Sometimes I receive PDF files that open with Preview (Version 7.0 (826.4), Mavericks) with the following message:

To view the full contents of this document, you need a later version of the PDF viewer. You can upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Reader from www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readstep2.html For further support, go to www.adobe.com/support/products/acrreader.html

or sometimes the message is same same but different:

Please wait... If this message is not eventually replaced by the proper contents of the document, your PDF viewer may not be able to display this type of document.

You can upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Reader for Windows®, Mac, or Linux® by visiting http://www.adobe.com/go/reader_download.

For more assistance with Adobe Reader visit http://www.adobe.com/go/acrreader.

Windows is either a registered trademark or a trademark of Microsoft Corporation in the United States and/or other countries. Mac is a trademark of Apple Inc., registered in the United States and other countries. Linux is the registered trademark of Linus Torvalds in the U.S. and other countries.

Here you can find a real life example PDF (Thanks to @Tetsujin), Canadian immigration application

I dislike Abobe's bloatware so much that I will not install their Acrobat Reader on my Mac. Ever.

When I use a Windows machine and open this PDF with Acrobat Reader there it contains a form with dropdowns and input fields.

Is there a way to open this pdf in OS X? I would prefer the Preview.app.


you need pdf viewer

please wait pdf


4 Answers 4


Certain PDF files (dynamic XFA forms) created in Adobe LiveCycle can only be opened in Adobe Reader and Adobe Acrobat. When you try to open these files in an alternative PDF viewer, then you will see this error message.

Unfortunately, it's not easy remove this message and modify the PDF so that it can be opened in alternative PDF viewers. The person who created the original form must re-create the form using options that do not restrict which PDF viewers can open and display the file.

Adobe has made the decision that since very few non-Adobe products support these special PDF files, that it is better to show this message -- and require the user to download Adobe Reader or Adobe Acrobat -- than it is to let the PDF viewer try to render the document.

Source : http://www.quickpdflibrary.com/faq/if-this-message-is-not-eventually-replaced-by-the-proper-contents-of-the-document.php

...so the answer to your question is no, Preview can't do it. It's Adobe Reader or nothing


There is a way to do it in Terminal. In Adobe Acrobat, save file as a Postscript file. I generally save it to my desktop. Then, open Terminal and browse to desktop by typing cd ~/Desktop. Then, enter the command

pstopdf filename.ps

On the desktop, there should be a new PDF file. It can now be opened by Preview.

  • This worked for me on MacOS! This should be the answer.
    – ZAR
    Commented Jan 28, 2021 at 17:21

I managed to open XFA documents using this simple chrome plugin: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/pdf-reader/ieepebpjnkhaiioojkepfniodjmjjihl

  • While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes. - From Review
    – Harcker
    Commented Mar 16, 2022 at 23:02
  • Some browsers can open some XFA files using the native rendering engine - Firefox for example, if the XFA is a simple (rather than dynamic) form the browser can quite often display it.
    – dr.nixon
    Commented Mar 20, 2022 at 17:41

As a person who creates and distributes forms used for automation in our agency: I hate this. I find it truly obnoxious when Adobe forms do this, because 95% of the time, the form in question does not use ANY of the XFA features that actually require this (one example would be showing or hiding document sections based on entry, or expanding fields to fit text entered - if the form is not doing this, it should have been a static form rather than an XFA form!).

Having said that, every time someone returns to me an Adobe form that was filled (or worse, signed) in Preview I get frustrated, as Preview mangles the form fields. At best they are locked and marked as read-only, which I can fix in Adobe; at worst they are flattened and all entered text is no longer recognized as being in a form field entry.

If you are simply filling in forms this is not an issue. If the recipient is using the form entries to populate spreadsheets or databases, you've just made this impossible without manually copying and pasting.

My point is that your personal preference for PDF viewer may be entirely at odds with the needs of the person providing the file. Reader is free. It does not need to be your default viewer, heck you don't even need to keep it installed after you use it - but if you are returning a mission-critical form, you really ought to consider using a program that you know will be compatible. If not, you might be the recipient of a lot of emails saying "your form was blank" or "we couldn't read this, please resubmit".

There are times when sticking to your guns bites you.

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