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Zotero and bibtex citations for Vim
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A citation source for unite.vim


Citation.vim imports Zotero databases or exported bibtex/biblatex files. It can insert keys and many other fields, open attached pdfs and urls.

Citation.vim allows you to create a workflow from within your documents. You can open referenced pdfs or url directly from citations, and view all citation details, notes and abstracts within vim or nvim. You can also use Zoteros full-text search to pre-filter items based on attachment text.

Citation.vim screenshot

Many thanks to termoshtt for unite-bibtex and smathot for gnotero and LibZotero code.

Warning: the concept of this plugin is fundamentally a hack. It uses Zotero databases in ways they are not intended to be used (in the name of brute speed and unmatched utility, of course), and bibtex/biblatex files that are problematic in terms of their structural consistency. This plugin should work for Zotero 5 or biblatex files in vim with python 2 or 3 on Linux, in English. I test the hell out that setup and use it most days. Other setups may work fine, or they may break.

If you have problems, please open an issue on github and include the error output from vim.


This plugin provides a lot of unite sources. Some important ones are:


  • returns citation key string like [@smith2004] to be used as a reference.
  • customise the prefix and suffix to produce latex/pandoc etc. citation styles.


  • Returns the file attached to a citation, great for opening pdfs from vim directly, using the 'start' action.
  • If there are multiple files it returns the first one.


  • Preview all available citation data on one page.

The full list:

Source Output
citation list sources
citation/abstract absract
citation/author all authors, combined with rules set in g:citation_vim_et_al_limit
citation/combined all fields combined in an info page
citation/date year of publication
citation/doi doi
citation/duplicate_keys key from filter items that have duplicate keys
citation/file the first listed attachment that is a pdf, epub or ps file
citation/isbn isbn
citation/publication name of journal, magazine etc
citation/key key from bibtex, generated, of from zotero. default format is [@key]
citation/key_inner inner key, default format is @key
citation/language language
citation/issue issue
citation/notes all attached notes, joined
citation/pages pages
citation/publisher publisher
citation/tags all tags, comma separated
citation/title title
citation/type type of item
citation/url url
citation/volume volume
citation/zotero_key the raw key used by zotero
citation_collection (yes underscore not slash) list Zotero collection to filter results.

Whichever source is selected, execute/edit and preview commands will always echo combined information for the citation, and file will always use the attached pdf/epub file path. This is useful for setting open/show info key commands to use within unite - see the example mappings for how to do this.


  1. Install unite.vim

  2. Install this plugin in vim however you like to do that.

  3. Choose your source

    If you're using bibtex

    • install pybtex

      easy_install pybtex
    • Set variables:

      let g:citation_vim_bibtex_file="/path/to/your/bib/file/library.bib"
      let g:citation_vim_mode="bibtex"

    To use zotero

    • Set variables:

      let g:citation_vim_mode="zotero" (default)
      let g:citation_vim_zotero_path="/path/to/your/zotero/7XX8XX72/zotero_folder/" ("~/Zotero" is default)
      let g:citation_vim_zotero_version=5 (5 is the Default, zotero 4 is no longer supported)

      The zotero path is quite variable accross different systems, just make sure it contains the file zotero.sqlite

    • If you have set a "Linked Attachment Base Directory" in zotero (in Preferences\Files and Folders) you will need to set:

      let g:citation_vim_zotero_attachment_path="/your/linked/attachment/base/directory" ("default ~/Zotero/library")
    • If you don't have the better bibtex plugin and you want readable keys (like smith2010Sometitle), set a key formatter. This will not produce fixed keys like the better-bibtex plugin, so make sure to manage your duplicates (use Unite citation/duplicate_keys to check) and watch for key changes after editing author, date or title in zotero. Author and Title can be in lower case or sentence case.

      let g:citation_vim_key_format="{author}{date}{title}"

      Key cleanup is set ot match zoteros default Bibtex.js/Biblatex.js translator files. If you need to change these, you can also set:

      let g:citation_vim_key_title_banned_regex = "\\b(a|an|the|some|from|on|in|to|of|do|with|der|die|das|ein|eine|einer|eines|einem|einen|un|une|la|le|l|el|las|los|al|uno|una|unos|unas|de|des|del|d)\\W")
      let g:citation_vim_key_clean_regex = "[^A-Za-z0-9\!\$\&\*\+\-\.\/\:\;\<\>\?\[\]\^\_\`\|]+")
    • And optionally:

      let g:citation_vim_collection" = 'your_zotero_collection'

      Although this can be set on the fly with :Unite citation_collection

  4. Set a cache path:

let g:citation_vim_cache_path='~/.vim/your_cache_path'
  1. Set your citation suffix and prefix. This pandoc markdown style is the default:
let g:citation_vim_outer_prefix="["
let g:citation_vim_inner_prefix="@"
let g:citation_vim_suffix="]"
  1. Set the et al. limit. If the number of authors is greater than the limit only the first author with et al. appended is shown or printed in case of citation/author. (Default: 5)
let g:citation_vim_et_al_limit=2
  1. The default order results are displayed in was recently reversed so your recent additions are allways at the top. If you want to keep the old behaviour, set:
let g:citation_vim_reverse_order=0 
  1. Set some mappings. Copy and paste the following examples into your vimrc to get started.

