PDF Reader Library for Native Julia.
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May 2017


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PDFIO is a native Julia implementation for reading PDF files. It's an 100% Julia implementation of the PDF specification. Other than a few well established algorithms like flate decode (zlib library) or cryptographic operations (openssl library) almost all of the APIs are written in native Julia.

If you are using this work you may cite as following:

	doi = {10.21105/joss.01453},
	url = {https://doi.org/10.21105%2Fjoss.01453},
	year = 2019,
	month = {nov},
	publisher = {The Open Journal},
	volume = {4},
	number = {43},
	pages = {1453},
	author = {Sambit Dash},
	title = {{PDFIO}: {PDF} Reader Library for native Julia},
	journal = {Journal of Open Source Software}

Need for a PDF Reader API

The following are some of the benefits of utilizing this approach:

  1. PDF files are in existence for over three decades. Implementations of the PDF writers are not always to the specification or they may even vary significantly from vendor to vendor. Everytime, you get a new PDF file there is a possibility that it may not work to the best interpretation of the specification. A script based language makes it easier for the consumers to quickly modify the code and enhance to their specific needs.

  2. When a higher level scripting language implements a C/C++ PDF library API, the scope is kept limited to achieving certain high level tasks like, graphics or text extraction; annotation or signature content extraction; or page extraction or merging.

    However, PDFIO represents the PDF specification as a model in the Model, View and Controller parlance. A PDF file can be represented as a collection of interconnected Julia structures. Those structures can be utilized in granular tasks or simply can be used to understand the structure of the PDF document.

    As per the PDF specification, text can be presented as part of the page content stream or inside PDF page annotations. An API like PDFIO can create two categories of object types. One representing the text object inside the content stream and the other for the text inside an annotation object. Thus, providing flexibility to the API user.

  3. Since, the API is written as an object model of PDF documents, it's easier to extend with additional PDF write or update capabilities. Although, the current implementation does not provide the PDF writing capabilities, the foundation has been laid for future extension.

There are also certain downsides to this approach:

  1. Any API that represents an object model of a document, tends to carry the complexity of introducing abstract objects. They can be opaque objects (handles) that are representational specific to the API. They may not have any functional meaning. The methods are granular and may not complete one use level task. The amount of code needed to complete a user level task can be substantially higher.

    In PDFIO the following steps have to be carried out: a. Open the PDF document and obtain the document handle.
    b. Query the document handle for all the pages in the document. c. Iterate the pages and obtain the page object handles for each of the pages.
    d. Extract the text from the page objects and write to a file IO.
    e. Close the document ensuring all the document resources are reclaimed.

  2. The API user may need to refer to the PDF specification (PDF-32000-1:2008)[@Adobe:2008] for semantic understanding of PDF files in accomplishing some of the tasks. For example, the workflow of PDF text extraction above is a natural extension from how text is represented in a PDF file as per the specification. A PDF file is composed of pages and text is represented inside each page content object. The object model of PDFIO is a Julia language representation of the PDF specification.


The package can be added to a project by the command below:

julia> Pkg.add("PDFIO")

The current version of the API requires julia 1.0. The detailed list of packages PDFIO depends on can be seen in the Project.toml file.

Sample Code

The below mentioned code takes a PDF file src as input and writes the text data into a file out. It enumerates all the pages in the document and extracts the text from the pages. The extracted text is written to the output file.

    getPDFText(src, out) -> Dict 
- src - Input PDF file path from where text is to be extracted
- out - Output TXT file path where the output will be written
return - A dictionary containing metadata of the document
function getPDFText(src, out)
    # handle that can be used for subsequence operations on the document.
    doc = pdDocOpen(src)
    # Metadata extracted from the PDF document. 
    # This value is retained and returned as the return from the function. 
    docinfo = pdDocGetInfo(doc) 
    open(out, "w") do io
        # Returns number of pages in the document       
        npage = pdDocGetPageCount(doc)

        for i=1:npage
            # handle to the specific page given the number index. 
            page = pdDocGetPage(doc, i)
            # Extract text from the page and write it to the output file.
            pdPageExtractText(io, page)

    # Close the document handle. 
    # The doc handle should not be used after this call
    return docinfo

Interactive Code Examples

One can also execute the following interactive commands on a Julia REPL to access objects of a PDF file.

Getting Document Handle

julia> doc = pdDocOpen("test/sample-google-doc.pdf")

PDDoc ==>

CosDoc ==>
	filepath:		/home/sambit/.julia/dev/PDFIO/test/sample-google-doc.pdf
	size:			21236
	hasNativeXRefStm:	 true
	Trailer dictionaries: 

4 0 obj
	/Pages	14 0 R
	/Type	/Catalog

isTagged: none

Getting Document Info

julia> info = pdDocGetInfo(doc)
Dict{String,Union{CDDate, String, CosObject}} with 1 entry:
  "Producer" => "Skia/PDF m79"

Getting the Number of Pages

julia> npage = pdDocGetPageCount(doc)

Get the Page Handle

julia> page = pdDocGetPage(doc, 1)

View Page Text Contents

julia> pdPageExtractText(stdout, page);
        Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut 
        labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco 
        laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in 
        voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non 
        proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

As can be seen above, granular APIs are provided in PDFIO that can be used in combination to achieve a desirable task. For details, please refer to the Architecture and Design.


PDFIO is implemented in layers enabling following features:

  1. Extract and render the Contents in of a PDF page. This ensures the contents are organized in a hierarchical grouping, that can be used for rendering of the content. Rendering is used here in a generic sense and not confined to painting on a raster device. For example, extracting document text can also be considered as a rendering task. pdPageExtractText is an apt example of the same.
  2. Provide functional tasks to PDF document access. A few of such functionalities are:
  3. Access low level PDF objects and obtain information when high level APIs do not exist.

The Architecture and Design discusses some of these scenarios.


PDFIO is developed to contribute to both commercial activities and scientific research alike. However, we strongly discourage usage of this product for any illegal, immoral or unethical purposes. PDFIO License while provides rights under a permissible MIT Expat License, is conditioned upon maintaining strong moral, ethical and legal standards of the final outcome.

This product includes software developed by the OpenSSL Project for use in the OpenSSL Toolkit. (http://www.openssl.org/)


Contributions in form of PRs are welcome for any feature you will like to develop for the PDFIO library. You are requested to review the GitHub Issues section to understand the known issues. You can take up few of the issues, work on them and submit a PR. If you come across a bug or are unable to use the APIs in any manner, feel free to submit an issue.

Similar Packages

Taro.jl is an alternate package in Julia that provides reading and extracting content from a PDF files.

Reference to Adobe

It's almost impossible to talk PDF without reference to Adobe. All copyrights or trademarks that are owned by Adobe or ISO, which have been referred to inadvertently without stating ownership, are owned by them. The author also has been part of Adobe's development culture in early part of his career with specific to PDF technology for about 2 years. However, the author has not been part of any activities related to PDF development from 2003. Hence, this API can be considered a clean room development. Usage of words like Carousel and Cos are pretty much public knowledge and large number of reference to the same can be obtained from industry related websites etc.

The package contains Adobe Font Metrics (AFM) for 14 Core Adobe fonts.

Test files

Not all PDF files that were used to test the library has been owned by the author. Hence, the author cannot make those files available to general public for distribution under the source code license. However, the author is grateful to the PDF document library maintained by mikal@stillhq.com. However, these files are no longer available in the link above.

Some files are also included from openpreserve. These files can be distributed with CC0.

However, test files may have different licensing that the PDFIO. Hence we have now uploaded most test files to another project under PDFTest.

Used By Packages

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