Introducing the Forms Extension for Adobe PDF Library

Datalogics is very proud to announce the release of the Forms Extension for the Adobe PDF Library (APDFL)! This exciting new add-on expands the PDF Library’s processing capabilities for XFA (static and dynamic) and AcroForm forms, notably allowing XFA documents to be opened and converted to more widely-compatible non-XFA PDF content that can be rendered, viewed, modified, extracted, and printed.  The full set of enhanced forms features include:

  • Rendering XFA and AcroForm form documents
  • Converting XFA forms to AcroForm
  • Importing data into XFA and AcroForm documents
  • Exporting data from these form documents to files
  • Flattening XFA and AcroForm documents into regular PDF documents, including generating appearances for bar codes and rendering them as bitmaps

The Forms Extension requires the Adobe PDF Library but is licensed separately, and it is currently available on Windows 32-bit for C++, .NET, and Java.

Why is this so exciting, you ask? Let’s dive into the backstory for more context.

The History of XFA Forms

XFA was developed by the company JetForms for dynamic forms entry, similar to HTML forms. Adobe purchased the company and integrated its technology into their products like InDesign and Acrobat. XFA is woven into PDF files via file formats known as Static and Dynamic XFA PDF documents.

Static XFA documents are a hybrid of older AcroForm fields and XFA fields, which can’t dynamically respond to user entry so they’re considered ‘static.’ However, these can be especially problematic, because they contain two representations of the forms data. The idea was that AcroForm-aware viewers (which are very common in the PDF space) can view the PDF and display the AcroForm fields contained in it. Similarly, XFA-aware viewers can view the PDF and display the XFA fields contained in it. Data between the two representations can become out of sync, and viewers that recognize both are challenged with deciding which data to prioritize. This has been a big factor in limiting XFA’s widespread adoption.

Dynamic XFA documents, in contrast, can dynamically change their fields based on user entry. They are a completely new invention and don’t actually contain meaningful PDF content at all! They typically carry a placeholder image or text for a one page PDF that contains a message indicating the current viewer is unsupported and to upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Acrobat instead. The biggest problem with these types of documents is that most PDF technology in the marketplace, at best, can only display the placeholder message. This has led to confusion among users and has hindered Dynamic XFA’s widespread success.

While many have made use of XFA over the years, its drawbacks have outweighed its useful features, and it has been deprecated from the recently-released PDF 2.0 specification. In the short term, XFA document workflows may continue to be used for their dynamic capabilities, and the millions, or perhaps billions, of XFA documents in existence must continue to be accessible. In the longer term, companies are looking for sustainable forms processing solutions.

How Forms Extension for APDFL Works

With the Forms Extension from Datalogics, you can now open XFA documents reliably, and you can flatten the XFA content into regular PDF content. This can mean the difference between having legacy XFA forms documents that were previously only usable in Adobe Acrobat and a small set of other viewing tools and having the power to transform them into regular PDF content that any PDF processor can access. This is an amazingly useful feature given the previously mentioned drawbacks of XFA. This also offers a strategy for baking in form data when you don’t want content to be editable.

In addition to flattening, we also now offer the ability to convert the XFA fields to AcroForm fields. This is significant for users who want to maintain the ability to interact with their PDF forms but are looking for a format that is compatible with existing PDF software and the latest PDF standard.

Finally, we have added the ability to import and export data from XFA documents and AcroForm documents. This supports populating blank form fields from an external data source and exporting form data to an external source – a crucial component of automated forms processing.

Whether you aim to work with XFA forms or AcroForms or convert your XFA forms to AcroForms, we are excited to announce that the Forms Extension for the Adobe PDF library supports all of your PDF forms processing needs! The Forms Extension is now available for a free evaluation period – download it today to get started!

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2 thoughts on “Introducing the Forms Extension for Adobe PDF Library”

  1. With all due respect, but it was XFA (or, better said, the (highly virulent) XFA faction within Adobe) which hindered adding dynamic possibilities to AcroForms.
    Having created dynamic AcroForm forms, I noticed that only very, very few features were/are missing in Acrobat JavaScript to make dynamic AcroForm forms reasonably well possible. If those features were available, making a Acrobat JavaScript library making creating dynamic (AcroForms) forms would be feasible.
    At the time when these feature were first asked for, Adobe still had the ownership of PDF, and the excuse “we can no longer do that because…” could not yet be brought up.

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