The carthorse method of automating transaction processing

PDF Association staff // January 12, 2015


Page from webpdf blogIt’s been possible to attach (almost) any file to a PDF since 2000. From .DOC and .PPT files to XML and more, file attachments allow PDF documents to serve as a combination zip archive and cover-note.

Like many other powerful features of our favorite file format, however, attachments have not garnered a lot of notice until recently. That’s changing rapidly, because there’s money to be saved.

As reliable, cross-platform electronic documents, PDF files have long provided a popular choice for invoices and other documents transacted between organizations during routine business. Few users to-date have leveraged PDF’s attachments feature to include a machine-readable version of the same invoice.

It's a simple, powerful idea, and it's time has come.

ZUGFeRD, a new electronic invoicing standard has arrived and it's going to revolutionize transaction processing. The German word for "cart horse", ZUGFeRD is aptly named. This new standard leverages the reliability of PDF/A-3, the archival subset of PDF, to "carry" matching XML as an attachment to the printable representation. Both the structured XML file and the PDF’s pages represent the complete invoice. The receiver can choose which to process; XML, PDF or both.

In principle, this means that it is possible to exchange structured invoices without any prior consultation or agreement between the involved parties and without any agreement on the transmission itself. Users can phase in support for machine-readable invoices when they are ready to do so, and it's not difficult to do.

Designed for an international context, ZUGFeRD 1.0 is based on the Cross Industry Invoice (CII) standard developed by the United Nations Centre for Trade Facilitation and Electronic Business (UN/CEFACT) and the European Committee for Standardization’s (CEN) Message User Guides, for which the CII served as a basis.

Originally published in German in June, 2014, ZUGFERD 1.0 can now be downloaded in English at no cost:

Electronic invoices… and beyond

The ZUGFeRD standard has the potential to revolutionize accounting procedures, reducing costs worldwide while delivering the assurance of a “hardcopy” representation. The idea of transacting other types of machine-readable data such as JSON as attachments to fixed, human-readable records is appealing across a wide spectrum of applications. We expect to see rapid expansion in this area.


PDF Association staff

The staff of the PDF Association are dedicated to delivering the information, services and value the members have come to expect. Staff members of the PDF Association include: Alexandra Oettler (Editor) Betsy Fanning (Standards Director) Duff Johnson (Chief Executive Officer) Matthias Wagner (Operations Director) Nicole Gauger (Editor) Peter Wyatt (Chief Technology Officer) Thomas Zellmann (PDF Evangelist)  


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PDF Association staff

The staff of the PDF Association are dedicated to delivering the information, services and value the members have come to …