How To Manipulate PDFs with PDF Chain [Linux]

A chain, but no PDF There comes a time when every serious Linux user needs to do something more than read a PDF file. That something could be combining several PDFs into one file, splitting a file into individual pages, or pulling an attachment out of a PDF.

Windows users have it easy. If they’re willing to part with a few hundred dollars, they can use Adobe Acrobat for all of their PDF manipulation needs. On Linux, there’s no one tool that does everything that Acrobat does. The closest is pdftk, a powerful command tool that’s like a Swiss Army Knife for working with PDFs.

pdftk’s strength, and weakness, is that it’s a command line utility. There’s nothing wrong with the command line, but if you only use pdftk once in a while then you’ll probably struggle to remember the commands that you need. Looking at the documentation for pdftk will just slow you down.

So why not go GUI instead, and use PDF Chain?

Getting and installing PDF Chain

You can download and compile the source code from the PDF Chain Web site. If that’s a bit too geeky for you, then check your distro’s package manager for pdfchain. It’s available in Fedora and Ubuntu, and probably a few other popular distributions.

pdfChain main window

PDF Chain can do a lot. Make that a lot. But most people will probably want to combine and split PDFs. Let’s take a quick look at how to do all both.

Combining PDFs

Why would you want to combine PDF files? Maybe you’re a student who has a bunch of papers you’ve collected for research. Maybe you’re adding a cover to an ebook you’ve written. Or perhaps you want to rejoin the pages of a PDF that you split with PDF Chain.

To get started, click the Add Some File button (it’s the green plus sign). Then, find the PDF files that you want to combine in the dialog box that pops up.

Ready to combine two PDFs

When you’re ready to go, click the Save button. Give the new PDF file a name, and then click OK. Merging the PDFs could take upwards of several seconds depending on how big they are.

Remember that you’re only limited to merging entire PDFs. You can tell PDF Chain which pages from each PDF to combine. Just double click in the Page(s) field. You can tell the application to merge a range of pages (say, 1-5) from each file or a number of pages (for example, 1,2,7,13,21).

Splitting PDFs

Splitting a PDF is just as easy, but it can be a little messier. When splitting a file, PDF Chain takes a PDF and breaks all the pages out into individual files. Like I said, messy. But it is effective.

Splitting a PDF

In PDF Chain, click the Split tab. Then, click the Add button to find the PDF that you want to break apart. If you want, type a prefix for the split files in the Prefix field. The prefix will be the first part of the name of each of the resulting PDF files – for example, Sheet01.

Once you’re ready to go, click the Save button. Tell PDF Chain where to save the files, and then click OK. Depending on how many pages are in the original PDF, it can take several seconds for the process to finish.

Is that all?

Hardly. PDF Chain can also fill PDF forms, extract data from PDF forms, add a watermark to a file, and even pull out any files that might be attached to a PDF that you’re working with. You can also apply passwords and encryption to the PDFs that you create or split, as well as block anyone from printing, copying, or modifying the PDFs.

PDF Chain is powerful and flexible. While it can be a bit on the quick and dirty side, PDF Chain is a useful tool when you have to manipulate PDFs files. It’s one of those applications that you might only use once in a while, but when you do you’re glad you have it.

Photo credit: saavem