It looks as if I’ll have a little input into the upcoming PDF/A-4 standardization process; earlier this month I got an email from the 3D PDF Consortium inviting me to participate, and I responded affirmatively. While waiting for whatever happens next, I should figure out what PDF/A-4 is all about.

ISO has a placeholder for it, where it’s also called “PDF/A-NEXT.” There’s some substantive information on PDFlib. What’s interesting right at the start is that it will build on PDF/A-2, not PDF/A-3. A lot of people in the library and archiving communities thought A-3 jumped the shark when it allowed any kind of attachments without limitation. It’s impossible to establish a document’s archival suitability if it has opaque content.

A-4 will allow arbitrary attachments, but only in one of its conformance levels. Documents of this kind conform to PDF/A-4f. This is sure to be a great source of “4F” jokes. There will also be a PDF/A-4e standard for engineering documents. According to the article, it’s a successor to PDF/E-1. Plans for a PDF/E-2 standard have been dropped in favor of grafting it into the PDF/A track. Unlike earlier versions, A-4 won’t have separate conformance levels for tagged and untagged documents.

The underlying PDF version will be 2.0.


The merging of PDF/E into the archival standard is clearly what has the interest of the 3D PDF Consortium. PDF/E (ISO 24517) is a profile of PDF aimed at engineering documents. It specifies ways to handle PDF content, in U3D or PRC format. Any PDF file can have such content, but PDF/E standardizes the methods of incorporating it. Like PDF/A, it restricts the use of JavaScript and prohibits references to external content.

This isn’t a lot of information. As I find out more, I’ll try to make it available here. Have a happy Pi Day (3/14)!

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