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 Some documentation may be outdated in the meantime.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.

Zotero Translators - The Missing Manual

Tools of the Trade

Writing Zotero translators can be made much easier by using the right tools. Here are some suggested downloads:

  • Zotero - writers of Zotero translators naturally can't do without a copy of Zotero.
  • Scaffold - this tool offers an easy and quick way to modify and test translators.
  • XPath tools - most translators rely on XPath to extract information from HTML web pages or from XML data files. To quickly construct robust XPaths, consider using one of the following tools:
    • Firebug - a popular and very powerful tool. Very useful in inspecting the HTML structure of web pages, and finding XPaths to the elements of interest.
    • XPather/DOM Inspector - XPather, which requires the DOM Inspector extension to be installed, is mostly useful for testing XPaths. Recommended in combination with Firebug.


To do: include details on all the useful (but hidden) functions in Zotero.Utilities

When writing translator code, you can make use of a number of functions in Zotero.Utilities. Below each function is described, and an example of its use is given.

String manipulation


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L40 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.cleanAuthor = function(author, type, useComma)
@param {String} author Creator string
@param {String} type Creator type string (e.g., “author” or “editor”)
@param {Boolean} useComma Whether the creator string is in inverted (Last, First) format
@return {Object} firstName, lastName, and creatorType

Sometimes it is difficult to extract clean author names from webpages. cleanAuthor removes white-space and punctuation (.,/[]:) that precedes or follows the author name, and performs some additional clean-up as well (e.g. removal of double spaces). If the author name is inverted (last name first, separated from the first name by a comma or comma-space), set useComma to true and cleanAuthor will correctly isolate the last and first name (see example).

Example code

var name = " :Doe, John";
Zotero.debug(Zotero.Utilities.cleanAuthor(name, "author",true));

Example code debug output

'firstName' => "John"
'lastName' => "Doe"
'creatorType' => "author"


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L85 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.trim = function(s)
@type String

Removes leading and trailing whitespace from a string


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L98 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.trimInternal = function(s) @type String

Cleans whitespace off a string and replaces multiple spaces with one


Deprecated function, use trimInternal instead.


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L123 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.superCleanString = function(x) @type String

Cleans any non-word non-parenthesis characters off the ends of a string


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L136 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.cleanTags = function(x) @type String

Eliminates HTML tags, replacing each instance of <br> with a newline


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L153 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.htmlSpecialChars = function(str) @type String

Escapes several predefined characters:

  • & (ampersand) becomes &amp;
  • “ (double quote) becomes &quot;
  • ' (single quote) becomes &#039;
  • < (less than) becomes &lt;
  • > (greater than) becomes &gt;


  • <ZOTEROBREAK/> becomes <br/>
  • <ZOTEROHELLIP> becomes &#8230;


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L189 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.unescapeHTML = function(str) @type String

Converts all HTML entities in a string into Unicode characters.


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L206 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.parseMarkup = function(str) @return {Array} An array of objects with the following form: { type: 'text'|'link', text: “text content”, [ attributes: { key1: val [ , key2: val, …] } }</pre>

Parses a text string for HTML/XUL markup and returns an array of parts. Currently only finds HTML links (<a> tags)


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L247 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.isInt = function(x) @deprecated Use isNaN(parseInt(x)) @type Boolean

Tests if a string is an integer


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L260 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.getPageRange = function(pages) @param {String} Page range to parse @return {Integer[]} Start and end pages

Parses a page range


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L283 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.lpad = function(string, pad, length) @param {String} string String to pad @param {String} pad String to use as padding @length {Integer} length Length of new padded string @type String

Pads a number or other string with a given string on the left


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L342 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.capitalizeTitle = function(string, force) @param {String} string @param {Boolean} force Forces title case conversion, even if the capitalizeTitles pref is off @type String

Cleans a title, converting it to title case and replacing ” :“ with ”:“

Other functions


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L297 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.itemTypeExists = function(type) @param {String} type Item type @type Boolean

Tests if an item type exists (FIXME: what is the use case for this?)


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L311 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.getCreatorsForType = function(type) @param {String} type Item type @return {String[]} Creator types

Find valid creator types for a given item type (FIXME: what is the use case for this?)


Function description
https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L327 Zotero.Utilities.prototype.getLocalizedCreatorType = function(type) @param {String} type Creator type @param {String} Localized creator type @type Boolean

Gets a creator type name, localized to the current locale (FIXME: what is the use case for this?)

Zotero.Utilities.processAsync https://www.zotero.org/trac/browser/extension/branches/1.0/chrome/content/zotero/xpcom/utilities.js#L361

To Do:

processDocuments, HTTP.doGet, HTTP.doPost, getItemArray

Item properties

Especially for screen scraper translators, knowing which item types (book, journalArticle, etc) and item fields (title, url, etc) exist in Zotero can be very helpful. Fortunately, the possible item properties can be found in the following source code file (types are listed as “itemTypes” entries, fields as “itemFields”):


Note that the different item types make use of different combinations of item fields (e.g. the book item type has the field ISBN, while the journalArticle item type lacks this field).

Translator delegation

To do: describe how translators can call other translators (annotate existing RIS-translator with a bunch of comments?)

Useful translator examples

To do: pick some examples of the different types of translators:

  • XML based: NCBI Pubmed, Google Books
  • RIS translators
  • Pure screen scrapers