Viewing PDF objects

Most of the time, you can just use a PDF file without thinking about what lies ‘under the bonnet’. But sometimes you want to find out about the actual objects inside a PDF file.

I need to do this quite often to debug our PDF viewer but it is also useful if you want to know about the colors used and how the PDF might print or whether it has any useful text. It also allows you to see how big the images inside the PDF really are and whether they can be easily extracted.

I used to open the PDF in a text editor but this is not an ideal solution. Not only can it be quite hard to decipher, but if the PDF is encrypted or contains compressed data and objects you cannot view these.

So I was really pleased to find a little feature hidden inside the Advanced menu option of Acrobat 9.0 to ‘Browse Internal PDF Structure

This allows you to see the actual PDF objects much more clearly. You will still need your trusty and well-thumbed copy of the Adobe Acrobat PDF specification but it has saved me a lot of time when needing to see what is happening inside a PDF file.

This post is part of our “Understanding the PDF File Format” series. In each article, we aim to take a specific PDF feature and explain it in simple terms. If you wish to learn more about PDF, we have 13 years worth of PDF knowledge and tips, so click here to visit our series index!

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Mark Stephens

System Architect and Lead Developer at IDRSolutions
Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

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About Mark Stephens

Mark Stephens has been working with Java and PDF since 1999 and has diversified into HTML5, SVG and JavaFX. He also enjoys speaking at conferences and has been a Speaker at user groups, Business of Software, Seybold and JavaOne conferences. He has a very dry sense of humor and an MA in Medieval History for which he has not yet found a practical use.

2 thoughts on “Viewing PDF objects

  1. [...] wrote a previous article on Acrobat 9.0 which has a well-hidden mode to examine the internal guts of a PDF file. If you have [...]

  2. [...] to work okay with 8 and 9.  I suspect the reason for not listing 8 and 9 may be that Acrobat added similar functionality in Acrobat. This may well have reduced the commercial market for PDF CanOpener as Acrobat 8/9 provides lots of [...]

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