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Perl 6 PDF Grammars - for content streams and overall file structure
branch: master


Although PDF documents do not lend themselves to an overall BNF style grammar description; there are areas where these can be put to use, including:

  • The overall file structure (headers, objects, cross-reference tables and footers).
  • The operands that make up content streams. These are used to markup text, forms, images and graphical elements.

PDF::Grammar is under construction as an experimental/example Perl 6 grammar for parsing and validation of real-world PDF examples. It currently implements four grammars:

PDF::Grammar::Content - describes the text and graphics operators that are used to produce page layout.

PDF::Grammar::FDF - this describes the file structure of FDF (Form Data) exchange files.

PDF::Grammar::PDF - this describes the file structure of PDF documents, including headers, trailers, top-level objects and the cross-reference table.

PDF::Grammar::Function - a tokeniser for Postscript Calculator (type 4) functions.

PDF-Grammar has so far been tested against a limited sample of PDF documents and has not yet been put to use for any serious PDF processing. The grammar is still evolving and is likely to change.

I have been working off the PDF 1.7 reference manual ( I've relaxed rules, when needed, to handle real-world examples.

Rakudo Star

You'll first need to download and build Rakudo Star 2013.05 or better ( - don't forget the final make install):

Ensure that perl6 and panda are available on your path, e.g. :

% export PATH=~/src/rakudo-star-2013.05/install/bin:$PATH

You can then use panda to test and install PDF::Grammar:

% panda install PDF::Grammar

Usage Notes

  • PDF input files typically contain a mixture of ascii directives and binary data, plus byte-orientated addressing. For this reason *latin1 encoding is recommended *. For example:

    % perl6 -MPDF::Grammar::PDF -e"say PDF::Grammar::PDF.parse( slurp($f, :enc<latin1>) )"

  • pdftk is a useful utility for preprocessing pdfs, including uncompression and decryption:

    % pdftk flyer.pdf output flyer.unc.pdf uncompress
    % perl6 -MPDF::Grammar::PDF -e"say PDF::Grammar::PDF.parsefile( 'flyer.unc.pdf' )"


  • parse some markup content:

    % perl6 -MPDF::Grammar::Content -e"say PDF::Grammar::Content.parse('(Hello, world\041) Tj')"

  • parse a PDF file:

    % perl6 -MPDF::Grammar::PDF -e"say PDF::Grammar::PDF.parsefile( $f )"

  • dump the contents of a PDF

    use v6;
    use PDF::Grammar::PDF;
    use PDF::Grammar::PDF::Actions;
    sub MAIN(Str $pdf-file) {
        my $actions =;
        if PDF::Grammar::PDF.parsefile( $pdf-file, :$actions ) {
            say $/.ast.perl;
        else {
            say "failed to parse PDF: $pdf-file";
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