Community Tech/Allow references to be named in VisualEditor

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This page documents a project the Wikimedia Foundation's Community Tech team may work on in future. Development of this project has not yet been prioritized.

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Proposed in the 2019 Wishlist Survey.


Problem: One cannot enter a name for a reference in the VisualEditor. When references are used multiple times, VE automatically assigns ":0", ":1", etc. as names.

Status updates[edit]

  • Wish page
  • Project page
  • STATUS: Accepted in 2021 survey for vote, if proposal (as detailed below) accepted.

After analyzing this wish as a team, we have decided to propose a specific solution. If people find this solution appropriate, we’ll be able to accept the modified version of this wish in the 2021 wishlist.

Proposal: This wish proposes that a new naming system is created for references in VisualEditor, which currently assigns reference names that are meaningless to most users (such as ":0" and ":1"). Our proposal is that, rather than such references only including a number and colon (such as “0:”), we provide an improvement to the existing format. For citations with websites, we would include the domain name and a number. For example, a reference from the Guardian website (, may be “guardian-0” or “guardian-1.” For citations that do not have a website, we could potentially also include some automatically generated names based on the author or book title, such as “adamslaura-0.”

Why this approach?: After conducting a technical investigation to look into this wish, we consulted the Editing team to discuss our findings and potential next steps. Our first question was whether we should allow names to be generated automatically (as in the current system) or if users could manually enter names into VE. From our research, we determined that a manual system, which was not yet in place, would be much too big and complex of a feature for us to build. Simply put, it was not within scope for our team. Furthermore, there was a strong user experience and product argument to keep the automatic generation. Many people like that they can easily add in VE. We didn’t want to complicate that process by adding extra steps. So, first of all, we decided that a name should be automatically generated.

Second, we discussed how the name should be automatically generated. If we chose a totally new format that did not build upon the numerical scheme, this work would be out of scope for the team. This is because we would need to work with template data, which is complex and has many edge cases. However, when we began discussing stripped-down alternatives, we began to think of how we could build upon the existing format. It was from these discussions that the option to add the domain name to the number came about. We liked this idea for two reasons. First, it was technically feasible. Second, it would solve the problem of VE currently providing citation names that are meaningless. The addition of a relevant name (such as the domain or author) would add meaning.

Question: What do you think of this approach? Would you be interested in updating the wish proposal to accept this solution? If so, we would be happy to accept it for voting in the 2021 wishlist survey. However, if the wish remains broader (either a manually entered reference name or an automatically generated name that requires us to work with template data), we unfortunately would have to rule it out as out of scope. We look forward to hearing to reading your feedback!

Important links[edit]