PDF Forms Flattener

PDF Forms Flattener

Introduction

Welcome to the PDF Forms Flattener, a scriptable server tool offered by Datalogics.  This simple stand-alone utility works with Windows 64 platforms and allows you to flatten documents containing PDF forms, both AcroForm and XFA.

When flattening a PDF form document, most of the content in the form fields appears in the output file as regular text, and the interactive features of these form fields are removed. It is no longer possible to change the values in the form fields.  When you run PDF Forms Flattener, the program flattens the input PDF and saves it as a new output document.

PDF Forms Flattener is a fast and simple way to convert a PDF form document into a standard PDF file, making it easy to distribute.

Working with Forms Technology

Adobe Inc. developed Adobe Acrobat Forms, or AcroForm, in 1998.  AcroForm is the original PDF forms technology and it remains the primary method for building PDF forms documents today. Many PDF users use Adobe Acrobat to build electronic forms and surveys, adding text fields, check boxes, radio buttons, bar codes, and other form field elements to a PDF document.

XFA, or XML Forms Architecture, is a set of proprietary XML specifications for use with web forms.  In 2002 Adobe Inc. bought the company that created the XFA standard. XFA can be created and managed using the Adobe Experience Manager, previously known as Adobe LiveCycle Designer software. XFA forms can be saved internally in PDF files.  Unlike AcroForm, XFA forms can allow text reflow, so that text fields can resize to allow more content if needed. Dynamic XFA forms can also be interactive, as the form document is built using a series of templates. The form document can respond to the information that a user enters or selects and display a different set of form fields relevant to the user’s answer.

Many XFA documents remain in use, but most PDF documents use AcroForm instead. AcroForm are compatible with a much wider range of software applications, as well as with Acrobat itself. Note also that XFA was deprecated in the new PDF 2.0 format, and is not permitted for use with special ISO formats for PDF documents, including PDF/A, PDF/E, PDF/X, PDF/UA, and PDF/VT. Further, XFA is not supported on mobile devices.

Importing Data into Forms Documents

You might want to flatten a set of PDF form documents that have already been completed, saved, and returned to you by your employees, customers, or prospects. This allows you to archive the form documents for later review and store these PDF documents in a way that the content cannot be altered.

But you can also use PDF Forms Flattener to import data into a blank PDF form document (or set of form documents), save the document as a completed form, and then flatten it. Suppose several employees of one of your customers completed an HTML form for you on your web site. Then their manager asks you for a copy of their responses. You could export the entries from a database, import the data into a series of blank PDF form documents, flatten those documents, and then send the saved PDF documents to the customer involved. The customer only wants the information; the form fields do not need to be interactive.

You can import data into the fields on both kinds of form documents, XFA and AcroForms.  For AcroForm documents, use FDF, XFDF, and XML files to provide the import data, while XFD, XDP, or XML files are used to import content into XFA forms documents.

FDF refers to Forms Data Format, a file format described in the PDF specification. FDF files use the same low-level syntax as PDF, but the FDF format is only used to describe the content found in PDF annotations and form fields. XFDF is an XML version of the FDF format. XDP refers to XML Data Package, an XML-based companion to the PDF format created by Adobe in 2003. The XFD file format uses the Extensible Forms Description Language for laying out forms data used in business transactions.

Installing Forms Flattener: Updating the Activation Key

PDF Forms Flattener installs from a Windows self-extracting executable.  When you purchase the product you will also receive an activation key.  When you install the software you will be prompted to enter this key.  In response the system generates a license file (pdf_forms_flattener.lic) and stores it in the software installation directory.

When your evaluation period ends, or when the product license expires, and you receive a new activation key for PDF Forms Flattener, you will need to enter it as you did your original activation key when you first installed the product. You will be prompted to enter the activation key. Type or paste the key value as you did before. The system will update the license file for you, and you can continue to use the product.

Note that if you don’t enter the activation key value when you first install the product, or enter it incorrectly, you will be prompted to enter the value again the next time you run PDF Forms Flattener.

Generating Appearances for Annotations in a PDF Document

Every annotation included in a PDF document features an optional entry that describes what the annotation will look like when the document is rendered in a viewer. For example, a link to an external web site would probably appear in blue on a PDF page. Generally, this annotation appearance value is not provided, so if the PDF is opened in Adobe Acrobat, Acrobat will fill in the appearance, based on what the value should be. When you open a PDF document in Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Reader and this viewer fills in the appearance value, you will be prompted to save the file when you close it.  If you do save the file, the annotation appearance is made a part of the updated PDF document.  This is the normal annotation appearance.

You can use PDF Forms Flattener to programmatically generate appearances for annotations in a standard PDF document or set of standard PDF documents where those appearances are missing. This process runs automatically as part of the command line statement. If you use as an input file a PDF document that is not a form, PDF Forms Flattener will process it for you to provide the appearances but will not flatten the document or make any other changes.

When you run PDF Forms Flattener with an input document, the software first reviews that input document to determine whether it is a PDF form.  This is before the product tries to import data or flatten the file.

  • If the input document is not a PDF form, the PDF Forms Flattener will save the document. This has the effect of generating missing appearances for annotations in that document. No other changes are made.
  • If the input document is an AcroForm document, the software will save it to an output file to generate appearances. Then, the product will flatten this saved file to generate the output document you need.
  • If the input document is an XFA form document, the software will read the document, flatten it, and save an output PDF file.