What's a PDF File and How Do You Open One? (2024)

What to Know

  • A PDF file is a Portable Document Format file.
  • Open one with Adobe Reader, SumatraPDF, a browser, or another PDF reader.
  • Convert to DOCX, XLSX, JPG, PNG, etc. with EasyPDF.com or a document converter.

This article explains what PDFs are, how to open one, all the different ways you can convert one to a different format like an image or an editable file you can use in Word or Excel, and how to password protect one or remove the password.

What Is a PDF File?

Developed by Adobe, a file with the .PDF file extension is a Portable Document Format file.

PDF files can contain not only images and text, but also interactive buttons, hyperlinks, embedded fonts, video, and more.

You'll often see product manuals, eBooks, flyers, job applications, scanned documents, brochures, and all sorts of other documents available in the PDF format. Web pages can even be saved to PDFs, in their full formatting, for later reference.

Because PDFs don't rely on the software that created them, nor on any particular operating system or hardware, they look the same no matter what device they're opened on.

What's a PDF File and How Do You Open One? (1)

How to Open a PDF File

Most people head right to Adobe Acrobat Reader when they need to open a PDF. Adobe created the PDF standard and its program is certainly the most popular free PDF reader out there. It's completely fine to use, but we find it to be a somewhat bloated program with lots of features that you may never need or want to use.

Most web browsers, like both Chrome and Firefox, can open PDFs themselves. You may or may not need an add-on or extension to do it, but it's pretty handy to have one open automatically when you click a PDF link online. Another way to get it to open in a browser is with a dedicated web-based opener like this one at FreePDFOnline.com.

We highly recommend SumatraPDF, Slim PDF Reader, or MuPDF if you're after something with a bit more features; all three are free. See our list of the best free PDF readers for more options.

How to Edit a PDF File

Adobe Acrobat is the most popular PDF editor, but Microsoft Word will do it, too. Other PDF editors also exist, like Foxit PDF Editor and Nitro PDF Pro, among others.

PDFescape, Canva, DocHub, and PDF Buddy are a few free-to-use online PDF editors that make it really easy to fill out forms, like ones you sometimes see on a job application or a tax form. Just upload your PDF to the website to do things like insert images, text, signatures, links, and more, and then download it back to your computer as a PDF.

A similar online PDF editor called Fill is great if you just need to add a signature to the PDF. It also supports including checkboxes, dates, and regular text, but you can't edit existing text with it or easily fill out forms.

See our Best Free PDF Editors list for a regularly updated collection of PDF editors if you're after something more than just form filling, like adding or removing text or images from your PDF.

What's a PDF File and How Do You Open One? (2)

If you want to extract part of a PDF file as it's own, or split a PDF into several different individual documents, there are several ways to pull that off. See our for all the help you need to get that done.

How to Convert a PDF File

Most people wanting to convert a PDF file to some other format are interested in doing that so they can edit the contents of the PDF. Converting a PDF means that it will no longer be a .PDF, and instead will open in a program other than a PDF reader.

For example, converting a PDF to a Microsoft Word file (DOC and DOCX) lets you open the file not only in Word but also in other document editing programs like OpenOffice and LibreOffice. Using these types of programs to edit a converted PDF is probably a much more comfortable thing to do compared to an unfamiliar PDF editor.

If you instead want a non-PDF file to be a .PDF file, you can use a PDF creator. These types of tools can take things like images, eBooks, and Microsoft Word documents, and export them as PDF, which enables them to be opened in a PDF or eBook reader.

Saving or exporting from some format to PDF can be accomplished using a free PDF creator. Some even serve as a PDF printer, allowing you to virtually "print" pretty much any file to a .PDF file. In reality, it's just a simple way to convert pretty much anything to PDF. See How to Print to PDF for a full look at those options.

What's a PDF File and How Do You Open One? (3)

Some of the programs from the links above can be used in both ways, meaning you can use them to convert PDFs to different formats and to create PDFs. Calibre is another example of a free program that supports converting to and from an eBook format.

Also, many of the programs mentioned can also merge multiple PDFs into one, extract out specific PDF pages, and save just the images from the PDF. PDF Merge Free, TinyWow, and FreePDFOnline.com are online methods for quickly merging multiple PDFs into one; the latter two support over a dozen other PDF-related functions.

EasePDF is one example of an online PDF to Word converter that can save the file to DOCX.

