Reference Management Software

The 7 Best Free and Open Source Reference Management Software

The 7 Best Free and Open Source Reference Management Software

Be it a survey by a marketing professional, thesis by a teacher, or research report by a student, preparing bibliographies and managing citation information is extremely important as readers would like to know the original source of the facts mentioned in the document, and readers would require to use those references in future. Managing references in the form of bibliographies and in-text citations accurately are required to deliver accurate research data and achieve excellency.

How Challenging is it for authors to manage references?

Referencing is a systematic approach which helps in identifying, searching, and retrieving the important information useful while preparing research reports, survey, thesis, or a book. Below are some challenges encountered by the researchers while writing & compiling their research reports.

Challenges Encountered by Researchers

The best reference management software can help in overcoming these challenges by creating your personal resource library and organizing all the references and citations used for different research projects in a centralized location. 

If you are looking for the reference management software suiting to your requirements, this article can help you with the list of the 7 best free and open source reference management software.

But, before we go through the details of these best reference management software, let us have a basic understanding of what exactly is reference management software, benefits of using it and the features to look for while selecting the one for your research requirements.

What is Reference Management Software?

Reference management software, also known as bibliographic management software, or citation management tool, is used to record the citations while preparing research reports, and then utilize those citations in generating bibliographies required for the future.

Reference management solutions include a database of bibliographic references which are stored, shared, and retrieved when required. Also, reference management solutions can be integrated with word processors to produce the reference list in the appropriate format automatically. Besides storing and sharing references, the reference management tools also allow users to search for references from online libraries.

What Does a Reference Management Tool Do?

Reference Management Software Functionality

Reference Management Software is Used By -

Reference Management Software Users

Precisely, reference management software is used to access references and provide citations for a research project. Going back to refer to the sources you used for previous research projects to complete the present one can be a time-consuming job. Moreover, adding citations manually after a research project is complete can be a tedious process. Fortunately, we have reference management solutions to automate these tasks for us.

Benefits of Reference Management Software

Reference Management Software Benefits

After looking into the benefits of using the reference management software, the question still remains, how to select the one which suits your requirements. So, here are the must-have features of the best reference management solutions which you need to consider before picking the one.

Must-Have Features of a Reference Management Software

Generating Citations in Different Styles

Reference management software can generate citations from ebooks, websites, online journals, and many other sources in different styles like APA, MLA, Chicago style, and many more. You need to ensure that the software you choose should generate citations in the style you require.

Helps in Creating and Organizing Bibliography

The reference management software you select should allow you to create bibliography which can be used for your other research projects too. It should help you in organizing the bibliography in such a manner that it is easy for you to search for and access the references you require easily & quickly.

In-Built Library

The reference management software should allow you to compile your collection of sources relevant to your research projects. This would help you in accessing the right information quickly and save your time. 

Mobile Friendly

The reference management software you select should be mobile-friendly so that you can access it from any platform and device, allowing you to refer to the important references available in the form of websites and web applications.    

Sharing References

When a team of more than two people is working on a single research project, it becomes important for the team to share and collaborate to remain on the same page. The reference management software you select should allow you to share your references, database of information, or bibliography with other users too.

Content Checker

The content of your research report should be error-free, and thus the reference management software should be able to notify you if there are any grammatical errors and provide you with the suggestions for improving these errors. Also, it should be able to scan the text for plagiarism to ensure the originality of your research report.

Now, you must be clear with the features you require in your reference management tools. So, here is the list of the 7 best free and open source reference management software followed by a comparison chart for you to explore and make the right decision.

The 7 Best Free and Open Source Reference Management Software

#1 Zotero

Zotero is a free and open source reference management software which means you don’t need to pay for it and you can also customize it as per your requirements. It is considered as one of the best reference management software as it can run on multiple devices like laptop, iPad, Smartphone, etc. It not only stores and organizes your bibliographic information, but also allows you to tag and search that information easily. Precisely, it makes the entire process of creating reference lists simple and easy.


