How to create an e-Mail PDF Survey Form

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Revision as of 03:03, 31 May 2007 by IFetwadjieff (talk | contribs)
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How often have you ever been emailed a PDF form that you have been told to print it, fill it in with a pen and then fax or post it back to the sender?

….and you thought to yourself, “Why don’t they just send me a PDF form that I can quickly type in the information and email it back.”

With Scribus you can create electronic PDF forms that can do exactly this. In the Scribus Wiki article “Your first PDF form with Scribus” you are shown how to create a sample PDF form and if you tried it, you will have an idea of what is involved.

The demonstration form however uses an online server which is complicated and expensive to setup.

A far simpler way is to use e-mails to exchange the data and the form can be easily modified to change the way the data is transferred. The setup of the Submit Button is all that needs to be changed. Instead of the data being sent as HTML to a web address, the mailto:” command is used. By using the mailto:” command, Adobe Acrobat Reader automatically attaches data in a FDF file to an email. This command works with most mail clients used in Windows and Linux.

FDF is short for Forms Data Format and they are basically text files that contain data from the PDF form. Not quite HTML, but a similar cousin. The form's field names and data are stored within a tag set. Characters between tags are irrelevant and don't appear anywhere within the displayed PDF file.

Adobe Acrobat Reader can open a FDF file but requires the original PDF form to do so. If you double click on a FDF file, Reader requests the location of the PDF form. Once linked up with the PDF form location, the PDF form opens with the FDF data in the fields. FDF files are a fraction of the size of the complete PDF form.

Creating a e-Mail PDF form


In the document “Your first PDF form with Scribus” you are shown how to create a PDF form to submit data to a server. A copy of the example file can be downloaded from a link on that page.

You can easily modify the example form to e-mail the data. Open the Scribus version of the document with Scribus. Right click your mouse on the “Submit” Button (Blue Rectangle). A menu pops up and select PDF Options –> Field Properties

Next select the Action Tab –> choose Submit Form and enter “mailto:” with your email address. Do not tick the Submit data as HTML.


Click OK. Now save your document as a PDF and view it with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Testing your PDF form

Enter some data on the form and click the SUBMIT Button. By answering the prompts and security questions correctly, your email client should create an email with a FDF attachment to the address you specified. Something like the image below.


Notice the difference in the file size between the FDF and PDF.

How to use FDF files

There are two options that I can think of -

1. Dump the data back into the form and print it, or

2. Extract the data into a spreadsheet or database

While Adobe would prefer you to purchase the full version of Acrobat, you can still do a lot with the free Scribus and Acrobat Reader software.

As the data in the FDF file is text, it is easily accessible by using a script or macro to extract the data contained in it. If you Save a FDF file from a e-mail (this is the only way to get one out of Reader) and open it in a text editor, you will the field names and your data with a whole lot of other characters.

If you use the example, you will see amongst other words and characters, the following words

Country Komentarz Miasto Name No Street Submit Telefon Zip

You will notice that this order is different to the PDF form. The fields are in alphabetical order. If you want your fields in the same order as on the PDF form, then you will need to name the fields in alphabetical order.

For example-

AName BStreet CNo DZip EMiasto FCountry GTelefon HKomentarz Submit

An example of a script to process FDF files into MS Excel

Below is a macro that allows you to extract data from FDF files. The macro is heavily commented to show what each line of code does. This script should be able to be easily converted to other applications.

Excel Macro

Public Sub DoAdobeImport()

Dim FName As Variant

Dim Sep1 As String

Dim Sep2 As String

Dim Sep3 As String

Dim Sep4 As String

Dim RowNdx As Integer

Dim ColNdx As Integer

Dim WholeLine As String

Dim Pos As Integer

Dim NextPos As Integer

Dim StartPos As Integer

Dim EndPos As Integer

Dim recordPos As Integer

Dim recordPos2 As Integer

Dim SaveColNdx As Integer

Dim Part1 As String

Dim Part2 As String

'get name of FDF file

FName = Application.GetOpenFilename _

   (filefilter:="Adobe FDF Data Files(*.fdf),*.fdf,All Files (*.*),*.*", Title:="Select FDF file to import")

If FName = False Then

   MsgBox "You didn't select a file"
   Exit Sub

End If

'Set record separators

Application.ScreenUpdating = False

Sep1 = "<<"

Sep2 = ">>"

Sep3 = "/T"

Sep4 = ")"

'set cell row and column where to start entering data

ColNdx = ActiveCell.Column

RowNdx = ActiveCell.Row

Open FName For Input Access Read As #1 'open fdf file

   Line Input #1, WholeLine 'Skip first three lines as they do not contain any data
   Line Input #1, WholeLine
   Line Input #1, WholeLine
   StartPos = (InStr(1, WholeLine, "[")) + 1 ' find where data starts
   EndPos = (InStr(1, WholeLine, "]")) - 1 ' find where data ends
   WholeLine = Mid(WholeLine, StartPos, EndPos) 'capture just the data fields
   Pos = 3 ' set start position

   NextPos = InStr(Pos, WholeLine, Sep2) 'find end of current record
   While NextPos >= 1
       TempVal = Mid(WholeLine, Pos, NextPos - Pos) 'Find start of next record
       recordPos = (InStr(1, TempVal, Sep4)) 'Go to end of record by using ")"
       'Assume the value is in A1, in B1  =Left(A1,len(A1)-2)

       Part1 = Trim(Mid(TempVal, 1, recordPos)) 'get data record name
       '*******Comment out the line below if you do not want data record name*****
       Cells(RowNdx, ColNdx).Value = Right((Left(Part1, Len(Part1) - 1)), Len((Left(Part1, Len(Part1) - 1))) - 3) ' trim off 

start and end superfluous characters and enter in cell

       '*******Comment out the line below if you do not want data record name*****
       RowNdx = RowNdx + 1 'move to next row
       recordPos2 = (InStr(1, TempVal, Sep4)) ' find ")" which is end of record
       Part2 = Trim(Mid(TempVal, recordPos2)) 'get data
       'Check to see if data field is blank
       If Part2 = Sep4 Then
       Cells(RowNdx, ColNdx).Value = ""
       'Check if Data is Yes or No
       ElseIf Right(Part2, 1) <> Sep4 Then 'trim off start and end superfluous characters and enter in cell
       Cells(RowNdx, ColNdx).Value = Right((Left(Part2, Len(Part2) - 0)), Len((Left(Part2, Len(Part2) - 0))) - 4) ' trim off start and end superfluous characters and enter in cell
       Cells(RowNdx, ColNdx).Value = Right((Left(Part2, Len(Part2) - 1)), Len((Left(Part2, Len(Part2) - 1))) - 4) ' trim off start and end superfluous characters and enter in cell
       End If
       'Cells(RowNdx, ColNdx).Value = Trim(Mid(TempVal, recordPos2))   'Second part which contains data
       ColNdx = ColNdx + 1 ' move to next column
       '*******Comment out the line below if you do not want data record name*****
       RowNdx = RowNdx - 1 ' move up a row

       Pos = NextPos + 4 ' move to start of next record record
       NextPos = InStr(Pos, WholeLine, Sep2) ' find end of next record
       'if more records loop again
'if no more records end

Close #1

End Sub

Possible Uses for this System

Club membership applications / database Client information database Electronic Survey forms Electronic examinations