Portable RIAs – Flex Apps in PDFs

Update: I’ve posted another Portable RIA demo.

The web began as a platform for browsing, finding, and exchanging documents. Over the past ten years the web has moved beyond this document-centric role, and is now a platform for exchanging data. We typically refer to web sites used for data exchange as web applications. The next major evolution of the web is underway as web applications become more interactive and useful. The industry now refers to these next generation web applications as rich Internet applications or RIAs.

Another popular means of document exchange is the Portable Document Format (PDF). Like the web, PDFs are also evolving into more than just a document exchange technology. When RIAs are inserted into PDFs, this familiar format for documents becomes a method for exchanging and interacting with data. The primary benefits of using PDFs for data exchange are that PDFs can easily be secured, emailed around, and accessed when offline.

I’ve put together a demo illustrating this concept. You will need Reader 9 in order for this to work. First load the Flex Dashboard application application in your browser. Then in the application click the “Create PDF” button. Now you should be looking at the same data inside of a PDF! You can even save the PDF locally and view it when disconnected. You can also refresh the data from the server from the PDF or from the browser.

This works by using a template PDF containing the Flex application without any data. When the user asks for a PDF the data is inserted into the PDF template and delivered to the user. Optionally the PDF could be secured with PDF policy protection before being sent to the user. You can also create these PDFs in a nightly batch process.

Getting Started

You need several pieces to build a portable RIA. First, you need a Flex application that the user will interact with in their browser and inside a PDF. Second, you need some place for the Flex application to get its data. Third, you need a PDF template and a server that can insert the application data into it when the user requests a PDF. I used the following steps to build these pieces:

  1. Create the back-end data source for the application
  2. Create the basic Flex front-end application
  3. Create a back-end PDF generation service
  4. Create a PDF with form fields that will be used to store the data
  5. Modify the Flex application to read data from the PDF
  6. Add a way for the user to generate a PDF from the Flex application
  7. Merge the final Flex application into the PDF template

To complete this tutorial you’ll need a Java web app server (Tomcat, JBoss, WebLogic, WebSphere, or similar), LiveCycle Data Services 2.6, Flex Builder 3 (installed as a plugin for Eclipse), Acrobat 9 to create the PDF, and optionally Adobe LiveCycle Designer 8.2.

Let’s walk through each of these seven steps in detail.

Download the source code for tutorial.

Step 1: Creating the back-end data source

The application needs some data so I created a JSP that generates some fake and random sales data. This data is returned from the server in XML format. One challenge in building this was that Reader needs a “*” crossdomain.xml policy file on the server that offers the data. Having a “*” policy can be a security risk, especially when the data is on an internal server or on a server which uses cookies for authentication. In my production demo I didn’t want to put a “*” policy file on my demo server so I serve the data from a different server. Because of this I ended up using PHP for my public demo. However, for the purposes of this tutorial I will just use a simple JSP file. Here is the file, data.jsp:

<% response.setContentType("text/xml"); %>
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
String[] months = {"Jan", "Feb", "Mar", "Apr", "May", "Jun", "Jul", "Aug", "Sep", "Oct", "Nov"}; 
for (int i = 6; i < 8; i++) 
  for (int j = 0; j < months.length; j++) 
    String month = months[j] + "-0" + i; 
    int apacRev = (int)(Math.random() * 60000); 
    int europeRev = (int)(Math.random() * 80000); 
    int japanRev = (int)(Math.random() * 50000); 
    int latinAmRev = (int)(Math.random() * 30000); 
    int northAmRev = (int)(Math.random() * 100000); 
    int totalRev = apacRev + europeRev + japanRev + latinAmRev + northAmRev; 
    int averageRev = totalRev / 6; 
    <month name="<%=month%>" revenue="<%=totalRev%>" average="<%=averageRev%>"> 
        <region name="APAC" revenue="<%=apacRev%>"/> 
        <region name="Europe" revenue="<%=europeRev%>"/> 
        <region name="Japan" revenue="<%=japanRev%>"/> 
        <region name="Latin America" revenue="<%=latinAmRev%>"/> 
        <region name="North America" revenue="<%=northAmRev%>"/> 

