To address the growing need for a standard electronic document format, the International Organization of Standardization agreed that PDF/A would be the format of choice for long-term preservation and archive of documents. This 2002 initiative to create a uniform electronic format to archive documents was approved in June 2005. The PDF/A project was a joint sponsorship between AIIM and NPES. A group composed of librarians, archivists, PDF software developers, image experts, government agencies, and others collaborated to develop PDF/A.
According to ISO 19005-1, PDF/A "provides a mechanism for representing electronic documents in a manner that preserves their visual appearance over time, independent of the tools and systems used for creating, storing or rendering the files."
The PDF, or Portable Document Format, was first launched by Adobe in 1993. The format grew in popularity based on universal readability and has become a staple in viewing files online or at work. PDF/A holds various modifications to traditional PDFs that enable preservation. Traditional PDFs are feature-rich in nature; this characteristic disallows them to preserve information over time. PDF documents are also not necessarily self-contained; as technology evolves and time passes the PDF document is susceptible to having information and content within the document lost. Every day, companies from all over the world trust PDFs to save and preserve documents; PDF/A was created to ensure the long-term accessibility and value of these documents.
PDF/A will maintain the static visual appearance of electronic documents over time, while maintaining the capacity for metadata. Metadata is essential in long-term preservation because it allows users to insert identifiable information regarding the details of a document such as author, date, subject, keywords, and more. Metadata insertion adds to the portability of a database as information about a document is kept both at the database level and at the document level itself.
PDF/A files are designed to be self-contained, self describing, and more device-independent than traditional PDF files. As a self-contained file, PDF/A possesses everything that is necessary to render or print the PDF/A contained within the file including fonts used for rendering content. By requiring that the fonts be embedded in the file, PDF/A ensures that the fonts required to render the document are available to the PDF reader.