Displaying PDF documents/forms from Adobe LiveCycle in the browser

by kai on 28/11/2013

Users of Adobe LiveCycle quite regularly interact with PDF documents. Some examples are:

  • Rendering customised documents for print purposes
  • Creating PDF forms for on- and offline use to collect data for further processing
  • Rendering pre-filled PDF forms to send out to customers/users for completion and physical signature etc.

In a lot of cases those PDF documents are what’s called an XFA-based PDF form/template. XFA is Adobe’s XML Forms Architecture and a proprietary technology to describe form information. I spare you the technical details, but essentially quite often those XFA-based forms get wrapped into a PDF document, this is done by rendering the XFA information over a PDF page background.

Now, in a lot of corporates and large public sector organisations (who tend to be the main users of Adobe LiveCycle) Internet Explorer is commonly used as “the” web browser. If users have Firefox or Chrome installed, they’d quite often be considered either advanced users or would work in the web/communication/IT teams.

Also, organisations as mentioned above are in general Windows-heavy and would generally have Adobe Acrobat Reader or Acrobat in various versions (from shockingly old to recent) deployed to their user base as part of their PC images.

What I’ve seen happening a few times in the recent past is that people would build and deploy XFA-based PDF forms or templates into their systems (or even on their public website for customer/clients to work with) and then realise that those documents create various issues when being rendered in Firefox or Chrome. Examples I’ve seen in the past were buttons randomly not working properly or the form opening up in the browser with weird error messages.

Why is that? Essentially both Chrome and Firefox use their own PDF rendering engine that’s built into the respective browser, IE doesn’t. In general that’s a good thing – Adobe’s Acrobat Reader is kind of overkill and bloated when it comes to rendering static PDF content. For XFA-based documents though, the built-in engines don’t work as well for a variety of reasons.

You essentially have two options here:

a) In some instances you can try to render a static PDF file instead of an XFA-based form/template. That would not work for certain types of dynamic and/or interactive forms though.

b) You can switch off the built-in PDF viewers in Chrome and Firefox and make them use Adobe Acrobat (Reader). That’s usually an option to pursue if your users are internal. If you have external users whose environment you can’t control, that’s obviously not an option and communication with and towards those users is the key.

AshishG November 28, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Thanks for a detailed and lucid explanation! It builds up the base for the instructions Adobe listed at http://helpx.adobe.com/livecycle/kb/xfa-forms-firefox-chrome.html.

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