PDF: the de facto document technology

The Portable Document Format (commonly known as “PDF”) is a file format developed in the early 1990s as a way to share computer documents, including text formatting and inline images.

Author: PDF Association
Date: July 26, 2017


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PDF: the de facto document technology

The Portable Document Format (commonly known as “PDF”) is a file format developed in the early 1990s as a way to share computer documents, including text formatting and inline images. PDF technology was designed to allow for presentation of documents independent of the application software, operating system and hardware used to create them.

PDF files encapsulate a complete description of a fixed-layout document, including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it. PDF files may also include a wide variety of other content, from hyperlinks to metadata to logical structure to JavaScript and attached files, that allow the format to meet a wide variety of functional and workflow needs for electronic documents.

The PDF specification

From 1993 until 2007 the PDF specification (known as the “PDF Reference”) was published by Adobe Systems, and during that time, was released in eight editions, from 1.0 to 1.7. To promote widespread adoption, Adobe System made these documents freely available and their use royalty-free, from the outset.

To download any of the pre-ISO editions of the PDF Reference, visit Adobe’s PDF Reference Archive.

In 2008 ISO published the first ISO edition of the PDF Reference as ISO 32000. Technically identical to PDF 1.7, the first ISO specification for PDF was named “ISO 32000-1”. Under a special one-time agreement between Adobe and ISO, an “Adobe version” of ISO 32000-1 was made available as a free download from Adobe’s website. Purchased directly from ISO, ISO 32000-1 costs 198 Swiss Francs.

PDF 2.0

In July, 2017, ISO published ISO 32000-2, the long-awaited PDF 2.0. In addition to numerous clarifications and corrections, this document enhances and extends the PDF format in a wide variety of new areas. PDF 2.0 is available from ISO’s web-store. for 198 Swiss francs.