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XML Forms Architecture (XFA)
Filename extension .pdf, .xdp
Internet media type application/pdf, application/vnd.adobe.xdp+xml[1]
Developed by JetForm (acquired by Adobe Systems in 2002)
Initial release 1999 (1999)
Latest release 3.3[2] / 9 January 2012; 2 years ago (2012-01-09)
Container for PDF, XML
Contained by PDF, XDP, FCDT[3]
Extended from XML, XHTML, CSS, PDF
Standard(s) No
Open format? No

XFA (also known as XFA forms) stands for XML Forms Architecture, a family of proprietary XML specifications that was suggested and developed by JetForm to enhance the processing of web forms. It can be also used in PDF files starting with PDF 1.5 specification. XFA specification is referenced as an external specification indispensable for the application of ISO 32000-1 specification (PDF 1.7). XML Forms Architecture was not standardized as an ISO standard.[4]


XFA's main extension to XML are computationally active tags. In addition, all instances created from a given XFA form template keep the specification of data capture, rendering, and manipulation rules from the original. Another major advantage of XFA is that its data format allows compatibility with other systems, and with changes to other technology, applications and technology standards.

According to JetForm's submission to the World Wide Web Consortium, "XFA addresses the needs of organizations to securely capture, present, move, process, output and print information associated with electronic forms."[5] The XFA proposal was submitted to the W3C in May 1999.

In 2002, the JetForm Corporation was acquired by Adobe Systems, and the latter introduced XFA forms with PDF 1.5 and the subsequent Acrobat releases (6 and 7) in 2003.[6]

XFA forms are saved internally in PDF files or as XDP (XML Data Package) files which can be opened in Adobe's LiveCycle Designer software. An XDP packages a PDF file, along with XML form and template data.[7] XDP provides a mechanism for packaging form components within a surrounding XML container.

XFA forms are synonymous with SmartForms in the Australian government.

Usage with Portable Document Format[edit]

PDF currently supports two different methods for integrating data and PDF forms. Both formats today coexist in PDF specification:[4][8]

  • AcroForms (also known as Acrobat forms), introduced and included in the PDF 1.2 format specification.
  • Adobe XML Forms Architecture (XFA) forms, introduced in the PDF 1.5 format specification as an optional feature (The XFA specification is not included in the PDF specification, it is only referenced.)

Adobe XFA Forms are not compatible with AcroForms. Creating XFA Forms for use in Adobe Reader requires Adobe LiveCycle Forms Designer.[9] Adobe Reader contains "disabled features" for use of XFA Forms, that will activate only when opening a PDF document that was created using enabling technology available only from Adobe.[10][11] The XFA Forms are not compatible with Adobe Reader prior to version 6.

XFA forms can be created and used as PDF files or as XDP (XML Data Package). The format of an XFA resource in PDF is described by the XML Data Package Specification.[12] PDF may contain XFA in XDP format, but also XFA may contain PDF.[7]

When the PDF and XFA are combined, the result is a form in which each page of the XFA form overlays a PDF background. This architecture is sometimes referred to as XFAF (XFA Foreground).[13] The alternative is to express all of the form, including boilerplate, directly in XFA (without a complete PDF background). It is sometimes called full XFA.

When the XFA (XML Forms Architecture) grammars used for an XFA form are moved from one application to another, they must be packaged as an XML Data Package. The XDP may be a standalone document or it may in turn be carried inside a PDF document.[13]

XFA Form packaging variants:

  • as a standalone XML Data Package (XDP)
  • inside a PDF Document (a.k.a. "XFA Foreground") - each page of the XFA form overlays a PDF background
  • inside a "Shell PDF" (used for the "full XFA" form) - a PDF file contains only a minimal skeleton of PDF markup plus the complete XFA content, any fonts and images needed for rendering of the form. It minimizes the file size and the rendering overhead is moved from the server to the client.

Starting with PDF 1.5, the text contents of variable text form fields, as well as markup annotations may include formatting information (style information). These rich text strings are XML documents that conform to the rich text conventions specified for the XML Forms Architecture specification, which is itself a subset of the XHTML 1.0 specification, augmented with a restricted set of CSS2 style attributes.[12] In PDF 1.6, PDF supports the rich text elements and attributes specified in the XML Forms Architecture (XFA) Specification, 2.2. In PDF 1.7, PDF supports the rich text elements and attributes specified in the XML Forms Architecture (XFA) Specification, 2.4.[12] PDF 2.0 (ISO 32000 Part 2) will reference XFA 3.1.


The XML Forms Architecture specification is not included in the PDF 1.7 standard (ISO 32000-1:2008) and it is only referenced as an external proprietary specification created by Adobe. XFA was not standardized as an ISO standard.

Since 2007, development of PDF standard is conducted by ISO's Technical Committee 171/Subcommittee 2/Working Group 8 (TC 171/SC 2/WG 8) formally named PDF specification.

