How to read PDF files on iPhone via Safari instead of lame email attachments

dataProp71 The 2 main drawbacks to reading PDFs on the iPhone are the must-send-it in email in order to store and open “solution” and the user-unfriendly, landscapeless left-right scrolling reading mode. Not anymore. Both problems can easily be overcome with the help of a Safari browser hack using the almost forgotten data: URI schemes. From now on you can store and open your PDF files (and many others) in the iPhone’s Safari browser even in the Wi-Fi- and EDGE-less airplane mode and you can read PDFs in a landscape mode with only 1 one pich (that fits a column) and significantly less left-right scrolling in a much more satisfying, although not yet perfectly manner.

Here I show you in 4 steps how to do so.

1. Convert your source PDF file (by encoding an uploaded file from your folders or from URL) to a valid data: URI format with the help of a converter. I used the online The data: URI kitchen encoder but others are available too, you can even use a Perl script (and run it with Terminal under Mac OS X, thanks Mike). This will generate a very long and ugly URI line. (Sample PDF: Proposition 71 of the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine)

2. Copy/paste the long and ugly URI code into Safari and add it to your Bookmark Bar.

3. Sync your iPhone’s bookmarks with your Mac’s Safari bookmarks via iTunes, with that you can create a direct link for the PDF on your iPhone’s Safari bookmarks.

4. You’re ready, open the PDF file from the bookmarks and read it with a 1 pich landscape mode.

The same algorithm with screenshots:










I’d like to thank for W. Clawpaws and the commenters (specially overkill for the link and iluvcapra for the reality check).

Here is Peter Meyers’ diagnosis in length:

First, the only way to permanently store and view a PDF is to email it to yourself and then open the attachment. Because the iPhone doesn’t have any kind of user accessible folder system, you can’t save the PDFs and view them later, as you might on a regular PC. The second, and more serious problem, is that text in a PDF doesn’t “reflow” to fit your phone’s display. When you first open a PDF all the text fits onscreen as in this picture but the text is too small to read. When you use the iPhone’s zoom-in feature, you’re back in the dreaded, reader-unfriendly land of having to scroll left and right. What a pain. Apple could help solve this problem by letting you change the PDF’s orientation from portrait to landscape (which is what you can do with the Web browser and photos on the iPhone).

Comment of iluvcapra on the original Life with Lunchhooks post: I successfully encoded the entire first volume of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall to PDF and moved it to my iPhone. It even opens it, though Safari generally crashes after a few minutes of scrolling down pages. The PDF I made was 1.2 Megs.
Also, Safari on my Macbook would beachball for minutes at a time when I’d try to copy/paste or move the data URL around the bookmark page. I had to use the Property List editor to add the data: URL into my bookmarks with any speed.

Another source link from Hackszine.

157 thoughts on “How to read PDF files on iPhone via Safari instead of lame email attachments

  1. When. Is. This. Issue. Going. To. Be. Resolved. With. A. PDF. Reading. App.

    What a total pain. This is a 21st century communications device that doesn’t even let you store a simple PDF file.

    How insanely STUPID on the part of Apple to allow this kind of thing to happen.

  2. Folks, let’s not be too harsh. The iPhone /just/ came out. It’s got a lot of cool things, but don’t expect it to fold your washing, drop your kids off to school, and improve your bowling score.

    That said, just imagine all the hacks that are possible. Just give it time. When Attila first brought this to my attention, it’s got me playing with JavaScript and Perl specifically for the iPhone. I’m a lazy programmer. Just imagine what other programmers out there are doing right now. Instead of whining about what the iPhone can’t do right now, I think people should concentrate on what it will be doing in the months to come after people come up with some really cool hacks.

    Meanwhile, look here for development stuff.


  3. On my iPod 80GB (I don’t have a iphone yet) I can view any document by uploading it to iPhoto (‘Save pdf to iphoto’) and the syncing the resulting iPhoto album.

    Its great for PowerPoint if I’m away at a Conference and want to go over slides.

    I presume that this works on the iPhone and from what I read here should be a better way of reading documents than trying to use Safari? Obviously it requires duplication of the file and you can’t edit anything and you still can’t easily save a pdf that you download in Safari.

  4. hiii

    is there any offline uri converter

    my pdf files are to big and i cant upload them

    please help

  5. hi

    I’d like to know if this would be exactly the same for the iTouch instead of the iPhone.
    I suppose it is but I want to be sure before i buy one?

    Thanks in advance.

  6. Y, I tried it out, I could encode the whole 293 pages of ebook and hide inside safari bookmark, the problem is that it’s too slow to open up the bookmark and it crashed the safari couple times before it worked.
    Also I had a iphone crash that night and I had to reset everything and reimport all files again…but I’m not sure if that’s related to this little hack I did though. My suggestion is…be very careful when read pdf this way.

