PDF In-Depth

PDF Collaboration With SOAP

May 03, 2004

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When Adobe Acrobat 5.0 was introduced in 2001, along came with it a toolkit making it possible to develop a web-based PDF commenting and review workflow. It was possible with version 5 to create one of these workflows using one of the following technologies as the central comment repository:

  • Network Folder: comments are stored in a network folder.
  • Database: comments are stored in a database (Windows only solution).
  • Web Discussions: comments stored on a server running IIS and Microsoft Web Discussions (Windows only solution).
  • WebDav: comments are stored on a web server that supports the use of WebDav (stands for World Wide Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning).

The team at ARTS PDF Solutions have developed an online demo that demonstrates the SOAP commenting workflow in action. For instructions on how to get up and running, click here.

Now we can use SOAP!

With Acrobat 6, another method has been introduced that can be used to develop an online commenting workflow -- via SOAP -- using the SOAP plug-in new to Acrobat 6. This article will give you an brief overview on how to setup your own SOAP based commenting workflow.

Author's Note: Adobe have released an updated version of the Acrobat SDK, which contains a version of the 'Acrobat Online Collaboration: Setup and Administration' technical document explaining how exactly to design and implement such a workflow. For complete instructions and insight into setting up a SOAP based commenting workflow, please consult this document.

Why use SOAP?

With the several different possible types of commenting workflows available, why should an organization choose to implement a SOAP based solution, rather than one that's also available with Acrobat 5 (as listed above)? And what exactly is SOAP?

Following is a definition of the SOAP protocol, taken from the searchWebServices website:

"SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is a way for a program running in one kind of operating system (such as Windows 2000) to communicate with a progam in the same or another kind of an operating system (such as Linux) by using the World Wide Web's Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)and its Extensible Markup Language (XML) as the mechanisms for information exchange."

So, some obvious benefits of using SOAP as the building block for an online Acrobat/PDF commenting workflow are:

  • Makes it easier for users inside/outside firewalls to communicate to the server (acting as the comment repository), as all the messages are sent via XML, which is text based markup language for sending and receiving structured data.
  • Can use a number of different data store types to store the comments in (e.g. XML file, database, XML file). SOAP is only used as the protocol for sending and receiving the comments to the server. Once the comment data is received by the HTTP service, it's upto the developer of the service to handle it as desired.
  • It's possible to send comments selectively to the server, rather than having to send all comments on each connection.
  • By modifying the JavaScript file (stored in the Acrobat JavaScripts folder) that defines the SOAP collaboration store, it's possible to filter exactly which comments are displayed to the user.

Adobe have provided an excellent example of this required JavaScript file with the Acrobat SDK. This can most definitely be used as the base building block and then make changes where you would like to customize the process in anyway. A detailed description of this JavaScript file and how it works can be found in the 'Acrobat Online: Collaboration Setup and Administration' technical document, from the Acrobat SDK.

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