Acrobat Open Parameters

Recently I was tasked with updating the college catalog. Not the content, that was already generated for us and delivered in PDF format by the publisher. I needed to update the web site and the links into the PDFs. Most of the links went to just the PDF itself, but a few pointed to named destinations inside the PDF. These bookmarks don’t exist in the documents we receive from the publisher — we have to create them ourselves.

But I don’t have Acrobat Pro installed on my computer. If the college orders me a copy today we’ll probably have the install DVD  next week, but I don’t want to wait that long.

So what options are at my disposal? Is it possible to link to a specific location inside a PDF without having to create bookmarks inside the PDF?

After scouring the interwebs a bit I find this document on Acrobat Open Parameters.

I can link to a specific page by simply appending to the PDF’s url #page=2 and, magically, Acrobat Reader will load the PDF starting on page 2.


But some of the items I’m linking to inside the PDF start halfway down the page. A user clicking on the link might not see the section they’re being linked to within the top area of the page that is visible on their screen and immediately assume they’ve clicked on the wrong thing.

So can we do something more with these URL parameters?


The VIEW parameter allows you to define how the PDF is scaled in the browser (fit to window, fit horizontally to window, fit vertically to window, etc.) as well as where on the page to start based on a x,y coordinate system.

In this case I want to set VIEW to FitH (Fit Horizontally) meaning the PDF will size itself so the width of the document is the same as the width of the browser’s viewport. This also allows us to specify a Y component as to the position of the page displayed when the PDF is loaded. Combine this with the PAGE parameter and you can define where in a given page the PDF will start when loaded.

So a link like document.pdf?page=7&view=FitH,300 will load the PDF on page 3 at 300 units down the page.

Now what unit are we talking about? And is 300 units on my screen the same as 300 units on someone else’s screen? I have no idea. The document is light on details, but I believe the coordinate system is based on the parameters of the PDF itself and not the end-user’s screen. So with a little bit of trial-and-error I find just the right number to use with the FitH view and voilà!

I can now link to the Masters of Arts in Teaching program within the Secondary Education section of the catalog. And I did it without having to pay for some bloated Adobe software.

Granted, with named destinations updating the catalog next year wouldn’t require that I touch those links (just the PDFs we get from the publisher) and maybe it’s better from a semantics standpoint, but this was quick and easy.

Will it work with PDF readers other than Acrobat? I don’t know. If you’ve got one installed try it out and let me know. The fact that these “open parameters” have been around since at least Acrobat 6 it’s possible other PDF viewers have incorporated this feature into their application.

But, hey, it works with the most popular and free PDF reader and it didn’t require expensive software to accomplish. That’s good enough for me.