Instant JSON

Instant JSON is our approach to bringing annotations and bookmarks into a modern format while keeping all important properties to make the Instant JSON spec work with PDF. It’s fully documented and supports long-term storage.

Instant JSON stores PDF changes like annotations and bookmarks in a separate JSON file. This means that a PDF document will only need to be transferred once and all changes will be added as an overlay to the existing PDF. This approach significantly reduces the bandwidth since you only need to transfer the JSON instead of the complete PDF.

Conceptually, Instant JSON defines a list of skippedPdfObjectIds. These point to the PDF’s internal object IDs for annotations. Whenever an object ID is marked as skipped, it’ll no longer be loaded from the original PDF. Instead, it could be defined inside the annotations array with the same pdfObjectId. If this is the case, the PDF viewer will display the new annotation, which signals an update to the original one. If an object ID is marked as skipped but the annotations array doesn’t contain an annotation with the same pdfObjectId, it’ll be interpreted as a deleted annotation. An annotation inside the annotations array without the pdfObjectId property is interpreted as a newly created annotation.

All annotations in the annotations array have a unique id field. For updated annotations that were in the original PDF, this field will be the stringified pdfObjectId. Newly created annotations will get a newly generated ULID.

An “empty” Instant JSON contains neither skippedPdfObjectIds nor annotations, which means the original PDF is untouched. All annotations in the initial PDF are still shown.

Instant JSON also defines a list of skippedPdfBookmarkIds that follow the same principals of skippedPdfObjectIds, but instead they contain a list of bookmarks that no longer need to be loaded from the original document.

The Format

We use Flow type declarations to specify the format of Instant JSON:

declare type InstantJSON = {
  format: "",
  skippedPdfObjectIds?: number[],
  annotations?: Object[],
  bookmarks?: Object[],
  skippedPdfBookmarkIds?: string[],
  formFieldValues?: Object[]


This is a literal string that includes the version information.


This is an array of PDF object IDs that will be ignored when importing annotations from the original PDF document. If this array is empty, the key shouldn’t be set.


This is a list of new or updated annotations. Annotations follow the format for Instant JSON for annotations. When an annotation contains a pdfObjectId, it’s considered to be an update to one of the annotations of the original PDF. For newly created annotations, this key won’t be set.


This is a list that contains any new bookmarks added to the PDF. Bookmarks follow the format for Instant JSON for bookmarks.


This is an array of bookmark object IDs from the PDF that will be ignored when importing annotations from the original PDF document. If this array is empty, the key shouldn’t be set.


This is a list of modified form field values. Objects follow the Instant form field value JSON format. This list won’t be preset when no form field values have been modified.

Applying Instant JSON to a Document

Processor’s /process API lets you apply an Instant JSON file to an input document via the applyInstantJson operation. You can use this operation to import annotations.