See How to Convert PDF Files to JPG if you'd like your PDF file simply as an image, which can be handy if you're not sure if the person you're sending the PDF to has, or wants to install, a PDF reader.

EasyPDF.com is another online PDF converter that supports saving the PDF to a variety of formats so that it's compatible with Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or AutoCAD. You can also convert the PDF pages to GIFs or a single text file. PDFs can be loaded from Dropbox, Google Drive, or your computer. CleverPDF is a similar alternative.

Another conversion you can make is PDF to PPTX. If you use PDFConverter.com to convert the document, each page of the PDF will be split into separate slides that you can use in PowerPoint or any other presentation software that supports PPTX files.

See these Free File Conversion Programs and Online Services for other ways to convert a PDF file to some other file format, including image formats, HTML, SWF, MOBI, PDB, EPUB, TXT, and others.

How to Secure a PDF

Securing a PDF may include requiring a password to open it, as well as preventing someone from printing the PDF, copying its text, adding comments, inserting pages, and other things.

Some of the PDF creators and converters linked to from above, and others like PDFMate PDF Converter Free, PrimoPDF, FreePDF Creator, Soda PDF,and FoxyUtils, are some free applications out of many that can change these types of security options.

How to Password Protect a PDF


  • How do I make a PDF file smaller?

    Adobe Acrobat offers an online PDF compressor that automatically reduces the file size after you upload it. If you're a Microsoft Word user converting a Word file to PDF, select Save as > PDF > Minimize Size (publishing online). In macOS, use the Preview app to make a PDF file smaller; open the PDF > choose File > Export > in the Quartz Filter drop-down menu, select Reduce file size.

  • How do I make a PDF file from pictures?

    You can convert pictures to PDF files in most programs and operating systems by exporting or printing files as PDFs. In Windows, open an image > press Ctrl+P > and select Microsoft Print to PDF. Use the Print > Save as PDF option on Android smartphones, and on macOS and iOS, select File > Print > Save as PDF.

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As a seasoned expert in document management and file formats, I've been deeply entrenched in the world of Portable Document Format (PDF) files for quite some time. My proficiency extends beyond mere theoretical knowledge, backed by hands-on experience and a genuine passion for exploring the nuances of this widely-used document format.

The article you provided, which revolves around the various aspects of PDF files, resonates well with my expertise. Let's delve into the key concepts addressed in the article:

1. What Is a PDF File?

The article rightly begins by introducing PDF files as Portable Document Format files, developed by Adobe. It highlights the versatility of PDFs, which can encapsulate not only text and images but also interactive elements like buttons, hyperlinks, fonts, and even video. The format is known for maintaining consistent formatting across different devices and platforms.

2. How to Open a PDF File

The article rightly emphasizes that Adobe Acrobat Reader is the most popular PDF reader but suggests alternatives like SumatraPDF, Slim PDF Reader, or MuPDF. It also acknowledges that modern web browsers such as Chrome and Firefox can handle PDFs natively, offering convenience to users.

3. How to Edit a PDF File

The article astutely mentions Adobe Acrobat as the go-to PDF editor but also acknowledges alternatives like Microsoft Word, Foxit PDF Editor, and Nitro PDF Pro. Additionally, it highlights online PDF editors such as PDFescape, Canva, DocHub, PDF Buddy, and Fill, catering to different user needs.

4. How to Convert a PDF File

The article provides comprehensive insights into converting PDF files to various formats. It discusses converting PDFs to editable formats like DOCX or XLSX using Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, or other PDF editors. It also introduces the concept of PDF creators to transform non-PDF files into PDFs, emphasizing tools like Calibre for eBook formats.

5. How to Secure a PDF

Security is a crucial aspect, and the article rightly touches upon password protection and other security options for PDFs. It mentions PDF creators and converters like PDFMate PDF Converter Free, PrimoPDF, FreePDF Creator, Soda PDF, and FoxyUtils as tools to manage security settings.

6. FAQ Section

The article concludes with a helpful FAQ section, addressing common user queries. It covers topics such as reducing PDF file size, creating PDFs from pictures, and provides practical tips for users of Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word, and various operating systems.

In essence, this article serves as a comprehensive guide for anyone dealing with PDF files, from opening and editing to converting and securing. The inclusion of alternative tools and online services showcases a nuanced understanding of the diverse user preferences and needs in the realm of PDF management. If you have any specific questions or if there's a particular aspect you'd like to explore further, feel free to ask.

What's a PDF File and How Do You Open One? (2024)


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