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Up to the end of the 20th century, physical media formats (paper, microfilms and microfiches) were the only option for businesses and public authorities storing documents for the long term in a reproducible format. The major drawback to these analogue approaches was the significant time and effort required: documents are hard to search through, trained personnel are required, specialist equipment is needed to read microfilms, and entire climate-controlled rooms are needed to store documents.
The first digital archiving format to gain ground in many countries was the TIFF image format. In 1993, however, a modern, more powerful format became available in the form of PDF. This became the basis on which the standard archive format PDF/A was developed.
For companies, public authorities and private users needing to store digital information for a long period of time be it 5 years, 50 or 500 the PDF/A standard is now the clear choice of file format.
PDF/A is a multi-part ISO standard developed over many years of committee work by industry associations, businesses and public authorities around the world. The result is a file format based on PDF, known as PDF/A, which 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. (ISO 19005-1, quoted from the introduction).
The first part of the standard, PDF/A-1, has been available since the 1st of October 2005. Its official designation is ISO 19005-1:2005. Document management Electronic document file format for long-term preservation Part 1: Use of PDF 1.4 (PDF/A-1).
Since then, two further parts have been made available to users: PDF/A-2 (since 2011) and PDF/A-3 (since 2012). These parts exist in parallel and are optimised to meet particular needs.
The PDF/A standards family regulates how to create electronic documents to ensure they can be reliably reproduced for decades to come. The standard does not describe how to build a revision-safe archive, nor the theory behind one.
PDF/A is becoming more and more common, be it in industry, public administration, financial services or academia. A large number of authorities and institutions worldwide recommend PDF/A or specifically require the use of the standard