SPS Forms Generation FAQ

It wasn't broken - why did you change it?

The forms used to be generated completely within SPS. However, every time NIH changed the forms, it required a major programming effort, spanning months of time, to get the forms updated, tested and ready for release. One set of NIH form changes also required the use of a new font, which would have made the programming effort even more difficult and time-consuming, with much greater potential for problems. It seemed like the time was right to take a new approach.

How does it work now?

SPS now gathers the data that belongs on the form and saves it in a special format called XFDF. The data for each page is created separately, and then an external process is used to combine the data together into one large XFDF file. The PDF forms for each page are also combined into one large PDF file. The final output for both is then saved to your hard drive. Adobe Reader knows how to open the XFDF file, find the PDF file that is associated with it and then merge the data onto the form.

Why can't I save my form packet to a new file after Reader opens it?

Reader has never been able to save changes made to a file. Reader merges the data onto the PDF for us, so to Reader it is similar to the user typing the data onto the form and trying to save it. Essentially, Reader will not let you save what it considers to be a changed copy.

Why can't I e-mail my forms anymore?

For the same reason that Reader will not save to a new file, it will also not allow you to send the merged document in an e-mail.

Isn't there any way around that problem?

You can buy Acrobat. Duke has a site license, so an individual copy of Acrobat can be obtained for a reasonable price from the Duke Computer Store. Acrobat will allow you to save a new copy of the form and e-mail it.

So everybody in my department has to buy Acrobat?

No, only the users who are generating and sending out the SPS forms need to have Acrobat. The recipients can continue to open the forms with Reader.

I don't want to buy Acrobat, but I need to send the files to somebody. Now what?

You will have to find the files that SPS generated and saved to your hard drive. In most cases, they will be in:


There are a million files in that directory, what gives?

As we mentioned above, SPS generates two files for each page in your packet. It then combines those files into the two files that you need. The files will be named with your dempo ID, an underscore, and then some random numbers and letters. For example, user BROOK006 might see:

BROOK006_ 7W617.xfdf
BROOK006_ 7W617.xfdf.pdf

Those names are ugly; I want to rename them to something else.

It is OK to rename the XFDF file. However, the XFDF refers to the PDF by its randomly generated name, so the name of the PDF must not be changed.

OK, I have my two files - how do I use them?

Double-click on the XFDF and Reader should find the associated PDF file and then merge its data onto the form.

Both files have the word XFDF in them - which one do you mean?

The XFDF file is the one that ends with XFDF. If you double-click on the PDF file you will see the form, but it will be empty with no data.

How can I send the files to somebody else?

You can attach both files to an e-mail and tell the recipient to save the attachments to his or her hard drive (they will not be able to double-click the XFDF file directly from the mail package). The files can be saved anywhere, but they must be together in the same directory. Once they have been saved, the recipient can double-click the XFDF file and see the data on the form.

I generated a form from SPS yesterday and now it's gone. Where did it go?

SPS periodically cleans up your output directory. If you want to save the output files indefinitely, then save the pair of files to a different directory.

I liked it a lot better before. What benefit do I get out of these changes?

The turnaround time to deliver support for new forms in SPS is much shorter now.