Data is central to every form. Some forms simply collect data while others use pre-collected data to do various things to forms, such as pre-populate names, phone numbers, addresses, affect the layout of a form or various other things.
Using pre-collected data to affect a form as described above involves importing data into a form via the host application (assuming a server isn’t part of the picture). This time around, I want to talk specifically about importing data using Acrobat.
As you all know, Adobe distributes the Reader application for free. Because of this, you can save the forms you design in Designer as PDF and anyone with the free Reader application can fill your form and submit its data electronically.
The catch is when your PDF form requires data to be imported. Unless the host application is Acrobat Professional or Acrobat Standard, a regular PDF form cannot import data — no matter if it comes from an XML Data file or from a data connection to an ODBC or WSDL data source. Acrobat Pro/Std comes with all the tools you need to import data into a form and permits data to be automatically imported via an ODBC or WSDL connection. PDF forms opened in Reader (or Elements for that matter), on the other hand, aren’t privy to that functionality by default.
Side note: In Reader 7.0.5, there was a bug that resulted in Reader having the ability to import data into non-Reader-Extended (more on Reader Extensions below) forms. That bug was fixed in Reader 7.0.7 such that Reader can no longer, by default, import data into a PDF form.
The general rule is that PDF forms opened in Reader must be individually extended using Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions in order to enable the use of special hidden features such as Data Import, Digital Signatures, Local Save, Commenting and more. The only exception is if you own a licensed copy of Acrobat Pro 7.x which allows you to send a PDF out for review via email — which will enable Commenting capabilities in Reader for that PDF — or version 8.x in which you now have access to a new feature called “Enable Usage Rights in Adobe Reader“, available under the “Advanced“ menu. Using this new version 8.x command enables the Local Save and Digital Signature features in Reader for a particular PDF form. That said, before you start enabling all your forms, you should note that use of these Acrobat Pro features is subject to certain restrictions as detailed in your license agreement which you should be aware of.
Important: Local Save is not equivalent to Data Import. Local Save simply gives the user the ability to save a copy of a PDF form, along with any filled data, using the free Reader such that the form may be closed and re-opened at a later date in order to be completed. Therefore, you cannot use the “Enable Usage Rights in Adobe Reader“ feature in Acrobat Pro to enable Data Import features in the free Reader.
Another option is to use Adobe LiveCycle Forms to deploy your forms. Using this server product, you can pre-populate forms with data on the server prior to deploying them to the client application (on the user’s system). Using this option, you don’t need to reader-extend a PDF form which imports data because the data is imported and merged into the PDF form on the server and then deployed to the client application (any version of Acrobat/Reader on the user’s system), which, in turn, doesn’t need to import any data.
To summarize, here’s a little table that illustrates the conditions under which you can import data into a PDF form in Acrobat:
|Version||PDF Form||With Reader Extensions||With LiveCycle Forms|
Sep 12, 2008 — Added information about “Enabling Usage Rights in Adobe Reader” feature
Posted by Stefan Cameron on August 12th, 2006
Filed under Acrobat
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