Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) M. Hardy
Request for Comments: 8118 L. Masinter
Obsoletes: 3778 D. Markovic
Category: Informational Adobe Systems Incorporated
ISSN: 2070-1721 D. Johnson
March 2017 The application/pdf Media Type
The Portable Document Format (PDF) is an ISO standard (ISO
32000-1:2008) defining a final-form document representation language
in use for document exchange, including on the Internet, since 1993.
This document provides an overview of the PDF format and updates the
media type registration of "application/pdf". It obsoletes RFC 3778.
Status of This Memo
This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
published for informational purposes.
This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF). It represents the consensus of the IETF community. It has
received public review and has been approved for publication by the
Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). Not all documents
approved by the IESG are a candidate for any level of Internet
Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 7841.
Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at
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Table of Contents
1. Introduction ....................................................22. History .........................................................33. Fragment Identifiers ............................................34. Subset Standards ................................................55. PDF Versions ....................................................66. PDF Implementations .............................................77. Security Considerations .........................................78. IANA Considerations .............................................89. References ......................................................99.1. Normative References .......................................99.2. Informative References .....................................9Appendix A. Changes since RFC 3778 ................................11
Authors' Addresses ................................................121. Introduction
This document is intended to provide updated information on the
registration of the MIME Media Type "application/pdf" for documents
in the PDF (Portable Document Format) syntax. It obsoletes
PDF was originally envisioned as a way to reliably communicate and
view printed information electronically across a wide variety of
machine configurations, operating systems, and communication
PDF is used to represent "final form" formatted documents. PDF pages
may include text, images, graphics, and multimedia content such as
video and audio. PDF is also capable of containing auxiliary
structures, including annotations, bookmarks, file attachments,
hyperlinks, logical structures, and metadata. These features are
useful for navigation and building collections of related documents,
as well as for reviewing and commenting on documents. A rich
The imaging model for PDF was originally based on the PostScript [PS]
page description language, used to render complex text, images, and
graphics in a device-independent and resolution-independent manner.
PDF supports encryption and digital signatures. The encryption
capability is combined with access control information to facilitate
management of the functionality available to the recipient. PDF
supports the inclusion of document and object-level metadata through
the eXtensible Metadata Platform [XMP].
PDF is used widely in the Internet community. The first version of
PDF, 1.0, was published in 1993 by Adobe Systems Incorporated. Since
then, PDF has grown to be a widely used format for capturing and
exchanging formatted documents electronically across the Web, via
email and virtually every other document-exchange mechanism. In
2008, PDF 1.7 was adopted as an ISO standard (ISO 32000-1:2008
[ISOPDF]) using the ISO "Fast-Track" process. That specification is
technically identical to Adobe Portable Document Format version 1.7
The ISO TC-171 committee developed a "refresh" of PDF, known as
ISO 32000-2; the version is PDF 2.0 [ISOPDF2].
In addition to ISO 32000-1:2008 and ISO 32000-2, several subset
standards have been defined to address specific use cases and
standardized by the ISO. These standards include PDF for Archival
(PDF/A) [ISOPDFA], PDF for Engineering (PDF/E) [ISOPDFE], PDF for
Universal Accessibility (PDF/UA) [ISOPDFUA], PDF for Variable Data
and Transactional Printing (PDF/VT) [ISOPDFVT], and PDF for Prepress
Digital Data Exchange (PDF/X) [ISOPDFX]. The subset standards are
fully compliant PDF files capable of being displayed in a general PDF
3. Fragment Identifiers
Fragment identifiers appear at the end of a URI and provide a way to
reference an anchor to subordinate content within the target of the
URI, or additional parameters to the process of opening the
identified content. The syntax and semantics of fragment identifiers
are referenced in the media type definition.
The specification of fragment identifiers for PDF appeared originally
in [RFC3778] and is now included in ISO 32000-2 [ISOPDF2]. This
section is a summary of that material. Any disagreements between
[ISOPDF2] and this document should be resolved in favor of the
ISO 32000-2 definition.
A fragment identifier for PDF has one or more parameters, separated
by the ampersand (&) or pound (#) character. Each parameter consists
of the parameter name, "=" (equal), and the parameter value; lists of
values are comma-separated, and parameter value strings may be
URI-encoded [RFC3986]. Parameters are processed left to right.
Coordinate values (such as <left>, <right>, and <width>) are
expressed in the default user space coordinate system of the
document: 1/72 of an inch measured down and to the right from the
upper left corner of the (current) page ([ISOPDF2] 220.127.116.11
The following parameters identify subordinate content of a PDF file
but also may be used to set the document view to make the (start of)
the identified content visible:
Identifies a specified (physical) page; the first page in the
document has a pageNum value of 1.
