Removing Hyperlinks from a PDF and Feature/Gotcha

Occasionally, I receive a question like this one:

Is it possible to make a document searchable but remove the hyperlinks? Even if I remove the hyperlinks from the document, [Adobe] Reader users can still click the links which open URLs in their web browser.

Legal Professionals sometimes want to remove hyperlinks from documents in discovery production. Since a link to a website is valuable, why make it easy to check out the destination? Or, perhaps your source documents have a link to a destination which is out of date. It might be easier to remove these links rather than correct them.

In this article, I’ll discuss how to remove links and a "feature/gotcha" that limits what you are able to do.

For you diehards, I also provide a workaround.

How do links get into PDFs anyway?

Hyperlinks are authored three different ways:

  1. Inserted by an authoring application such as Microsoft Word and preserved when using the PDF Maker integration provided by Acrobat
  2. Created in Acrobat
  3. Automatically created by the viewer (Reader or Acrobat)

Some Links are Automatically Generated

Consider the following four examples I created in a Microsoft Word file and then converted to PDF:

Acrobat and Reader treat these links in different ways:

  Type Link will be . . . Can link be deleted?
Full Qualified URL Dynamically generated at view time No
Partially Qualified URL Dynamically generated at view time No
Unqualified URL Ignored N/A
Embedded Link Active (this link is present in the PDF) Yes

Automatic Links . . . Gotcha!

A and B above are dynamically generated when the page is opened in Reader or Acrobat. They don’t actually ever exist as link overlays in the PDF. For this reason, it isn’t possible to delete them.

So, there’s your gotcha!

You could re-scan the document, but if you OCR it Acrobat and Reader will still find the links.

Maybe that doesn’t seem fair, but this feature is extremely useful. Most folks outside the legal field don’t want to have to retype links into their web browser. It’s a feature, not a bug.

Removing Links

You can remove embedded links (inserted by authoring applications or by Acrobat). Here’s how to do so in Acrobat X or XI:

Choose Tools > Document Processing > Remove All Links

A Sneaky Workaround

Embedded links always take precedence over dynamically generated links. With this in mind, it is possible to generate embedded links in the document, then simply send the viewer to a null destination. If you have a long document, this could be a lot of work and you will need to be careful not to delete links you want to retain.

Still, for those of you preparing documents for attorneys who won’t take no for an answer . . .here’s how to go about this below.

I suggest working on a copy of the document.

  1. Open the PDF you want to work on
  2. Choose Tools > Document Processing > Create Links from URLs
    This will create embedded links from the URLs found in the PDF.
  3. Choose Tools> Interactive Objects> Select Object
  4. All of the link rectangles will be visible on the page:
  5. Select the links you want to change. You can shift-click or CTRL-click to select multiple ones. Or, on a page by page basis, you can type CTRL-A to select all of the links on the page.

    Once selected, the links will be highlighted:

  6. Without deselecting the links, right-click and choose Properties. The Link Properties Window opens.

    Click the Actions Tab:

  7. In the Actions tab:
    A) Select the Open a web link action
    B) Click the Delete button
    C) Click OK

False Security

Unfortunately, unless you encrypt the document, the process is completely reversible by a knowledgeable Acrobat user, but Reader users will be out of luck.

You better hope the other side doesn’t read my blog . . .

5 Responses to Removing Hyperlinks from a PDF and Feature/Gotcha

  1. PB Coleman says:

    Thank you for the informative post. In the past, I have used the Content Panel on the Navigation Pane to select the link container. Ctrl + click selects multiple containers allowing a single deletion for all the links.
    However, this is still a manual process. On a 500 page document this is often time prohibitive.
    An action to globally delete dynamic links would be a better solution.

  2. L.E. Finn says:

    Is there anyway to delete internet links but retain intranet links? For instance, if I want to remove links in footnotes from a pdf but not remove the link to the footnote itself (e.g., “This is a sentence with a footnote. FN 1.”) I would like to save the link to FN 1 but delete the link that is in the footnote.

    • Rick Borstein says:

      I do not know of a way to do that, sorry. Remove web links deletes all links irrespective of the destination.

  3. slnay says:

    Thank you for your article. It was very helpful.