In 2011 the ISO Committee urged Adobe Systems to submit the XFA Specification, XML Forms Architecture (XFA), to ISO for standardization and requested Adobe Systems to stabilize the XFA specification. The Committee expressed its concerns about the stability of the XFA specification.[14]

XFA Versions[edit]

XFA Version Year of publication Referenced in PDF version New features Adobe Acrobat version Adobe LiveCycle Designer version
2.02 2003 1.5 XFA 2.0 supports only static forms 6.0 6
2.1 Connection Set DOM, Connection Data DOM, Data Description DOM, Layout DOM, Connection Set DOM, Connection Data DOM, Data Description DOM, Layout DOM, Special Object Models, Exclusion group element’s capability expanded, Hide/reveal containers depending on relevance, Growable containers, Paragraph formatting, Barcode formatting, Image aspect, Noninteractive fields, Support for Web Services ('doc-literal' SOAP operations over HTTP; the Web Service's WSDL defines SOAP binding operations), Submission of form parts to a target URI, Subforms may include calculations, Calculations may specify override conditions, Scripts specify whether they should be executed on the client, server or both, Document variables, Validation checks against validation-specific picture clauses, Event source included as an event attribute, Use of data description when writing out XML, Dynamic forms, Repeating subforms, Explicit data references, Subform sets, Record processing, Global fields, Data description element, Default data binding to include attribute data, Subform scope option, Automatically breaking layout, Dynamic layout, Flowing layout strategy, Flowing layout support for tables and table-rows, Rich text: Embedded objects, Subscript and superscript support, New Widget Types, Support for Asian-Language Representations, Scripting Object Model: Referencing objects by their class names, FormCalc: New functions to access locale
2.2 2004 1.6 Connection Set DOM, Connection Data DOM, Event for populating drop-down choice list widgets, W3C XML digital signatures, Uniquely identifying templates, Document variables used as named script objects 7.0 7
2.4 2006 1.7 and ISO 32000-1 Form fragments, Bar code encryption, Barcode character encoding, URL-encoded option for submit, Choice-list enter and exit events pair up, Manifests as scripting variables, Complex binding, Conditional binding, Support for right-to-left text flow, Conditional breaking, Nesting tables, Captions can differ between views 7.0 7.1
2.5 2007 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 1 Secure submit, Index change event, XFA Foreground (XFAF), Change to initial page selection, Explicit control of printer pagination, Widget functionality: Control over scrolling, Checkmark shapes, Button highlight, Explicit control over number of cells in combs, Security and Control: MDP+ document signatures 8.0 8
2.6 2008 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 2 Adobe XMP documented, Adobe configuration syntax documented, Template version control, Adobe legacy flags documented (for backward compatibility), Image storage in PDF (images stored as resources in the PDF container), New barcode types (UPS Maxicode, Aztec, Data Matrix, and the RSS14 family) 8.1, 8.1.1 ES 8.1
2.7 2008 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 3 Locale set typefaces, New set of rules for picking alternate fonts 8.1, 8.1.1 ES 8.1.2
2.8 2008 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 3 New variables dataset, Form fragments declaring traversals, Access property extended to subforms, Improved orphan and widow control, Keep property extended to fields and draws, Authentication policy for web services, Submit via WSDL/SOAP, Pre- and post-submit events standardized, Pre-sign and post-sign events added, Pre- events may cancel the associated action, Change in keep behavior, Pair kerning support, Hyphenation support, Rich text: Outbound hyperlinks, 9.0 ES 8.2
3.0 2009 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 5 Compatibility flag override in LiveCycle, Inactive presence, Event propagation (upward to their ancestral objects), Validation events added, Global validation handling control 9.1
3.1 2009 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 6 Support for relational data, Data injection into data description, Barcode examples expanded and illustrated, Automation Examples expanded and corrected, Control over duplex imposition, Rendering: Support for long or short edge duplexing, Support for more label printers X (10) ES 2
3.3 2012 1.7 Adobe Extension Level 8 Bulleted List, Numbered List and Nested List Support, Support for Right To Left flowed content Subforms and Tables, Deprecating legacy rendering, XML Encryption and Decryption Support, autoSave element added, ADBE_JSConsole and ADBE_JSDebugger elements added, Flash Integration in XFA X (10) ES 3

See also[edit]


  1. ^ IANA Application Media Types - Vendor Tree - vnd.adobe.xdp+xml, retrieved 2014-04-09 
  2. ^ Adobe XML Forms Architecture (XFA), retrieved 2014-04-09 
  3. ^ IANA Application Media Types - Vendor Tree - vnd.adobe.formscentral.fcdt, retrieved 2014-04-09 
  4. ^ a b "Gnu PDF - PDF Knowledge - Forms Data Format". Retrieved 2010-02-19. "Apparently Adobe introduced something newer called XFA (XML Forms Architecture) which doesn't seem standardized." 
  5. ^ W3C Submission (accessed August 14, 2006)
  6. ^ A Quick Introduction to Acrobat Forms Technology (PDF format)
  7. ^ a b Adobe Systems Incorporated. "Adobe XML Forms Architecture (XFA)". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  8. ^ "About PDF forms". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  9. ^ "Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions ES2". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  10. ^ Adobe Reader - Software license agreement (PDF), retrieved 2010-02-19 
  11. ^ "LiveCycle Reader Extensions ES features and benefits". Retrieved 2010-02-19. 
  12. ^ a b c Adobe Systems Incorporated (2008-07-01), Document Management – Portable Document Format – Part 1: PDF 1.7, First Edition, retrieved 2010-02-19 
  13. ^ a b XML Forms Architecture (XFA) Specification Version 2.5 (PDF), 2007-06-08, retrieved 2010-02-19 
  14. ^ ISO/TC 171/SC 2/WG 8 N 603 - Meeting Report, 2011-06-27, "XFA is not to be ISO standard just yet. ... The Committee urges Adobe Systems to submit the XFA Specification, XML Forms Architecture (XFA), to ISO for standardization ... The Committee is concerned about the stability of the XFA specification ... Part 2 will reference XFA 3.1" 

External links[edit]