Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format created by Adobe Systems in 1993 for document exchange. PDF is used for representing two-dimensional documents in a manner independent of the application software, hardware, and operating system.
Each PDF file encapsulates a complete description of a fixed-layout 2-D document (and, with Acrobat 3-D, embedded 3-D documents) that includes the text, fonts, images, and 2-D vector graphics which comprise the documents.
PDF's adoption in the early days of the format's history was slow. Adobe Acrobat, Adobe's suite for reading and creating PDFs, was not freely available; early versions of PDF had no support for external hyperlinks, reducing its usefulness on the Worldwide Web; the additional size of the PDF document compared to plain text meant significantly longer download times over the slower modems common at the time, and rendering the files was slow on less powerful machines. Additionally, there were competing formats such as Envoy, Common Ground Digital Paper and even Adobe's own PostScript format (.ps); in those early years, the PDF file was mainly popular in desktop publishing workflow.
Adobe soon started distribution of its Acrobat Reader (now Adobe Reader) program at no cost, and continued supporting the original PDF, which eventually became the de facto standard for printable documents on the web (a standard web document).
The PDF file format has changed several times, as new versions of Adobe Acrobat were released. There have been eight versions of PDF with corresponding Acrobat releases:
The ISO 32000-1:2008 PDF open standard was published by the ISO on July 1, 2008. PDF is now a published ISO standard titled: Document management -- Portable document format -- Part 1: PDF 1.7
According to the ISO PDF standard abstract:
ISO 32000-1:2008 specifies a digital form for representing electronic documents to enable users to exchange and view electronic documents independent of the environment in which they were created or the environment in which they are viewed or printed. It is intended for the developer of software that creates PDF files (conforming writers), software that reads existing PDF files and interprets their contents for display and interaction (conforming readers) and PDF products that read and/or write PDF files for a variety of other purposes (conforming products).
The PDF combines three technologies:
loopare removed, while graphics commands such as
Often, the PostScript-like PDF code is generated from a source PostScript file. The graphics commands that are output by the PostScript code are collected and tokenized; any files, graphics, or fonts to which the document refers also are collected; then, everything is compressed to a single file. Therefore, the entire PostScript world (fonts, layout, measurements) remains intact.
As a document format, PDF has several advantages over PostScript:
A PDF file consists primarily of objects, of which there are eight types:
Objects may be either direct (embedded in another object) or indirect. Indirect objects are numbered with an object number and a generation number. An index table called the xref table gives the byte offset of each indirect object from the start of the file. This design allows for efficient random access to the objects in the file, and also allows for small changes to be made without rewriting the entire file (incremental update). Beginning with PDF version 1.5, indirect objects may also be located in special streams known as object streams. This technique reduces the size of files that have large numbers of small indirect objects and is especially useful for Tagged PDF.
There are two layouts to the PDF files—non-linear (not “optimized”) and linear (“optimized”). Non-linear PDF files consume less disk space than their linear counterparts, though they are slower to access because portions of the data required to assemble pages of the document are scattered throughout the PDF file. Linear PDF files (also called “optimized” or “web optimized” PDF files) are constructed in a manner that enables them to be read in a Web browser plugin, since they are written to disk in a linear (as in page order) fashion. PDF files may be optimized using Adobe Acrobat software or pdfopt, which is part of GPL Ghostscript.
PDF graphics use a device independent Cartesian coordinate system to describe the surface of a page. A PDF page description can use a matrix to scale, rotate, or skew graphical elements. A key concept in PDF is that of the graphics state, which is a collection of graphical parameters that may be changed, saved, and restored by a page description. PDF has (as of version 1.6) 24 graphics state properties, of which some of the most important are:
PDF supports several types of patterns. The simplest is the tiling pattern in which a piece of artwork is specified to be drawn repeatedly. This may be a colored tiling pattern, with the colors specified in the pattern object, or an uncolored tiling pattern, which defers color specification to the time the pattern is drawn. Beginning with PDF 1.3 there is also a shading pattern, which draws continuously varying colors. There are seven types of shading pattern of which the simplest are the radial shade (Type 2) and axial shade (Type 3).
and the image-specific filters
Normally all image content in a PDF is embedded in the file. But PDF allows image data to be stored in external files by the use of external streams or Alternate Images. Standardized subsets of PDF, including PDF/A and PDF/X, prohibit these techniques.
