Importing Data in Acrobat

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 — that is, Reader 7.0.7+ (the latest version is 7.0.8) doesn’t allow data import by default.

In Reader 7.0.5, there was a bug that resulted in Reader having the ability to import data into forms. Unfortunately (well, that’s my opinion), that bug was fixed in Reader 7.0.7 such that Reader can no longer, by default, import data into a PDF form.

In general (at least as of Reader 7.0.7), PDF forms opened in Reader must be individually _extended_, using Acrobat Professional or “Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions”:, to allow the use of “hidden” functionality in Reader (such as Data Import or Commenting). (You can reader-extend forms using Acrobat Professional’s “File | Form Data | Initiate Data File Collection Workflow” menu item in order to collect data via Reader for a limited number of submissions.)

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* |
|((())). Reader |((())). %{color:red} *no* % |((())). yes |((())). yes |
|((())). Elements |((())). %{color:red} *no* % |((())). yes |((())). yes |
|((())). Standard |((())). yes |((())). yes |((())). yes |
|((())). Professional |((())). yes |((())). yes |((())). yes |

~*Updated:* September 20, 2006~