A review of metadata: a survey of current resource description formats
Work Package 3 of Telematics for Research project DESIRE (RE 1004)
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Environment of use


Bibtex is a program originally designed by Oren Patashnik to create bibliographies in conjunction with the LaTeX Document Preparation System. LaTeX, available for most computer systems, is a system for typesetting documents, independent of the output device. (It is based on the TeX typesetting system by Donald Knuth). BibTeX is a separate program that produces the source list for a document, obtaining the information from a bibliographic database. BibTeX is described in LaTeX: A Document Preparation System (user's guide and reference manual), by Leslie Lamport (Addison-Wesley, 2nd ed. 1994). Further documentation: BibteXing and Designing BibTeX Styles, both by Oren Patashnik, February 8, 1988.

Constituency of use

LaTeX is used in scientific and academic communities, and in industry. Scientists use it to send their papers electronically to colleagues over the world. For this reason it is used inhouse and by many STM publishers.

Ease of creation

Experience with the LaTeX system is required to use BibTeX.

Progress towards international standardisation

The first widely available version of LaTeX (2.09) appeared in 1985. Since then various non-standard enhancements were made, which would not work properly at all sites. A new version (2e) was released in 1994.

Format issues


LaTeX allows for a variety of bibliography styles. The LaTeX input file must contain a \bibliography command whose argument specifies one or more files that contain the database (bib files), and a \bibliographystyle command, that specifies the format of the source list.

The standard bibliography styles are the following (but a lot of other styles are available):

BibTeX provides entry types for almost any kind of reference within a bibliography. Each entry has its own set of fields, divided into three classes: required, optional and ignored (the last for information that shouldn't get into the bibliography).

In the standard bibliography styles the following entries may be used:


Basic descriptive elements

The following is a list of all fields recognized by the standard bibliography styles.

Subject description

No special fields defined in the standard styles.


No special fields defined in the standard styles.

Resource format and technical characteristics

No special fields defined in the standard styles.

Host administrative details

No special fields defined in the standard styles.

Administrative metadata

No special fields defined in the standard styles.


No special fields defined in the standard styles.

Terms of availability/copyright

No special fields defined in the standard styles.

Rules for the construction of these elements

BibTeX is not designed for use with any specific set of cataloguing rules. For some fields a few (simple) rules are given, such as for the form of the name of the author. The bibliographic style decides how the field content will appear in the bibliography.

Multi-lingual issues

There are commands in LaTeX to generate accents and special symbols used in most western languages. This makes it possible to put bits of non-English text in an English document. They are not adequate for writing a complete document in another language. There is a Babel package which allows the creation of documents in languages other than English as well as multi-language documents.

Ability to represent relationships between objects

By crossreferencing links can be made between different entries.


As the primary aim of BibTeX is not to create a bibliographic database that deals with a broad range of bibliographic data, but to format bibliographic references in (scientific) papers, the format is not very extensive. For its purpose the range of fields seems sufficient.

Protocol issues

Not associated with particular protocols.


LaTeX is widely used in the scientific communities. Some publishers issue their own macros to enable researches to format their papers according to the standard of the journal.

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Last update: 10-Jun-1998