Author Topic: want to build an Adobe Acrobat plug-in. No computer programming experience  (Read 1100 times)

Cheddar Bob

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I'm an accountant and I have an idea for an Adobe Acrobat plug-in.  I'll describe what I want to do below, but I am wondering how difficult would this be to create?  I don't have any programming experience.  The closest thing would be Excel, of which I am pretty proficient (vlookups, index/match, logical functions, text functions, pivot tables, light VBA).

At work I have to produce a lot of workpapers that basically show how numbers presented in a document (like an income statement or balance sheet) were calculated.  My company typically produces a PDF package that consists of the presented numbers in front and then support pages after.  As an example, let's say the first page is an income statement that shows $50M for income taxes.  And then on page 10 of the PDF package there is support for this figure.  On the first page (the income statement), I would write "10" next to the $50M income tax figure.  And then on page 10 (the support), I would write "1" next to the $50M income tax figure.  The first writing lets the reader know where the support is, and the second writing lets the reader know what number the support is trying to, well, support.  These writings are known as tick marks and cross-reference in auditing parlance.

As you might imagine, this can be a pretty meticulous process to do by hand.  Although it would be possible just use text boxes, the process is further complicated by the fact that the page numbers will change as pages are added/removed from the PDF package.  There is typically some type of deadline looming, so it isn't feasible to just wait until everything is final before making the tick marks. 

Because of this complication, I want to develop an Acrobat plug-in that allows me to create linked cross-references.  I could simply place a stamp of sorts on page 1 and then a second stamp on page 10.  These stamps would be linked.  The first stamp would display the page number of the second stamp, and the second stamp would display the page number of the first stamp.  These numbers would automatically update as pages are added/subtracted from the PDF.

How difficult would it be to build a plug-in like this?  There a similar plug-in out there called Tick, Tie, Calculate which basically does this but it does not display the page numbers, only a reference number (see here:  Per Adobe's website, plug-ins can be built using Javascript and C++.  I am thinking this would be pretty difficult.  I could stomach a months long project but if it would take around a year then it probably isn't worth the trouble. 


  • Pencil Stache
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If you want to see what to do, you can download the SDK. It has some example projects. Just take into account that you can't use it for the free pdf viewer. Writing a plugin for that is severely restricted(to stop people from making their own pro version). But with no programming experience I would recommend getting help. I made some plugins for other Adobe applications. It is not easy unless you have some example.

A better bet is to add it somewhere in the part which generates the pdf although it will be a challenge to determine the page number there.


  • Pencil Stache
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My company has numerous plug ins for Adobe, it's the core of our business.  It's hard, mainly because every. single. version. of Adobe is completely different from the last so it's pretty much a floor up redesign with every release.  We have a development team of 10 that works strictly on those products, there are lots of ins and outs about what they allow for security and coding.  Also, you have to remain on Adobes good side, and become a member of their partner program if you want to get anywhere.  We wary of programing Adobe and JavaScript, it ticks off several security warnings and can be blocked on certain systems.

Reading your description though, it sounds like you would be better off just building a report and using Adobe's Link tool to create automatic hyperlinks to the page, package etc.  You can customize links and bookmarks to do pretty much everything you just described.


  • Handlebar Stache
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I would try really, really hard to approach this problem in Word (using Endnotes and cross-references) or LaTeX or similar document composition system.

I don't think I'd jump straight to "write custom software" as that's incredibly expensive (in money or in time or both). I say this as a professional SWE/tech manager.


  • Bristles
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I don't have any programming experience. 
I could stomach a months long project but if it would take around a year then it probably isn't worth the trouble.

It kinda depends how fast you can pick up programming. Sounds like you are starting from scratch with no help - or will you have some help from family, friends? Anyone who you can ask questions if you are stuck somewhere? No offense, but with no programming experience and no help, this will take more than one month assuming you are full time working on this.