You will also need to add a crossdomain.xml policy file to your root web containing the following:

	<site-control permitted-cross-domain-policies="master-only"/>
	<allow-access-from domain="*"/>

Make sure that you do not use this policy file in production, as you should never have a “*” policy on an internal server or on a domain which uses cookies for authentication. For more information on secure cross-domain communication in Flash Player see:

Step 2: Creating the Flex front-end application

Before I could use the typical sales dashboard in the demo, I first had to create that dashboard in Flex. Luckily this was easy since one of the out-of-the-box LiveCycle Data Services samples has a dashboard. I made a few modifications to the dashboard and then added it to my Flex application. You can test the dashboard by creating a HTTPService and attaching the data to the Dashboard. Here is my application (you will need the Dashboard source code from the LiveCycle Data Services sample application for this to compile):

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<mx:Application xmlns:mx="http://www.adobe.com/2006/mxml" xmlns:local="*"
  <mx:HTTPService id="srv" url="http://localhost:8080/data.jsp"/>
  <local:Dashboard width="100%" height="100%" dataProvider="{srv.lastResult.list.month}"/>

Step 3: Creating a back-end PDF generation service
I used LiveCycle Data Services to handle generating the PDF for the user. To set up this service I copied the WEB-INF/flex and WEB-INF/lib directories from the flex.war file included with LiveCycle Data Services to my root web application. I then added some necessary configuration code to my web.xml file:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> 
<!DOCTYPE web-app PUBLIC "-//Sun Microsystems, Inc.//DTD Web Application 2.3//EN" "http://java.sun.com/dtd/web-app_2_3.dtd">
    <display-name>Portable RIAs Demo</display-name> 
    <description>Portable RIAs Demo</description> 
        <display-name>Helper for retrieving dynamically generated PDF documents.</display-name> 

The PDFResourceServlet is a custom class that returns the generated PDF to the user. I also created a class named PDFService that actually generates the PDF. Both of these classes are derived from the PDF samples in LiveCycle Data Services. To create these classes I first set up a new Java project in Eclipse. I named the project “portablerias_server” and pointed its root directory to the WEB-INF directory, its src directory to the WEB-INF/src directory (which you need to create), and its output directory to the WEB-INF/classes directory. I then created a new Java class called “com.jamesward.portablerias.PDFService” containing the following:

package com.jamesward.portablerias; 
import java.io.IOException; 
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServletRequest; 
import org.w3c.dom.Document; 
import flex.acrobat.pdf.XFAHelper; 
import flex.messaging.FlexContext; 
import flex.messaging.FlexSession; 
import flex.messaging.util.UUIDUtils; 
public class PDFService 
    public Object generatePDF(Document dataset) throws IOException 
        String source =
        XFAHelper helper = new XFAHelper(); 
        byte[] bytes = helper.saveToByteArray(); 
        String uuid = UUIDUtils.createUUID(); 
        FlexSession session = FlexContext.getFlexSession(); 
        session.setAttribute(uuid, bytes); 
        HttpServletRequest req = FlexContext.getHttpRequest(); 
        String contextRoot = "/"; 
        if (req != null) 
            contextRoot = req.getContextPath(); 
        String r = contextRoot + "/dynamic-pdf?id=" + uuid + "&;jsessionid=" + session.getId(); 
        return r; 

Notice that this class references a PDF file, dashboard.pdf, that I have not yet created. This is the PDF template that will be created in Step 7.

