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Thread: PDF forms as a means of electronic data collection

  1. #1
    Member jkwrpc's Avatar
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    John Willems
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    Default PDF forms as a means of electronic data collection

    I am moving these two posts from the other thread I started on using electronic pdf files. I am doing so for two reasons, the first is that others may have some interest in using pdf as electronic forms for desktop applications.It will provide another means of capturing data and then moving it to the database. My goal was to do this in a way that would have no costs, using readily available open source or freeware tools. While there may be other tools, but I opted for the open source fork of OpenOffice.org called LibreOffice. My search also lead me to a freeware pdf reader called FoxIt Reader, which has far more functionality than the Adobe Reader. What follows for those that have an interest, is my progress to date. My next major step will be creating the code to actually load the data in the A5 database. So if anyone has any thoughts on improving on what I am doing and still meeting the goal of no added costs for software or components please let us know.

    Oh, the second reason I am starting this thread is simply that I said I would so I could at least report on what if any progress I make/made. So from the other thread...
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    Okay - I created a simple one field form in LibreOffice. I then used that software's 'export as pdf function' and left the form data as the "FDF" default. When I opened the form using Adobe Reader it would let me fill in the form field, but would not let me email it or save the form with the data in the field. I double checked my settings in the LibreOffice export function and confirmed I had granted permissions to save the data. I checked the Adobe Reader and could not find a setting that would impact saving the changes. So no luck saving the data with the Adobe Reader product.

    I then did some cursory searching on the internet and came to the conclusion that Adobe Reader looks for some special Adobe tagging in the form that will allow it to save the changed data. That does not work because I am creating the form in open source software LibreOffice, so no Adobe tags. I then came across FoxIt Reader, which is freeware like Adobe Reader. It however, allows me to to open and complete the form and save the data. I was then able to email the completed form with the data. So at this point that much works and without cost.

    Let me say first impressions of FoxIt are very favorable. It appears to be far more robust than the Adobe Reader and is professionally done. They, like a Adobe, do sell a host of pdf creation software at prices appearing to be less than Adobe. For me though, the experiment is using Open Source software to create the forms. The FoxIt Reader is very much worth a look.

    Now I have a completed form, but I need to get the data from it, by a means other than OCR. This may prove to be my show-stopper, but its worth the try. Having electronic forms that can capture the data I want and allow me to get it into the A5 desktop database will be a nice addition to my app if I can pull it off. I will let you know if I make any more progress. Any suggestions or ideas will be appreciated.

    ----------------------------------

    Update - I just opened my completed sample form in the FoxIt reader and was pleasantly surprised to find it has Form Data Import and Form Data Export functions. The choices include XML, FDF, Text and couple of others. For my experiment I used DataExport -> Text and I found myself the proud owner of text data file containing the data from my form. I suspect I could use XML and then create a script to read the data into my database.

    FoxIt says it supports JavaScript which I have yet to look at, but perhaps it will allow me to add some automation to the process. Right now, it does appear I can create the form in open source sofware LibreOffice, use the FoxIt Reader (freeware) to complete and return the form, then again use FoxIt Reader to save the data from the form in a format that I can work with to populate/load fields in my A5 native database.
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  2. #2
    Member jkwrpc's Avatar
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    John Willems
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    Default Re: PDF forms as a means of electronic data collection

    Update for those who have an interest - I created a multi- field test form in LibreOffice. I tried to collect a variety of data types on the form. I have been working with the various export formats from FoxIt. I really love the interactive code window in A5, its a very nice feature. I been spending most of the morning working with the A5 XML Parser. I admit XML is not my favorite format to work with and try to avoid it whenever possible. Anyway, after spending time with that, I wanted to go back and look at the FoxIt export data f to text data function. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that that it is exported in a tab delimited format. That said it created a format I can easily use to import my form to my A5 database. This concept has a long way to go before production ready, but clearly electronic forms are a viable option and can be easily done without cost to the developer or the customer.

  3. #3
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    Paul Verboom
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    Default Re: PDF forms as a means of electronic data collection

    Just happened across this post while looking for A5 XML Parser information. For anyone else looking to do this (extract form data from a PDF). I would advise check out the following product;

    http://www.a-pdf.com/form-data-extractor/index.htm

    It does just this and can be automated from the command line. Low price of of $39. This web site has a host of PDF tools several which I have used with good success.

  4. #4
    "Certified" Alphaholic
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    John Koh
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    Default Re: PDF forms as a means of electronic data collection

    Hi Paul,

    Thank you for information.

    Question: Can you get the data value from Alpha 5 tables?

  5. #5
    "Certified" Alphaholic Stan Mathews's Avatar
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    Stan Mathews
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    Default Re: PDF forms as a means of electronic data collection

    The program extracts data from a pdf form. It neither creates a pdf nor fills in one from table values.
    There can be only one.

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