Citation Style Language

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The Citation Style Language (CSL) is an XML-Based stylesheet language for formatting of citations and bibliographies. It is used in reference management software such as Zotero, Mendeley, CiteProc and Pandoc. CSL was initiated by Bruce D’Arcus in the XBib project. The CSL 1.0 specification was published in March 2010.

The idea behind CSL

If you know BibTeX you can compare CSL with the BibTeX style file language BAFLL (BibTeX Anonymous Forth-Like). If you know XSL than you can compare it with XSLT. The basic idea is to seperate bibliographic data and a citation styles that can be used to create nicely formatted citations.

 Bibliographic record -> CSL-Processor -> Citation

CLS-Processors are available in different programming languages. The most elaborated CSL-Processor is citeproc-js.

Getting started

If you use a reference management software such as Zotero you already use CLS under the hood. If you want to dig your hands into code, have a look at citeproc-js:

 hg clone

Documentation is located in the manual directory or online at and a demo that runs in a Browser is available at

Bibliographic record format

Of course you cannot throw any bibliographic record format into a CSL-Processor but you must use the field names defined in the CSL 1.0 specification. Some of the fields are repeatable and have an interal structure as described here.

If you want to use some other format (BibTeX, RIS, MARC, MODS, Bibliographic Ontology etc.) you go this way:

 Record in your format -> some miracle occurs -> record in CSL format -> CSL-Processor -> Citation

Please replace "some miracle occurs" with the conversion service of your choice, for instance Zotero or some library software hacks that libraries tend to use. There is nothing wrong with specific bibliographic formats but its not their purpose to create citations (counterexamples: BibTeX and RIS).



  • is open source and contains import filters and citation styles to create citations from bibliographic data

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