Help:Automatically generated reference list

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A page with <ref> tags but no reference list markup used to display an error, except on talk and user pages. In recent versions of Wikipedia, the error no longer appears; instead an automatically generated reference list (AGRL) is displayed at the bottom of the page.

Compared to the reference lists on properly formatted pages, an AGRL can be confusing to both readers and editors. But it is easily corrected by adding the proper reference list markup.

When is an AGRL displayed?[edit]

An AGRL is displayed whenever a page contains "reference markup" but no "reference list markup".

As shown in the following table, "reference markup" includes <ref>...</ref> tags and templates containing information meant to be displayed in a reference list (footnote section) near the bottom of the page.
"Reference list markup" is either a <references /> tag or a {{reflist}} template, both of which indicate the position on the page where the reference list should be displayed.

Reference markup Reference list markup
Tags  <ref>...</ref>

Templates
{{harv}}, {{harvnb}},
{{sfn}}, {{sfnb}}, etc.

Tag  <references />

Template
{{reflist}}

If there is no reference list markup to indicate where the reference list should appear, an AGRL is generated and appears at the very bottom of the page.

Disadvantages of AGRLs[edit]

In former versions of the Wikipedia software, an error message was displayed if a page contained reference markup but no reference list markup. AGRLs are arguably an improvement, because footnotes are at least displayed somewhere on the page. However, compared to properly formatted pages, AGRLs suffer from a number of disadvantages.

  • The AGRL is displayed at the bottom of the page. An AGRL always appears at the very bottom of the page, which on many pages is an unexpected position. This can be confusing to readers.
  • No heading is added. Footnotes normally appear after headings such as "Notes" or "References". No heading is added to an AGRL, which is confusing to readers.
  • No reference list markup is added. No markup is added to the wikitext to indicate where the reference list should appear. This can be confusing to follow-on editors who do not understand why footnotes appear where they do.
  • The AGRL includes all references on the page. This can be especially confusing on talk pages, where references may be copied from the article to different threads on the talk page (either purposefully or by accident).

For these reasons, it is recommended that the AGRL not be relied on. Proper reference list markup should always be added.

What to do if an AGRL is displayed[edit]

In most cases, it is sufficient to add reference list markup such as the following. This will display a header and the reference list at the position where it should appear.

==References==
{{reflist}}

On talk pages, the {{reflist-talk}} template can be used to add a reference list to a specific discussion.

The template should be added at the end of the section that contains the reference markup which is causing the AGRL to be displayed. The reference list will be displayed within a bordered box.

==Section 1==

{{reflist-talk}}
==Section 2==

Bugs[edit]

AGRLs were introduced on Wikipedia with the deployment of MediaWiki 1.24wmf12 on July 10, 2014. Since then, the following bugs have been identified. They are a further reason why proper reference list markup should always be included.

  • No tracking category is added. T69700
  • <ref> tags that include groups will still show an error if the reference list markup is missing. T69847
  • Markup before the AGRL can cause it to be displayed as an unordered list with bullets instead of numbers. T70293
  • There is no ability to detect the namespace, unlike the older behavior. T70324
  • If a closing </ref> tag is missing before properly included reference list markup then the reference list markup is exposed. T17712
  • Articles that are exported to wikis with older software will not show the AGRL.