I then created a new class called “com.jamesward.portablerias.PDFResourceServlet” containing the following code:

package com.jamesward.portablerias; 
import java.io.IOException; 
import javax.servlet.ServletException; 
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServlet; 
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServletRequest; 
import javax.servlet.http.HttpServletResponse; 
import javax.servlet.http.HttpSession; 
public class PDFResourceServlet extends HttpServlet 
    private static final long serialVersionUID = 8178787853519803189L; 
    protected void doGet(HttpServletRequest req, HttpServletResponse res) throws ServletException, IOException 
        doPost(req, res); 
    protected void doPost(HttpServletRequest req, HttpServletResponse res) throws ServletException, IOException 
        String id = (String)req.getParameter("id"); 
        if (id != null) 
            HttpSession session = req.getSession(true); 
                byte[] bytes = (byte[])session.getAttribute(id); 
                if (bytes != null) 
            catch (Throwable t) 

This class reads the PDF byte array from the session and returns it to the user as a file. Now that Flash Player 10 is available a better approach would be to just have the PDFService return the byte array and then use the new FileReference API to initiate a file download of those bytes. Storing the PDF in the user session as this demo does is certainly not a scalable approach, and therefore it should not be used in production. Alternatively you could write the PDF files to disk in the PDFService class and then read them from disk in the PDFResourceServlet class.

You need one last configuration step to allow Flex to make requests to the PDFService class. Add the following lines to the WEB-INF/flex/remoting-config.xml file:

    <destination channels="my-amf" id="PDFService">

Now your back end is set up! Start (or restart) your app server and verify that there are no errors on the console.

Step 4: Creating a PDF with form fields to store the data

Now you need to create a PDF template that will hold the form fields in which LiveCycle Data Services will store the data. For this step you can either just use my portable_rias_template.pdf file or you can create your own using LiveCycle Designer ES 8.2. If you choose to use mine then you can skip this step.

First create a new blank PDF in Acrobat and save it. Then open that PDF in LiveCycle Designer and add a form named “PortableRIAs”. Add a page named “Page1” and then add a TextField named “Data” to the page. Then add a script called “dataScript” containing:

function getData()
    var data = xfa.form.PortableRIAs.Page1.Data.rawValue;
    return data;
function setData(dataString)
    xfa.form.PortableRIAs.Page1.Data.rawValue = dataString;

The final PDF in Designer should look like:

In step 7 you will merge the Flex application into this file using Acrobat.

Step 5: Modifying the Flex application to read data from the PDF

When your Flex application runs in the browser you want it to get the live data from the web. When it runs in a PDF you want it to use the data inside the PDF. This allows the application to work when the user is disconnected. For bonus points I also added the ability for users to refresh the data in the PDF when they want to. To manage this I created a class called “com.jamesward.portablerias.PDFCacheManager” containing the following code:

package com.jamesward.portablerias
import flash.external.ExternalInterface;
import flash.xml.XMLDocument;
import flash.xml.XMLNode;
import flash.events.EventDispatcher;
import mx.core.Application;
import mx.rpc.AsyncToken;
import mx.rpc.events.FaultEvent;
import mx.rpc.events.ResultEvent;
import mx.rpc.http.HTTPService;
import mx.rpc.xml.SimpleXMLDecoder;
import mx.utils.ObjectUtil;
[Event(name="fault", type="mx.rpc.events.FaultEvent")]
public class PDFCacheManager extends EventDispatcher
  private var srv:HTTPService;
  private var readerVersion:Number;
  public var inPDF:Boolean = false;
  public var lastResult:Object;
  public var lastXMLResult:String;
  public var inBrowser:Boolean = false;
  public function PDFCacheManager()
    srv = new HTTPService();
    srv.useProxy = false;
    // force the result to be text
    srv.resultFormat = HTTPService.RESULT_FORMAT_TEXT;
    srv.addEventListener(ResultEvent.RESULT, handleResult);
    srv.addEventListener(FaultEvent.FAULT, handleFault);
      ExternalInterface.call("eval", "function getViewerVersion() { return app.viewerVersion }");
      var r:Object = ExternalInterface.call("getViewerVersion");
      if (r != null)
        readerVersion = new Number(r);
      if (readerVersion > 0)
        inPDF = true;
      if (readerVersion < 9)
        // Alert.show("You must use Adobe Acrobat 9 or Adobe Reader 9 to view this PDF");
    catch (e:Error)
      // not in a PDF
    if (readerVersion >= 9)
      // setup function to get the data from the PDF
      ExternalInterface.call("eval", "function getData() { return xfa.form.PortableRIAs.dataScript.getData(); }");
      // setup function to set the data in the PDF
      ExternalInterface.call("eval", "function setData(dataString) { xfa.form.PortableRIAs.dataScript.setData(dataString); }");
      // see if the PDF has been opened in the browser or in Reader
      ExternalInterface.call("eval", "function getExternal() { return this.external; }");
      inBrowser = ExternalInterface.call("getExternal");
  public function set url(_url:String):void
    srv.url = _url;
  private function handleResult(event:ResultEvent):void
    parseData(event.result as String);
    if (inPDF)
  private function parseData(dataString:String):void
    lastXMLResult = dataString;
	  var xn:XMLNode = XMLNode(new XMLDocument(lastXMLResult));
	  lastResult = (new SimpleXMLDecoder(true)).decodeXML(xn);
  private function handleFault(event:FaultEvent):void
  public function getDataFromServer():void
  public function getDataFromCache():void
    var xmlDataString:String = ExternalInterface.call("getData");
  private function updateCache():void
    ExternalInterface.call("setData", lastXMLResult);

