PDF forms and Linux

PDF logoBuying or booking online may require filling in a PDF form and sending it back. But how to fill it in if you are not on Windows using Adobe software? Actually that is a problem, but there is a workaround.

The PDF form specification is kept carefully hidden by Adobe. So there are no open-source applications that can store data in the PDF form itself. Some seem to – but not really. After some searching and trying I managed to produce something readable using the default document viewer for KDE desktops, Okular.

TIP: have a look at Master PDF Editor.

If you open a PDF form with Okular, it will be recognised as a form. Top right you will find a ‘Show Forms’ button. If you click it, you can fill in the fields.pdf-form_okular

But don’t just click ‘Save’ after you’re done. Then all Okular does is saving your data to the XML file linked to the PDF file (which can be found in ~/.kde/share/apps/okular/docdata). The PDF file itself will not contain these data.

Yet the workaround is simple: after you have finished filling in the form just print the document as PDF. That should be a default option on a Linux system, but if not, just make sure the cups-pdf package is installed. To install open a terminal and do this:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cups-pdf

Now the printed PDF form will be readable with any PDF software on any platform. However, if the form is to be processed digitally, I am not sure if that will still work, since the original fields may not be recognised as such anymore. But then, a human being should still be able to work it out.

PDF tools

Since I prefer KDE, Okular is always at hand. Of course you can do the same trick with Evince, the default GNOME document viewer. The Linux version of the much used Foxit Reader cannot read PDF forms. Finally, you could try the cloud based service of CutePDF Editor. It’s free and they say the service is encrypted and anonymised, and they do not keep any PDF content. Still, there’s no such thing a a free lunch…

And for those poor ones still stuck to Windows – quite a few, they say – printing a document as PDF can easily be done with CutePDF Writer. (In my Windows days of yonder I used to work with PDF Creator, but that turns out to be stuffed with adware and the likes nowadays.) And if you have already swapped to LibreOffice as your office suite, you can, of course, directly print any document, sheet or presentation as PDF, using its built-in feature.