Disable Downloading of PDFs in SharePoint- While still Being Able to View Them

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PDF Converter

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It wasn’t too long ago that document security and access management was handled by locked file rooms and sign-out sheets.  With the advent of Document Management environments like SharePoint and other products that extend it’s features, such as Muhimbi’s PDF Converter for SharePoint, this has largely changed.  These products enable companies to provide both efficient access to their documents while also maintaining control over their distribution.

Muhimbi’s PDF Converter for SharePoint has long provided features beyond simply converting documents to PDF.  By also including the ability to add security to PDFs and create dynamic watermarks when PDFs are opened, we’ve made it possible for documents to be shared more widely by businesses, while still giving them control and accountability over these documents once they’ve left SharePoint.  However, one feature that has always been beyond our control has been allowing PDFs to be viewed, but not downloaded.  The PDF format just isn’t built that way and any attempt to disable downloads while still allowing viewing would simply result in a false sense of security since, in reality, the PDF is always downloaded prior to being viewed.

Unfortunately Foxit has discontinued their product, but the concept described in this post still applies, you just need to use a different server side PDF Viewer.

Happily, with the help of Foxit WebPDF for SharePoint, a new product from Foxit Software, the final links in this chain are being connected.  This software allows PDFs from any source to be viewed through a browser window in SharePoint, while never actually downloading them to the user’s system.  This is a new product with great potential and so we’re working closely with Foxit in order to integrate it more deeply with the Muhimbi PDF Converter for SharePoint.  This is an ongoing process and so some features, such as watermarking on open, are not currently supported.   Despite this, documents that have already been watermarked or gone through a workflow using our actions, open just as any other PDF in SharePoint does with the viewer.

There are any number of ways that these two products can be used together to help provide a more secure, yet flexible document management environment.  To keep from loosing the big picture in the details, we’ll focus on a basic example that covers the most obvious ways that users download files.  More secure environments can certainly be created, but this should provide a good set of stepping stones to start with.  So, with the assumption that The Muhimbi PDF Converter for SharePoint is installed and configured in the target environment, we can begin.

  1. Download and install Foxit WebPDF for SharePoint from the Foxit website.  When installing this, please follow the instructions carefully as there are a number of steps that might not be obvious.  As well, at the end of this post there are a couple of points that we encountered that may apply to your environment as well.

  2. In Central Administration / Web Application Management, disable the features from the Foxit Viewer that you don’t want users to have access to.  In our example, we just want the users to be able to view the PDF, so have disabled most of them.


  3. Now we go into the Library that we want to secure and configure the default view.  This will eliminate the ability to download the PDF to the client. Create a new default view for the library with the following settings:


  4. This will create a SharePoint view where the items in the view are simply text fields, no links, and no context menus.  As well, by removing the individual item checkboxes the ribbon menu items, such as ‘Download a Copy’, become disabled.


Once this this is done- so are you!

The only way to access the file is by clicking on the icon, which then opens the file in the Foxit Web Viewer without transferring the actual PDF file to the client.


Remember- this is only the beginning!  By using our SharePoint Designer Workflow facility (or our Nintex Workflow activities) for example, a confidential internal announcement could be placed in a library, go through an approval workflow and, once approved, be automatically converted to PDF, then sent to this library to be viewed (and ONLY viewed) by users- all in a robust and automated fashion.

Installation Notes:

  1. The Foxit Viewer uses a SQL database (this can be the same one that hosts SharePoint), however at the time of writing it does NOT support Windows Authentication.  In order to use the Viewer, you will need to enable SQL authentication and configure Foxit to connect using a SQL user account.

  2. In order to enable the viewer, the ‘Enable-SPSessionStateService’ SharePoint PowerShell command needs to be executed.  This command is not available in SharePoint foundation where the following change needs to be made manually to each webapp’s web.config file:

    • Add  <add name="Session" type="System.Web.SessionState.SessionStateModule" />  to the configuration / system.webServer / modules element.
    • Set the enableSessionState attribute of the configuration / system.web / pages element to true
    • Add  <sessionState mode="InProc" />  to the configuration / system.web element.

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