Skip to Main Content

Zotero for Citation Management

Manage your research and create bibliographies with Zotero.

Why back up?

We strongly recommend regularly backing up your Zotero library, along with any important research, class-related, or personal materials you may have.

While you can sync your library with the Zotero servers by using a Zotero account (see how here), syncing is no substitute for regularly backing up. The most recent version of your library is the only one stored on Zotero's servers, and one automatic sync can change the entire copy on the server, making it easy to lose work or corrupt your synced data. 

A window showing the correct choices for exporting a full copy of your Zotero library


You can easily export a copy of your Zotero library by going to Files > Export Library and choosing "Zotero RDF" and checking the boxes for both "Export Notes" as well as "Export Files."

This is not a true backup of your library, though! For a true backup of your library, see the instructions below.


How to back up your library

In order to back up your Zotero library, follow these steps:

  1. Locate your Zotero data directory (see below)
  2. Making sure Zotero is closed, copy the entire "zotero" directory (including all the subdirectories)
  3. Put this copy in a safe storage spot that is not your laptop
    1. Good choices include your Google Drive, OneDrive, or an external hard drive
    2. For even more redundancy, put a copy in two (or even three) of the above locations - make sure to update them all every time you make a new backup

Your back up is only as good as your back up schedule. If you do not have a program to automate your back ups (e.g. Time Machine on Macs), make sure you regularly do your back ups to ensure you always have up-to-date data. Put a repeating event on your calendar to remind yourself!

Locating data directory

Current directory information can be found on the Zotero site

For Zotero 5.0

Location of Zotero 5 data directory in various operating systems

Mac OSx

Windows 7 and higher
C:\Users\<User Name>\Zotero
Windows XP/2000
C:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Zotero

For Zotero 4.0

In Zotero 4.0, the easiest way to locate your data directory is to go into the Advanced tab within your Preferences window:

Location of "Show Data Directory" in Zotero 4.0

What's in your Zotero data directory?

Your Zotero data directory contains several files and directories. The two most important things in there are:

  1. The file name "zotero.sqlite" file: this file contains your item metadata, your notes, your tags, etc. 
  2. The "storage" directory (and all of its subdirectories): this contains all of your attached files, like PDFs, web snapshots, or any other files you've imported. 

Warning: Before you do anything to any files in your Zotero data directory, including moving, deleting, or copying, make sure Zotero is closed. Failure to do so can lead to damage to your Zotero database.