3.2 Referencing Labels

RefTeX scans the document in order to find all labels. To make referencing labels easier, it assigns to each label a category, the label type (for example section, table, figure, equation, etc.). In order to determine the label type, RefTeX parses around each label to see in what kind of environments it is located. You can speed up the parsing by using type-specific prefixes for labels and configuring the variable reftex-trust-label-prefix.

Referencing Labels is really at the heart of RefTeX. Press C-c ) in order to reference a label (reftex-reference). This will start a selection process and finally insert the complete ‘\ref{label}’ into the buffer.

First, you can select which reference macro you want to use, e.g., ‘\ref’ or ‘\pageref’. Later in the process you have another chance to make this selection and you can therefore disable this step by customizing reftex-ref-macro-prompt if you find it too intrusive. See Reference Styles.

Then, RefTeX will determine the label category which is required. Often that can be figured out from context. For example, if you write ‘As shown in eq.’ and then press C-c ), RefTeX knows that an equation label is going to be referenced. If it cannot figure out what label category is needed, it will query for one.

You will then be presented with a label selection menu. This is a special buffer which contains an outline of the document along with all labels of the given label category. In addition, next to the label there will be one line of context of the label definition, which is some text in the buffer near the label definition. Usually this is sufficient to identify the label. If you are unsure about a certain label, pressing SPC will show the label definition point in another window.

In order to reference a label, move the cursor to the correct label and press RET. You can also reference several labels with a single call to reftex-reference by marking entries with the m key (see below).

Here is a list of special commands in the selection buffer. A summary of this information is always available from the selection process by pressing ?.


Show a summary of available commands.


Prefix argument.

Moving around

Go to next label.


Go to previous label.


Jump back to the position where you last left the selection buffer. Normally this should get you back to the last referenced label.

C-c C-n

Goto next section heading.

C-c C-p

Goto previous section heading.

N z

Jump to section N, using the prefix arg. For example 3 z jumps to section 3.

Displaying Context

Show the surroundings of the definition of the current label in another window. See also the f key.


Toggle follow mode. When follow mode is active, the other window will always display the full context of the current label. This is similar to pressing SPC after each cursor motion. Note that only context in files already visited is shown. RefTeX will not visit a file just for follow mode. See, however, the variable reftex-revisit-to-follow.


Show insertion point in another window. This is the point from where you called reftex-reference.

Selecting a label and creating the reference

Insert a reference to the label at point into the buffer from which the selection process was started. When entries have been marked, RET references all marked labels.


Clicking with mouse button 2 on a label will accept it like RET would. See also variable reftex-highlight-selection, Miscellaneous.

m - + ,

Mark the current entry. When several entries have been marked, pressing RET will accept all of them and place them into several \ref macros. The special markers ‘,-+’ also store a separator to be inserted before the corresponding reference. So marking six entries with the keys ‘m , , - , +’ will give a reference list like this (see the variable reftex-multiref-punctuation)

In eqs. (1), (2), (3)--(4), (5) and (6)

Unmark a marked entry.


Accept the marked entries and put all labels as a comma-separated list into one single \ref macro. Some packages like saferef.sty support multiple references in this way.


Use the last referenced label(s) again. This is equivalent to moving to that label and pressing RET.


Enter a label with completion. This may also be a label which does not yet exist in the document.


Cycle forward through active reference macros. The selected macro is displayed by the ‘S<...>’ indicator in the mode line of the selection buffer. This mechanism comes in handy if you are using LaTeX packages like varioref or fancyref and want to use the special referencing macros they provide (e.g., \vref or \fref) instead of \ref.


Cycle backward through active reference macros.


Exit the selection process without inserting any reference into the buffer.

Controlling what gets displayed

The defaults for the following flags can be configured with the variable reftex-label-menu-flags (see Referencing Labels).


Toggle the display of the one-line label definition context in the selection buffer.


Toggle the display of the file borders of a multifile document in the selection buffer.


Toggle the display of the table of contents in the selection buffer. With prefix arg, change the maximum level of toc entries displayed to arg. Chapters are level 1, sections are level 2.


Toggle the display of a label counter in the selection buffer.


Toggle the display of labels hidden in comments in the selection buffers. Sometimes, you may have commented out parts of your document. If these parts contain label definitions, RefTeX can still display and reference these labels.

Updating the buffer

Update the menu. This will rebuilt the menu from the internal label list, but not reparse the document (see r).


Reparse the document to update the information on all labels and rebuild the menu. If the variable reftex-enable-partial-scans is non-nil and your document is a multifile document, this will reparse only a part of the document (the file in which the label at point was defined).

C-u r

Reparse the entire document.


Switch the label category. After prompting for another label category, a menu for that category will be shown.


Reference a label from an external document. With the LaTeX package xr it is possible to reference labels defined in another document. This key will switch to the label menu of an external document and let you select a label from there (see xr).

In order to define additional commands for the selection process, the keymap reftex-select-label-mode-map may be used.