An Introduction to Portable Document Format (PDF)

What is a PDF, and how can I get all that information into structured data, which you can download, or send to hundreds of other platforms? That is what we at Docparser are here to help you with. There are piles of articles out there on PDFs, but they seem to fall between extremely technical, and leaving us wanting a little more. So we figured we would take a stab at our interpretation. Let’s go back to the basics.

What is a PDF?

Great question! A PDF is a Portable Document Format file format. The easiest way for us to sum that up, it to ask you to envision a folder. Inside that folder are the blueprints to the file, from fonts, and graphics to text and more. These elements compose the modern day PDF, and are the core building blocks upon which it is built. This file format was “discovered/invented” in the 1990’s as a way to share information between users with different computer set-ups.

Why use a PDF?

To sum it up, it is a format of document that is easily read by multiple user systems. It is independent of operating systems (Windows, Mac, etc), hardware (Dell, HP, Toshiba, etc.) and also software. Meaning if you created a PDF on a Dell with Windows, your colleague could read it on Mac, without any conversion software, or any troubles. This effectively breaks down the barriers to the adversity introduced by different brands hardware, running different operating systems & software.

What are popular uses of PDFs?

PDF’s are used today in many ways, from a way to archive Government and University data, to User Manuals, Invoices and Receipts (and everywhere in-between). PDF popularity has grown over the years and its flexibility to create on-the-fly documents, while allowing users to be relaxed, or quite strict, on their security is also an appealing option for many users. One of our favorite features is the submit functionality, where the developer of the PDF can create a form for users to populate, and the form can then be emailed with the click of a button within the form itself!

Some quick facts highlighting the prowess of PDFs:

  • As of 2015, there were over 3.3 Billion users of the Internet
  • Google states that there are over 30 Trillion pages available on the internet
  • Nearly 80% of all non-html documents posted online are PDFs

PDFs are actually quite easy to create, however extracting the data from the PDF can be quite challenging. Whether you are attempting to convert PDF to Excel, possibly extract the data into Google Sheets, or even send on to your CRM, Cloud Storage platform, or dump into your database for post processing. Docparser has the tools you need to accomplish your PDF parsing needs.

We referenced the following sources when creating this post:
https://acrobatusers.com/tutorials/form-submit-e-mail-demystified
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portable_Document_Format
https://www.loc.gov/preservation/digital/formats/fdd/fdd000318.shtml

Joshua Harris

Author: Joshua Harris

Hi, I'm Joshua. Each day, I speak to people who use our tool so I can learn to make it better. Parse a few PDFs and let me know what you think.