PDF Viewers for Linux Compared

[ Tuesday, 13 November 2007, axio ]

PDF documents are at present the most popular form of distributing documents throughout the Internet and a presentation tool at the same time. They owe their popularity not only to well defined standard embracing text, pictures and hyperlinks, but foremost to the fact that once created they can be read under nearly every operating system and its underlying platform. Of course, to open a PDF document one has to have an appropriate application.

Dragonia Magazine

Author: Karol Kozioł

PDF (Portable Document Format) – universal format for electronic documents. Its specification embraces PDF file creation, distribution, and printing. The format was designed by Adobe Systems in 1993 and was based on the PostScript language. The newest version is 1.7. Adobe decided to open the PDF format in 2007 and submitted it to the ISO organization for standardization.

Not only Acrobat Reader!

There are quite a few PDF readers (called PDF viewers as well), albeit the first, proprietary, and so called “official” PDF viewer is Acrobat Reader from Adobe Systems Inc. The company is also the father of the PDF format. The mere fact that the Acrobat Reader was an application with a closed source code didn’t appeal to many GNU/Linux admirers, and consequently led to the creation of multiple open-source alternatives. Viva l’difference! In this text I will describe the following readers: Acrobat Reader, Xpdf, KPDF, Evince, ePDFview and Okular.

What to expect from a PDF viewer?

Well, first of all any PDF reader should show the PDF contents correctly. A trivial statement but there are a lot of different documents in circulation — administration documents, presentations, science theses, e-books, magazines, leaflets, newsletters, line arts for coloring for children, etc. and good rendering is a must for these kinds of viewers. In other words they should have the ability to display contents in many view modes.

It would be appreciated, too, if a PDF reader was able to remember the last viewed page — a very useful and helpful function when reading an e-book or a longer document.

PDF Readers — the comparison

The author paid attention to applications’ responsiveness or how fast they were running. He also looked into the number of configuration options, and ergonomics of the viewers. The results were put together in a table followed by short descriptions of each package.

Xpdf KPDF Evince ePDFview
Licencing terms Proprietary Open Source Open Source Open Source Open Source
Relative start up speed low high medium
(high in
(high in
Window options          
Side panel with thumbnails yes no yes yes no
Continuous view yes yes yes yes no
Double page mode yes no yes yes no
Slide mode yes no yes yes no
Full screen mode yes yes (under right mouse button) yes yes yes
Fit page/width scaling yes yes (in the zoom selection box at the bottom) yes yes yes
Viewing ergonomics (space button scrolling,
mouse scrolling, arrows clicking)
high medium high medium high
Other options          
Text searching yes yes yes yes yes
Page rotations yes yes yes yes yes
Mark and Copy functions yes very basic yes some no
Remembering last page viewed yes, but not activated by default no yes yes no
Saving document yes yes yes yes yes
Configuration options a lot none a few none very little

PDF Readers — short summary

This is my short summary of the PDF tested viewers, the purpose of which is to present the essential features of the selected apps, the ones that make them different from the rest. I tried to be as objective as possible.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

Professional, popular and highly advanced PDF reader. It offers a lot of options and it is easy to use in different view modes. Cons: it doesn’t remember last viewed page and starts slowly. Pros: it seems to me it renders big documents faster than other viewers based on xpdf engine (tested on A0 paper size). Adobe company gives away plug-ins for the most popular web browsers.

Adobe Reader — preferences windows


Excellent old-fasioned reader written for X Window System. It shows the simplest and spartan GUI, but it’s very fast. Next generation PDF engines are based on XPDF — among them, Poppler, which laid the foundations for such readers as KPDF, Evince, and ePDFview.


PDF viewer for KDE graphical environment. I must admit it is my favorite reader. It makes it possible to insert bookmarks into browsed documents. That way a reader (this time a person) can insert a few bookmarks into a multipage document and gain quick access to selected information without resorting to manual scrolling of the document page after page. Thanks to KParts technology, it can be integrated into the Konqueror web browser.

Kpdf displaying Dragonia Magazine


Known formerly as Gpdf. This application is part of the GNOME desktop. It can read not only PDF files, but PS, TIFF, ODF, DVI, and DjVu files as well. Putting it simply, it is a very versatile viewer of electronic documents, but not as advanced as Kpdf (yet).

ePDFview — fast and easy reader

This is a simple and very fast application but devoid of many handy functions. It’s still in the development cycle, but let’s hope it will evolve into a full fledged PDF viewer without losing its responsiveness.

ePDFview displaying GNU GPL license

GhostScript and its front-ends

Ghostscript is a free Postscript language interpreter. Its corresponding viewer known to the world as Gv (gv) is able to view both PS and PDF files. So it is one step ahead of Xpdf, which can only read the latter. Other popular PS biewers areGhostView, and KGhostView.