When this class is instantiated it checks to see if the application is running inside a PDF Reader. It also checks to make sure it’s at least Reader 9. If it is running in Reader >= 9 then it sets up a few function calls that will be used to read and write data to the hidden form field. The class stores a copy of the XML text it retrieves from the server so that when the PDF is created in the browser, it doesn’t have to retrieve the data again. Also if the user updates the data while in the PDF then the local form field is updated but the user would need to save the PDF for the data to be persisted for the next time the PDF is opened.

To use the PDFCacheManager class simply create an instance of it and specify the id, url, and optionally a fault handler:

<portablerias:PDFCacheManager id="pdfCacheManager" url="http://ws.jamesward.com/data.php" fault="mx.controls.Alert.show(event.fault.message)"/>

When the Flex application has fully initialized I ask the PDFCacheManager to get the data either from within the PDF if the application is running inside Reader or from the network if the application is running in the browser:

  if (pdfCacheManager.inPDF)

In the Dashboard you can now bind to the data in the pdfCacheManager:

<local:Dashboard width="100%" height="100%" dataProvider="{pdfCacheManager.lastResult.list.month as mx.collections.ArrayCollection}"/>

Now your Flex application will display data whether it is running on the web or inside a PDF!

Step 6: Adding a way for the user to generate a PDF from the Flex application

Next you’ll want to modify the Flex application so that a user can initiate the PDF generation. To do this I created a simple ActionScript class called “com.jamesward.portablerias.CreatePDFService” which will pass the data in the Flex application to the back-end PDFService. Here is the code for that class:

package com.jamesward.portablerias
  import flash.net.URLRequest;
  import flash.net.navigateToURL;
  import mx.rpc.events.FaultEvent;
  import mx.rpc.events.ResultEvent;
  import mx.rpc.remoting.RemoteObject;
  public class CreatePDFService
    private var ro:RemoteObject;
    public function CreatePDFService()
      ro = new RemoteObject("PDFService");
      ro.addEventListener(ResultEvent.RESULT, handleResult);
    public function generatePDF(xmlString:String):void
      var xmlData:XML = <PortableRIAs><Data>{xmlString}</Data></PortableRIAs>;
    private function handleResult(event:ResultEvent):void
      var url:String = event.result as String;
      navigateToURL(new URLRequest(url), "_blank");

When the PDFService is called it is passed an XML block containing the XML data that the Flex application loaded from the server. Although you could use alternative serialization methods instead of XML, for simplicity this demo uses XML. Notice that the data is wrapped in the <PortableRIAs> and <Data> XML tags. These must match the PDF form name and form field name used in the PDF template.

