Robin's Blog

Deprecating AutoZotBib

One of the most important things when developing software – particularly open-source software – is knowing when to stop working on something, relinquish responsibility and suggest that it should not be used any more. This is what I have recently done with AutoZotBib.

For those who don’t remember AutoZotBib, it is a tool that I first wrote a few years ago to automatically export Zotero bibliography libraries to the BibTeX format (used for LaTeX documents). I used it during the writing of my PhD, but there have always been some fairly significant problems with it. The main problem was performance: if you had a reasonably large Zotero library, then adding a new item would freeze the library for at least thirty seconds, while the export was performed. In fact, the Zotero developers added a warning to the plugins list page saying that my plugin may slow Zotero down significantly if you use it with a large library!

Over the years I did various updates to try and make this work better – and, in fact, I wrote most of a new version that did intelligent caching and only wrote out the bits that had changed…but I never quite got it fully working and never found the time to push it through to completion.

I haven’t had any time to work on it recently (the last commit was February 2014), and I haven’t even had the time to respond to the occasional support emails that I receive. I’d been thinking of dropping support for a while, but I wasn’t aware of anything else that did the same job, and I always had a hope that maybe, one day, I might find time to work on it.

Two things snapped me out of this, and made me accept that I needed to drop it:

  1. The latest version of Firefox requires all plugins to be signed, and as Zotero is a Firefox plugin (although it can run in standalone mode too), any Zotero plugins will also have to be signed. I tried to get AutoZotBib signed, but a lot has changed in the Firefox extension world since I first wrote it, and I couldn’t get it to work.
  2. I’ve found another plugin that does similar things, but does them better – and is well-maintained! It’s called Zotero Better BibTeX, and its Push Export feature does exactly what AutoZotBib did, but allows you to configure it to only export specific collections, allows export only when the computer is idle, etc.

So, I took a deep breath and updated the website to say that AutoZotBib is deprecated, and marked it as such on the Zotero Plugins page, suggesting that users use BetterBibTeX instead. Doing this has really taken a load off my mind – and I am now happy that I don’t have to try and motivate myself to work on it. Of course, the beauty of open-source software is that the code is still available, and so if anyone else wants to pick it up (or is desperate to use it, even though it is no longer supported) then they can!


Categorised as: Academic, Programming


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