This application is still considered unstable but it should be ready with KDE 4.0 which is scheduled for release in January 2008. Similar to Evince, it will be able to service such document types as PDF, PS, DVI, DjVu, TIFF, ODF, CHM, and graphics files.


[1] http://www.adobe.com/pl/

[2] http://www.foolabs.com/xpdf/

[3] http://kpdf.kde.org/

[4] http://www.gnome.org/projects/evince/

[5] http://poppler.freedesktop.org/

[6] http://trac.emma-soft.com/epdfview/

[7] http://okular.kde.org/

This text is based on the article published in Dragonia Magazine, a Polish online magazine about Free and Open-Source Software. You can download the latest Dragonia issue (first one in English from our mirror). The article has been slightly modified compared with the original version by the PolishLinux team.

Translated by P2O2, Proof-read by Jake Conley

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fold this thread wwrreecckk  Tuesday, 13 November 2007 o godz. 3:17 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

“Thanks to KTTS technology, it can be integrated into the Konqueror web browser.”
You mean KParts technology?

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fold this thread michuk  Tuesday, 13 November 2007 o godz. 12:51 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Fixed, thanks.

fold this thread matysek  Tuesday, 13 November 2007 o godz. 1:13 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

You have mistake in comparison. Evince has support for Mark and Copy functions.

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fold this thread michuk  Tuesday, 13 November 2007 o godz. 9:27 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Indeed, it has some. But not as sophisticated as Adobe and Kpdf. I corrected it nevertheless.

fold this thread Freak_lick  Tuesday, 13 November 2007 o godz. 8:05 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

For me Evince is the best i just love it!!
It’s faster than xpdf and adobe which i tested on KDE

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fold this thread Artem Nosulchik  Tuesday, 13 November 2007 o godz. 11:48 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Great comparison! Respect! :)

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fold this thread mlg  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 12:40 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I read PDFs a lot (electronics app notes, datasheets, ebooks) and i have to say that all of these applications have a slow zoom in-out (haven’t tested Adobe, and KPDF under XFCE). They just start quickly.
I think KPDF its the most complete.
However, Im used to Foxit speed. If you click zoom out-in it will do it as fast as light speed.
Also Foxit opens and renders big files in record time.
I dont know what is the problem with those open source apps.
The only one i felt faster to zoom and render is PDFedit but it is not a good reader and not as fast as Foxit.
I still need to test Foxit under winne (Foxit linux version dont work in my Xubuntu) but the open-sorce parts still need a lot of work -just try several fast clicks in the zoom+ in evince in a PDF with many graphics :S-.

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fold this thread mannemerak  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 6:07 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +1

How do you do page rotations in KPDF – this is the only issue I have with KPDF.

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fold this thread Paul Sparks  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 7:24 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Seems to be a couple of errors in the comparison chart for Xpdf. I’m using version 3.02 of Xpdf on Debian.

Xpdf has both “fit page” and “fit width” scaling in the zoom selection box at the bottom.

If I right click on the page itself, there is a check box for full screen mode.

Thanks for the article!

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fold this thread Rykel  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 7:36 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Hi, personally, the only reason I stick to Adobe Reader nowadays is the Hand Tool… is Evince able to do that? If not, is there a plug-in I can find somewhere to add the functionality to Evince? Thanks for replying.

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fold this thread Alten  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 11:14 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Foxit does.

fold this thread Ben  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 6:52 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +3

Yes, evince has the “hand” tool. Just use the middle mouse button and drag, just like in the GIMP. I hope that helps you to avoid proprietary software. Evince rocks.

fold this thread David  Wednesday, 3 March 2010 o godz. 2:46 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

On most scroll wheel mice, middle click takes significantly more effort than left click or right click. Mapping middle click to hand tool is annoying, wrong, and should be changed.

fold this thread Tim Cinel  Wednesday, 23 June 2010 o godz. 5:58 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +1

IMO, left-click-and-drag should be modal like it is in other good viewers. Many laptops don’t offer middle click. Perhaps CTRL+Drag or a mode button would work?

fold this thread James  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 9:15 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

The big plus Acrobat has is the way it doesn’t turn graphics into a pixellated mess. If only the FLOSS could cope with vectors…

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fold this thread pwzhangz  Wednesday, 14 November 2007 o godz. 11:20 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

How did you make Evince to open ODF files? Thanks.

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fold this thread Tuxedo  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 12:05 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

The Mark and Copy function exist on XPDF, too, ancient and new versions alike. Simply select text area, then paste into any other application using the middle button.

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fold this thread Sergio Fernandes  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 12:51 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Okular in kde4/svn can rotate documents.

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fold this thread Apolodor  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 9:22 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Thank you for an instructive comparison.

Adobe Reader 8 has got the option to remember the last page of a previously opened document. It is just not activated by default.

