Thanks for coming to, the world's #1 resource for all things InDesign!

How to Do Cross-References in InDesign

[Note that this post refers to InDesign CS3 and earlier. Current versions of InDesign do have a cross-references panel.]

One of the most common requests we see from InDesign users is “How do I do cross-references in InDesign?” Everyone assumes that x-refs must be really easy in a program as powerful as this, but unfortunately Adobe has not yet implemented this feature into the program. So here are a few options you should check out:

Of course, we want this feature built-in to InDesign, but until CS4 (or CS5?) these add-ons will sooth the headaches.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

Latest posts by David Blatner (see all)

  • - November 30, -0001
Related Articles

26 Comments on “How to Do Cross-References in InDesign

  1. Hi, i may sound a little strange, but why is everybody waiting for a “cs4” or 5 version of the software every now and then, when most of the stuff needed could be added in a 3.1 version. Ok, i’m certainly wrong for Xref (that i don’t use) but there’s a lot of other stuff beeing discussed since may, that should only be small upgrade… Thanks for the links !

  2. I could really use the Xref aspect. I work on a tight schedule of over 30 publications a year, and on tax. This feature would be brilliant. However, I am reluctant to buy something without hearing some reviews, where all you good good people that have this. What are the upsides and the downsides to these plugins/scripts.

  3. Oh, it’s really a headache… I tried the plug-ins, but InDesign got SO slow, that it was virtually impossible to use. I ended up doing all my cross-references in a 800 page book by hand… (yeah, I REALLY long for built-in xref tools in InDesign!)

  4. I created a 864 page catalog with upwards of 2000 cross-references using Teus’s script. It was a life-saver.

    It also exposed a bug in CS2’s naming of hyperlinks; it is possible for two hyperlinks to end up with the same name if you copy and paste a lot. If you get into that state and then run Teus’s script, you’ll crash InDesign.

    Best advice: don’t copy/paste hyperlinks; make new ones.

    I haven’t tried this in CS3 yet.

  5. Thanks David. I’ll look them up. At the moment everything is being done by hand. Especially with autoparagraph number it’s easy for a reference to go askew without realising. I’m wondering also if the script does work with autoparagraph number, or is it another instance of having to convert the autoparagraph numbers to text before running it?

  6. Does anyone use InDesign’s Tag menu to do this with .xml?

    It seems like InDesign’s capabilities with .xml could render many plug-ins obsolete if used to its full potential.

  7. I haven’t dabbled in the black arts of XML yet. I was looking to read up on it, learn it to some extent. It’s always intrigued me what to do and how. Any basic InDesign XML stuff to get started on?

  8. Eugene, I don’t recal if the script works with auto page numbers. I’m pretty sure the plug-in does.

    JC and Eugene: No, XML and the Tag menu is not meant for cross-references. It’s apples and oranges.

    XML is a deep subject, and Olav Martin Kvern and I cover it in a bit of detail in Real World InDesign. Jim Maivald is going into even more depth in his book, A Designers Guide to InDesign and XML.

  9. hey I’m trying to make referances that state the actual text not the page number any ideas (a running header would work but it wont text wrap.)

  10. I tried Teus de Jong’s script, and it is very easy to use and works very well. However, it appears to be limited to cross referencing page numbers.

    Because I am using InDesign for technical documentation, I often need to refer to caption numbers, numbered steps, and heading text.

    I only tried Teus de Jong’s script briefly, so please let me know if I am overlooking its full capabilities.

    Because the Cross-References plug-in from DTPtools got such great reviews, I quickly downloaded and installed the trial version. It works very well and is quite intuitive. However, it has a couple of issues that I’d appreciate some help with because I’ve gotten no reply from DTPtools’ Support.

    I sent my files to a colleague who did not install the plug in and she could not open the files that had cross reference markers or update the TOC. That’s a pretty big limitation because I’m the only writer in our workflow who needs the cross referencing plug in.

    Another issue is that my mouse arrow blinks insanely when I’m working on files that have cross reference markers. I may soon go insane as well.

    Please post a workaround if you’ve dealt with these problems before.



    Pasadena, California

  11. My understanding is that you do not need the plug-in in order to open files created with the script. But you do need it to update the TOC. How could InDesign update the TOC if there were no plug-in? (After all, it’s the plug-in that does the work.) But perhaps you’re encountering a limitation of the trial version?

