Davide Gerosa


filltex: automagically fill LaTex bibliography

filltex is a simple tool to fill LaTex reference lists with records from the ADS and INSPIRE databases. ADS and INSPIRE are the most common databases used among the theoretical physics and astronomy scientific communities, respectively. filltex automatically looks for all citation labels present in a tex document and, by means of web-scraping, downloads all the required citation records from either of the two databases. filltex significantly speeds up the LaTex scientific writing workflow, as all required actions (compile the tex file, fill the bibliography, compile the bibliography, compile the tex file again) are automated in a single command. We also provide an integration of filltex for the macos LaTex editor TexShop.

If you use filltex for your research, consider dropping a citation to this paper in the acknowledgements:

Author = {{Gerosa}, D. and {Vallisneri}, M.},
Doi = {10.21105/joss.00222},
Journal = {The Journal of Open Source Software},
Month = {may},
Number = {13},
Publisher = {The Open Journal},
Title = {filltex: Automatic queries to {ADS} and {INSPIRE} 
databases to fill {LaTex} bibliography},
Url = {https://doi.org/10.21105%2Fjoss.00222},
Volume = {2},
Year = {2017},

Unfortunatelly, you can’t use filltex to cite filltex, because The Journal of Open Source Software is not indexed by either ADS or INSPIRE. Ironic, uh?


What happens when you compile a LaTex file? How’s bibliography handled?

  1. Run pdflatex and all requested citation keys are dumped into a .aux file.
  2. You should have the required entries in you .bib file.
  3. Run bibtex, which looks for citations inside the .bib file and writes the results into a .bbl.
  4. Run pdflatex again, which processes the .bbl into the compiled paper, and dumps the citation records into .aux.
  5. Finally run pdflatex again, which puts the correct citation records into the paper.

The commands you need to run are: pdflatex, bibtex, pdflatex, pdflatex. These, of course can be put into a script or a makefile and done in one goal. filltex is meant to automatically solve the second point as well: look for citations on ADSINSPIRE, or both.

So, here is the deal:

  • The fillbib python script queries both databases and create/update a .bib file without getting each record manually.
  • The filltex bash script put everything together to go from a .tex (and no .bib) into a .pdf.
  •  I also provide TexShop engines for mac users

Of course, all of this works if your citations are specified in the ADS or INSPIRE format, e.g. \cite{2016PhRvL.116f1102A}, \cite{Abbott:2016blz}. If you use your personal keys \cite{amazing_paper} there’s no way to get them from a database.


Clone the repository

git clone https://github.com/dgerosa/filltex.git

and cd into your repo directory

cd filltex

My script requires the program realpath. This should be there by default on most linux distributions. On mac, you can get if from Homebrew.

brew install coreutils

Now, make the content of the bin directory executable

chmod +x bin/*

and add it to your path


You can add this command to your .bashrc:

echo "PATH=$PATH:$(pwd)/bin" >> ${HOME}/.bashrc

Finally, if you’re a TexShop user and want to use this feature, run (might need sudo)

cp filltex.engine ~/Library/TeXshop/Engines/filltex.engine

If you want to give it a try, you can run it on the example.tex file provided:

cd example
filltex example

and you should get a filled .bib file and a finished .pdf.


fillbib (script)

fillbib looks for citations into a .aux file and create/update a .bib with the records found on ADS and INSPIRE. Usage:

python fillbib.py (aux file) (bib file) >

The second argument (bib file) can be omitted, and the code will scan the .aux file to guess the name of your bibliography file.
Arguments can be typed with or without extension, and the script is smart enough to figure it out.
You need to have .aux file already, not just the .tex. If you don’t have it, run pdflatex once.

fillbib contains two short unit tests, to make sure the web-scarping part is done correctly. You can run them from the filltex directiory using

 > import fillbib
 > fillbib.test_ads()
 > fillbib.test_inspire()

or simply using pytest

pytest fillbib

fillbib supports both python 2 (2.6 or higher) and python 3.

filltex (script)

filltex does the whole thing: compile LaTex, fill the bibliography and gives you the final .pdf. Usage:

filltex (tex file)

Argument can be with or without extension, and the script is smart enough to figure it out.

Since ADS bibliography items contains journal abbreviations, you need to use aas_macros.sty (available here). Don’t worry, you just put \include{aas_macros} in your .tex file, and filltex will download the file for you if you need it.

At the end, filltex also runs TexCount which counts the words in your document.


I use the TexShop editor, so I wrote an implementation of filltex for it. If you copied the filltex.engine file as specified above, just open your paper with TexShop and select filltex from the drop menu on the left. Now automagically compile your paper with Typeset or cmd-T. The TexShop engine will work only if the path is updated in your .bashrc, see above.


A short example.tex file is provided, where you can try this new way of writing papers!

Known limitations

  • Treating arXiv e-prints with ADS is tricky. When an e-print gets published they change the database key, but make the old key point to the new version! For instance, the key switches from 2016arXiv160203837T to 2016PhRvL.116f1102A. If you’re citing an e-print which is not yet published, everything is fine: only the arXiv key (e.g. 2016arXiv160203837T) is available and your reference list will show the arXiv version. If you’re citing a paper that is published, both the e-print key (e.g. 2016arXiv160203837T) and the published-version key (e.g. 2016PhRvL.116f1102A) are available. When used, they will both point to the same published version! If you write a document with citations to both, this will cause the same record to appear twice in your reference list (see the example file). To avoid the issue, always use the published-paper key if a published version is out. INSPIRE doesn’t have this problem, because they don’t change the citation key when a paper gets published.
  • Multiple bibliographies are not allowed, only one .bib file per paper. I don’t plan to implement multiple bibliographies in here, because you’re not going to need them with this script: one paper, one bibliography, that’s all.


The code is developed and maintained by Davide Gerosa. If you find bugs, want to contribute to this project (any help is welcome!) or need help with it, just open an issue on GitHub. For anything else, feel free to drop me an email:


The idea started from this python course taught by Michele Vallisneri at Caltech (and in particular from this example. We thank Lars Holm Nielsen, reviewer for The Journal of Open Software, for several suggestions which improved filltex. The TexCount  code is developed by Einar Andreas Rodland.TexCount  may be already included in your Tex distribution; in case it’s not, you can find it in the filltex repository for your convenience. Useful info on the INSPIRE and ADS APIs are available here and here.


v1.0: Initial release, main functionalities

v1.1: Version accepted in JOSS



Picture: candies in King’s Parade, Cambridge UK. I wish I could have one now.