PDF Help

We post many PDF files on this site.  For 90% of our users, there is no problem, at least 90% of the time.  However, for some users, clicking on a PDF file link either opens a blank page, does nothing, or results in a “page not found” message.  This is almost always due to some setting on the user’s computer.  The Internet help forums are filled with similar situations.  There are nearly as many possible causes and solutions as there are users who have these problems.  In some cases, there might be a problem with the formatting of the web site, but in this case, we are pretty sure we serve only validated pages: there is absolutely nothing we can do on the server side to fix or work around your problem.  In order to get help with resolving your issue, you need to check the following:

What version of Windows are you using?

Most people use Microsoft Windows, because of exclusive licensing to computer manufacturers, not because it is the only option:  If you have an Apple computer or if someone has converted your computer to the GNU/Linux operating system, you probably aren’t having to read this.  What version of Windows you have will usually depend on the age of your computer:  XP, Vista, Windows 7, and Windows 8 all have different setup and configuration systems for Windows Explorer and Internet Explorer.  No matter which version you use, you should have the latest service packs and security upgrades installed.  The upgrades can be installed automatically, but require a fairly high-speed Internet connection, setting up the Windows automatic upgrade feature, and leaving the computer on overnight at least on the days selected for upgrade.  Manually installing upgrades if you haven’t done so will take many hours at best even with a high-speed connection, and require multiple system restarts.

Depending on the version and update status, your system may have any number of security settings that will restrict what you can easily download to your computer.  The location and operation of these settings varies widely from version to version and is purposefully not easy to find.  The web site administrators do not use Windows, so are not familiar with these variations, so we can’t be more explicit.  We suggest you search the Internet using “PDF,” your version of Windows, and the error or condition you experience as keywords.  Caveat: not all of the forum answers are helpful, and may not address your exact problem.

What browser and which version are you using?

The most common are Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome

Microsoft Internet Explorer (MSIE) may be installed in version 7, 8, 9, or 10.  Older versions will not work with most modern web sites and should not be used.  Our web site serves HTML version 5, which older browsers simply will not understand.  However, the PDF links are simple file links that have no special formatting, so if you can see the link at all, you should be able to download the file.  For security reasons, you should upgrade to the latest MSIE version available for your Windows version.  See the system upgrade notes above.   MSIE has numerous security settings in addition to the general Windows security settings, the location and menus for which will vary widely between versions, as well as being obscure in their meaning.

Firefox is a popular add-on, as is Google Chrome.  It is a good idea to have at least one of these installed in addition to Internet Explorer.  Each of these has their own security and preferences menus.  Both are quite large and require long download times as well as frequent version upgrades.

Browsers handle file downloads through plug-in modules or directives to external programs.  PDF files can be either downloaded to the hard drive or displayed in the browser, depending on the settings.  If you have your browser set for in-browser display, and you get a blank or black page displayed, you may be able to right-click on the window and save the file to disk, then open it from your file browser (Windows Explorer  or, on Apple, Finder).

What version of Adobe Reader do you have installed?

PDF (Portable Document Format) is developed by Adobe, but is an open specification, so there are many viewers available.  But, most systems use the Adobe Reader.  Google Chrome uses an internal reader built into the browser, and Firefox uses a plugin from Adobe.  If you can download the file instead of opening in the browser, your system file browser will use the reader installed in your system, which is usually Adobe Reader.  If you have recently updated Adobe Reader, you may need to change the settings on it as well as the browser settings.  PDF is an evolving specification: the documents on our web site are mostly in version 1.3, but there are some 1.4 and 1.5.  You should have the latest available version of Adobe Reader installed, nevertheless.  If you do, and still have problems, you might try a different PDF reader.  Again, depending on the version of Windows you are running, the program/file-type settings will be in different menus and have different options.

When is the last time you cleared the cache in your browser, or cleared the history file?

Sometimes, if you interrupt download of a large PDF, the partial file remains in the browser cache or system temporary file cache: when you try to view it again, your computer first looks in the local cache and displays it from there instead of downloading it again.  This is why sites you visit often load much faster than sites you visit for the first time.  However, if the file is incomplete, it will not display and the browser often will not try to reload it from the site.  If you can open some PDF files but not particular files, this could be the problem: again, all browsers and versions are slightly different, so you will need to find the settings/preferences page in the menu and clear the browser cache and/or history.  This will make all of your browsing a bit slower, but may also speed it up.  Also, if we have recently updated a file link on a page and the name has changed, and if your browser has cached the original page, it may try to download the old file, which will be missing.  Clearing the cache will force a reload of the updated page.  On some browsers, you can force a reload by holding the shift key when clicking on the page link or the “Refresh” button on the address bar.