Open, Edit, and Convert BIB and BIBTEX Files

How to digital bibliographies work?

What to Know

  • A BIB file is a BibTeX Bibliographical Database file.
  • Open one with JabRef or any text editor.
  • Convert to HTML, RTF, TXT, etc. with those same programs.

This article explains what a BIB file is, how to open one on your computer, and how to convert one to a different file format like RIS or XML—you can also use the BIB file in Microsoft Word.

What Is a BIB File?

A file with the BIB file extension is a BibTeX Bibliographical Database file. It's a specially formatted text file that lists references pertaining to a particular source of information. They're sometimes seen with the longer .BIBTEX file extension.

BibTeX files might hold references for things like research papers, articles, books, etc. Included within the file is often an author name, title, page number count, notes, and other related content.

These files are typically used with LaTeX, and might therefore be seen with TEX and LTX files.

BIB Files

How to Open BIB Files

BIB files can be opened with JabRef, MiKTeX, TeXnicCenter, and Citavi.

Although the formatting won't be as structured and easy to read as with one of the above programs, and adding new entries isn't as fluid, BibTeX files can be viewed in any text editor too, like the Notepad program in Windows.

Bibtex4Word might be what you're looking for if you need to use the file in Microsoft Word. However, see another method below that involves converting the file to an acceptable Word file format and importing it into Word as a citation file.

If you find that an application on your Windows PC does try to open the BIB or BIBTEX file but it's the wrong application, try changing which program opens it.

How to Convert a BIB File

Bib2x is able to convert BIB files to formats like XML, RTF, and XHTML, on Windows, Mac, and Linux. Another option, though only for Mac, is BibDesk, which can convert BIB to PDF and RIS.

Another way to convert BIB to RIS for use with EndNote, is with bibutils.

However, if you're already using the programs mentioned above, like JabRef for example, you can export to TXT, HTML, XML, RTF, RDF, CSV, SXC, SQL, and other formats, using the File > Export menu.

If you save the file to the "MS Office 2007" XML file format with JabRef, you can import it directly in Word through the Manage Sources button in the Citations & Bibliography section of the References tab.

Notepad++ can save a BIB file as a TEX file.

Cite This For Me is a website that lets you create citations for a bibliography. It can also be used to export your citations to the BIB format.

How BIB Files Are Structured

Following is the correct syntax for the BibTeX file format:

@entry type{citation key,AUTHOR = "Author name",TITLE = "Title of book",PUBLISHER = {Name of publisher},ADDRESS = {Location published}}

In the "entry type" area is where the source type is to be entered. The following are supported: article, book, booklet, conference, inbook, incollection, inproceedings, manual, masterthesis, misc, phdthesis, proceedings, techreport, and unpublished.

Within the entry are fields that describe the citation, such as number, chapter, edition, editor, address, author, key, month, year, volume, organization, and others.

This is what it looks like to have multiple citations within one BIB file:

year={2008}},@book{brady_2016,place={[Place of publication not identified]},title={Emotional insight},publisher={Oxford Univ Press},author={Brady, Michael S},year={2016}},@article{turnbull_dombrow_sirmans_2006,title={Big House, Little House: Relative Size and Value},volume={34},DOI={10.1111/j.1540-6229.2006.00173.x},number={3},journal={Real Estate Economics},author={Turnbull, Geoffrey K. and Dombrow, Jonathan and Sirmans, C.F.},year={2006},pages={439-456}}

Still Can't Open It?

If you can't get the programs from above to open your file, check the file's extension to make sure it reads .BIB or .BIBTEX. If it's anything else, chances are you can't use the programs on this page to open it.

It might be easy to confuse either file extension with one of another format. For example, although BIB looks an awful lot like BIN, the two aren't related even in the slightest, and therefore can't open with the same software.

The same is true for BB, BIK, BIG, BIP, and BIF. The idea is to make sure the file extension truly says that it's a BibTeX file, otherwise you need to research the actual extension your file has so you can learn how it opens or converts.

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