Since this post was published, we have released Foxit PDF SDK, the only true multi-platform SDK in the market, available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, UWP and Web. It features a single, consistent core API, as well as a built-in viewer and UI for faster development. Learn more.
If you’re a developer looking to implement PDF functionality in your app, you’ve presented with 3 choices: develop your own PDF technology, choose a free open source library or tool, or use a professional PDF SDK.
Only one choice can be easily ruled out: developing your own pdf tech (it’s way too time-consuming for most developers). Open source libraries and PDF SDKs each have pros and cons, so we’ve pitted the two against each other to help you decide which is best:
Support, Knowledge Base, and Tutorials
When open source pdf libraries and tools are backed by large corporations, you’ll have a much better experience. For example, Google’s Open Source Chrome PDF Engine is based on Foxit’s industry-leading PDF technology. This makes it a great open source PDF technology because you have access to both Foxit’s official API documentation, and documentation by Google. This is in addition to regular updates provided by a mixture of both the community and these two industry giants. However, this is the exception. Most open source pdf libraries will lack the support and knowledge base that come with a PDF SDK.
Professional PDF SDKs also benefit from better tutorials and guides sometimes even featuring example apps to aid in understanding. This greatly increases the speed at which developers can add PDF functionality to their applications.
Many open source libraries lack a reliable update schedule and may even see a halt in development entirely, and often unexpectedly. Many are not well-organized and so they lack the communication that a PDF SDK from an industry-leader would.
Features and Functionality
Open source PDF libraries and tools tend to be good at only one type of function (e.g. drawing, writing, rendering, printing, etc.) while professional PDF SDKs are often built on industry-leading technology which performs well at all functions.
Open source libraries may have fewer features than an already released PDF SDK. This can put developers in a tough spot when they need a feature that isn’t currently supported. Their only solution is to hope that someone else develops the feature (and it works as intended) or to develop it themselves. PDF SDKs like Foxit’s Quick PDF Library feature over 900 functions. You’ve almost always going to find the feature you need, and if you don’t, speaking up will get that function added as soon as possible.
Lastly, open source libraries may only support one platform. For example, there are C# only libraries, Linux only libraries and more, but few (if any) support all platforms. Many professional PDF SDKs, on the other hand, are often multi-platform allowing developers to develop once, port many times. For example, Foxit’s PDF SDK provides a robust set of platform-independent PDF libraries that quickly and cost-effectively extends the reach of their software to multiple platforms.
There are open source projects like Google’s Open Source Chrome PDF Engine which can be great tools for developers. But in general, between the sporadic update schedules, lack of support, fewer features and platform specific nature of many open source libraries and tools, it’s more time efficient and reliable to choose a corporation-backed professional PDF SDK.