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Zotero: Portable Zotero

This guide shows you what you need to know about using Zotero as a powerful citation management tool.

Plan B: export your library

Don't want to install Firefox Portable? There's another option for taking your Zotero library with you.

On your computer, click the Zotero gear menu, choose Export Library, and save the file to your USB drive. On the library's computer, click the gear menu, choose Import, and find your Zotero file to import it.

Don't have a USB drive heandy?  Try Dropbox - a free service that lets you store your files online (for files up to 2 GB).

When you're done, make sure to export any changes and import the new file onto your computer.

Zotero Sync

If you're regularly using more than one computer in your research, Zotero's sync feature can keep your library up to date on all of them.  Zotero can store a copy of your library on the server and check it for updates whenever you open your library on a different computer.  All your computers must be running the same version of Zotero.

First, set up a (free, of course) user account. Then:

  • Open Zotero preferences (via the gear menu) and select the Sync tab. 
  • Enter your Zotero user name and password. 
  • Check the "sync automatically" box.
  • Check both boxes under File Syncing and choose Zotero storage for My Library. This will sync your PDF attachments as well as citations (more info).
  • Zotero will upload your library to the server.

Repeat this configuration on each of your computers.  Any updates you make on one of your computers will be reflected on the others.  This even works to synchronize your library among Windows, Mac and Linux computers.

For more details and help troubleshooting sync problems, check the Zotero site.

zotero preferences

Portable Zotero

Photo by Your Zotero library is stored in your Firefox profile on your hard drive. How do you bring it with you to use the library's computers?

Install Firefox and Zotero on a USB drive and you can take your library with you to use on any computer.

First: download and install Portable Firefox for Windows or Mac on your USB drive. This is a special edition of Firefox designed to run entirely from a portable drive. It keeps its own settings, bookmarks and Zotero library separate from the settings installed on your computer.

Second: copy your Zotero library from your computer to your USB drive.

One way to do this is to open Zotero on your computer, click the gear button and choose Export Library (as in the image below). Save your library to a file anywhere on your computer. Then close Firefox, run Portable Firefox from your USB drive, open Zotero, click the gear button and choose Import. Import the file you just saved.

Another, perhaps easier, way to copy your library is with the Zotero sync feature new in Zotero version 2.0 beta. Follow the instructions on this page to set up Zotero sync on your computer. Then close Firefox, run Portable Firefox from your USB drive and set up Zotero sync there too. If you use the sync option, any changes you make to your Zotero library will update themselves in both versions of Firefox.

exporting library

Just take your USB drive to the library with you, plug it into one of our computers, and run Portable Firefox.