PDF vs. CDF: Key Differences

Whether you decide to read a document online or offline, it’s the format that determines how your file will look like. Although there are many document formats out there, the Portable Document Format (PDF) and Computable Document Format (CDF) are among the most popular choices.

Before deciding on PDF vs. CDF, take a few minutes to read everything you need to know about these two formats.

Key Points

  • What Is a Portable Document Format?
    • Why use PDF files?
    • How to open a PDF file
    • Edit a PDF file
    • Create a PDF file
  • What Is a Computable Document Format?
    • Why use CDF files?
    • How to open a CDF file
    • Edit a CDF file
    • Create a CDF file
  • What Is the Difference Between PDF and CDF
  • Our Takeaway

What Is a Portable Document Format?

A Portable Document Format, better known as PDF, is a file format developed by Adobe in 1992. Its primary purpose is to present documents that can include formatted text and static images. In 2008, the PDF format was standardized as ISO 32000.

Why Use PDF Files?

PDFs are a popular choice for sharing documents, and here’s why. Not only can they be viewed on any device, but they make it possible to retain the original formatting of the document. On top of that, PDF files can be converted without having to sacrifice their quality.

Another benefit of using a PDF file is that it might be more secure than other file types. Users can set a password to protect their documents or include specific features, such as digital signatures.

How to Open a PDF File

To open a PDF file, you will need a PDF reader program installed on your computer. Adobe Reader, Foxit Reader, and Sumatra PDF are some of the most trustworthy and overall best software out there.

Once you have selected the best reader for your device, you can double-click on the PDF file you wish to view. The document should open automatically in your PDF reader. 

Alternatively, right-click on the file and select Open With from the drop-down menu. Select your PDF reader program from the list of programs and click OK

Edit a PDF File

PDF files are designed to be static, meaning they can’t be easily edited or changed. However, this is not entirely impossible. 

If you wish to edit a PDF file, you will need to convert it into another file type. Many online converters, such as PDF Converter or SmallPDF, will do the job for free. Simply upload your PDF file to the website and select the file type you want to convert it into. The PDF converter will then create a new file in the desired file format.

After the process is finally completed, you can edit the new file using any word processing program, such as Microsoft Word.

Create a PDF File

Creating your own PDF file is not as difficult as it seems. Once you have installed and set up the PDF creator program, select Create New PDF from the main menu. Choose the file type you want to convert into PDF and click OK

Finally, the PDF creator will then prompt you to pick a location to save the new PDF file. This way, you will be able to store the document on your computer.

What Is a Computable Document Format?

A CDF, or Computable Document Format, is an electronic document format specifically designed to allow interactive content. CDFs were initially released in 2011 by Wolfram Research.

Business presentations, journal papers, and e-learning resources such as textbooks and tutorials may all benefit from CDF documents. Professionals using this format include teachers, scientists, and publishers, to mention a few.

CDFs support GUI elements, including sliders and buttons. Not only does its content consist of formatted text, images, and tables, but they also include sounds and animations.

Why Use CDF Files?

Just like PDF files, CDFs are an excellent choice for sharing documents that can be viewed on any device without ruining the original formatting.

On the other hand, a broad communication pipeline, integrated knowledge, and built-in computation are some of the reasons why you should definitely use CDF. For instance, the CDF format gives you access to specialized algorithms and data.

How to Open a CDF File

The Wolfram CDF Player is a standalone program and web browser plug-in given for free by Wolfram Research that can open these kinds of files. The player is compatible with the most popular operating systems like Linux, Mac, and Windows, as well as (Mac, Windows, Linux) and mobile devices.

Create and Edit a CDF File

With just a few lines of code and no programming skills, CDF files may be generated with Mathematica or other Wolfram content production products. You can create complicated interactive documents and applications from the ground up.

As opposed to PDF files, CDF files can be easily edited. In fact, it’s possible to download the Wolfram player to change the code of these files.

What Is the Difference Between PDF and CDF?

PDFs are best used for final drafts of documents that will be shared electronically or printed out, such as essays, resumes, or digitized copies of handwritten signature pages. As already mentioned earlier, PDFs maintain a document’s formatting no matter where it’s viewed, making them optimal for sharing. They can also be encrypted, making them more secure than other file types. On the downside, they can’t be easily edited without specialized software.

On the other hand, CDFs are best used for data that needs to be analyzed or compared side-by-side with other data sets. CDF files can be opened in a web browser without downloading the entire file. They are also smaller than PDFs, making them easier to upload and download. However, CDFs can’t maintain a document’s formatting, and they’re not as secure as PDFs.

Our Takeaway

When choosing between a PDF and a CDF file, consider how the document will be used and shared. 

For instance, if you need to maintain the formatting of a document or share it electronically, it’s recommended to use a PDF format. However, if you need to analyze data quickly or compare it side-by-side with other data sets, a CDF file might be your best shot.


What is a Portable Document Format used for?

PDFs are best used for final drafts of documents that can be shared online or even offline. You can choose to view them on your device or print them out. For instance, essays, bank statements, and resumes are some of the most common documents that use this format.

What program can open a CDF file?

A CDF file is a type of data file associated with the Wolfram CDF Player, a software program used for visualizing and interactively manipulating Wolfram Notebooks.

This platform is available for free on the Wolfram website. In order to open and view a CDF file, this CDF opener must be installed on your computer. Additionally, the program can convert CDF files into other formats, such as PDFs.

Is a PDF meant for viewing or editing?

A PDF, or Portable Document Format, is a type of file that is exclusively meant for viewing. Regardless of what software or operating system is used, PDFs preserve the original formatting of a document.

However, PDFs are not meant for editing. Instead, they should be converted into another file format if edits are needed. Fortunately, there are many free online tools that can easily do that.

What is the best PDF reader?

There are many PDF readers available—and the best one for you depends on your needs. For example, Adobe Acrobat Reader is a free program that offers basic features such as the ability to view, print, and annotate PDFs. Foxit Reader is another free option that includes more advanced features, such as the ability to fill out PDF forms and add digital signatures.

If you need additional features and budget is not an issue, several paid options are available, such as Nitro Pro or Adobe Acrobat DC.