Random Notes

Using BibDesk

The purpose of this page is to describe how I use BibDesk to organize my bibliography database together with my downloaded, scanned and/or printed articles. Over the years I have grown an simple but for me very effective way of organisation and this here is a sumary of it, which just describes my concrete setup on my Mac.

General Idea

The main idea is that I have a centralised database in which I collect over the time information about any book, article or other form of text I might want to refer to at some point. The word database sounds much more frightening than it is, in my case it is just a text file formated in the way that BibTeX can make use of it. In my case this file is called “math.bib”. This file is located in a centralised math_bib_locplace in my home directory such that my LaTeX installation can find it with out problem. This location is ~/Library/TeXMF/bibtex/bib (click on the image on the right for illustration; the twigle “~” is a common abbreviation for the home directory of a user). Note that you might not have the TeXMF and/or its subdirectories in your ~/Library folder your computer. In this case you need to create it yourself.

Now there is no need to go into detail of how this file looks like, the program BibDesk takes care of this file by itself. The only thing you need to do is create it once with BibDesk and later on reopen it with BibDesk when you need it again. The only thing one needs to know that every entry in this file is labeled by a cite key which must be unique and which is case sensitive. The cite key should also be easy to memorize. In order to achive this I have choosen for me the following system:

  1. The first part of the cite key is the family name of the first author in lower case letters and with no special letters. That is, the first part of the cite key consists of the 26 lower letters ‘a’ to ‘z’ only!
  2. Then comes a dash “-” which seperates the first part of the cite key from the next information in the cite key.
  3. The next information in the cite key is the last 2 digits of the year of publication.
  4. If the above does not give a unique cite key, then a small letter beginning from ‘a’, ‘b’, etc. are appended to the cite key in order to make it unique.

Example. “luck-00” (and not “lück-00”!) refers in my database to Wolfgang Lück and David Meintrup’s article  which they published in 2000 and “luck-00a” refers in my case to another article of Wolfgang Lück which he published in the same year.

One can use BibDesk to create easily different entries into a .bib database file. Either manualy by filling out a suitable form or by cut and paste entries from other sources. In my case I use information which I optain from MathSciNet, but I will come to the details later.

Next I use BibTex to access the data stored in this math.bib file to create a bibliography. For example I write

   ...as has been shown in~\cite{luck-00}...

in a TeX file of mine if I want to refer to Lück and Meintrup’s paper from 2000. In the end of my TeX file were the reference list should appear (which is usually just before the ending of the document block) I have then the following two lines:


These two lines tell BibTeX to use my centralised database file “math.bib” for generating a bibliography and to include it in this place with alphanumeric labels (there are of course other ways of labeling them, too).

(To be continued…)


In the preferences of BibDesk there is the “Cite Key Format” pane which is devoted to how BibDesk generates a cite key if it is asked to do so. Click on the “Advanced” button in order to set the custom format to “%a1-%y%u0” (see this screen shot) and make sure you select the option “Generate lowercase cite keys” (they just look better in my opinion).

The “Autofile” pane tells BibDesk how to automatically generate file names based on the cite key. See the screenshot on the left for the detailed settings I use. Click on the “Advanced” button in order to set the custom format to “%f{Cite Key}%u0%e” (see this screen shot) and again make sure you select the option “Generate lowercase cite keys”.


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