For large fonts or fonts with non-standard glyphs, the special encodings Identity-H (for horizontal writing) and Identity-V (for vertical) are used. With such fonts it is necessary to provide a ToUnicode table if semantic information about the characters is to be preserved.
The transparency extensions are based on the key concepts of transparency groups, blending modes, shape, and alpha. The model is closely aligned with the features of Adobe Illustrator version 9. The blend modes were based on those used by Adobe Photoshop at the time. When the PDF 1.4 specification was published the formulas for calculating blend modes were kept secret by Adobe. They have since been published.
The standard security provided by Acrobat PDF consists of two different methods and two different passwords, "user password" and "owner password". A PDF document may be protected by password to open ('user' password) and the document may also specify operations that should be restricted even when the document is decrypted: printing; copying text and graphics out of the document; modifying the document; and adding or modifying text notes and AcroForm fields (using 'owner' password). However, all operations (except the document open password protection, if applicable) which are restricted by "owner" or "user" passwords are trivially circumvented by many commonly available "pdf cracking" softwares, and thus these restrictions are obviously ineffective in letting the author control what can and cannot be done with the pdf file he or she created, once it is distributed. This warning is also displayed when applying such restrictions using Adobe Acrobat software to create or edit PDF files.
PDF files can have document-level and page-level file attachments, which the reader can access and open or save to their local filesystem. PDF attachments can be added to existing PDF files for example using pdftk Adobe Reader provides support for attachments, and Evince (Linux) also has some support for document-level attachments.
A PDF/H variant (PDF for Healthcare) is being developed. However, it may consist more of a set of "best practices" than of a specific format or subset.
Adobe is exploring an XML-based next-generation PDF codenamed Mars. Information about the Mars file format is published by Adobe at http://www.adobe.com/go/mars and also
The format of graphic elements of Mars is sometimes described simply as "SVG", but according to the version 0.8 draft specification of November 2007 (§3 Mars SVG Support) the format is actually merely similar to SVG: it contains both additions to and subtractions from SVG, so it is in general neither viewable by nor creatable with standard SVG tools: some things will look noticeably different between SVG viewers and Mars viewers.
One of the major problems with PDF accessibility is that PDF documents have three distinct views, which, depending on the document's creation, can be inconsistent with each other. The three views are (i) the physical view, (ii) the tags view, and (iii) the content view. The physical view is displayed and printed (what most people consider a PDF document). The tags view is what screen readers read (useful for people with poor eyesight). The content view is displayed when the document is re-flowed to Acrobat (useful for people with mobility disability). For a PDF document to be accessible, the three views must be consistent with each other.
PDF format attachments carrying viruses were first discovered in 2001. This virus, which was named "OUTLOOK.PDFWorm” or “Peachy”, uses Microsoft Outlook to send itself as an attachment to an Adobe PDF file. Virus researchers found that the PDF file viruses activated with Adobe Acrobat, but not with Acrobat Reader.
PDF files may also contain embedded DRM restrictions that provide further controls that limit copying, editing or printing. The restrictions on copying, editing, or printing depend on the reader software to obey them, so the security they provide is limited. Printable documents especially might be saved instead as bitmaps and subject to OCR.
The PDF Reference has technical details or see for an end-user overview. Like HTML files, PDF files may submit information to a web server. This could be used to track the IP address of the client PC, a process known as phoning home. After update 7.0.5 to Acrobat Reader, the user will be notified "via a dialogue box that the author of the file is auditing usage of the file, and be offered the option of continuing".
