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brainglobe-utils is a collection of functions that can be re-used across multiple repositories: for BrainGlobe tools, plugins, or analyses (in the case of brainglobe-workflows). It underpins a number of our user-facing tools like brainreg and cellfinder, as well as our common interfaces to napari in brainglobe-napari-io, for example. The main feature it provides to users is the cite-brainglobe command-line program.

cite-brainglobe and the citation submodule#

The cite-brainglobe command-line program is provided by the citation submodule, with the command-line wrapper and main function themselves being available in citation.cite:cli and citation.cite:cite respectively.

At the top level, the workflow for the citation tool works as follows:

  • Parse the tool names that the user provides on the command-line. The repositories known to the package, and the names that they use, are defined in the citation.repository.

  • Fetch the citation data from each repository by reading its CITATION.cff file.

  • Read the CITATION.cff metadata into the appropriate citation format. This creates an instance of (a subclass of) citation.format:Format.

  • Invoke the generate_ref_string() method of the Format instance to obtain the citation string.

  • Append the citation string to those already created, and repeat for each tool requested.

  • Write the output text to a file, or dump to stdout if not provided with an output location.

The citation submodule itself breaks down further to accommodate the steps of the workflow above.

  • As mentioned, the citation.cite module contains the high-level command-line interface and backend function.

  • The citation.fetch module contains helper functions for quickly retrieving the files we want from their GitHub repositories.

  • The citation.repository submodule contains the Repository class which is a convenient wrapper for storing information about the BrainGlobe tools that we want cite-brainglobe to be aware of, and recognise the names of.

  • The citation.format submodule contains the Format base class for reading and generating citation strings.

  • The additional modules that match citation.*_fmt contain classes that derive from Format. This allows us to accommodate different citation formats needing different metadata, amongst other things.

Adding new repositories or tools#

cite-brainglobe is only aware of the repositories that we tell it about - and any such repository must have a CITATION.cff (or equivalent metadata file) present in it that we can fetch.

To make cite-brainglobe aware of a new BrainGlobe tool, add a static Repository instance to the citation.repositories submodule as detailed in the citation.repositories section, specifying the required information.

Adding a new supported citation format#

Create a new submodule called new-format_fmt in the citation submodule. Then write a class that inherits from citation.format.Format and defines the required and optional keys that your citation type needs from the .cff files we read from GitHub. Finally, in your class you’ll need to overwrite the generate_ref_string method to produce the citation string from the metadata information you specified.

Then, head to the citation.cite module and add your new format as an option to the command-line interface (citation.cite.cli) and backend function (citation.cite.cite).


This module contains the Repository class, a function to find the repositories that are referred to in a list of tool names, and the static instances of all the BrainGlobe repositories that we provide a reference for via cite-brainglobe.

The Repository class is just a convenient container for all the information pertaining to one particular BrainGlobe tool or repository. The class itself just holds any information we need and some useful actions on that information, such as providing the URL for the GitHub repo, storing the alternative names for the tool that is held there, etc. The static instances of this class are instantiated in this module too - by convention, the variable name should match the repository’s name on GitHub. Each instance is created using the syntax:

brainglobe_tool = Repository("brainglobe-tool", ["list", "of", "alternative", "or", "informal", "names"])

This defines a repository that cite-brainglobe expects to be called bg-tool, under the brainglobe organisation on GitHub. It also expects the CITATION.cff file to be on the main branch of this repository - though this location (and the organisation if we really need to point to non-BrainGlobe tools) can be changed when calling the constructor. The second argument defines the (case-insensitive) names (in addition to the repository name itself) that cite-brainglobe will match to this repository; some of these names are automatically generated from the repository name, by the following rules:

  • The characters "_", "-", and " " are considered interchangeable. Providing brainglobe-utils as a name will automatically cause brainglobe_utils and brainglobe utils to be alternative names that the repository can be referred to by, for example.

  • The brainglobe prefix can be dropped from the name automatically. brainglobe-utils being provided as the repository name will mean that the repository can also be referred to as utils, for example.

To illustrate,

brainglobe_utils = Repository(

creates a Repository object which, if the user asks cite-brainglobe to cite any one of "brainglobe-utils", "brainglobe_utils", "brainglobe utils", "utils", or "utilities", the program will recognise as the brainglobe-utils package.

The all_citable_repositories function is intended for imports in other areas of the citation submodule — it automatically detects the static Repository instances that we define in the repositories and returns them as a set.

The unique_repositories_from_tools function takes in a list of tool names or aliases (in particular, the list provided by the user on the command-line) and returns the unique repositories that need to be cited given this list.


This submodule contains two helper functions. The simplest is the yaml_str_to_dict function which takes a string containing the yaml-formatted content of a file and parses it into a Python dict — this is for use when retrieving files from the internet as opposed to loading them from disk.

The fetch_from_github function provides a streamlined function for fetching the content of files from GitHub repositories, and validates that the request was successful.

citation.format and the citation.*_fmt submodules#

The Format class resides in this submodule. This class is the intended base class for any citations that we want to generate, and provides this abstract functionality. The various *_fmt submodules then provide the derived classes for each of the citation formats that we want to support - bibtex_fmt provides the BibTexEntry class, and text_fmt supports writing citations as human-readable strings.

The key properties of the Format class are the required and optional class variables - these are not set in the base class and are intended to be overwritten by classes that inherit from Format. Both of these class variables should be lists of strings, corresponding to the keys in a CITATION.cff format that the citation (described by the inheriting class) needs (respectively can make use of) when being produced. Existence of these keys in the CITATION.cff information is checked for in the Format.__init__ class constructor to avoid repetition across submodules and catch errors. Optional keys are allowed to be missing - these can be set to be reported if so. The Format class also contains a class-wide function for parsing the authors key information into a string, Format._prepare_authors_field - which is again invoked on instantiation. Finally, Format provides a placeholder generate_ref_string function that should be overwritten by any inheriting classes — this is the method that will parse the data read in and produce the citation string.

For example, the TextCitation format inherits from Format and requires the keys “author”, “title” and “year” to produce a reference. It also provides a list of optional keys that the format can still make use of when producing the citation, but it does not require them. TextCitation itself does not need to define a constructor function since the inherited constructor from Format now suffices with the overwritten values for TextCitation.required and TextCitation.optional. TextCitation does implement generate_ref_string in order to overwrite the placeholder function defined by Format — this will dictate how the citation string is formatted and assembled.

The BibTexEntry class is slightly more subtle since any given entry type in a bibtex file may require different keys present, and the syntax for the author field in a bibtex reference differs from the default format implemented in the Format._prepare_authors_field. As such, BibTexEntry overwrites both the _prepare_authors_field function, and implements some preliminary steps in BibTexEntry.__init__ before invoking the base constructor in Format.__init__. BibTexEntry does however implement the generate_ref_string method, since this is the same for all bibtex citation types. Each bibtex citation type, such as Software or Article, then inherits from the BibTexEntry class and defines the required and optional fields as usual.