How to View an XFDL File

By Michael G. Sanchez

For a lot of people, even those involved in IT and Web development, XFDL is an unfamiliar file format. Its four-letter moniker stands for "Extensible Forms Description Language." A class of the Extensible Markup Language (XML), it was created to streamline the creation and maintenance of complex forms, such as those used by government and large businesses.

History & Development of the XFDL File Format

XFDL is based on the Universal Forms Description Language (UFDL). Developed in the mid-1990s, UFDL was a robust language for working with forms. XFDL is, essentially, a version of UFDL converted to XML syntax. This gives the language greatly increased application interoperability and makes it compatible with Internet standards. Throughout the late-1990s and 2000s, XFDL grew in popularity. It was widely adopted by the U.S. military, for example. Currently, though, other options, such as Adobe Fillable Forms, are threatening to replace XFDL.

Applications for Viewing an XFDL Document

To view an XFDL document, use the IBM Lotus Viewer (see Resources for download link page). In addition, since XFDL documents are written in a specialized form of XML, their code can be examined and edited in any text editor, such as Microsoft Notepad, Notepad++ or SimpleText.

Working with an XFDL Document

Opening an XFDL document using IBM Lotus Viewer is simple. Just install the application, open it, select "File" and then "Open" from within the program. Choose your XFDL document to display it in the main program window. Lotus Viewer allows you to view XFDL documents and to add or modify form data fields within them. It does not allow you to change the actual code of the form, however.

Converting an XFDL Document

XFDL files can be converted to Portable Document Format (PDF) files via the PDF printer driver. The printer driver is installed automatically along with Adobe's Reader application and most other PDF-based software, such as Acro Software's CutePDF. Once an XFDL file has been converted to PDF format, it is easy to convert it to other popular formats, such as Microsoft Word.To convert an XFDL file using the PDF printer driver, right click on the file, select "Print," then select “PDF print driver” from the Printer Name drop-down menu. Type in a name and location for your new file. Click "Save" and the printer driver will create a new PDF file from your existing XFDL document.