When the result is returned by the server the client opens a new browser window pointing to the download servlet that initiates the PDF download.

To use this class in the main Flex application simply create an instance of the CreatePDFService:

<portablerias:CreatePDFService id="createPDFService"/>

Then add a button for the user to click to initiate the PDF generation:

    <mx:Button label="Create PDF" visible="{!pdfCacheManager.inPDF}" includeInLayout="{!pdfCacheManager.inPDF}">

Notice that the data passed to the generatePDF method is pulled out of the pdfCacheManager that was created in the previous step. Also the button is only made visible when the Flex application is not running inside a PDF.

Step 7: Merging the final Flex application into the PDF template

Hopefully your Flex application compiles and is working in the browser. The final step is to update the PDF template and include the Flex application into it. It would be nice to automate this step somehow but at this time I’m not aware of a method for doing this. Also one thing to note is that you are using the same application for the browser and for the PDF. You can create different applications if you want to and still use much of the same code. But for this demo using the same Flex application for both mediums works fine.

First open the PDF template in Acrobat, then choose Tools > Multimedia > Flash Tool. Drag a box that will contain the Flex application (you’ll resize it later). Browse and select the SWF file for your Flex application. Select “Show Advanced Options” and set the “Enabled When” option to “When the page containing the content is opened”. Click OK. To resize the Flex application choose Tools > Advanced Editing > Select Object Tool. Then select the image of the Flex application and resize it. The PDF should look like the following:

Save the PDF to the file location specified in the PDFService Java class. In my case this is “WEB-INF/pdfgen/dashboard.pdf”.

Everything should now be ready to go! Pull up your Flex application in the browser, click the “Create PDF” button, and then you should be looking at the Flex application with its data inside of a PDF! If the PDF opened in your browser you can save it to your local file system and load it in the standalone Reader. Also make sure that clicking the “Update Data” button works to refresh the data from the server.

There is a Belorussian translation of this article (provided by PC).

  • Brian

    Looks interesting however I receive an error when clicking the Create PDF button.

    HTTP Status 404 –
    type Status report
    description The requested resource () is not available.
    Apache Tomcat/5.5.17

  • Hi Brian,

    That is strange. What url does it say it’s trying to access? Thanks.


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  • Cool idea, but unfortunately does not work with Foxit PDF Reader under Windows or evince(default PDF reader that got installed for me) under Linux. So it pretty much cancels out the idea of ‘Portable’.

  • This is a very interesting way of delivering dynamic data using proven and traditional (aka good-n-old) media. I guess PDF is one of such media. If get it styled more naturally like a embedded picture but can interactive, that will be very cool.

  • Kazi

    Hi James, the RIA cowboy,

    it is nice to see that you are aging posting in
    your blog. Last few months I was visiting your
    blog regularly and did not find that much postings.
    It was depressing for me :-(. Any way I really like
    your tutorials, examples and postings so always
    look forward to see new ones!!!


  • Hi David,

    There is nothing stopping Foxit, Evince and others from supporting Flash in PDFs. I hope that they will soon update their implementations to support this. Until then there is Adobe Reader 9 – which has been greatly improved over the slow loading, bloated software it used to be.


  • I get a blank PDF (on the background the text “LiveCycle
    Data Services
    Single CPU License”).

    The url is: http://www.jamesward.com/portablerias/dynamic-pdf?id=E2A590A3-510D-44A1-5E1A-D01567F1B604&amp;;jsessionid=742CAF69679082BCE27811BB3BA52533

  • Hi Funkyboy,

    You need to have Reader 9 or Acrobat 9 for this to work.


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  • Vineet Apte

    Hey James,
    when I click th create pdf button nothing happens. I tried to refresh and reload the page still the same result. I get no error. I do have reader 9.
    Advice what to do


  • Hi Vineet,

    Make sure you don’t have a pop-up blocker prohibiting the pop-up.


  • This is really really cool!

  • Francesco Cavola

    Hi James. Very nice work. There is a possible to create a similar pdf with flex components but on the server side, in batch mode?

