Feedback on JabRef 5.0 (Windows 10) - Various issues

I have been using JabRef since 2007 and I think it is an excellent tool. So first of all, many thanks to all those people who have contributed to its development. I would not want my feedback below to give the impression that I do not appreciate this SW.

I have been using JR 5.0 since it came out and these are some of the issues which I would suggest need to be addressed. (I don’t think that they have been mentioned in other posts, but apologies if they have). I use a small laptop (12" screen) with Windows 10.

1. Autolink function/file linking

  • The new features of the autolink function have made it rather cumbersome for linking documents which are already in your documents folder (something I do all the time). It only works if you:

    1. save the file in the documents folder,
    2. select another entry and then
    3. return to the entry you are editing.

    This seems an unecessarily cumbersome procedure.

  • Note. The autolink function will only recognize file types that are defined in the list of “External File Types” in the “External programs” menu. A small detail which it took me hours to work out.

  • The old manual system of linking files was much better, in my opinion. In JR 5.x, when you press the Search button, JabRef looks for a copy online but does not look in the designated local file directory.

  • I suggest the following procedure when you click on search:

    1. JR searches the local file directory first and autolinks any files that fit – without requesting confirmation (if a file is named like the BibTex key then evidently you want to link it);
    2. JR searches for any matches online.
    3. Or, alternatively, have one button for a local search and one for an online search (there is plenty of room for an extra button).

2. Groups

  • There is an issue importing groups in a bib file that’s in version 3.x into JabRef 5.0. It is necessary to pass via a 4.x version in order to maintain the groups in 5.x without errors. It took me two days, and countless corrupted files to work this out. If you open a 3.x file in JabRef 5.x, everything seems OK until you save - at which point there is an error, you have to abandon the session, and when you reopen the file all the groups are gone…!
  • There also appear to be some bugs in the Groups function. Numerous times I have updated a group (usually by dragging an entry into it) but when I save, the library won’t save and I am forced to abandon the session. When I reopen the library all the groups have disappeared. Unfortunately I can’t replicate this error at will - sometimes it happens, sometimes not. It is possible that it is related to the problem above, ie. that I have a complex group structure, 95% of which was originally created in JR 3.8.
  • I miss the “move” functions for groups that were available in the context menu in 3.x. They were very useful. Drag and drop is not always the easiest or most precise way of moving things. Particularly if you use a laptop with a small screen.

3. The entry editor

  • Important: When you are using the entry editor, the cursor goes to that entry in the entry table (as it should); but, it should also scroll the table so that the current entry is visible just above the entry editor in the list (particularly if you consider the procedure that is needed to autolink a local file, as described above). Please consider those who use JR on a relatively small screen.
  • The “Optional fields” tab: the fields are in two columns. In my opinion, these should be approx 50% each. Instead column 1 occupies approx 70% of the space.
  • In the light theme: when you click in a field, the borders disappear
  • In the dropdown menu on the far right of the editor which allows you to select a tab, the Entry preview tab is not visible in the list - there is just an empty space where the option should be.
  • When you open JabRef and it opens the last saved bib file, the entry editor opens unasked for. It should either stay closed or remember its state when last closed.

4. The dark theme

  • A great addition and more attractive than the light theme, but it is less practical because of the low contrast and lower legibility.
  • It would be good to have alternate row coloring in the entry table.
  • In the dark mode ALL text should be white/light. For example, the filenames in the file field (General tab of the entry editor) are in black and are almost impossible to read.
  • In general, I think the theme would benefit from a higher contrast. If you use it in bright conditions it is very hard to read.
  • The real bonus would be to be able to access a stylesheet and customize the theme yourself. But I appreciate that this is not an essential feature.

5. Problems for users with small screens

  • The confirmation dialogue window when importing entry(s) is too large – at least for a 12" laptop screen. It occupies the whole screen (even when importing a single entry) and it also causes the Windows application bar to rise, so you can’t actually see/get to the confirmation button without first having to resize the window. I would suggest that it automatically resize to fit the list of entries being imported.
  • BibTex Key patterns window (Menu > Library > BibTex Key Patterns): does not fit a small screen. If you resize it will not scroll so a number of fields remain hidden and cannot be edited.

6. Miscellaneous

  • When you customize entry types the changes do not appear in the entry editor until you have rebooted JabRef. Perhaps there should there be a warning about this?
  • From time to time when I open JabRef I find that it has reset, and all my customizations, such as customizations of entry types, are lost. This is very frustrating.

Best wishes,



thanks for the detailed feedback.
Since the release of the 5.0 we have been busy working on several aspects of JabRef, most importantly the performance and bug fixes. I will try to answer some points.
In the meantime I would suggest you try the latest development version as some of your issues might have already been fixed
Please remember to make a backup of your library before trying out the new version.

1.) Auto link files
Searching for Local files and online files are two separate functions under the Lookup menu.
One searches for unlinked local files and the other searches online for full text documents.

2.) cannot say much here. There have been some issues with saving but they are now fixed in the current development version as far as I know.

3.) Entry editor
I created a bug for the issue with the empty name in the drop down menu

4.) Dark Theme:
There is an issue which collects things that need to be done, I think you can add your findings there:

Customizable Themes are also more or less on our roadmap, as the GUI is customizable via pure CSS.

and see the Dark.css for the Dark Theme

5.) Customize Entry types
'There are some known issues and a fix is already in the pipeline. See

6.) Some preferences require a restart. We are trying to solve this in the long run

Hi Christoph
thanks for the detailed reply.

Concerning the autolink function (no. 1 in your reply), I assume you are referring to the “Search for unlinked files” option in the Tools menu (Shift+F7)? But that is not what I meant.

I am referring to the situation where I have saved a file in the designated file directory whose name begins with the BibTex key of the entry I am editing (something I do very frequently).

What I need in that situation is a quick way to tell JabRef to look only for a file whose name begins with the BibText key of the entry I am editing and link it automatically - and that is all. I do not want to do a general search for any linked files.

This was what the search button in the File field of the Entry Editor used to do in earlier versions of JabRef.

Am I the only person who misses this extremely useful function? It would be great if there was some way of reintroducing it.

Regards, Chris

that feature is still there. But there’s no longer a button. In the general tab jabref will automatically present you with the files from the file directory that start with the bibtex key or match the name (see preferences).
The search is automatically done in the background.
You then just have to click on the briefcase icon to permanently add/link then.

the search+linking for local files in the background only takes place when you first select an entry in the entry table.

So if I want to link a file I have just saved in the documents folder I must first select another entry and then return to the entry I am editing.

I have to return to the entry I am editing, because I am required to confirm the link - which in my opinion is unecessary when the link is to a local file.

I realise that I am nit-picking a bit here, but it is frustrating when you get used to a feature and use it continually and then it changes according to a different logic.

I still think adding a button to manually launch a local search would be the obvious solution.

Regards, Chris