What Is a PDF File (and How Do I Open One)?


A file with the .pdf file extension is a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. PDFs are typically used to distribute read-only documents that preserve the layout of a page. They’re commonly used for documents like user manuals, eBooks, application forms, and scanned documents, to name just a few.

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What is a PDF File?

PDF was created by Adobe in the 1990s to achieve two things. The first is that people should be able to open the documents on any hardware or operating system, without needing to have the app used to create them—all you need is a PDF reader, and these days most web browsers fit the bill. The second is that wherever you open a PDF, the layout of the document should look the same.

PDFs can contain text, images, embedded fonts, hyperlinks, video, interactive buttons, forms, and more.

How to View a PDF File

Because PDFs are a standardized format, there are a considerable number of apps out there that can open PDFs. Web browsers, Adobe’s official Acrobat Reader, third-party apps, and even word processing apps.

Easiest Way to View a PDF: Use Your Web Browser

Chances are if you’re reading this article, the web browser you’re using is capable of viewing a PDF, and doing so is mostly the same on macOS and Windows.

If you don’t have another app that can read PDFs, the chances are that your browser is already the default app and you can just double-click the file to open it.

If not, right-click the file, point to the “Open With” menu, and then click your favorite browser.

The results are similar to any other program out there.

For More Control and Better Feature Support: Use a Desktop Reader

Adobe’s Acrobat Reader is the official tool for reading PDFs. It’s free, and it’s available for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.

After installing Acrobat Reader, all you have to do is double-click on any PDF you want to open.

And as you can see, it has a whole lot more features for controlling your view, as well as the ability to export PDFs to an editable format, such as a Microsoft Office document.

Of course, there are also third-party apps for viewing PDF files, some of which are faster and less bloated than Adobe Reader.

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Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

As content editor, I get to do what I love everyday. Tweet, share and promote the best content our tools find on a daily basis.

I have a crazy passion for #music, #celebrity #news & #fashion! I'm always out and about on Twitter.
Sasha Harriet

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