Identifies a named destination ([ISOPDF2] 18.104.22.168 "Named
A byte string with URI encoding; identifies the structure element
with the ID key within a StructElem dictionary of the document.
The value of an annotation name, which is defined by the NM key in
the corresponding annotation dictionary of the selected page
([ISOPDF2] 12.5.2 "Annotation dictionaries").
Identifies the embedded file where the parameter string <name>
matches a file specification dictionary in the EmbeddedFiles name
tree. If the "ef" parameter is not at the end of the fragment
identifier, then the rest of the fragment identifier (after the
ampersand or hash delimiter) is applied to the embedded file
according to its own media type. This allows identification of
content within the embedded file (which itself might be a
NOTE: When attempting to open a PDF file that is not from a
trusted source, the processor may choose to prompt the user or
even prevent the file from being opened.
These parameters operate on the view of the PDF document when it is
<scale> is the percentage to which the document should be zoomed,
where a value of 100 corresponds to a zoom of 100%. <left> and
<top> are optional, but both must be specified if either is
The arguments correspond to those found in [ISOPDF2] 22.214.171.124
"Explicit destinations". <keyword> is one of the keywords defined
in [ISOPDF2] "Table 149: Destination syntax" with appropriate
Set the view rectangle.
Highlight the specified rectangle.
Open the document and search for one or more words, selecting the
first matching word in the document. <wordList> is a string
enclosed in quotation marks, where individual words are separated
by the space character (or %20).
This parameter imports data into PDF form fields. The URI is
either a relative or absolute URI to a Forms Data Format (FDF) or
XML FDF (XFDF) file. The fdf parameter should be specified as the
last parameter to a given URI.
4. Subset Standards
Several subsets of PDF have been published as distinct ISO standards:
o PDF/X [ISOPDFX], initially released in 2001 as PDF/X-1a, specifies
how to use PDF for graphics exchange, with the aim to facilitate
correct and predictable printing by print service providers. The
standard has gone through multiple revisions over the years and
has several published parts, the most recently released being
part 8, specifying different levels of conformance: PDF/X-1a:2001,
PDF/X-3:2002, PDF/X-1a:2003, PDF/X-3:2003, PDF/X-4, PDF/X-4p,
PDF/X-5g, PDF/X-5pg, and PDF/X-5n.
o PDF/A [ISOPDFA], initially released in 2005, specifies how to use
PDF for long-term preservation (archiving) of electronic
documents. It prohibits PDF features that are not well suited to
executable file launches. Its requirements for PDF/A viewers
include color management guidelines and support for embedded
fonts. There are three parts of this standard and a total of
eight conformance levels: PDF/A-1a, PDF/A-1b, PDF/A-2a, PDF/A-2b,
PDF/A-2u, PDF/A-3a, PDF/A-3b, and PDF/A-3u.
o PDF/E, initially released in 2008 as PDF/E-1 [ISOPDFE], specifies
how to use PDF in engineering workflows, such as manufacturing,
construction, and geospatial analysis. Future revisions of PDF/E
are supposed to include support for 3D PDF workflows.
o PDF/VT, initially released in 2010, specifies how to use PDF in
variable and transactional printing. It is based on PDF/X and
places additional restrictions on PDF content elements and
supporting metadata. It specifies three conformance levels:
PDF/VT-1, PDF/VT-2, and PDF/VT-2s [ISOPDFVT].
o PDF/UA [ISOPDFUA], initially released in 2012 as PDF/UA-1,
specifies how to create accessible electronic documents. It
requires the use of ISO 32000's Tagged PDF feature and adds many
requirements regarding semantic correctness in applying logical
structures to content in PDF documents.
All of these subset standards use the "application/pdf" media type.
The subset standards are generally not exclusive, so it is possible
to construct a PDF file that conforms to, for example, both PDF/A-2b
and PDF/X-4 subset standards.
PDF documents claiming conformance to one or more of the subset
standards use XMP metadata to identify levels of conformance. PDF
processors should examine document metadata streams for such subset
standards identifiers and, if appropriate, label documents as such
when presenting them to the user.
5. PDF Versions
The PDF format has gone through several revisions, primarily for the
addition of features. PDF features have generally been added in a
way that older viewers "fail gracefully", because they can just
ignore features they do not recognize. Even so, the older the PDF
version produced, the more legacy viewers will support that version,
but the fewer features will be enabled. The "application/pdf" media
type is used for all versions. See [ISOPDF2] Annex I, "PDF Versions
6. PDF Implementations
PDF files are experienced through a reader or viewer of PDF files.
For most of the common platforms in use (iOS, OS X, Windows, Android,
ChromeOS, Kindle) and for most browsers (Edge, Safari, Chrome,
Firefox), PDF viewing is built in. In addition, there are many PDF
viewers available for download and installation. The PDF
specification was published and freely available since the format was
introduced in 1993, so hundreds of companies and organizations make
tools for PDF creation, viewing, and manipulation.