  • Hi Francesco,

    You will want to build a Flex app and then assemble the PDF on the server in a batch process.


  • Stephen

    I know this is completely backwards from your tutorial, but I haven’t gotten a good answer in any more logical places so… I want build a Flex app that lets users review and comment on PDFs. It needs to be web-based, and the way users interact with the document is permission-controlled beyond what normal PDF review tools allow. FlashPaper looks like it would have been a cool alternative, but it is eod. Any suggestions of where to look for interacting with PDFs within Flex? Thank you for the help!

  • Hi Stephen,

    There are a few commercial components out there for rendering PDFs in Flex. Another option is to use AIR.


  • swarna

    Hi james ,
    this is very nice ,
    inseted of xml can i use java objects to populate the data in the saved pdf file

  • Hi swarna,

    The data needs to be serialized into some format. XML is easy. You could also use AMF. Is that what you are asking?


  • I cannot access the in-depth tutorial, when clicking on the link I get forwarded to this site again.

  • Hey Sebastian,

    Thanks for letting me know about this. I had messed it up but it should be fixed now.


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  • mo_mohana

    thank you for this explain.
    How i can get date from the excel

  • simon

    To use a webservice make sure your crossdomain.xml policy file contain:

    This is a new security requirement.

    A non secure example could be :
    ?xml version=”1.0″?>
    !DOCTYPE cross-domain-policy SYSTEM “http://www.adobe.com/xml/dtds/cross-domain-policy.dtd”>
    site-control permitted-cross-domain-policies=”master-only”/>
    allow-access-from domain=”*” to-ports=”*”/>
    allow-http-request-headers-from domain=”*” headers=”SOAPAction”/>
    Don’t use * in production…

  • simon

    Hi James,

    We have a large Flex BI solution with a Coldfusion back-end. I created as well, from your example, a Portable version (3/4 charts, limited dataset) for a sales force in Australia that can’t connect to internet everyday. SWF embed in PDF without data, user can update the PDF cache from a CF Web Service every month when they can connect, the data is stored into the cache to be reused later = Portable = Great !

    However I just realised, too late, that when the PDF data get cached, it’s impossible to save it with Acrobat Reader 9 (free version). I got the message telling me to buy Acrobat Pro.

    I understood in your post that I should be able to create a savable PDF from LiveCycle Designer ? I found some forums talking about the ability to enable ‘local save’ to a PDF document ? I never found this option in LiveCycle nor Acrobat Pro… any recommendations because it’s a big pitfall to portable RIAs if the updated data can’t be embed too.



  • Hi simon,

    Interesting. I wasn’t aware of that. There is another method of saving data inside a PDF. I’ll try to find some information on it and see if it works in Reader.


  • simon

    Thanks James, Let me know if you found something and I continue to investigate:

    Looking for a solution for SWF embed in PDF with persistent local data, I investigated the Local Shared Object (big cookie). It’s not suppose to be use to store data (designed for user preferences, name, to remember the state of your application … for small data that enhance user experience) + it’s not safe + it can’t be send by email + it has a dependency on the current machine.

    However, a large dataset can be stored locally if the user accept it (Flash Player will popup a message / user will have to accept to store large data on his machine / default max size is 100K).

    The coding is very easy and you can store arrays as well.

    One other problem is Local Shared Object work fine if the Flex application run inside the browser or in the Desktop Flash Player, but not if the SWF is embed inside PDF.

    I guess this is a limit of the flash player that run in Reader 9 or maybe a security issue: Security.sandboxType:
    in Browser = Remote
    in Desktop = Local Trusted
    Embed in PDF = Local with Network

    So I guess that’s not what we’re looking for.

    To be Portable, a RIA should not be dependant on a connection to any server.

  • simon

    A must read if you are interested by SWF inside PDF:

    External Access Security Features
    As stated in the overview, there are quite a few additional security restrictions for
    SWFs hosted in Acrobat. The following section lists the different types of external
    access and their behavior in Acrobat.

