Biber now in TeX Live 2010

Many readers will be familiar with the Biber program, a replacement for BibTeX which works with the biblatex package. Binaries for common platforms have been available from TLcontrib for a while, but have now been added to the main TeX Live 2010 system. So you can install Biber on the ‘common’ platforms using the TeX Live Manager (or tlmgr from the command line). Yet another reason to move on from BibTeX and switch to biblatex, if you’ve not already!

biblatex reaches version 1.0

Reading through some TeX-related material today, I spotted that the very popular biblatex package has finally reached version 1. Accompanying this release is a version step for the biber BibTeX-replacement program, which reaches version 0.6. Both are now considered non-beta, and the biblatex release in particular is a big story to me. I’ll be checking on my own biblatex-related packages over the weekend and making sure that they are working with the new release, and if all goes well will move them to v1.0 as well.

A quick look through the documentation for both biblatex and biber shows that the new versions are mainly about stability. There are not a lot of changes listed from the previous testing releases: they’ve proved to be pretty stable and so the time for an official move to release status has obviously arrived.

biber without building from TLContrib

I’ve written in the past about the biber program, a replacement for BibTeX when using the biblatex system for citations in LaTeX. The biggest stumbling block to using biber to date has been the need to build it from the source. On Windows, that also means getting a working Perl installation, which is a non-standard item on that operating system. However, there is now an alternative approach, at least for people using TeX Live 2010. The new TLContrib system for additions to TeX Live now includes a biber package for Windows, Mac OS X (64 bit) and Linux.

To get biber installed, you’ll need to use the Command Prompt or Terminal. On Windows, you probably need to run the Command Prompt as the Administrator, while on the Mac or Linux you will  probably want to sudo the following. To get biber installed, all you need to type is

tlmgr --repository install biber

The system will then get on with installing biber, which you can then use as a replacement for BibTeX. I’d then add biber to my graphical editor’s list of programs to make it easy to use: the detail of course depends on which editor you use.

What is particularly interesting here is that it has been possible to build a stand-alone biber. This should mean that at some stage both TeX Live and MiKTeX can integer ate it directly. This will really make biber a viable choice for most people using biblatex: building from the source is not most people’s idea of ‘easy to use’!

Building biber on Ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx)

As I’ve just installed Ubuntu 10.04 (‘Lucid Lynx’) on my test system, I thought I should check that I can get biber working. As in my earlier posts, this is not too hard, but it’s nice to have some instructions. As usual, first you need to download biber from the homepage and unpack the files. Using the Terminal, move the directory where the source is and do

sudo cpan Config::AutoConf
perl Build.PL
sudo ./Build installdeps
./Build test
sudo ./Build install

The cpan line adds one module to Perl which for some reason biber’s installdeps routine doesn’t find automatically: if you miss this out then the build will fail. There are a lot of Perl questions while the additional modules are installed: I just say yes to all to them. The build itself is pretty quite, and it’s almost at the point of being trivial (the above instructions now seem to work on all the platforms I use).

Building biblatex-biber on Windows

I’ve just reinstalled my Strawberry Perl system on Windows, and so had the opportunity to try a clean build of biblatex-biber. I’ve posted before about building this on various platforms, and it now is almost asstraight-forward on Windows as on Linux.

As before, I’ll assume you’ve grabbed the source code, unzipped it and have a Command Prompt running as the Administrator, in the directory where biblatex-biber is unzipped. First, you need to install one support Perl module using

cpan Config::AutoConf

You can then do

perl Build.PL
build installdeps
build test
build install

That’s it! I’m not quite sure why you have to install Config::AutoConf ‘by hand’, but if you don’t then Text::BibTeX still fails to work. However, that is almost as easy as on Linux or MacOS 10.6, so everyone should be able to use biblatex-biber now.