Key Features

  • Can collect the research material online with a click
  • Helps in organizing the research the way you want
  • Can create references and bibliographies for any text editor like Word, LibreOffice, etc.
  • Synchronizes your data across multiple devices
  • Allows collaborating with other users easily
  • Includes high-end security features

If you have already used Zotero, please feel free to share your reviews here.

#2 JabRef

JabRef is an open source and free reference management software that uses BibTeX - a standard LaTeX bibliography format. It also supports BibLaTeX. JabRef is a desktop application that works on Java VM, Window, Linux, and Mac OS X. It can easily integrate with external applications, including PDF viewers, and web browsers. Also, it allows you to insert citations into TeXstudio, Emacs, Kile, Vim, TeXmakers, LyX, and WinEdt.


Key Features

  • Can search for the full text of a reference, download, and easily add to the bibliography
  • Allows grouping of text in a bibliography based on keywords, authors, etc., so that it becomes easy to search
  • Allows sharing the bibliography information with the other users
  • Supports XMP metadata in PDFs
  • Includes easily customizable interface
  • Supports multiple languages

If you have already used JabRef, please feel free to share your reviews here.

#3 Docear

Docear is a free and open source reference management solution that works on Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X platforms. It can work with open data formats like BibTeX and XML and offers PDF metadata retrieval. It is considered to be a unique solution for organizing, creating, and managing academic literature. But, it can also be used for managing references for business, and other studies related research data.


Key Features

  • Includes single-section user-interface allowing the comprehensive organization of your references
  • Allows sorting documents into different categories based on comments, bookmarks, and annotations
  • Includes several tools in a single application like PDF management, reference management, and mind mapping
  • Allows drafting your own research papers, assignments, thesis etc., and citation of annotations and references directly from your collection
  • Helps in discovering new literature, and research documents, by recommending references that are free to use and can be downloaded instantly

If you have already used Docear, please feel free to share your reviews here.

#4 Pybliographer

Pybliographer is a free and open source reference management software that is developed using Python and licensed under GNU GPL. It deals with bibliographic databases helping to view, edit, search and reformat references. It also includes a scripting framework of classes and functions that allows integration with many other applications. It can be used to insert references into LyX, Kile, or


Key Features

  • Includes user-friendly interface
  • Can edit, search and insert citations in Lyx, Kile, and
  • Allows searching external databases like PubMed, Web of Science, Citeseer, and many more
  • Licensed under GNU GPL and its source code is available for free
  • Includes advanced search features which make easy to find the references from lengthy bibliographies
  • Allows searching external databases of bibliographies
  • Allows importing references from external databases

If you have already used Pybliographer, please feel free to share your reviews here.

#5 Qiqqa

Qiqqa is a free and open source research and reference management tool. Academics, researchers, and businesses use it for searching, reading, and annotating research papers and documents. It also helps in creating bibliographies instantly. It includes everything you need to refer to thousands of papers and create huge and complex research projects. Qiqqa includes advanced features to organize the references and allows users to search for the content they require seamlessly.


Key Features

  • Easy to add PDFs and search when required
  • Allows adding non-PDF references
  • Detects duplication in text automatically
  • Can import PDFs from your local drive and other sources
  • Includes optical character recognition
  • Allows grouping of documents based on metadata and tags
  • Enables full-text search of the documents
  • Includes filters to search relevant documents based on your requirements
  • Can export the entire library of documents
  • Allows web-browser integration

If you have already used Qiqqa, please feel free to share your reviews here.

#6 refbase

Refbase is a web-based reference management software that is platform-independent and includes multi-user interface just perfect for managing scientific literature, references, and citations. It can import and export different bibliographic formats, including Endnote, RIS, BibTex, PubMed, etc. It can also generate bibliographies and citations in LaTex, HTML, RTF, and PDF. Having advanced search features, it can generate an RSS feed from searches.


