How to Solve Problems with PDF Files

As the name implies, the Portable Document Format file (PDF) is an amazingly versatile cross-browser, cross-operating system file format that can be used to present anything from simple documents to complex reports, images and more.  There are countless document authoring systems that have the File->Save As->PDF option included. PDF files are particularly web-friendly and travel well as attachments to email.

The downside of PDF files is that you either need to have access to PDF file editing software or the original source document if you want to make changes to the PDF once it is created.  The other potential downside is that, like every other type of digital file, PDF files are subject to becoming corrupted.  All it takes is a dead spot on your hard drive, a quick power surge, a virus attack, or even attempting to edit a PDF file in the wrong software and your PDF file is no longer usable.

Symptoms of a Corrupted PDF File:

  • Failure to open
  • PDF file opens but content is garbled
  • PDF file only partially opens

Regardless of which symptom you experience, the end result is the same. You have to recreate the PDF from the source document.

But what if you no longer have access to the source document? Or what if the PDF file IS the source document? Well, in that case, things get a bit more complicated, but maybe not disastrous. Read on to learn what you can do.

The Anatomy of a PDF File

Like all digital files, PDF documents follow a strict file format structure. Every file type has a different structure and it is those structures that tell software how to handle the file and how to render the document correctly to the screen. For example, Word documents have a particular format that is read and interpreted by Microsoft Word® and other compatible word processors.  PDF readers and editors expect to find the correct file format in order to handle the file you are trying to display.

PDF files start out with what is called a header. This header identifies the document as a PDF to whatever software is trying to open it. Then there are a series of numbers called a “magic number” followed by the body of the document. The body contains links to each of the blocks of content that make up the document. Should any of these internal file parts become damaged, the PDF is useless. Or is it?

PDF Repair is Possible

Because the PDF file follows a strict format, it is often, but not always, possible to identify the corrupted file segment and repair it. This requires special software that is designed to analyze the file, find the error, and make the repair. When the software has successfully completed its task, you have a fully functional PDF file and your problem is solved. DataNumen PDF Repair(DPDFR) is one recovery program that has been successfully used to restore damaged PDF files. It is an inexpensive solution to what could be a very expensive problem.


About The Author

Alan Chen is President and Chairman of DataNumen, Inc., the world leader in data recovery technologies, including PFD repair and Word recovery software products. For more information, visit

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