Building biblatex-biber

The biblatex-biber project provides probably the best way for biblatex users to switch to pure UTF-8 bibliography information. However, getting it to build can cause problems: biblatex-biber is a Perl programme, and needs various downloads from CPAN. I thought it would therefore be useful to put some simple recipes here, explaining what I’ve done to get a working biblatex-biber on Windows, Ubuntu and Mac OS X. I’m assuming that the latest biblatex-biber release has been downloaded and unzipped somewhere, and that the Command Prompt/Terminal/Shell is open in that directory (folder).

Mac OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard)

Mac OS X comes with Perl installed, so life is relatively easy. At the Terminal, you need to run the cpan script as root:

sudo cpan

The cpan script has its own prompt, but this is very similar to the Terminal one. First, I updated cpan itself and installed a helper module with

install CPAN
reload cpan
install YAML

That done, the various requirements for biblatex-biber can be installed, using the single call

install Data::Dump List::AllUtils Readonly Text::BibTeX Readonly::XS

For the more cautious person (such as me), each install instruction can be given on a separate line: this keeps things a bit more controlled. I accepted the standard settings, except when asked about installing items that were only needed for testing, where I said no.

Once cpan has done all of the installing, you can leave it by typing


So now back at the Terminal prompt, a few simple instructions

perl Build.PL
sudo ./Build install

That put biblatex-biber onto the path for all users: everything then worked correctly.

Ubuntu 9.10

Once again, Perl is installed as standard in Linux distributions: I’m using Ubuntu as a representative system. Before starting cpan, there is an additional step, which is to install an extra Ubuntu package. So at the Terminal, you need to do

sudo apt-get install libxml2-dev

This is needed as otherwise you get some very odd errors in a bit. Now, essentially the same recipe works as for the Mac. First run cpan running and update and install YAML. Then there is a long list of items to install

install Data::Dump List::AllUtils Readonly Text::BibTeX Readonly::XS XML::Writer XML::LibXML File::Slurp

which can again be done one at a time, for the more cautious.

After exiting cpan, the same three lines at the Terminal should work as in the Mac section.

perl Build.PL
sudo ./Build install

Windows (XP, Vista and 7)

To date, my attempts to build biblatex-biber on Windows (using Strawberry Perl) have failed as I can’t get the Perl module Text::BibTeX to install. This is supposed to be optional, but without it biblatex-biber does not seem to work, although I do get it to build. Luckily, there is a self-contained binary for Windows available from the project site. This includes its own Perl system, so there is no need to get Perl set up before trying it. Everything seems to work for me with this version. Any ideas on what is necessary would be helpful!

Beyond BibTeX: the first biber beta release

A notice in my inbox from François Charette alerted me yesterday to the first beta release of biber. This is a cross-platform (Perl) replacement for BibTeX for biblatex users. By moving on from BibTeX, there are a number of advantages. First, the problems inherent in the BibTeX code (no Unicode support, memory limitations and so on) are removed. The need for something beyond BibTeX is a well-known problem.

More importantly, biber comes with an experimental XML file format as a replacement for the .bib file type. The limitations of the .bib approach are more subtle than those of BibTeX itself. A lot of problems stem from the simplicity of the .bib format. This severely limits how much detail can be given for complex data types. For example, there is no good way to give multiple publishers and locations in the .bib format:

publisher = {{First Company} and {Second Company}},
location = {Town and OtherTown}

So which place goes with which publisher? We might assume the first with the first, the second with the second, but why not both locations for both publishers or something more complex? By starting from the biblatex experience, biber can build in this type of data from the start. Particularly in arts subjects, this looks like a great idea.

One important question is publicity. Within the LaTeX world, biblatex is still not that widely used. This is of course partly as it is still in beta. However, for biber to succeed both it and biblatex need publicity outside of LaTeX. One obvious route is to talk to the people who develop things like JabRef, BibDesk and so on. These programmes use the .bib format to store data, but can be used without ever going near LaTeX. Other ideas are I’m sure welcome!

Over all, I’m very excited by biblatex and biber. It’s clear that biblatex is a major advance for LaTeX users, and anything that makes life easier is welcome.