Adding bookmarks (outlines, contents, navigation trees) to PDFs

This brief article is about how to add bookmarks to create a navigation tree in a fairly ‘standard’ PDF. Such navigation facilities are of increasing important for use with mobile devices for speedy access to information, especially for large documents (100s or 1000s of pages).

The term “bookmarks” is slightly misleading, because when you add these to an existing PDF it typically will do two things: (i) mark the page selected or location selected as having a bookmark; and (ii) provide a convenient means of locating that bookmark quickly. Thus step (ii) is a form of interactive contents page, easily accessible at all times.

The usual facility provided for step (ii) is for a navigation tree to be created – on desktops and laptops this is displayed as a tree structure to one side of the document display… on a Mac computer (e.g. using Preview or Javelin) this is often referred to as the document “Outline”. On mobile devices, including tablets, there is not enough space to display a separate navigation tree, so the better PDF readers display the tree via a button (e.g. a Contents button that displays each level of the tree in a scrollable window). In addition, many such readers also provide for user-created bookmarks, which are accessed in a variety of ways. However, here we just focus on pre-generated bookmarks and navigation trees.

How to create a pre-generated navigation tree: if you have a PDF already, with no navigation tree, you can add a navigation tree using Adobe Acrobat, Infix or a number of other PDF editing software packages. Almost all are provided as commercial offerings, but the highly rated freeware program available via sourceforge at:

http://sourceforge.net/projects/jpdfbookmarks/

provides an alternative with all the functionality you need. The advantage of adding a navigation tree to an existing PDF is that the process is