Simple Python program to manage a .RIS- format database of publications

When my university stopped supporting the reference manager I’d been using, I decided not to let anyone else control my database of 10,000+ references in the future.  So I wrote a simple Python program, which I’m calling Refree.  It is text-based (not graphical) and can:

  • Search the database by author, keywords, year, or ID.
  • Add new references from downloaded .RIS-format files.
  • Do simple editing of existing references, like adding page numbers.
  • Launch a PDF reader to view an article — this may only work in Linux.

It can now make simple bibliographies, but I don’t plan to deal with multiple journal formats.

If you want to try it, send me an email.  You will need Python and at least enough experience to edit a few lines in the program to specify where your data file and PDF files are stored.  This program may be most useful to people who have enough Python expertise to make additional improvements themselves, because adding requested features will probably not be a high priority for me.  I’ll try to fix any serious bugs you find, though.

9 thoughts on “Simple Python program to manage a .RIS- format database of publications

  1. Sounds great Ford… my second question is whether your database of 10,000+ references comes with the distribution?? 🙂

    I would have to guess your references database and mine would have a fair amount of overlap, but maybe only 15 to 25 %.

    I’ve been using Mendeley for a laptop. Its OK as far as that goes, and is likely much stronger than what I’ve used it for (have really not invested much time in it).

    I do have Python (for a Raspberry Pi) – but haven’t dug into it very far either.


    1. Sorry, Clem, I’ve been neglecting my blog. It was fun meeting you at the Soybean Breeders meeting, just before everything shut down. I’ll email you a text file of my references, though I don’t necessarily suggest importing it.


      1. Hi Ford,
        I did get the list of refs… and there are some in common… though I suppose I may have overestimated how many.
        A current paper we might both be interested in just came out in Science – on the cover of the 4 December issue (why I only get a copy 11 days after pub is still a mystery… perhaps another Covid side-effect). The rooting research there reminded me of work you’ve done and issues we’ve talked about.
        If you could muster some time to comment on it… I’ll be happy to share my own opinions as well.

        Warm regards,


  2. Hi Ford. I’m a python programmer and LIS student. I am fighting to generate ris file to use on vosviewer. Could you send your source to my e-mail josircg at ?


  3. Hi Ford,

    Your Python program looks great. I’m looking code like yours for some time now. Would you mind to share it to my email? This is my email address ahmad.galihkusumah at

    Thanks in advance


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