Metanorma: Aequitate Verum

Reference lookups basics


For references to certain standards, Metanorma will attempt to look up references online during document build automatically.

Relaton is used to look up the reference details for standards known to have online bibliographic sources.

Some online bibliographic sources from supported standards bodies directly serve Relaton bibliographic data formats (e.g. Relaton XML, Relaton YAML).

Reference lookup syntax

For bibliographic standards to be looked up via Relaton, the standard document identifier needs to be encoded in a format recognized by Relaton as a key:

ISO deliverables

ISO(identifier), or any identifier prefixed with ISO

IEC deliverables

IEC(identifier), or any identifier prefixed with IEC. For the IEC Electropedia termbank (IEV), simply use IEV.

ITU deliverables

ITU(identifier) (e.g. ITU(H.265)), or any identifier prefixed with ITU

IETF documents

IETF(identifier) (e.g. IETF(I-D.-burger-xcon-mmodels)), or any identifier prefixed with RFC

NIST documents

NIST(identifier) (e.g. NIST(SP 800-116r1), NIST FIPS 202), or any identifier prefixed with NIST

OGC documents

OGC(identifier) (e.g. OGC(14-083r2), OGC 14-083r2), or any identifier prefixed with OGC

Chinese standards

CN(identifier) (e.g. CN(JB/T 13368-2018))

ISO/IEC Directives

ISO/IEC DIR {n}, ISO/IEC DIR {n} + {flavor} SUP, or ISO/IEC DIR {flavor} SUP.


is the number of directive


is either ISO or IEC.

The following references are supported at this time:

  • ISO/IEC DIR 1 IEC SUP: “Procedures for the technical work — Procedures specific to IEC”

  • ISO/IEC DIR 1 ISO SUP: “Consolidated ISO Supplement — Procedures specific to ISO”

  • ISO/IEC DIR 1: “Procedures for the technical work”

  • ISO/IEC DIR 2 IEC: “Principles and rules for the structure and drafting of ISO and IEC documents”

  • ISO/IEC DIR 2 ISO: “Principles and rules for the structure and drafting of ISO and IEC documents”

  • ISO/IEC DIR IEC SUP: “Procedures specific to IEC”

  • ISO/IEC DIR JTC 1 SUP: “Procedures specific to JTC 1”

    These bibliographic entries are provided via the Static entry cache as their metadata are not available in machine-readable format online. Documents in the Static entry cache may differ from the latest online version.

The full bibliographic details of the item are automatically fetched from the authoritative online bibliography source, and inserted into a Relaton XML file stored locally.

Only parts of the bibliographic details are used to render the reference in Metanorma, namely: document identifier, title, publication date.

Disabling automatic lookup

For entire document

The presence of the :no-isobib: document attribute will disable the isobib bibliographic lookup engine for the entire document:

  • Bibliographic items will not be automatically looked up via isobib;

  • The isobib bibliographic caches are not used.

Example 1. Example of using :no-isobib: to disable bibliographic lookup for whole document
= ISO 8601-1:2019/Amd 1:2022
:docnumber: 8601
:partnumber: 1
:mn-document-class: iso

For a bibliographic item

To turn off automatic lookup for a particular bibliographic item, simply wrap the individual reference identifier in nofetch(…​), then the reference details for that item are not looked up, though other items still will be [added in].

Example 2. Example of using nofetch(…​) to disable bibliographic lookup for one item
== Bibliography

* [[[ref1,nofetch(ISO 639-1)]]], ISO 639-1.
* [[[ref1,ISO 639-2]]], ISO 639-2.

Citing from termbanks


Relaton is also used to automatically fetch references from termbanks.

The only supported termbank today is the IEV.

International Electrotechnical Vocabulary (IEV, the IEC 60500 series)

If any entries in Terms and Definitions cite terms sourced from the IEV Electropedia, it is queried during validation to retrieve the correct citation information for creating the reference.

== Bibliography

* [[[ievterms,IEV]]]

These queries are routed through the iev gem.

Lookup result caching


Fetching every single reference with web queries can be slow, especially for larger documents across multiple compilation runs.

Each web query may take a few seconds per reference, depending on connection/service speed and delay.

Metanorma supports Relaton entry caching, for which a Relaton database is created to store fetched bibliographic items (the “cache store”).

The cache store(s) enable reuse of previously fetched bibliographic items so they do not need to be re-fetched each time a document is processed.

This is especially helpful in these conditions:

  • Internet connectivity is unavailable (e.g. on a plane without WiFi);

  • the online bibliographic source goes temporarily offline or awry (e.g. maintenance, upgrades).

Relaton cache stores are realized in form of a directory.

Caching at the system-level (global cache)

Results of reference lookups made across all documents are cached in the global cache store ~/.relaton/cache.

Caching at the directory-level (local cache)

The local cache is enabled by setting the :local-cache: or :local-cache-only: document attributes.

If enabled, the results of all Relaton searches done to date in a given directory are stored in the local cache store.

The local cache is normally created at the default location relaton/cache relative to the top-level Metanorma file.

To override this location, a value can be given to the :local-cache: or :local-cache-only: attribute. This specified directory name will be used to create the local cache store.

The local cache overrides entries in the global cache, and can be manually edited.

Due to its nature being a portable directory, it is simple to transfer bibliographic entries to other authors or systems for reproducible compilation.

It is also often used for creating a self-sufficient, immediately compilable Metanorma document package for interchange.

Last but not least, the local cache store can be committed into version control systems (e.g. Git) for faster (and more reproducible) continuous integration build times. It also prevents CI build failures caused by bibliographic sources being temporarily unavailable.

Static entry cache

The static entry cache is distributed with the relaton gem and always enabled. It contains bibliographic entries that are often used but cannot be obtained in machine-readable formats online. See ISO/IEC Directives for entries of this type.

To add a new document to the static entry cache, please create an issue on

Disabling caching

If the document attribute :no-isobib-cache: is set, the reference details for items are still looked up via isobib, but the isobib caches are not used.

Caching of undated references

Any entry in the cache that corresponds to an undated reference fetches its details from the latest available entry at the bibliographic source.

Cache expiry

If the entry is more than 60 days old, it is refetched.

Caching of IEV entries

The results of all iev searches done to date across all documents are cached in the global Relaton cache file at ~/.relaton/cache.

The results of all iev searches done to date in a given directory are stored in the same directory as the current document, by default to the cache store iev/cache.

IEV entries in a local cache will be stored under the local Relaton cache store, whose location can be changed as mentioned above.

The directory name for the IEV cache is the Relaton cache store’s location with inner directory _iev.