    Local File-System Access
    This will be blocked for all SWFs in Acrobat. The rule would apply for all SWFs
    including SWFs that belong to the local-with-file-system sandbox.

    SharedObjects are not allowed for SWFs hosted inside Acrobat. Trying to create a
    shared object from a SWF in Acrobat would result in runtime error 2134.

    LocalConnection is not allowed for SWFs hosted inside Acrobat. Trying to write to a
    LocalConnection from a SWF in Acrobat would result in runtime error 2146.

    File Upload and Download
    Using the FileReference to upload a file from the user’s file system to the server is
    blocked. Using the same class to download a file from the server to the user’s file
    system is blocked for SWFs in Acrobat.

  • Petteri Tuovila


    I was just thinking, is there a way of storing amf data to PDF without using LiveCycle ES? And do I assume correctly that once I do get the data stored in the PDF that data can be accessed from multiple SWF files inside the same PDF? I’ve been trying to get this tutorial work without LiveCycle ES but haven’t found a way yet.


  • simon

    Local Save from Adobe Reader 9:

    When merging the final Flex application into the PDF template (Step 7), in Acrobat Pro, go to :
    Advanced / Enable Usage Rights in Adobe Reader => Save Now.

    This action is supposed to allow any Reader 9 user to save form data (for a fillable PDF Form only).
    Unfortunately that doesn’t work for any reason… I must have missed something.

    Open the PDF and get new data from the server, push the data into the PDF cache (James example does it automatically), then save it (note you have now access to file/save and without having the previous prompt: “Please buy Acrobat Pro version to save you document”)

    When you reopen the document however the data are not there… !

    Does anybody know what means : “for a fillable PDF Form only” ?


  • simon

    Without LiveCycle ES

    To have a PDF with rights enabled that turn on functionality hidden within the Free Adobe Reader 9, you will need Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions ES2, a module of LiveCycle ES2.

    LiveCycle ES2 is a heavy server application (3Go) running in JBoss / Websphere… (not so easy to install just for testing purpose). I believe it’s a great technology for large companies or administrations with thousand of documents (need feed back form) and rights management.

    LiveCycle Designer is a desktop tool to create PDF (Adobe is confusing us again… like Flex is Flash but use Flash Builder to create Flex application, not Flash Pro, so what is Catalyst for ?)

    LiveCycle Data Service is something completely different.

    Anyway, what we try to achieve here is simply to persist data inside a PDF cache from the Free Adobe Reader. PDF is not communicating with the server, the embed SWF does.

    James could you please provide to the community your template: portable_rias_template.pdf with this rights enabled ? Does this template or the files created from it will need a server authentication? (in that case it’s not portable any more). Thanks

    White Paper:

  • Hi Simon

    You will require a Reader Extensions token to be embedded into any PDF that you wish to have unlock the hidden features of the free Adobe Reader. You are correct in assuming that LiveCycle Reader Extensions is the product you need. I’ve seen examples of persisting the data from the SWF into the PDF and recalling that when the file is reopened. Reader Extensions “extends” Reader by awakening functionality that is already installed as part of the free Reader, in this case what you need is the “save” option.

    While it is capable LC ES Reader Extensions is capable of dynamically adding Reader Extensions to each file, it is not a requirement. It is possible for you to install LC ES on a laptop and add the RE token to your PDFs prior to distribution, this should take less than 30 minutes using the turnkey installer.

    Hope that helps
    Mark Szulc
    Adobe Australia.

  • Petteri Tuovila


    What we are trying to do is to create a PDF reporting tool for our company that would contain several chart components and have some explanation texts in between that could be edited after wards. So, have I understood correctly that I need to create a PDF template with LiveCycle Designer to be able to store amf data with a flex app that retrieves that data from the server? And after I have stored that data to the PDF file I can read that data with a different flex app inside that same PDF file with the flex app that retrieves the data?

