I want bibtex-mode to align and properly indent fields. I copied a bibtex entry for the following article into Emacs: (Article source here)

But, with a simple paste, the alignment is lost in Emacs and the indentation is messed up:

The TAB key doesn't work to align or indent the entry. How to solve this problem?

  • 1
    Unrelated to your question, consider using bibslurp package, it allows you to retriev BibTeX entries from The SAO/NASA Astrophysics Data System within Emacs itself.
    – giordano
    Jul 14, 2017 at 13:32
  • 1
    I can't reproduce that behaviour. What happens if you start Emacs with the -Q switch?
    – Nova
    Jul 15, 2017 at 15:01
  • I get the same behaviour when starting with a -Q switch
    – Viesturs
    Jul 15, 2017 at 17:57

4 Answers 4


When the cursor is somewhere in the entry, run the command bibtex-fill-entry (bound to C-c C-q), which will align the fields. You may also want to set variable bibtex-align-at-equal-sign to a non nil value to change the details of alignment.

  • Can bibtex-fill-entry be applied after each save in bibtex-mode?
    – alper
    Oct 26, 2022 at 10:42
  • @alper: that's an unrelated question, but you can look at before-save-hook and after-save-hook.
    – Dan
    Oct 27, 2022 at 16:16
  • I have done it but bibtex-fill-entry only work at the block where cursor is at, not on the entire buffer
    – alper
    Oct 27, 2022 at 18:29

I had a similar issue, when using the smartparens package in bibtex-mode, where shameful amounts of spaces where inserted. For some reason unknown, bibtex-mode sets the fill-prefix variable to a string containing 18 spaces. (setq fill-prefix nil) in the bibtex-mode-hook fixed the issue in my case.


As mentioned by @JonatanLindén, fill-prefix is set to a string containing 18 spaces. This is because bibtex-clean-entry is using fill-prefix to align continuing text after equal sign. Setting fill-prefix to "" can solve the indentation issue. But to have better alignment when formating entry, you can advice bibtex-clean-entry to temporarily set fill-prefix.

(defun bibtex-mode-setup ()
  (setq-local fill-prefix ""))
(add-hook 'bibtex-mode-hook #'bibtex-mode-setup)

(defun bibtex-reset-fill-prefix (orig-func &rest args)
  (let ((fill-prefix (make-string (1+ bibtex-text-indentation) ? )))
    (apply orig-func args)))
(advice-add 'bibtex-clean-entry :around #'bibtex-reset-fill-prefix)

Usually, you would use the align-regexp command (or the align command if bibtex-mode supported it). But that won't help you with the broken indentation.

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