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fold this thread Anon  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 11:20 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +1

Adobe PDF has the nasty feature of not letting you copy text if certain bits in the PDF are set. Codswallop, this is not protection, its falisifcation.

If the CPU can render it, its there somewhere, I should be able to pull it out. If you want to secure a document, encrypt it.

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fold this thread virens  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 12:11 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Very useful survey, especially to them who knows only Acroreader.

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fold this thread gumnos  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 3:24 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

It would also be helpful to compare memory usage when opening the same suite of small and large documents to see how much memory each viewer uses.

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fold this thread michuk  Thursday, 15 November 2007 o godz. 10:33 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Thank you for all the comments. I updated the article accordingly.

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fold this thread john b  Friday, 16 November 2007 o godz. 12:13 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

How about fill-in forms? Can any of the non-Adobe readers perform that function?

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fold this thread Bernard  Friday, 16 November 2007 o godz. 9:25 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

An interesting and useful article — especially since you were willing to incorporate corrections and clarifications!



PS: I too would appreciate inclusion of resource usage comparisons and form fields.

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fold this thread Rykel  Sunday, 18 November 2007 o godz. 10:38 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0


Thanks for the tip-off! However, I am using a laptop (ie. touchpad) so is there a way I can click on an icon to activate/deactivate the Evince Hand Tool like in Adobe Reader? I am getting really fond of Evince as it is fast, light and OPEN SOURCE!

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fold this thread freebirth one  Monday, 19 November 2007 o godz. 1:58 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Laptops _have_ a MiddleMouseButton (provided that the “emulate 3rd mouse button” – feature is activated): just press both normal buttons simultaneously.
must be activated in the xserver-config if is not (I’m using ubuntu, no idea how to do this on other distribtions)

just look after the line

Option "Emulate3Buttons" "true"

in your xorg.xonf. I it’s not there, include it under

Section "InputDevice"
Driver "mouse"

okay, this section is for mice and not for synaptics, but it works

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fold this thread Rykel  Monday, 19 November 2007 o godz. 8:19 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Hi Freebirth one,

I can indeed activate the Hand Tool using both touchpad buttons together and even by clicking on the top right hand corner of synaptics… but once I let go, the Hand Tool is gone.

Is there not a way to enable/disable it without having to press and hold the buttons?

Thanks, and btw I am using Ubuntu Gutsy with Compiz and Evince, Of course… : )

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fold this thread Leila  Monday, 26 November 2007 o godz. 11:15 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +2

Another PDF viewer that allows annotating / filling forms / text highlighting on Linux is
PDF Studio by Qoppa Software.
PDF Studio is java based and is proprietary software.

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fold this thread Ed  Thursday, 6 December 2007 o godz. 1:04 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Unfortunately PDF studio, unlike all the PDF readers mentioned in the article, has to be paid for.

fold this thread Sergiodf  Thursday, 3 January 2008 o godz. 12:02 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Great work Karol!

I was loking for a “decent” reader and i didn’t know it was the one i was using! (KPDF must be in intensive memory usage mode if you don’t want to wait between pages while you read a book)

I must complain about bookmarks. There is no way to browse they, so that functionality is useless.
If someday a good programmer thinks about fixing that, it would be good (s)he add also a way to set them via keyboard (a menu is OK). And, to the wishlist, set bookmarks pointing to lines, not only pages.

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fold this thread aTarom  Sunday, 20 January 2008 o godz. 4:17 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I use evince, the picture export (drag and drop) it’s great.

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fold this thread HunkaHunkaBurninLove  Friday, 25 January 2008 o godz. 9:16 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

My favorite feature is RELOAD ability. That way I can edit my LaTeX a while, re-make, and just hit RELOAD to see how it looks. xpdf does this (“r”) but as far as I can tell acroread does not. How about the others?

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fold this thread Lawrence  Thursday, 12 June 2008 o godz. 6:15 am #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

KPDF does it automatically. You don’t even need to press “r”.

fold this thread beast  Monday, 3 March 2008 o godz. 4:37 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

Adobe has a feature to zoom into columns of a newspaper if the hand tool is selected and upon clicking again it will move forward in the column. This is extremely useful. Is there another reader with this functionality?

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fold this thread Daniel  Thursday, 20 March 2008 o godz. 3:52 pm #  Add karma Subtract karma  +0

I don’t know if you feel it too, but middle mouse scrolling in Adobe is extremely slow, so I stick to the other open source ones.
The open source ones have a defect in text searching. Try looking for a phrase that has a line break (starts in one line and finishes in the other). You’ll notice that evince and kpdf won’t find it, but Adobe will… Argh… i really wished the open source could do it o.O

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About the Author

Karol Kozioł

Born in 1984. Studies chemistry on Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, Poland. Major in X-ray atomic spectroscopy. Non-academic interests include... chemistry (strange, isn't it? :P), GNU/Linux (more...)

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