Key mappings:

Set a unite leader:

nmap <leader>u [unite]
nnoremap [unite] <nop>

To insert a citation:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]c       :<C-u>Unite -buffer-name=citation-start-insert -default-action=append      citation/key<cr>

To immediately open a file from a citation under the cursor:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]co :<C-u>Unite -input=<C-R><C-W> -default-action=start -force-immediately citation/file<cr>

Or open a url from a citation under the cursor:

nnoremap <silent><leader>cu :<C-u>Unite -input=<C-R><C-W> -default-action=start -force-immediately citation/url<cr>

To browse the file folder from a citation under the cursor:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]cf :<C-u>Unite -input=<C-R><C-W> -default-action=file -force-immediately citation/file<cr>

To view all citation information from a citation under the cursor:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]ci :<C-u>Unite -input=<C-R><C-W> -default-action=preview -force-immediately citation/combined<cr>

To preview, append, yank any other citation data you want from unite:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]cp :<C-u>Unite -default-action=yank citation/your_source_here<cr>

To integrate with zotcli for note editing (assuming you have zotcli installed):

nnoremap <silent><leader>cn :<C-u>UniteWithCursorWord -default-action=yank -force-immediately citation/title<cr><cr>:!zotcli add-note "<C-R>0"<cr>

Search fulltext

Search for word by appending them after the command and a colon:

Search for the word under the cursor:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]cs :<C-u>Unite  -default-action=yank  citation/key:<C-R><C-W><cr>

Search for selected words in visual mode (notice that spaces have to be escaped) :

vnoremap <silent>[unite]cs :<C-u>exec "Unite  -default-action=start citation/key:" . escape(@*,' ') <cr>

Type search terms in the prompt:

nnoremap <silent>[unite]cx :<C-u>exec "Unite  -default-action=start citation/key:" . escape(input('Search Key : '),' ') <cr>

:Unite citation for a full list of sources...

Open files or show info from any source

This autocomand sets Control-o to open files and Control-i to show info

autocmd FileType unite call s:unite_my_settings()
function! s:unite_my_settings()
  nnoremap <silent><buffer><expr> <C-o> unite#do_action('start')
  imap     <silent><buffer><expr> <C-o> unite#do_action('start')
  nnoremap <silent><buffer><expr> <C-i> unite#do_action('preview')
  imap     <silent><buffer><expr> <C-i> unite#do_action('preview')


Customise the unite display, using the names of citation sources and a python format string (the {} braces will be replaced by the sources):

let g:citation_vim_description_format = "{}∶ {} \˝{}\˝ ₋{}₋ ₍{}₎"
let g:citation_vim_description_fields = ["key", "author", "doi", "journal", "whateveryouwant"]

You might have noticed the weird characters in the description format string. They are used for highlighting sections, to avoid confusion with normal characters that might be in the citation.

To change description highlighting characters, copy and paste characters from this list:

  • Quotes ″‴‶‷

  • Brackets ⊂〔₍⁽ ⊃〕₎⁾

  • Arrows ◀◁<‹ ▶▷>›

  • Blobs ♯♡◆◇◊○◎●◐◑∗∙⊙⊚⌂★☺☻▪■□▢▣▤▥▦▧▨▩

  • Tiny 、。‸₊⁺∘♢☆☜☞♢☼

  • Bars ‖│┃┆∥┇┊┋

  • Dashes ‾⁻−₋‐⋯┄–—―∼┈─▭▬┉━┅₌⁼‗

  • And use these like a colon after words (notice that's not a normal colon) ∶∷→⇒≫

Long lines will occasionally break the display colors. It's a quirk of how unite shortens lines.


You can correct your .bib file with pybtex-convert:

pybtex-convert /path/to/your.bib out.bib

If you have other problems, open an issue on github and include the error output from vim. Please pull the latest changes first, and include your vim/nvim version and zotero versions in the issue. Attaching your bib(la)tex file may also be helpful if using the bibtex/biblatex backend.

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