Key Features

  • Includes a clean and standardized interface which is compliant with the web standards
  • Includes quick, simple, advanced, and powerful SQL search options
  • Provides various display options including list view, details, view, cite view & print view
  • Allows searching within results functionality providing an easy way of refining a search query
  • Includes user-specific fields for notes & personal keywords
  • Automated email announcements when a new record is added
  • Allows exporting records to MODS XML, Endnote, RIS, or BibTeX
  • Can extract literature that is cited within a text to build an appropriate reference list

If you have already used refbase, please feel free to share your reviews here.

#7 Bibfilex

Bibfilex is a simple, open source and free reference management software that works on GNU/Linux, Windows and OS X platforms. It is a compiled software and so doesn't require any runtime like Java Virtual machine or .Net framework. It uses a fast database to store data. Further, it can run natively on GNU/Linux with GTK or Qt libraries, on Windows and OS X with Carbon libraries.


Key Features

  • Stores the references according to the entry types mentioned in Biblatex manual
  • Can import and export the content from and to Bibflex file with other attachments
  • Advanced filter features enabling the easy search of the references
  • Can associate various attachments to each item, and then those attachments are zipped and stored for future access
  • Allows assigning bookmarks & keywords to the references for easy search

If you have already used Bibfilex, please feel free to share your reviews here.

Are you still confused with which one to select? Just go through the below comparison chart to view the features of these free and open source reference management software at a glance and pick the right one that can help you in overcoming your research challenges.

The 7 Best Free and Open Source Reference Management Software Comparison Chart

Free and Open Source Reference Management Software Comparison Chart

If you are looking for more advanced features other than the above-mentioned points, we would suggest you go through the details of one of the most popular reference management tools known as Mendeley.


Mendeley is one of the most popular reference management solutions that allow users to generate citations and bibliographies in LibreOffice, Microsoft Word, and LaTex. It is excellent in terms of collaboration, as it allows you to connect other users and share your research papers, annotations, and notes. Also, it can be used using the desktop, iPhone, or iPad, which enables you to work on the go.


Key Features

  • Allows accessing library everywhere
  • Enables generating references, bibliographies, and citations in journal styles with just a few clicks
  • Provides personalized recommendations in the form of 30 million references and 6 million researchers
  • Includes multiple ways of importing & creating references
  • Can organize and annotate PDFs
  • Can integrate with MS Word, OpenOffice, and BibTeX
  • Includes online interface allowing you to connect with other researchers with similar interests

If you have already used Mendeley, please feel free to share your reviews here.


Citations in scholarly articles and research documents are highly significant aspects for both the researchers and the readers. Moreover, integrating these citations accurately into research documents can be a time-consuming process without the help of the right reference management software. 

We hope that this article has helped you in selecting the right reference management tool to a great extent. At the same time, we would also suggest you go through other options like EndNote, EssayToolBox, EasyBib, BibMe, Citavi, BibDesk, Bookends, and Sorc’d.

Click here to view the complete list of reference management software.

If you have used any of the reference management software mentioned here, please feel free to share your valuable feedback.

Jemimah Rodriguez
Jemimah Rodriguez

Jemimah Rodriguez is a content marketing specialist having 8+ years of experience in content writing, SEO, and social media optimization. At present, she is working with GoodFirms – a reliable platform helping businesses in selecting right Software Companies & Products. For further information, you can get in touch with her on [email protected]

Be first to respond
Write Comment
The Journey And the Software Offerings to Watch: GoodFirms Review of Adobe
Photography Studio Software
The Journey And the Software Offerings to Watch: GoodFirms Review of Adobe

Adobe Inc. is one of the most popular and premier photography studio software and photo editing tool, which has developed various other products like PDF, Acrobat Sign, a ... continue reading

Why Should Startups Know About AUM?
IT Asset Management Software
Why Should Startups Know About AUM?

An organization can possess different types of assets, including cash, building, machinery, equipment, documents, bonds, ... continue reading

Project Management Vs. Product Management
Project Management Software
Project Management Vs. Product Managemen ...

In today's competitive business environment, you need consistent and competent leadership to steer your strategies. Proj ... continue reading