Last Modified: Mon Mar 24 11:49:28 UTC 2014

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Programming with PDFMiner

This page explains how to use PDFMiner as a library from other applications.


PDF is evil. Although it is called a PDF "document", it's nothing like Word or HTML document. PDF is more like a graphic representation. PDF contents are just a bunch of instructions that tell how to place the stuff at each exact position on a display or paper. In most cases, it has no logical structure such as sentences or paragraphs and it cannot adapt itself when the paper size changes. PDFMiner attempts to reconstruct some of those structures by guessing from its positioning, but there's nothing guaranteed to work. Ugly, I know. Again, PDF is evil.

[More technical details about the internal structure of PDF: "How to Extract Text Contents from PDF Manually" (part 1) (part 2) (part 3)]

Because a PDF file has such a big and complex structure, parsing a PDF file as a whole is time and memory consuming. However, not every part is needed for most PDF processing tasks. Therefore PDFMiner takes a strategy of lazy parsing, which is to parse the stuff only when it's necessary. To parse PDF files, you need to use at least two classes: PDFParser and PDFDocument. These two objects are associated with each other. PDFParser fetches data from a file, and PDFDocument stores it. You'll also need PDFPageInterpreter to process the page contents and PDFDevice to translate it to whatever you need. PDFResourceManager is used to store shared resources such as fonts or images.

Figure 1 shows the relationship between the classes in PDFMiner.

Figure 1. Relationships between PDFMiner classes

Basic Usage

A typical way to parse a PDF file is the following:

from pdfminer.pdfparser import PDFParser
from pdfminer.pdfdocument import PDFDocument
from pdfminer.pdfpage import PDFPage
from pdfminer.pdfpage import PDFTextExtractionNotAllowed
from pdfminer.pdfinterp import PDFResourceManager
from pdfminer.pdfinterp import PDFPageInterpreter
from pdfminer.pdfdevice import PDFDevice

# Open a PDF file.
fp = open('mypdf.pdf', 'rb')
# Create a PDF parser object associated with the file object.
parser = PDFParser(fp)
# Create a PDF document object that stores the document structure.
# Supply the password for initialization.
document = PDFDocument(parser, password)
# Check if the document allows text extraction. If not, abort.
if not document.is_extractable:
    raise PDFTextExtractionNotAllowed
# Create a PDF resource manager object that stores shared resources.
rsrcmgr = PDFResourceManager()
# Create a PDF device object.
device = PDFDevice(rsrcmgr)
# Create a PDF interpreter object.
interpreter = PDFPageInterpreter(rsrcmgr, device)
# Process each page contained in the document.
for page in PDFPage.create_pages(document):

Performing Layout Analysis

Here is a typical way to use the layout analysis function:

from pdfminer.layout import LAParams
from pdfminer.converter import PDFPageAggregator

# Set parameters for analysis.
laparams = LAParams()
# Create a PDF page aggregator object.
device = PDFPageAggregator(rsrcmgr, laparams=laparams)
interpreter = PDFPageInterpreter(rsrcmgr, device)
for page in PDFPage.create_pages(document):
    # receive the LTPage object for the page.
    layout = device.get_result()
A layout analyzer returns a LTPage object for each page in the PDF document. This object contains child objects within the page, forming a tree structure. Figure 2 shows the relationship between these objects.

Figure 2. Layout objects and its tree structure
Represents an entire page. May contain child objects like LTTextBox, LTFigure, LTImage, LTRect, LTCurve and LTLine.
Represents a group of text chunks that can be contained in a rectangular area. Note that this box is created by geometric analysis and does not necessarily represents a logical boundary of the text. It contains a list of LTTextLine objects. get_text() method returns the text content.
Contains a list of LTChar objects that represent a single text line. The characters are aligned either horizontaly or vertically, depending on the text's writing mode. get_text() method returns the text content.
Represent an actual letter in the text as a Unicode string. Note that, while a LTChar object has actual boundaries, LTAnno objects does not, as these are "virtual" characters, inserted by a layout analyzer according to the relationship between two characters (e.g. a space).
Represents an area used by PDF Form objects. PDF Forms can be used to present figures or pictures by embedding yet another PDF document within a page. Note that LTFigure objects can appear recursively.
Represents an image object. Embedded images can be in JPEG or other formats, but currently PDFMiner does not pay much attention to graphical objects.
Represents a single straight line. Could be used for separating text or figures.
Represents a rectangle. Could be used for framing another pictures or figures.
Represents a generic Bezier curve.

Also, check out a more complete example by Denis Papathanasiou.

Obtaining Table of Contents

PDFMiner provides functions to access the document's table of contents ("Outlines").

from pdfminer.pdfparser import PDFParser
from pdfminer.pdfdocument import PDFDocument

# Open a PDF document.
fp = open('mypdf.pdf', 'rb')
parser = PDFParser(fp)
document = PDFDocument(parser, password)

# Get the outlines of the document.
outlines = document.get_outlines()
for (level,title,dest,a,se) in outlines:
    print (level, title)

Some PDF documents use page numbers as destinations, while others use page numbers and the physical location within the page. Since PDF does not have a logical structure, and it does not provide a way to refer to any in-page object from the outside, there's no way to tell exactly which part of text these destinations are referring to.

Extending Functionality

You can extend PDFPageInterpreter and PDFDevice class in order to process them differently / obtain other information.

Yusuke Shinyama