We’re in the process of updating the documentation for Zotero 5.0. Some documentation may be outdated in the meantime. Thanks for your understanding.


In Zotero >= 2.0, translators are just javascript files. While Scaffold 2.0 can ease translator development, some prefer to work directly on the filesystem. To do this, one should

  1. find or create a Zotero development environment
  2. find or create a translator development environment
  3. create or modify a translator file
  4. edit, run, test, debug
  5. contribute your translator

Find or create a Zotero development environment

One develops a translator to run on/against a given version of Zotero, which runs on/against a given version of Firefox. The easiest way to do this is just to use the current version of Zotero that is running in your current Firefox profile. One can identify the path to one's current Zotero directory using the Zotero UI: select the gear icon to dropdown its menu, and choose Preferences>Advanced>Show Data Directory.

While convenient, using one's current Zotero

  • runs the risk of corrupting one's current Zotero data, i.e. one's saved citations.
  • does not allow one to develop against another version of Firefox or Zotero.

To create a separate Zotero development environment,

  1. Use Firefox's Profile Manager to create a Firefox profile. (Remember below to start Firefox using that profile.) (Note that, by default, only one Firefox profile can run at any given time.)
  2. install the desired version of Zotero into your Firefox profile. One can install either

Find or create a translator development environment

When developing directly against the filesystem, one's translator development environment is

  • one's collection of one or more translator files
  • the tools one uses to work on them

Translator files

Translator file location

Zotero installs its translators and related code as files in the subdirectory translators. I.e.

  • if the path to your Firefox profile=

    then the path to your Zotero is

  • if the path to your Zotero=

    then the path to your translators, and hence to your translator development environment, is


    (See above regarding using Zotero UI to identify the path to your current Zotero.)

TODO: how to get alternate/uplevel versions of translators?

Translator file structure

At the highest level, a Zotero translator (for versions >= 2.0) consists of

  • a single metadata block, usually at the beginning of the file. The most important of its fields is the translatorID, which is the global identifier for the translator.
  • non-metadata code, consisting of
    • a detectWeb function. This must return a string corresponding to a defined Zotero type. For a list of Zotero type names, see the values of the itemTypes.* properties in this Zotero property list (or a newer one).
    • a doWeb function. This actually writes an item corresponding to your web resource to your Zotero repository.

Translator development tools


  • Zotero-enabled tools
  • Zotero API guides
  • Javascript-enabled tools
  • XPath tools

Create or modify a translator file

One can generate a completely new translator file using Scaffold 2.0.

  1. Start Scaffold.
  2. In tab=Metadata, take the generated translatorID, but give some values for the label, creator, and target fields. (Note your filename will be based on the value of the label field: e.g. if you set that to foo, your file will be named foo.js)
  3. In tab=Code, enter a detectWeb stub, e.g.
    function detectWeb () {
    return "book";
  4. Click on icon=Save (second from upper left).
  5. Check your translator filespace: you should have a new file with name based on field=label.
  6. Close Scaffold. You may do all subsequent work directly on the new file.

However it is usually easier to create a new translator by copy/modify-ing an existing one. This can be done in one of several ways, including

  1. working directly on an existing translator file (e.g. to fix a bug or add an feature) without modifying the translatorID. Note that any Zotero update to the profile containing that file will overwrite your work.
  2. “clearing out” your copy/modified file. Open it in your editor, and
    1. in the metadata block,
      • create a new translatorID for your copy/modified file. Edit the old field randomly, or (better) generate a new value using Scaffold 2.0.
      • make the value of the label field match your new filename.
    2. in the code section, clear out any undesired contents from the detectWeb and doWeb functions.
  3. somewhat “between” the previous two:
    1. Find an existing translator with functionality that resembles what you want.
    2. Copy that to a new file in your translator filespace.
    3. Open the new file and
      1. change the metadata field=label to match your filename (minus the .js extension)
      2. assign a new value to field=translatorID, preferably after generating a new value using Scaffold 2.0.
      3. change the detectWeb and doWeb functions as needed.

Edit, run, test, debug

Enable debugging output

One must

  • configure Firefox to write Zotero debugging output to a terminal emulator (e.g. xterm, terminal, cmd)
  • start Firefox via command-line from a terminal emulator (i.e. not via an icon)

before one can see output from, e.g., Zotero.debug() calls. See detailed instructions for linux, mac, and windows.

Running a modified translator

Zotero does not currently sense changes to a translator file after it has been loaded. The actions required to reload a modified translator depend on what has been modified: metadata or other code.

Running a translator after modifying metadata

If you have made changes to the metadata block of your translator, you must restart the Firefox profile containing your modified translator.

Running a translator after modifying non-metadata code

If you have made changes to code outside the metadata block of your translator, you need only restart the page on which you want to run the translator.

Contribute your translator

Once your translator works on a subset of the sites on which you believe it should work, please contribute your translator to the community.