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Legal citation extractor. Standalone library, and optional HTTP API.


Build Status

A fast, stand-alone legal citation extractor.

Currently supports:

  • usc: US Code
  • law: US Slip Laws (public and private laws)
  • stat: US Statutes at Large
  • cfr: US Code of Federal Regulations
  • dc_code: DC Code
  • dc_register: DC Register
  • dc_law: DC Slip Law

With limited, opt-in support for:

As you can see, Citation is currently US-only, but we'd love for that to change. There are lots more citation types out there, and it's easy to contribute, so please help us grow!

Compatible in-browser with modern browsers, including IE 9+.


Citation can be used:

  1. In JavaScript, in browser or in Node. This method supports the most options, including passing in JavaScript functions as callbacks.
  2. Over HTTP, via GET or POST. Supports JSON and JSONP. Options require function callbacks are not supported (it won't eval JavaScript).
  3. On the command line or Unix pipes, over STDOUT. Options require function callbacks are not supported (it won't eval JavaScript).

But one way or another, you pass in text:

Citation.find("pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E) and");

And you get back data about matched citations:

  "match": "5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E)",
  "type": "usc",
  "index": "0",
  "usc": {
    "title": "5",
    "section": "552",
    "subsections": ["a", "1", "E"],
    "id": "usc/5/552/a/1/E",
    "section_id": "usc/5/552"

In the browser

Check out /browser for browser-ready compressed and uncompressed versions of the library.

Loading any of them with a <script> tag will result in a global Citation object being available for immediate use.

In Node

Install Node.js and NPM, then install Citation globally (may require sudo):

npm install -g citation

Or install it locally to a node_modules directory with npm install citation.

JavaScript API

Citation.find(text, options)

Check a block of text for citations of a given type, returning an array of matches with citations broken out into fields.

options can include:

  • types: (string | string array) Limit citation types to those given. e.g. ["usc", "law"]
  • excerpt: (integer) Return an excerpt of the surrounding text for each detected cite, with the given number of characters on either side.
  • parents: (boolean) For any cite, return any "parent" cites alongside it. For example, matching "5 USC 552(b)(3)" would return 3 results - one for the parent section, one for (b), and one for (b)(3).
  • filter: (string) Enable Filtering.
  • replace: (function | object) Enable Replacement.
  • Also: see Cite-specific options to pass in options for a particular citation type.

Some examples:

Citation.find("pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E) and");
// Yields: 
  "match": "5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E)",
  "type": "usc",
  "index": "0",
  "usc": {
    "title": "5",
    "section": "552",
    "subsections": ["a", "1", "E"],
    "id": "usc/5/552/a/1/E",
    "section_id": "usc/5/552"
Citation.find("that term in section 5362(5) of title 31, United States Code.", {
  excerpt: 10
// Yields: 
  "match": "section 5362(5) of title 31",
  "excerpt": "t term in section 5362(5) of title 31, United S",
  // ... more details ... 


Start the API on a given port (defaults to 3000):

cite-server [port]

GET or POST to /citation/find with a text parameter:

curl http://localhost:3000/citation/find?text=5+U.S.C.+552%28a%29%281%29%28E%29
curl -XPOST "http://localhost:3000/citation/find" -d "text=5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E)"

Will return the results of running Citation.find() on the block of text, under a results key:

  "results": [
      "match": "5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E)",
      "type": "usc",
      "index": "0",
      "usc": {
        "title": "5",
        "section": "552",
        "subsections": ["a", "1", "E"],
        "id": "usc/5/552/a/1/E",
        "section_id": "usc/5/552"

Supported options

Some HTTP-specific parameters:

  • callback: a function name to use as a JSONP callback.
  • pretty: prettify (indent) output.

And some of the options that the JavaScript API supports:

  • text: required, text to extract citations from.
  • options[excerpt]: include excerpts with up to this many characters around it.
  • options[types]: limit citation types to a comma-separated list (e.g. "usc,law")

Server deployment

See etc/ for an example upstart script to keep cite-server running in production.

Command line API

The shell command can accept a string to parse as an argument or through STDIN, and outputs results to STDOUT as indented JSON.

cite "section 5362(5) of title 31"
echo "section 5362(5) of title 31" | cite
cite "pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1)(E) and > results.json"


Pass any options the library takes, using dot operators to pass nested options.

For example, searching among types:

cite --types=usc,law "section 5362(5) of title 31"

Passing nested options:

cite --dc_code.source=dc_code "and then § 3-101.01 happened"

Opt-in to using walverine to search judicial cites with --judicial:

cite --judicial "Smith v. Hardibble, 111 Cal.2d 222, 555, 558, 333 Cal.3d 444 (1988)"


You can perform a "find-and-replace" with detected citations, by providing a replace callback to be executed on each citation, that returns the string to replace that citation.

By passing a replace callback, a text field will be included at the top of the returned object, with the processed text.

Citation.find("click on 5 USC 552 to read more", {
  replace: function(cite) {
    var url = "" + cite.usc.title + "/" + cite.usc.section;
    return "<a href=\"" + url + "\"">" + cite.match + "</a>";

The response will have a text field containing:

click on <a href="">5 USC 552</a> to read more

This feature is only available in the JavaScript API.

Cite-specific options

You can pass arbitrary options to individual citators, if that citator supports them.

By using a key is the key of a citator, e.g. usc or dc_code, that citator's processors will get the value of that key passed in as an argument.

Example: DC Code relative cites

For example, the dc_code citator accepts a source option, to indicate what the text source is. If the value of source is itself "dc_code", then the citator will apply a looser pattern to detect internal cites.

That looks like this:

Citation.find("required under § 3-101.01(13)(e), the Commission shall perform the", {
  dc_code: {source: "dc_code"}

That will match § 3-101.01(13)(e), because the dc_code citator assumes it's processing the text of the DC Code itself, and internal references are unambiguous.

Court opinions

Citation can integrate with walverine to detect and return results for US court opinions.

To use walverine, you may need to "opt-in" to including judicial-type citations.

In JavaScript:

Citation.types.judicial = require("./citations/judicial");


cite --judicial "Text to scan"

The HTTP server, cite-server actually loads judicial cites by default, since the performance penalty is absorbed on start-up.

Unsupported features

walverine's support for extra features is limited. When detecting judicial-type cites, there is no support for:

  • Returning parent citations
  • Replacing detected text
  • A character index of detected citations


This project is tested with nodeunit.

To run tests, you'll need to install this project from source and install its node dependencies:

git clone
cd citation
npm install
npm test

Test cases are stored in the test directory. Each test case covers a subsection of the code and ensures that citations are correctly detected: for instance, see test/stat.js.

To run all tests:

nodeunit test

To run a specific test:

nodeunit test/usc.js

Public domain

This project is dedicated to the public domain. As spelled out in CONTRIBUTING:

The project is in the public domain within the United States, and copyright and related rights in the work worldwide are waived through the CC0 1.0 Universal public domain dedication.

All contributions to this project will be released under the CC0 dedication. By submitting a pull request, you are agreeing to comply with this waiver of copyright interest.