RE: [xep-support] Cool Tools: PDF Forms

From: Kevin Brown <>
Date: Sun Jul 19 2009 - 09:45:48 PDT


As for use cases ....

Well, we had one implementation for a European utility company. They wanted to go green as possible and save $s in the process. They implemented e-mail PDF of Utility Bills and online access through the users account where the bill is generated dynamically. The "bill" is actually a form that allows the customer to submit their meter reading back to the utility company on occasion. Through the process, they have cut back somewhat on reading meters, choosing to see how the customer's responses will be.

Or a local cable television company that send e-bills that are actually forms with advertising. Clicking the form, submitting some information and voila, you have one-month free access to a movie channel. The form submittal is direct to a program that creates a transaction to their business system. Of course, the form contains all the hidden elements that identify the user and since they are also the internet provider, they can even confirm against the IP address of the submitter.

A telephone company in Israel is using online statement presentment and bill pay directly from the PDF bill that is a form. A user can login in, get the e-bill, pay it by entering credit card information, and get a copy of the bill as receipt -- all from the PDF form transaction to a secure server.

As for downloading a PDF to fill-in AND save ...

That is a somewhat no-no if you are using Adobe Reader as your PDF reader. No vendor can implement local saving of form content to disk with the magical "top-secret adobe-only permission" called "reader enablement". The same applies to things like adding comments to PDF. These permissions were removed from Adobe Reader for all vendors except Adobe ... Adobe's own software must create (or modify) the PDF to add such functionality to it.

But ...

I say "somewhat" because nothing stops one (and our partner is now implementing such things on our site) from accepting the form submission server-side and allowing to "save" or "flatten" a PDF. "Saving" is taking the original document and regenerating a new form with all of the data in the fields the user entered as their default values, then returning that form back to the user. "Flattening" is similar except the data is put into the document in the stream and not form fields. Programmatically, these are merely modifications from the original style sheet to a new one and we are writing a "flatten.xsl" and a "save.xsl" that can be applied to a form FO/XSL to get the proper XSLs for these operations. So, a user can hit a "save" button in the PDF, submit the current state of the form data to the server, it is parsed to XML and then a few XSLs applied to generate a new PDF that has the submitted data inserted. This is directed back to the users browser or saved in some busines!
 s system such as a workflow routing.

If you create a form and use the URL I sent in the first email, part of this process is already happening. That URL is a FDF/XFDF parser that accepts the form data. It parses it and creates an XML file. That XML is transformed to PDF. In a form we are emailing out, that same program recognizes a special submittal from you and generates a license key for PDF Forms for you but sending the transaction to our license key generator. There a use case and shows we even USE our own software :)

So, a dynamic form can be generated and emailed as attachments or it can be done server side and the PDF sent directly to a users browser. So you can have tools like "submit" to send the data to a server-based process, or "save" to get a working copy of what you have filled out so far (for yourself or even others to complete), or flatten which would likely be used as part of the submit process, to give the user a completed PDF showing what they entered. And the submittal is merely XML that you can use for any business process you wish.

One of our partners is using this to allow internal users to create and send custom letter campaigns. They generate a form with some fields that allow sales and marketing to input the information they want in the letter itself ... some verbiage for the particular campaign. This form is submitted and is transformed into the XSL that is applied to their marketing database to generate 100,000 letters for print.

Hope some of these scenarios catch your eye and maybe can lead to some new ideas.


-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Dave Pawson
Sent: Sunday, July 19, 2009 11:48 AM
Subject: Re: [xep-support] Cool Tools: PDF Forms

Thanks for the update Kevin.
   Always a problem to get a 'soft' form back to an organisation.

Bit more high level information please.

How do you see them being used please?
Download a PDF... fill it in, save to disk then email to the organisation,
or some other model?


Dave Pawson
Docbook FAQ.
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Received on Sun Jul 19 10:05:03 2009

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