Web Site Forms or PDF Forms: Pros and Cons

December 14th, 2009

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

Web Site Forms

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

  • Must be hosted on a web site
  • Should be secured by an SSL certificate if sensitive data is to be collected.
  • Can be designed by anyone who can design web sites (i.e. the cost of designing a web site form is minimal).
  • Are vulnerable to “form bots”.  These are automated programs that search the web for forms and try to submit spam through them. Without sufficient protection, you could receive many unwanted submissions through web site forms.  (LuxSci’s SecureForm service will protect your web site forms from most spam bots).
  • Can be changed and revised at any time with immediate effect.   An update to your web site 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, like Adobe Lifecycle Designer.   Additionally, anyone who wants to submit data using a PDF form must have a recent version of Adobe Acrobat Reader installed on his/her computer first.

  • PDF forms must be downloaded and opened in Acrobat Reader.  This may result in extra steps for some users to gain access to your forms.  Some users may not want to bother installing the Acrobat Reader software just to fill out your form.  This is a potential barrier to use over web site forms.
  • Professional looking PDF forms can be made by non-technical people more easily than nice looking web site forms.
  • PDF forms can be hosted on a web site, just like a web site form.
  • PDF forms can be distributed without a web site, for example by emailing them to people, giving them out on flash drives, etc.  No web site is actually needed to provide access to a PDF form.
  • A secure web site is not as critical for the hosting the PDF form file — though the PDF form should still POST its data to a secure web site (like LuxSci’s SecureForm 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.
  • Many fewer people are familiar with how to program a PDF form 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.

Web Site PDF
You have to have a web site
You should have SSL security for your web site
Easiest 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?