Forcing a PDF or DOC to Open in Browser Rather Than Downloading

Posted: 2015-03-28 23:46:38

When you click on a PDF or DOC link your Browser will either:

A) Download the PDF or DOC (with or without prompting a Save-As).

B) Open the PDF or DOC in the same window/tab via its integrated Adobe Reader or Microsoft Word viewer.

Most visitors will primarily want to read the document in the current window, preferably via a 1-click on the supplied link, without having to download it (and then opening that file in Adobe or MS Office).

If your Browser opens or downloads the file depends on 2 factors:

And also possibly some Browser and OS settings.

To force inline viewing of PDF files, edit the website’s HTTP and HTTPS VirtualHost files, and inside the VirtualHost block add in configuration:

<LocationMatch "\.(?i:pdf)$">
    ForceType application/pdf
    Header set Content-Disposition inline

As a counter-example, to rather force downloads as opposed to inline viewing/opening them, use configuration:

<LocationMatch "\.(?i:pdf)$">
    ForceType application/octet-stream
    Header set Content-Disposition attachment

Save file(s). Restart Apache for changes to take effect.

Result – Automatic (no download or prompt) in-browser viewing of PDF (IE 9):

Alternative – Downloading of PDF (IE 9):

You will need to clear your Browser’s cache (files, cookies, and history – yes, everything) and close it, every time you test this. Otherwise, you’ll keep getting the previous behavior. If the old result persists because the Browser’s PDF or Office Word plugin is caching the data itself, try renaming the file.

Normally, Apache and WAMP servers (such as WampDeveloper Pro) have a MIME-type-to-file-extension association file (Config\Apache\mime.types) that sets the correct “Content-type” Header for PDF and DOC files. But sometimes, depending on the website’s configuration and where and how the PDF files are located and/or generated, the above Header configuration is required.

It is also very important to use “LocationMatch” instead of “FilesMatch” because:

Note: Apache’s “Header” directive requires mod_headers, which is usually loaded by WAMP, otherwise…

<IfModule !mod_headers.c>
    LoadModule headers_module modules/

Transferring Document Files Through PHP

If you are transferring the document files through PHP, chances are the unwanted behavior is happening due to this code…

header('Content-Type: application/octet-stream');
header('Content-Length: ' . filesize($fullpath));
header('Content-Disposition: attachment; filename="' . $file . '"');

In this case, you can either search your code-base for some partials of the above strings, and comment out or update the lines with the proper Content-Type and Content-Disposition values, or use the provided Apache header configuration to post-process and replace the PHP generated headers.