  12. Earlier this week, while researching a bug that has to do with section prefixes in book documents, I discovered that you might not need the plug-in to open the files, but you do need it if you want to update a TOC for a book that contains documents that use the plug-in — I think this is an InDesign limitation: book operations require the presences of all plug-ins used by the documents in the book, whether or not those documents can be opened without the plug-in.

    The bug? If you have sections within a document that have section prefixes set to not be included in page names — a slightly odd combination, but certainly valid — while the prefixes indeed do not show up on the pages themselves, they do appear in a generated TOC. This applies only to sections that start on other than the first page of a document.


  13. David and Dave,

    You are correct that this is a TOC issue. I misinterpreted my coworker’s comments about the book files and the plug in. Turns out that she was trying to fix some formatting in our TOC styles and could not do it because of my use of the DTP plug in. She can indeed open the chapters despite my use of the plug-in.

    What that means for our work flow is that I’m now the only writer who can update cross references and update the TOC. So, I’ll be doing all the PDF production tasks too–unless I can get everyone to purchase and install the plug-in.

    David said:
    “How could InDesign update the TOC if there were no plug-in? (After all, it?s the plug-in that does the work.)”

    I don’t understand. InDesign’s TOC functionality worked fine before I installed the plug-in. Why is it the plug-in that does the work of updating the TOC?

    David said:
    “But perhaps you?re encountering a limitation of the trial version?”

    I am not aware of any limitations. I think it’s a full version for 14 days, which reminds me that I have to purchase it before my book turns into a pumpkin.

    Regarding the insane blinking mouse arrow, I was able to get it to settle down by deselecting the Live Update option and waiting a while. I had tried that previously, but was apparently not patient enough. I have to remember to enable it again before PDFing the book so that the page numbers are updated.



  14. @Jared: I’m sorry, I was simply not reading your original comment correctly. That is very interesting about the plug-in being required for making a TOC across a book. But as Dave mentioned, that may be a problem with any plug-in, not just this one. I’ll ask the folks at dtptools.

  15. Book operations like updating TOC do open the documents in the background, so it does trigger missing plug-in warning. Another InDesign shortcoming is that you can’t add documents to the book when there’s a missing plug-in warning. The missing plug-in warnings (for any plug-in) and book operations are usually trouble, TOC update being one of them.

    That is why we give out free reader plug-in version for all plug-ins that do require the missing plug-in warning tag to be included in the documents.

    >which reminds me that I have to purchase it before my book turns into a pumpkin.

    – actually, after the 14 days the plug-in will turn into the free reader, not a vegetable ;) The reader will still allow you to live/manually update, convert references to text and delete markers.

    > Regarding the insane blinking mouse arrow, I was able to get it to settle down by deselecting the Live Update option and waiting a while.

    Live updates in complex documents can be demanding, there’s also manual update you can run before exporting to make sure your references are up to date.

  16. Is there a way to convert an InDesign index to Cross-references such that the page numbers will update with pagination changes? I’m trying to avoid having to regenerate the index each time the pagination changes.

  17. it seems that the CS3 scripting performance is REALLY bad. Teus’ script works great – for a few hyperlinks, otherwise it takes ages to finish… i had the same experience with a different non-trivial script.

  18. Hi, I am suddenly getting a “Try-out period has expired error” for DTP tools cross-reference plug in. I purchased it for Adobe InDesign CS3 in July last year. I can’t figure out how to enter the serial number etc. I tried re-running the installation file and selecting Repair, but still get the error.

    Help! I have to go into production tomorrow.



  19. Hi,

    Thankfully, I got a prompt reply from Robert at DTP Tools.

    To re-enter your serial number from within InDesign:

    1. Select Help -> DTP Tools -> Activate.
    The Activate dialog box is displayed.
    2. Enter your serial number.
    3. Click Activate.

    For some reason, it did not occur to me to look for a plug-in’s UI from within InDesign’s help. And maybe I never use Help menu. Hmmm …

  20. I am currently using InDesign CS4 to create a manual and therefore have many documents within my book.

    I used the cross-reference feature in CS4, but there seems to be a problem with the links it creates. After exporting the book to a PDF, the cross-reference links do not work. My links that go to external documents/pages are working fine.

    Please help.

  21. I would have heard about it here if v. 5.5 enabled some kind of retention of x-refs upon export to epub, right?

  22. RE: this posting and others on IDS:

    Should be some kind of marker (or adjustment to the posting title) to indicate version. Waste of time to get to this after a search when it mostly relates to pre-CS4…


Leave a Reply to Hans Jørgen Lassen Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *