QUESTION: What is XFDF?
stands for "XML Forms Data Format." XFDF is an XML-based
file format for representing form data and annotations
that are contained in a PDF form.
The XFDF format can be used in a variety of workflows. Here are a just couple of examples:
Sending form data to a server and receiving modified form data back from the server. This workflow
would look something like this:
Archiving form data. This workflow would look something
- Form data in XFDF format is submitted to the server. (Typically, this would happen when
a human user at a client machine clicks a "Submit" button on the form.)
- On the server, the XFDF data is modified.
- The server sends the modified XFDF data back to the client.
- At the client machine, the fields in the form are populated with the modified data.
You might be wondering why you'd want to archive an XFDF file containing the data
for a PDF form instead of simply archiving a uniquely named version of the entire PDF form with the data
included in it. There are two reasons:
- A human user uses Adobe Acrobat or some other PDF-viewing/editing application*
to export the form data in XFDF format. (To do this
in Adobe Acrobat 6.x for Windows, click Advanced > Forms > Export Forms Data and
choose Acrobat XFDF Files (*.xfdf) for "Save as type." The procedure
might be different if you're using another version of Adobe Acrobat.)
- The XFDF file is saved in the company's archives.
- To look at the form data, a human user would use Adobe Acrobat or some other
PDF-viewing/editing application* to open the XFDF file;
this would cause the PDF-viewing/editing application to 1) find the PDF form from which the form data was
exported, 2) load the form data into the form, 3) display the form with the loaded
data on the screen.
IMPORTANT NOTE TO DEVELOPERS: An XFDF file contains the filename and location of the PDF form
from which the form data in that particular XFDF file was exported. Adobe Acrobat (and any
PDF-viewing/editing application that supports PDF forms) relies
on that filename and location in order to retrieve and open the
appropriate PDF form when opening an XFDF file.
In other words: when opening an XFDF file, a PDF viewing/editing application
the PDF form from which the form data was exported is available at the
- An XFDF file containing form data for a PDF form is much smaller than the
file containing the PDF form itself, so archiving XFDF files requires less
storage space than archiving PDF forms.
- Some software that people use to view and interact with PDF forms does not allow
the user to save a filled-in PDF form. For example, the free "Adobe Reader"
software does not allow this.
Therefore, if you are a developer that is considering
implementation of a system that archives XFDF data, you'll want to
make sure that your system has a reliable method of storing the
required PDF forms in known locations. Otherwise, it will not
always be possible for PDF-viewing/editing applications to retrieve and open
the PDF Forms when they are needed.
Creating your own XFDF files
As mentioned, the two workflows described above are just
examples of how you can utilize XFDF data. Both of those workflows
rely on a PDF-viewing/editing application such as
Adobe Acrobat for creation of the XFDF data.
However, you don't have to rely on a PDF-viewing/editing application to
generate XFDF data — it is possible to generate XFDF data yourself, and
depending upon what you need to accomplish, it might make sense to do just that.
For example, if you have data stored in a database,
it would be possible (if you are a programmer or if you have access to
someone with programming skills) to extract data from your database
and put it in XFDF format. Or, if you have a Web site where site visitors enter
data into an HTML form, you or your programmer could write a script to
convert the data entered by users to XFDF format. As stated below,
the XFDF format is
described in detail in Adobe's XML Forms Data Format Specification, so you'd
need to read that document to gain an
understanding of the XFDF format before you'd be able to generate your
own XFDF data.
Populating PDF forms with XFDF data dynamically
You don't have to rely on a PDF-viewing/editing application to load
XFDF data into PDF forms. Instead, you (or your programmer)
can use a programmer's toolkit
to put XFDF data into your PDF forms automatically.
Citation Software sells two programmer's toolkits that allow you
populate PDF forms with XFDF data automatically:
Depending on which of these programmer's toolkits you're using, you
might even be able to put graphics as well as text into your PDF forms!
How to get more information about the XFDF format
The XFDF format is described in
Adobe's XML Forms Data Format Specification.
See also What is FDF?
See also What's the difference between FDF and XFDF?"
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