Why does Ubuntu not ship with a way to fill in PDF forms? I am not asking how to fill the forms. I am asking why there is not a way to do this in the default installation. It's basically the only thing that Ubuntu cannot do that I need my OS to do.

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    It has a default PDF viewer. 'Called Document viewer'. I don't know if it will be able to fill out those forms. – Ubuntu User Feb 1 '17 at 18:44
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    Most likely, the default PDF viewer is too dumb to work with forms, and even more so to work with smart PDF forms. – Max Wyss Feb 3 '17 at 16:14

Most likely because there's not an open-source implementation of the entire "new" PDF forms specification, called XFA. Older forms (FDF) are generally supported.

While XFA is technically an open standard, like Office Open XML, it is basically a giant glop of a file format that Adobe "documented" to meet government requirements for open file formats. The current version of the specification (3.3) is 1584 pages long (just for the forms feature, not all the rest of PDF) and includes such wondrous features as multiple ways to encode form information, inline denormalized XML attachments inside a PDF-only datastream format, and embedded JavaScript.

To my knowledge (and I've been working with programmatically filling PDF forms this week), Adobe has the only complete implementation of XFA in existence, and I don't know of any open-source graphical client that handles it. (iText and PDFBox have partial support.)

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    I think I have to correct you slightly here. Adobe "claims" to have the only complete implementation of XFA. It is such a horrible complex mess that even their own implementation isn't guaranteed to be able to handle each and every technically possible variant. – Tonny Feb 2 '17 at 12:56
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    XFA was called "new" forms technology about a decade ago. In the meantime, it has been again limited to the place where it works best (in conjunction with Adobe's form server product). XFA is NOT PDF; the only reason why it is connected to PDF is that there is a PDF wrapper around the XFA, allowing it to be opened in Adobe Acrobat/Reader. Also, as fa as I know, the upcoming PDF 2.0 specification will no longer have references to XFA. – Max Wyss Feb 3 '17 at 16:12
  • @MaxWyss OOXML is still the "new" Microsoft Office format, and it's irrelevant that XFA "is NOT PDF"--PDF forms are generally XFA. – chrylis -cautiouslyoptimistic- Feb 3 '17 at 18:20
  • @chrylis: OOXML is irrelevant in this context. "PDF forms are generally XFS"… pure and applied bullshit! They may be in some specific environments, agreed, but in general, PDF forms are NOT XFA. – Max Wyss Feb 5 '17 at 12:22

As of "Evince" version 3.10.3 (that is Ubuntu 14.04) it is possible to do this with "Evince" and that is installed in a default install. It is called "document viewer" if you want to search for it. "evince" to start from command line.

From gnome.org on filling forms:


When filling out an interactive form, you can navigate from field to field by clicking on a field with your mouse. When you are finished filling out a text field, press Enter.

You can make a selection in a scrollable list box by clicking on the list box and scrolling to your choice with your mouse.

Regarding the question:

Why does Ubuntu not ship with a way to fill in PDF forms?

It does as shown above but in general software might not be included due to legal reasons. Software that can open and manipulate a PDF that has some sort of restriction in it would cause a legal problem for the maintainer of that operating system: it would require paying a fee for allowing to circumvent it (same as with audio and video codecs: those are not shipped with Ubuntu but can be added afterwards).

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    @user68186 well it is likely not legal to ship default software in an OS that can circumvent protective measures. That could be 1 type of PDFs it won't be able to open. – Rinzwind Feb 1 '17 at 19:09
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    @user68186 that was not my intent D: Nice to see the power an answer can have :D – Rinzwind Feb 1 '17 at 19:30
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    8 years ago it was filed as a bug report that it does not do Cyrilic (nor Hebrew) :P But have a look at Foxit Reader for Linux. – Rinzwind Feb 1 '17 at 20:53
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    The name "document viewer" did not register connotations of "writing" in my head, since it has "viewer" in the name... But I tried it and it does in fact work on a default application. Thanks!! – b264 Feb 2 '17 at 4:25
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    @Qwertie If any security features are turned on by the creator of a PDF document, the PDF file will be encrypted. And this means that decrypting it without respecting those security features may be considered a DMCA violation in the US. – hvd Feb 2 '17 at 6:46

It is important to understand that there is a difference between forms and adding text elements to an arbitrary PDF.

You can create PDF that are real "forms"; and those can be manipulated using evince, the default Ubuntu document viewer.

But when you want to open arbitrary PDFs to just put text somewhere; then you need the latest versions of the Adobe PDF reader - that comes for free; but only on Windows platforms.

So if that is what you need on Ubuntu, you could try to use the wine emulator and run that windows tool.

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    I use Libre Office within Ubuntu to change .PDF files such as adding new text. It is awkward you have to export as .PDF instead of direct save. – WinEunuuchs2Unix Feb 1 '17 at 20:40
  • Xournal can annotate PDFs on Linux. You need a reasonably new version to save to pdf. Even inkscape is possible for occasional use (1page at a time) – Chris H Feb 2 '17 at 13:55

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