Access and Feeds

File Formats: Revisions to PDF Archival Format: PDF/A-2

By Dick Weisinger

If you are worried about how best to preserve electronic files, documents and records for long periods of time, PDF/A is a standard that you should know about.

PDF/A, or PDF was designed for long-term archival and electronic data.  As a standard, it first became available in 2005.  Officially, the standard is known as ISO 19005-1:2005, and it is based on Adobe’s version 1.4 of the PDF file format.   Adobe donated this version of PDF to the community in 2002, and it corresponds to the version of PDF used in version 5 of Adobe Acrobat software. PDF/A is actually a subset of the Adobe specification and leaves out capabilities that were not deemed useful for long-term archival.

For example, PDF/A has the following restrictions:

  • No embedded audio or video is allowed
  • No embedded executable code, like Javascript
  • All fonts must be embedded
  • No encryption is allowed
  • Only standards-based metadata is allowed

Work is now under way to enhance the capabilities allowed in PDF/A format.  The new standard is to be called ISO 19005, Part-2 (PDF/A-2).  The new standard will be backwards compatible and try to include features that were added in versions 1.5, 1.6 and 1.7 of the PDF file format, as used in Adobe Acrobat product.

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