Through their LiveCycle Policy Server product, Adobe provides a method to set security policies on specific documents. This can include requiring a user to authenticate and limiting the time frame a document can be accessed or amount of time a document can be opened while offline. Once a PDF document is tied to a policy server and a specific policy, that policy can be changed or revoked by the owner. This controls documents that are otherwise "in the wild." Each document open and close event can also be tracked by the policy server. Policy servers can be set up privately or Adobe offers a public service through Adobe Online Services.
Such features are not omissions from the PDF format, whose scope only covers electronic documents. The JDF standard covers such aspects; however, it is a complex standard, which as of 2007 is still not widely implemented. This hinders the replacement of PostScript by PDF.
PDF documents can contain display settings, including the page display layout and zoom level. Adobe Reader will use these settings to override the user's default settings when opening the document. The free Adobe Reader cannot remove these settings.
PDF 1.6 supports interactive 3D documents embedded in the PDF.
Two PDF files that look similar on a computer screen may be of very different sizes. For example, a high resolution raster image takes more space than a low resolution one. Typically higher resolution is needed for printing documents than for displaying them on screen. Other things that may increase the size of a file is embedding full fonts, especially for Asiatic scripts, and storing text as graphics.
These should always be present (actually present or a close substitute) and so need not be embedded in a PDF. PDF viewers must know about the metrics of these fonts. Other fonts may be substituted if they are not embedded in a PDF.
|Version||Year of publication||New features||Supported by Reader version|
|1.2||FlateDecode||Acrobat Reader 3.0|
|1.4||2001||JBIG2; transparency; OCR text layer||Acrobat Reader 5.0|
|1.5||2003||JPEG2000; linked multimedia||Adobe Reader 6.0|
|1.6||2004||Embedded multimedia; XML forms; AES encryption||Adobe Reader 7.0|
|1.7||2006||Adobe Reader 8, Adobe Reader 9|
Readers for many platforms are available, such as Adobe Reader, Foxit, Preview, Sumatra PDF, Xpdf, Evince, Okular, KPDF, Drumlin PDF reader, Embedded General EG-DocViewer PDF and ePDFView; there are also front-ends for many platforms to Ghostscript. PDF readers are generally free.
There are many software options for creating PDFs, including the PDF printing capabilities built in to Mac OS X and some versions of Linux, the multi-platform OpenOffice.org, Microsoft Office 2007 (via a Microsoft-produced add-on), Wordperfect since version 9, numerous PDF print drivers for Microsoft Windows, the pdfTeX typesetting system, the DocBook PDF tools and Adobe Acrobat itself.
There is also specialized software for editing PDF files, though the choices are much more limited and often expensive. Adobe Acrobat Professional is one example of software that allows the user to annotate (highlight, add notes to) already created PDF files. A free one is PDFedit. As of version 0.46, Inkscape also allows PDF editing through an intermediate translation step involving poppler.
AGFA introduced and shipped Apogee, the first prepress workflow system based on PDF, in 1997.
PDF was selected as the "native" metafile format for Mac OS X, replacing the PICT format of the earlier Mac OS. The imaging model of the Quartz graphics layer is based on the model common to Display PostScript and PDF, leading to the nickname "Display PDF". The Preview application can display PDF files, as can version 2.0 and later of the Safari web browser. System-level support for PDF allows Mac OS X applications to create PDF documents automatically, provided they support the Print command. When taking a screenshot under Mac OS X versions 10.0 through 10.3, the image was also captured as a PDF; in 10.4 and 10.5 the default behaviour is set to capture as a PNG file, though this behaviour can be set back to PDF if required.
Some printers also support direct PDF printing, which can interpret PDF data without external help. Currently, all PDF capable printers also support PostScript, but most PostScript printers do not support direct PDF printing.
The Free Software Foundation consider one of their high priority projects to be "developing a free, high-quality and fully functional set of libraries and programs that implement the PDF file format and associated technologies to the coming ISO standard, ISO 32000.