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(Not so) Short note about citations in Org

From: Nicolas Goaziou
Subject: (Not so) Short note about citations in Org
Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2021 01:34:03 +0200
User-agent: Gnus/5.13 (Gnus v5.13) Emacs/27.2 (gnu/linux)


I just rebased "wip-cite-new" branch, which now includes citation
syntax, and an interface between external citation processors and the
rest of Org. I'll throw in a demo at the end of this message. TL;DR:
search for "Demo time".

As a reminder, the full citation syntax is

  [cite/style:common prefix ;prefix -@key suffix; ... ; common suffix]

Everything is optional, except the brackets, "cite" and the colon. Also
the citation must contain at least a key. So its minimal form is:


or its "suppress author" variant:


A noteworthy difference with the last merge is that I removed the
opportunity to add some Org syntax (emphasis, sub/superscript…) in
prefixes or suffixes. It makes the code a bit simpler. Of course, I'm
open to discussion about this change.

The syntax also introduces three keywords (square brackets are for
optional arguments):

   #+bibliography: filename
   #+print_bibliography: [style]
   #+cite_export: backend-name [bibliography-style] [citation-style]

Now, the real novelty is the new "oc.el" library, which is an API to
operate simply on citations. I paste here its commentary section.

    This library provides tooling to handle citations in Org, e.g,
    follow, fontify, and export them, respectively called "follow",
    "activate" and "export" capabilities. Libraries responsible for
    providing some, or all, of these capabilities are called "citation
    Such processors are defined using `org-cite-register-processor'.
    Using this function, it is possible, in addition to giving it
    a name, to attach functions associated to capabilities.  As such,
    a processor handling citation export must set the
    `:export-citation' property to an appropriate function.  Likewise,
    "activate" capability require an appropriate `:activate' property,
    and, unsurprisingly, "follow" capability implies `:follow'
    As a user, the first thing to do is setting a bibliography, either
    globally with `org-cite-global-bibliography', or locally using one
    ore more "bibliography" keywords.  Then one can select any
    registered processor for each capability by providing a processor
    name to the variables `org-cite-activate-processor' and
    The "export" capability is slightly more involved as one need to
    select the processor providing it, but may also provide a default
    style for citations and bibliography.  These three parameters, or
    triplet, can be set in `org-cite-export-processor' variable, or in
    a document, through the "cite_export" keyword.
    Eventually, this library provides some tools, mainly targeted at
    processor implementors.  Most are export-specific and are located
    in the "Tools only available during export" section.  The few
    others can be used directly from an Org buffer, or operate on
    processors.  See "Generic tools" section.

There are two points of view to consider here. As a user, as stated
above, you first need to provide a bibliography, for all documents using
the `org-cite-global-bibliography' variable, or for a single document
(or a set of documents, using "setupfile" keyword) with

    #+bibliography: one-file.bib
    #+bibliography: another-file.ext
    #+bibliography: "some file with spaces"

You can use both the variable and the keywords, in which case files are
_accumulated_ in the list.

Then when you 

  (require 'org-cite-something)

the "oc-something.el" library, in addition to possibly many other tools,
registers a "citation processor", for example `something'. That
processor may operate on any of the three entry points "activate",
"follow", or "export". If you are not sure about which one it supports,
you may inspect the processor with, e.g.,

  (org-cite-processor-has-capability-p 'something 'follow)

If this is non-nil, you can set `org-cite-follow-processor' to
`something'. Once done, calling `org-open-at-point' on a citation starts
whatever action the processor defined. If the variable is nil, nothing

If you need to use a different processor for a given document, consider
using file local variables.

Likewise, you can fontify citations according to a given processor using
`org-cite-activate-processor'. This time, however, Org provides some
fontification even when the variable is nil. The default set-up merely
applies new `org-cite' and `org-cite-key' faces on citations.

The "export" capability introduces the concept of "style", which is an
_indication_ to the citation processor, which may or may consider
applying. More precisely, a style can be set for citations and
bibliography, at three levels from the most general to the most

  (setq org-cite-export-processor '(something "bibstyle" "citestyle"))

  #+cite_export: something bibstyle citestyle

  #+print_bibliography: bibstyle

An export processor is required to support at least one default style
for citations and bibliography called the "nil" style. It may support
any number of other styles, and should treat any unknown style
indication as the "nil" style. So


may be treated as

  [cite/nil: ...]

which, in turn, is strictly equivalent to

  [cite: ...]

Now onto the developer point of view. A citation back-end can provide
many tools, but in order to interact with Org through the three entry
points listed earlier, it also needs to define a so-called processor,
using `org-cite-register-processor' function. For reference, here is its

      Mark citation processor NAME as available.

    NAME is a symbol.  BODY is a property list, where the following optional 
    can be set:


      Function activating a citation.  It is called with a single argument: a
      citation object extracted from the current buffer.  It may add text
      properties to the buffer.  If it is not provided, 
      is used.


      Function rendering a bibliography.  It is called with five arguments: a 
      of citations, a list of bibliography files, the style, as a string or nil,
      the export back-end, as a symbol, and the communication channel, as a
      property list.

      It is called at each \"print_bibliography\" keyword in the parse tree.
      It may return a string or nil.  When it returns nil, the keyword is 
      Otherwise, the string it returns replaces the keyword in the export 

    `:export-citation'    (mandatory for \"export\" capability)

      Function rendering citations.  It is called with four arguments: a 
      object, the style, as a string or nil, the export back-end, as a symbol,
      and the communication channel, as a property list.

