reftex-citep does not suggest any possible completions, even though the variable reftex-default-bibliography is set to the correct bibtex file.

What else do I need to do to get reftex to detect the bibtex entries?

Note: the same happens with the AuCTeX cite macro.

  • It seems that you might be a bit confused. reftex-default-bibiography isn't a variable but a function. I can't help you much, but please refer to reftex's manual by evaluating the following s-exp: (info "(reftex) Citations").
    – aadcg
    Commented Nov 25, 2021 at 18:33
  • 3
    @aadcg: there is both a variable and a function named reftex-default-bibliography. The function returns the expanded value the variable. Presumably setting the variable is a necessary (but maybe not sufficient) condition for reftex to work.
    – NickD
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 14:25

1 Answer 1


The doc for the reftex-default-bibliography variable says:

List of BibTeX database files which should be used if none are specified. When ‘reftex-citation’ is called from a document which has neither a ‘\bibliography{..}’ statement nor a ‘thebibliography’ environment, RefTeX will scan these files instead. Intended for using ‘reftex-citation’ in non-LaTeX files. The files will be searched along the BIBINPUTS or TEXBIB path.

Note that it is supposed to be a list of BibTeX database files. If you only have one, try saying

(setq reftex-default-bibliography '("/path/to/my/bibtex/file"))

EDIT: I downloaded Nelson Beebe's ACM Computing Surveys file from http://www.math.utah.edu/pub/tex/bib/compsurv.bib and added it to reftex-default-bibliography with:

(setq reftex-default-bibliography '("~/lib/bibtex/compsurv.bib"))

I put this in a file minimal.el.

In a brand new session of emacs (started with emacs -q -l minimal.el foo.tex), I enabled reftex with M-x reftex-mode, typed in Knuth and did M-x reftex-citep: that had Knuth filled in as the regexp value, so I just pressed RET. That gave me a *RefTex Select* buffer with four references, I did r SPG to restrict it to the single reference that contained the string SPG, typed a and I got this in the foo.tex buffer:


I don't know much about RefTeX, but that seems to be all correct and working. If that's not what you did and/or expected, then maybe you can edit your question and add the exact behavior you expect and the exact behavior you get.

  • 1
    Thanks for your answer. But I was already aware that it needed to be a list, so I am already doing what you're saying.
    – soap
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 14:41
  • 1
    You should have added that detail (actually the explicit setting of the variable) to your question: that would prevent earnest but spurious answer attempts like mine :-) Anyway, this (setting a variable that is supposed to be a list to a non-list value) is a common mistake, so maybe it will help somebody in the future, even if it does not help you now.
    – NickD
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 14:50

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