Portable Document Format (PDF)

May 20, 2023

The Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format used to present and exchange documents reliably, independently of software, hardware, or operating system. PDF files preserve the fonts, images, graphics, and layout of any source document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. PDFs can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from simple text documents, to complex forms, to high-resolution graphics.

Purpose and Usage

PDFs are used widely across the internet and in many industries, such as publishing, government, education, and finance, because they provide a reliable and easily accessible means of sharing documents. PDFs are popular for several reasons:

  • Cross-platform compatibility: PDF files can be viewed on any device with a PDF viewer installed, regardless of whether it is a desktop computer, a mobile device, or a web browser.

  • Preservation of formatting: PDF files preserve the original formatting of the source document, including fonts, images, and layout. This ensures that the document appears the same way to all users, regardless of the software or operating system they are using.

  • Security: PDF files can be secured with passwords, digital signatures, and other encryption methods to protect sensitive information.

  • Accessibility: PDFs can be created with features to make them more accessible for users with disabilities, such as text-to-speech capabilities, screen readers, and alternative text for images.

PDFs can be created from a wide range of software applications, including word processors, desktop publishing software, and graphic design software. Most operating systems also include a built-in PDF viewer, allowing users to view PDF files without the need for additional software.


The PDF format was created in the early 1990s by a team at Adobe Systems led by Dr. John Warnock. The team set out to create a file format that would preserve the visual appearance of documents, regardless of the software or hardware used to view them.

The first version of the PDF format, released in 1993, was based on PostScript, a page description language developed by Adobe Systems. Over the years, the PDF format has evolved and expanded to include new features and capabilities, such as digital signatures, multimedia support, and accessibility features.

In 2008, Adobe Systems released the PDF format as an open standard, allowing other companies to create software that could create, view, and edit PDF files. This move helped to make PDFs even more widely adopted and versatile.

Creating PDFs

Creating a PDF file typically involves using a PDF creator software application, which can be standalone software or an add-on to an existing application. Many common software applications, such as Microsoft Word, Adobe InDesign, and Google Docs, include built-in PDF creation capabilities.

There are several methods for creating PDFs. One common method is to use a virtual printer driver, which allows users to “print” their document to a PDF file instead of a physical printer. Another common method is to use a PDF creation application that can convert other file formats to PDF, such as Word documents or image files.

When creating a PDF, it is important to consider the intended use of the document and optimize it accordingly. For example, if the PDF will be viewed primarily on a computer screen, it may be appropriate to use a lower resolution and smaller file size to reduce download times. Conversely, if the PDF will be printed, a higher resolution and larger file size may be necessary to ensure the document prints clearly.

Viewing and Editing PDFs

PDF files can be viewed with a variety of software applications, including web browsers, Adobe Reader, and other PDF viewers. Most operating systems include a built-in PDF viewer that can be used to open and view PDF files.

PDF files can also be edited, although the level of editing capability varies depending on the software being used. Some PDF editors allow users to make basic changes, such as adding text or images, while others provide more advanced editing capabilities, such as the ability to manipulate the layout or structure of the document.