      It is called on each citation object in the parse tree.  It may return
      a string or nil.  When it returns nil, the citation is ignored.  
      the string it returns replaces the citation object in the export output.


      Function called at the end of export process.  It must accept five
      arguments: the output, as a string, a list of citations, a list of
      bibliography files, a list of bibliography styles requested by various
      \"print_bibliography\" keywords in the document, as strings or nil, and 
      export back-end, as a symbol.

      It must return a string, which will become the final output from the 
      process, barring subsequent modifications from export filters.


      Function called to follow a citation.  It accepts two arguments, the
      citation or citation reference object at point, and any prefix argument
      received during interactive call of `org-open-at-point'.

The "follow" and "activate" capabilities are relatively simple to
implement because both require a single function to operate. On the
other hand, "export" capability may require up to three functions. Of
those, only the `export-citation' function cannot be omitted.

The "oc.el" library provides several tools to help developers writing
those functions. For example, `org-cite-list-bibliography-files' may be
useful when providing "follow" or "activate" capability. 

Likewise, `org-cite-get-references' lists all citation-reference objects
contained in a citation. For each object, you can extract boundaries as
buffer positions, the key, the prefix and the suffix. This can be very
useful for activating a citation reference, e.g., when apply some
specific key-map on a part of the buffer.

Most important helper functions available for export are
`org-cite-list-citations', which provides the _ordered_ list of
citations in the exported document, and `org-cite-inside-footnote-p',
which returns the closest (inline) footnote reference or footnote
definition containing a citation, if any. This function can be paired,
e.g., with `org-export-get-footnote-number'.

=== Demo time ===

Let's say I want to implement "oc-demo.el", which will provide
"activate" and "export" capabilities.

For activation, I want:
- the same default fontification (`org-cite' and `org-cite-key' faces),
- to display the cite key when mouse is over a citation reference,
- hide the unsightly "cite:" part of the citation.

I therefore write the following function:

  (defun org-cite-demo-activate (citation)
    ;; Apply default fontification, the lazy way.
    (org-cite-fontify-default citation)
    ;; Hide "cite:" prefix.
    (let* ((prefix-start (1+ (org-element-property :begin citation)))
           (prefix-end (+ 5 prefix-start)))
      (add-text-properties prefix-start prefix-end '(invisible t))
      (org-rear-nonsticky-at prefix-start)
      (org-rear-nonsticky-at prefix-end))
    ;; Apply `help-echo' on each key reference.
    (org-with-point-at (org-element-property :contents-begin citation)
      (let ((end (org-element-property :contents-end citation)))
        (while (re-search-forward org-element-citation-key-re end t)
           (match-beginning 0) (match-end 0)
           ;; Drop the @ symbol.
           (list 'help-echo
                 (substring (match-string-no-properties 0) 1)))))))

I want to export citations as (Doe, 1999) or (1999) when suppress author
parameter is set. I also want to support the "plain" style, which
removes the parenthesis.

The bibliography should be inserted at the very end of the document,
listing all bibliography files used, but only if there is some citation
and some "print_bibliography" keyword in the document.

I won't use :export-bibliography, because it is called at each
"print_bibliography" keyword, so possibly in the middle of the document.
I'll use a finalizer instead.

  (defun org-cite-demo-export-citation (citation style back-end info)
     ;; Global prefix, if any.  We use `org-export-data' as prefixes or
     ;; suffixes may contain special characters that need to be escaped
     ;; by the export process.
     (org-export-data (org-element-property :prefix citation) info)
     (and (not (equal style "plain")) "(")
     (mapconcat (lambda (ref)
                   (org-export-data (org-element-property :prefix ref) info)
                   (if (org-element-property :suppress-author ref)
                     "Doe, 1999")
                   (org-export-data (org-element-property :suffix ref) info)))
                ;; Grab all references within the citation.
                (org-cite-get-references citation)
                ", ")
     (and (not (equal style "plain")) ")")
     ;; Global suffix, if any.
     (org-export-data (org-element-property :suffix citation) info)))

  (defun org-cite-demo-finalizer (output citations bibliography styles backend)
    (concat output
            ;; Print bibliography only if there are some citations and
            ;; a "print_bibliography" keyword in the document.
            (and citations
                 styles                ;proof of "print_bibliography"
                 (concat "\nBibliography: "
                         (mapconcat #'identity bibliography ", ")

All is left to do is to register the "demo" processor.

  (org-cite-register-processor 'demo
    :activate #'org-cite-demo-activate
    :export-citation #'org-cite-demo-export-citation
    :export-finalizer #'org-cite-demo-finalizer)

That's about it.

You can, if you wish so, try out this demo on the following document:

--8<---------------cut here---------------start------------->8---
#+cite_export: demo

#+bibliography: bib.bib
#+bibliography: bib2.bib

Simple reference: [cite:@key]

Multiple references: [cite:@key1;@key2]

Suppress author: [cite:-@key]

Plain style: [cite/plain:@key]

Full syntax: [cite:common prefix ;prefix @key suffix ;@key2; common suffix]


# Local Variables:
# org-cite-activate-processor: demo
# End:
--8<---------------cut here---------------end--------------->8---


Nicolas Goaziou

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