^ a b c d e "BibDesk help: 5.10.4 External groups". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  11. ^ "BibDesk help: 5.10.5 Web group". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  12. ^ "BibDesk help: 3.3 Opening an RIS file". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  13. ^ "BibDesk help: 3.2 Opening a file". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  14. ^ MacKerron, George. "Zot2Bib". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  15. ^ Goldstone, Andrew. "Producing digital documents: Bibliography". Archived from the original on 25 October 2020. Retrieved 25 October 2020.
  16. ^ "BibDesk help: 8. AutoFile: keeping local copies of papers organized". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  17. ^ "BibDesk help: 11.8 Default fields". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  18. ^ "BibDesk help: 5.3 Editing references". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  19. ^ "BibDesk help: 5.10 Grouping references". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  20. ^ Robertson, Will (2 November 2005). "WSPR: BibDesk trend-setting and metadata". Archived from the original on 22 May 2007. Retrieved 9 March 2017. BibDesk deals with metadata in a way that makes sense and makes it easy, but most importantly, makes the metadata relevant. (Sorry about the emphasis overuse.) We've (or I've) been ignoring keyword fields for years, wondering "what's the point, really?", even though it can help for searching quite a bit in certain circumstances. But the new BibDesk will (in real time) organise and sort bibliographic entries by arbitrary metadata, which for bibliographic entries is most usefully keywords. [...] Keyword groupings will be populated as you add keywords to articles, and keywords will be added to entries that are dragged into they keyword folders.
  21. ^ "BibDesk help: 9. Inserting citations". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  22. ^ "BibDesk release notes: Changes since 1.3.14". Retrieved 9 March 2017. New custom URL schemes x-bdsk: and x-bdsk-search: for linking individual items and search groups, respectively
  23. ^ Centers, Josh (5 February 2016). "OS X hidden treasures: services". TidBITS. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  24. ^ "BibDesk help: 9.2 Autocompletion". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  25. ^ "BibDesk help: 4.1 Quick search". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  26. ^ "BibDesk help: 4.4 Searching file contents". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  27. ^ "BibDesk help: 4.3 Find and replace". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  28. ^ "BibDesk help: 4.5 Searching With Spotlight". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  29. ^ "Search BibDesk library". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  30. ^ "How to index individual BibDesk entries in DEVONthink". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  31. ^ "BibDesk help: 9.4 Inserting formatted bibliographies". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  32. ^ "BibDesk help: G. Template tags". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  33. ^ "BibDesk help: 10. Templates". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  34. ^ "BibDesk wiki: templates". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  35. ^ "BibDesk help: 5.8 Previewing typeset output". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  36. ^ "BibDesk feature requests: #501 Support for CSL". 7 April 2008. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  37. ^ "Zotero wiki: citation styles". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  38. ^ Endsley, K. Arthur (28 January 2015). "Custom citation styles in LaTeX with CSL and Pandoc". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  39. ^ Tenen, Dennis; Wythoff, Grant (19 March 2014). "Sustainable authorship in plain text using Pandoc and Markdown". The Programming Historian. Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  40. ^ "BibDesk help: 12. AppleScript". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  41. ^ Sanderson, Hamish; Rosenthal, Hanaan (2009). "Interacting with the Unix command line". Learn AppleScript: the comprehensive guide to scripting and automation on Mac OS X (3rd ed.). Berkeley: Apress. doi:10.1007/978-1-4302-2362-7_27. ISBN 9781430223610. OCLC 308193726.
  42. ^ "BibDesk wiki: BibDesk AppleScripts". Retrieved 9 March 2017.
  43. ^ "BibDesk release notes". Retrieved 9 March 2017.

Further reading