Website or PDF Forms: Pros and Cons

December 14th, 2009

LuxSci’s Secure Form service is designed for collecting data posted from websites or PDF forms. We are often asked about the pros and cons of each method. Here are some considerations when deciding which form is best for you.

Website Forms

Website forms are written in HTML and may use JavaScript for accurate data submission. Website forms:

  • Must be hosted on a website
  • Should be secured by an SSL certificate if sensitive data is to be collected.
  • Can be designed by anyone who can design websites (i.e., the cost of designing a website form is minimal).
  • Are vulnerable to “form bots.” These automated programs search the web for forms and try to submit spam through them. Without sufficient protection, you could receive many unwanted submissions through website forms. (LuxSci’s Secure Form service will protect your website forms from most spam bots).
  • Can be changed and revised at any time with immediate effect.   An update to your website form is visible to every visitor immediately.
  • Require less expertise than that required for PDF forms for some operations like data validation.

PDF Forms

PDF forms must be created using special software. Additionally, anyone who wants to submit data using a PDF form must have a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on their computer first.

  • PDF forms must be downloaded and opened in Acrobat Reader. This may result in extra steps for some users to access your forms. Some users may not want to bother installing the Acrobat Reader software to fill out your form. This is a potential barrier to use over website forms.
  • Professional-looking PDF forms can be made by non-technical people more easily than nice-looking website forms.
  • PDF forms can be hosted on a website, just like a website form.
  • PDF forms can be distributed without a website, such as emailing them to people, giving them out on flash drives, etc. No website is needed to provide access to a PDF form.
  • A secure website is not as critical for hosting the PDF form file — though the PDF form should still POST its data to a secure website (like LuxSci’s Secure Form service) to ensure that the data is secure during transmittal.
  • Once you have distributed your PDF forms to people, you cannot easily change the contents or make corrections.
  • PDF forms are much less susceptible to being used to send you Spam by automated form bots.
  • Fewer people are familiar with programming PDF forms to perform advanced actions like data validation.

What to Choose?

In most instances, either type of form is acceptable. The following table may help determine which type is best for you.

Website PDF
You have to have a website
You should have SSL security for your website
Most accessible for most end-users to fill out
Does not require any special software to create
Does not require any special software to fill out
Supports the uploading of files
Is easier to implement validation and other advanced features
Easiest for most non-technical people to make themselves
Will result in the least Spam via forms
Can easily create PDFs of the filled-in forms?