7. Security Considerations
PDF is certainly a complex media type as per Section 4.6 of
[RFC6838], which sets requirements for security analysis of media
type registrations. [RFC3778] (which this document obsoletes)
contained a detailed analysis of some of the security issues for PDF
implementations known at the time. While the analysis isn't
necessarily wrong, the threat analysis is much too limited, and the
mitigations are somewhat out of date. There is now extensive
literature on security threats involving PDF implementations and how
to avoid them, consistent with broad implementation over decades. We
are not registering a new media type but rather are making a
primarily administrative update. With those caveats:
The PDF file format allows several constructs that may compromise
security if handled inadequately by PDF processors. For example:
o PDF may contain scripts to customize the displaying and processing
of PDF files. These scripts are expressed in a version of
o A PDF file may refer to other PDF files for portions of content.
PDF processors may be expected to find and use these external
files when processing the document.
o PDF may act as a container for various files embedded in it (for
example, as attached files). PDF processors may offer
functionality to open and display such files or store them on the
system, such as with the "ef" open action. The PDF specification
places no restrictions on types of files that may be embedded, so
PDF processors should be extremely careful to prevent unwanted
execution of attached executables or decompression of attached
archives that may store dangerous files in the host file system.
o PDF files may contain links to content on the Internet. PDF
processors may offer functionality to show such content upon
following the link.
o The fragment identifier syntax (Section 3) contains directives for
opening ("ef") or including ("fdf") additional material.
PDF interpreters executing any scripts or programs related to these
constructs must be extremely careful to ensure that untrusted
software is executed in a protected environment.
In addition, the PDF processor itself, as well as its plugins,
scripts, etc., may be a source of insecurity, by either obvious or
8. IANA Considerations
This document updates the registration of "application/pdf", a media
type registration previously defined in [RFC3778], using the
registration template defined in [RFC6838]:
Type name: application
Subtype name: pdf
Required parameters: none
Optional parameter: none
Encoding considerations: binary
Security considerations: See Section 7 of this document.
Interoperability considerations: See Section 5 of this document.
Published specification: ISO 32000-2 (PDF 2.0) [ISOPDF2] is the
Applications that use this media type: See Section 6 of this
Fragment identifier considerations: See Section 3 of this document.
Deprecated alias names for this type: none
Magic number(s): All PDF files start with the characters "%PDF-"
followed by the PDF version number, e.g., "%PDF-1.7" or
"%PDF-2.0". These characters are in US-ASCII encoding.
File extension(s): .pdf
Macintosh file type code(s): "PDF "
Person & email address to contact for further information:
Duff Johnson <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Peter Wyatt
<Peter.email@example.com>, ISO 32000 Project Leaders.
Intended usage: COMMON
Restrictions on usage: none
Author: Authors of this document
Change controller: ISO; in particular, ISO 32000 is by
ISO TC 171/SC 02/WG 08, "PDF specification". Duff Johnson
<firstname.lastname@example.org> and Peter Wyatt
<Peter.email@example.com> are current ISO 32000 Project
9.1. Normative References
[ISOPDF] ISO, "Document management -- Portable document format --
Part 1: PDF 1.7", ISO 32000-1:2008, 2008.
[ISOPDF2] ISO, "Document management -- Portable document format --
Part 2: PDF 2.0", ISO 32000-2:2017, 2017.
9.2. Informative References
[ISOPDFX] ISO, "Graphic technology -- Prepress digital data exchange
using PDF -- Part 8: Partial exchange of printing data
using PDF 1.6 (PDF/X-5)", ISO 15930-8:2008, 2008.
[ISOPDFA] ISO, "Document management -- Electronic document file
format for long-term preservation -- Part 3: Use of
ISO 32000-1 with support for embedded files (PDF/A-3)",
ISO 19005-3:2012, 2012.
Appendix A. Changes since RFC 3778
This specification replaces RFC 3778, which previously defined the
"application/pdf" Media Type. Differences include the following:
o To reflect the transition from a proprietary specification by
Adobe to an open ISO standard, the Change Controller has changed
from Adobe to ISO, and references have been updated.
o The overview of PDF capabilities, the history of PDF, and the
descriptions of PDF subsets were updated to reflect more recent
o The section on fragment identifiers was updated to closely reflect
the material that has been added to ISO-32000-2.
o The status of popular PDF implementations was updated.
o The Security Considerations section was updated to match the
current understanding of PDF vulnerabilities.
o The registration template was updated to match RFC 6838.
Adobe Systems Incorporated
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Adobe Systems Incorporated
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United States of America
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