    Petteri Tuovila

  • simon

    Hi Mark,

    It’s good to know that Livecycle will do the job and nothing else than Reader is necessary on end-user’s computers.

    For now I’m a bit stuck with the installation of Livecycle but I’m working on it and will continue to update the blog.

    Thank you for your answer.


  • simon

    All good !

    The Portable RIA was saved from Reader9, with data persisted in cache.

    To recap & conclude:
    -1) Use LiveCycle designer to add the script inside the PDF and the dataset to be cache
    -2) Use Acrobat Pro to embed flash & go to Advanced/Extends Features in Adobe Reader
    -3) Use Livecycle Reader Extensions to add Rights to the PDF file.

    Maybe step 2 then 3 or maybe 3 then 2…

    That’s it for the proof of concept.

    Regarding the non-technical part, there is Adobe licences involved, and a “LiveCycle Reader Extensions ES Certificate” limited in time… probably to buy.

    Thanks for your help

  • Don

    Whenever I add Flash content to a pdf the ‘activate content’ option must be selected by end users, why is this not the case with this pdf?

  • Hi Don,

    When you add the Flash you set the advanced settings that tell the Flash to run when the page containing it is viewed. That’s what I did.


  • Don

    Thanks James – That answers my question and I think that’s the fastest comment reply I have ever gotten LOL

  • There have been some questions here around an alternative to using LCDS to generate the PDF. I’ve heard that this can be done with iText but I haven’t tried it myself.

    Also, thanks simon for the useful updates here.

  • Roy

    Do you have any hint for .net user? If you do, is it possible to share with us?
    I would love to have this presentation in my report.

  • Hi Roy,

    I’m sure there are ways to do this with .Net but I have no idea what they are. Sorry.


  • Roy

    Hi James,
    I’ve tried to insert xml into the textfield in the sample that you have provided by using itext as follow

    pdfFormFields.SetField(“PortableRIAs[0].Page1[0].data[0]”, xmlString)

    however, it doesn’t work. Do you have any suggestion?

  • Hi Roy,

    Do you know if it created the PDF with the data in it? Can you email it to me? jaward at adobe dot com


  • Jacky

    Hi James,

    It’s really cool stuff and it is what I’m searching for.
    But is there any opensource choice since I think my boss wont afford for LiveCycle & Acrobat. Well, I only have Flex & server-side with .net or java.

  • @Jacky I’ve heard that people have used iText to create PDFs that contain Flex apps.

  • Raghupathi

    Hi James…

    Nice post..

    I am wondering is their any way we can do the opposite.Like given a PDF and convert that PDF to image or a Flex component ?

    Thank you in Advance.

    • I’ve seen some open source libraries to do that but I can’t find them now. If you search around you will probably find something.

  • Hi,

    Number of graphs are dynamic in our application.How to customize the current application.we will having different dataproviders for different graphs.Your website is the one which made us to look in to the sample application.Please let me know how to implement the multiple grpahs whch are dynamic .

    • The charts can be totally customized / changed to whatever you want. Check out Tour de Flex to see many of the Data Visualization and Flex Charts that you can use.

  • Hi,

    In LCDS Es we have some set of components like textfield,list….

    in your current example u made some string and binded to the text input.But i need to pass some set of objects.Is there any way to pass objects i tried to pass but i am not able to get them

    • How are you passing the objects?

      • we are trying to send an object but we are getting problem in setter method. We have taken a textfiled and trying to set an object. Even we tried to set object to list still we are getting the error as getter method is returning null. We could not work with strings as we have more number of graphs(minimum 4).

        • I am working on a POC that actually encodes the data in AMF (using a ByteArray) and then Base64 encodes that ByteArray for storage in the PDF text field. Email me and I can send you what I have. jaward at adobe dot com

          • The requirement for us is we need to have the same interface similar to the one in SWF within PDF as well. I think if we use ByteArray we will get the snapshots in PDF. So we are trying to find a way of storing the objects within the PDF using LCDS so that we can have similar to what is in SWF within the PDF.