  7. i agree with Solvidar,
    it would be a very nice feature to be able to save the documents. This is a Feature that im currently missing, along with 3G ofcourse

  8. I just got iphone 3g and was looking for a way to carry my pdf/docs in iphone. Evernote seems to be the best option without screwing my iphone. I was able to upload pdf and view it nicely on iphone. However, the zoom in and out is little slow, plus landscape mode doesn’t seem to work.

  9. Here is another way I was able to view my pdf documents on my iphone 3g. It’s definitely not possible for most of the peoples but works perfect for me since I’m a student. I use refworks to manage my references. I got refworks account from my university. I’ve uploaded most of my pdf documents into my refworks library. Now I’ve got all my pdfs on the go. All the funtions woks fine, (zoom in, viewing in landscape) with perfect quality.

  10. On the AppStore they are apps for storing and viewing files (also PDF) on iPhone/iPoo Touch like Files, Datacase, Filemagnet.

  11. IMHO, the bottom line with using any portable device to work on is that the screen is a limited size and you can’t fit enough stuff on it.

  12. I hope Apple comes out with ‘normal’ file handling. Saving, etc.
    I expect that the 3rd party Apps will cover this gap for now. They are not a very elegant solution, however.

    A ‘workaround’ that allows for ‘saving’ PDF files is to take a screenshot (home+power) of each slide.

  13. I’d been using AIR SHARING for a week now and works excellent. Right now it’s free for limited time. Excellent app for uploading pdf. I even uploaded the whole folders in iphone and works perfect. Of all the application i’ve tried, this gives the best quality.

  14. A much easier way is to use Google Documents and Google Mobile App. Go to, upload your PDF/other docs there. Then download google mobile app from AppStore. Launch Google app, go to Applications (middle icon on the bottom menu), select Docs, and select your PDF – it will load in Safari. Perfect reading format, both portrait and landscape orientations, and nice zooming. 😛

  15. The main problem with this method of deploying pdfs to the iphone is that you have to individually transfer each one, after some work too. This can be a little tedious for anyone with a larger library. I just found a way to use a very quick web server to serve up local pdfs in Safari which is a lot quicker and easier. Check out the tutorial here:

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  17. I just got iphone 3g and was looking for a way to carry my pdf/docs in iphone. Evernote seems to be the best option without screwing my iphone. I was able to upload pdf and view it nicely on iphone. However, the zoom in and out is little slow, plus landscape mode doesn’t seem to work.

  18. Hey – nice blog, just looking around some blogs, seems a pretty nice platform you are using. I’m currently using WordPress for a few of my blogs but looking to change one of them over to a platform similar to yours as a trial run. Anything in particular you would recommend about it?

  19. Hey Guys well I have been having a problem with viewing all my Tutorials on my phone cause most of them are PDF’s. Well I we recently introduced to DropBox by one of my instructors and I just realized ( like 30 min ago ) that you can store your files on DropBox ( 2 Gigs Free ) and you can open them on any computer AND…..with the DropBox App, you can view them on there INCLUDING, My PDF’s!!! Now I’m still checking all of my PDF’s cause some of the larger ones take a little to open, but they do open. Just wanted to Pass this along. If this is old news, my apologies but still thought I’d post.

    Have a Great One!

  20. Hi,
    I have no problem converting .pdf files to a bookmark and syncing it to my iPhone. But what I’m wanting to do is type up a memo, save it as either a .doc file or an .html file… convert it (using URI Kitchen) THEN save that as a bookmark.

    When I save my memo as either a .doc or .html file and use URI Kitchen to ‘Choose File’ then ‘Generate’, it says ‘Safari can’t open the because the page’s address isn’t valid.’

    I successfully did this about a year and a half ago and still have the outdated memo’s on my iPhone – but I’ll be darned if I remember how I did it!

    Anyone, anyone?

  21. This is actually really cool and I didn’t think I’d be into it. Those attachments really are lame! I never noticed until now

  22. Wondering why I am having a problem with a pdf report I get sent every day. Work sends me the weekly schedule (always named the same thing) at 6 pm every night. When I open it on the iphone, it still shows the report that was sent on the first day april 30. If I check via hotmail- then I can see the current report from May 3. Any ideas?

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  24. Thank you for the excellent post.It is great to have the ability to read a good quality article with useful data on topics that plenty are interested on.

  25. Thanks. Finally i can read my manual in I-phone too. I’ve no clues how to open PDF files in my iPhone. Great info for iPhone lovers.

  26. The good point of Iphone is that the design is sleek and performance of operating system is brilliant. Anyway, users need to overcome some obstacles and you have shown good example in this post.

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  29. You guys do know that this is pretty much useless now ? Just use iBooks to read whatever PDFs you want. You can transfer them via e-mail or via itunes

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