Add unlinked PDFs including BibTeX data into the library

This feature is available through Lookup -> Search for unlinked local files.

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The following description appeared first on

Preparation: Adjust the JabRef key generation pattern to fit your needs

JabRef offers a BibTeX key generation and offers different patterns described at BibtexKeyPatterns.

Link the PDFs to your bib library

  1. Create or open a .bib librarry.

  2. Go to Lookup -> Search for unlinked local files.

  3. The "Search for unlinked local files" dialog opens. FindUnlinkedFiles - 02 - initial dialog

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

  5. Click on "Search".

  6. In "Select files", the files not yet contained in the library are shown. FindUnlinkedFiles - 03 - scan result

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

  8. For each file, an import dialog is shown FindUnlinkedFiles - 04 - metadata 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 FindUnlinkedFiles - 05 - LinkToFile 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.

  13. The entry editor with the last imported entry is shown FindUnlinkedFiles - 08 - entry editor

  14. You can now save the file and are finished.

  15. Optional: Click on "General" to see the linked file FindUnlinkedFiles - 09 - entry editor - General

  16. Optional: Click on "BibTeX source" to see the BibTeX source FindUnlinkedFiles - 10 - entry editor - BibTeX source

  17. Optional: You have to shrink it to see the entry in the entry table Enlarge the JabRef window and use the mouse at the upper border of the entry editor FindUnlinkedFiles - 11 - entry editor - shrunk

  18. Optional: Press Esc to show the entry preview FindUnlinkedFiles - 12 - entry preview

Further information

PDFs for which it works

The importer based on the content has been written for IEEE and LNCS formatted papers. Other formats are not (yet) supported. In case a DOI is found on the first page, the DOI is used to generate the BibTeX information.

The next development step is to extract the title of the PDF, use the "Lookup DOI" and then the Get BibTeX data from DOI functionality from JabRef to fetch the BibTeX data.

We are also thinking about replacing the code completely by using another library. This is much effort and there is no timeline for that.

Better filenames

JabRef also offers to change the filenames. You can adapt the pattern at Preferences -> Import Preferences - Import

Select "Choose pattern" and choose "bibtexkey - title" Preferences - Import - Choose pattern This results in the setting \bibtexkey\begin{title} - \format[RemoveBrackets]{\title}\end{title}.

This makes the filenames start with the bibtey key followed by the full title. In the concrete case, \bibtexkey only may be the better option as the described bibtey key already contains the title.


JabRef used to have support for Mr.DLib, which returned back a full BibTeX entry or a PDF. Due to unclear copyright situation of a used library, this service was removed. Further, Mr.DLib changes its focus and will provide literature recommendations. See the realted articles tab.