PDF Packages vs. PDF Portfolios

This article is included in the LiveCycle Documentation blog because it establishes a foundation that will make it easier to understand LiveCycle features related to PDF Packages and PDF Portfolios.

In 2006, the PDF specification added support for document collections, which provide information that PDF viewing applications can use for navigating the files attached to a PDF document. Since then, Adobe® Reader® and Adobe Acrobat® have used the terms PDF Packages and PDF Portfolios to describe these collections. This article explains the history of these terms, and it describes the Acrobat user interface that makes PDF Packages and PDF Portfolios so dynamic.


PDF Packages (Acrobat 8)

The PDF Reference, sixth edition, version 1.7 (Acrobat 8) introduced the collection dictionary, which specifies how a viewer application’s user interface presents collections of file attachments. Acrobat 8 uses the term PDF Package to describe a PDF document that contains a collection dictionary.

The files in a PDF Package can be in different formats and created in different applications. For example, suppose you have a project that includes PDF documents, text documents, email messages, spreadsheets, CAD drawings, and Microsoft® PowerPoint presentations. You could combine these documents into a PDF Package. The original files retain their individual identities but are still part of the one PDF Package file. Each component file can be opened, read, edited, and formatted independently of the other component files in the PDF Package if the corresponding application is installed.

A PDF Package is actually a PDF document (the cover sheet) that has attachments (the component files), but with added information used to organize the component documents (for example, date, author, or topic). When creating a PDF Package, you can provide a cover sheet or allow Acrobat to provide a cover sheet for you.

PDF Portfolios (Acrobat 9)

ISO 32000-1:2008 – Document management — Portable document format (Acrobat 9.0) extended the collection dictionary with attributes that specify a customizable ActionScript® user interface for navigating the files in the collection. It also extends the collection dictionary with attributes that specify a folder structure for the files in the collection.

The user interface for a PDF Portfolio includes the following parts:

  • Compiled ActionScript program (This program cannot be based on Adobe AIR™.)
  • (Optional) Resources used by the program, including graphics and localized strings
  • (Optional) Icon that provides a visual clue about the appearance of the layout
  • (Optional) XML file that identifies the interface and organizes the parts of the PDF Portfolio Layout. This format is specified in the Acrobat Navigator File Format. To gain access to this specification, you must submit a form to Adobe, as described at http://www.adobe.com/devnet/acrobat.

The ActionScript program invokes methods exposed by Acrobat to present a user interface for browsing the documents contained in the PDF Package. The ActionScript program can also invoke methods provided in other ActionScript libraries. The program, resources, and XML file are compressed (using WinZip or a similar program) to produce a PDF Portfolio Layout. (Developers informally use the term PDF portfolio navigator to mean a PDF Portfolio Layout.) Placing the resulting PDF Portfolio Layout in the Acrobat application data directory makes it available to Acrobat users.

Using Acrobat Pro 9 or Acrobat Pro Extended 9, users can create a PDF Portfolio that includes a custom PDF Portfolio Layout or one of the sample PDF Portfolio Layouts installed with Acrobat. The result is a PDF Portfolio that contains its own user interface. Adobe Reader 9 and Acrobat Standard can display the PDF Portfolio Layouts included in PDF Portfolios, but they cannot create PDF Portfolios.

Acrobat 9.0 uses the term PDF Portfolio to describe any document that contains a collection dictionary, regardless of whether the file includes its own user interface for navigating files.

Acrobat behavior relative to PDF Packages and PDF Portfolios

Here is a clarification regarding Adobe Reader and Acrobat behavior relative to PDF Packages and PDF Portfolios. In this context, there is no difference between PDF Packages and PDF Portfolios.

  • Adobe Reader 8 and Acrobat 8 use a standard user interface to display the documents in the collection and ignore the PDF Portfolio Layout (if present).
  • Adobe Reader 9 and Acrobat 9 use a PDF Portfolio Layout to display the documents in the collection. The contents of the PDF Portfolio determines the source of the layout used.


  • PDF Portfolio that includes a PDF Portfolio Layout:Adobe Reader and Acrobat use the provided PDF Portfolio Layout to display the documents in the collection

    PDF Portfolio that omits a PDF Portfolio Layout:Adobe Reader and Acrobat use a default PDF Portfolio Layout to display the documents in the collection.

In the following situations, Acrobat 9 displays the collection files using an interface similar to the one used in Acrobat 8:

  • Acrobat 9 is installed in locales that use a right-to-left writing style.
  • Acrobat 9 preferences for Accessibility and International restrict support for the PDF Portfolio Layout (if provided).

For more information

For information about creating a custom PDF Portfolio Layout, see the Documentation tab of the Acrobat Developer Center.

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