bibtex-1.0, or maybe not

Karl Berry karl at
Wed May 22 03:25:27 CEST 2024

Hi Norman and all,

(Replying to =
Seemed like a new Subject: line was in order.)
    A final fragment of my motivation was that this might start a
    conversation about bibliographies, in a world where bibtex v0.99 has
    been current, and v1.0 has been anticipated, since 1988.

I've talked with Oren from time to time about the putative 1.0. It seems
like there's an insuperable compatibility problem to making any
meaningful changes.  As a basic example: a "url" field is obviously
needed nowadays. But if he adds a url field to the standard styles,
there will inevitably be usage conflicts (at the bib level, the bst
level, the tex level, wherever) with the existing url fields that have
been added by many other styles. On the other hand, if he invents a new
field name, say "bibtexurl", it's even worse -- then bib files would
have to duplicate url and bibtexurl. So there seems no good way to add it.

If one takes compatibility as paramount, which we do, together with the
fact that virtually everything of interest has already been implemented
one way or another, it seems there's no way to make a useful 1.0.
Anything that he changes has problematic downstream side effects with no
apparent overriding benefit.  Looking at Oren's 1994 bibtex 1.0 article,
just about everything in there that matters is already available. It's
already been extended to Unicode (bibtexu), not to mention completely
replaced (biber, biblatex) if one prefers to go that way.

My feeling is that, more or less like the TeX input language, the .bib
input language seems to have been flexible enough to survive the aging
of the original processor.

So, barring some brilliant new idea about how to proceed, I think 0.99
is the end of the line for original BibTeX. It does its job, which is
still good enough for a large percentage of real-world cases. OTOH, if
anyone does have an idea for something that could be added to original
bibtex while retaining compatibility, Oren is ready to listen. --best, karl.

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