What is a PDF Owner Password?

Definition of a PDF Owner Password & How to Unlock a PDF File

Picture of a PDF lock icon

A PDF owner password is the password used to set certain document restrictions (more on those below) in PDF files.

In Adobe Acrobat, the PDF owner password is called the change permissions password. Depending on the PDF reader or writer you're using you may also see this referred to as the PDF permissions password, restriction password, or PDF master password.

What Does a PDF Owner Password Do?

As of the latest PDF version, document restrictions put in place with an owner password can include the following:

  • printing
  • changing the document
  • document assembly
  • content copying
  • content copying for accessibility
  • page and graphics extraction
  • commenting
  • filling of form fields
  • signing
  • creation of template pages.

Depending on the PDF writer you're using, a few of which are listed in the next section below, you should be able to allow some restrictions while blocking others.

For example, you could disable copying of text and images but enable printing, helpful if you want to distribute a PDF but want to discourage duplicating parts of your propriety work.

It doesn't matter if only some of the restrictions are in place or if all of them are, you still have to provide whatever PDF reader you're using with the change permissions password before you're given full, unrestricted access to the PDF.

How to Set a PDF Owner Password

There are plenty of free programs that support PDF restrictions via configuring a PDF owner password.

A few examples include PDF creators like PDF24 Creator and PDFCreator, and other free PDF tools like PDFill Free PDF Tools (via the encrypt/decrypt option) and PrimoPDF.

Each PDF writer will have a different process for doing this in their respective programs but since the ability to do this in the first place is provided via the PDF standard, they're all going to be pretty similar in most ways.

How Do I Stop Someone From Opening a PDF?

In addition to using a PDF owner password to restrict what can be done to an open PDF, you can even prevent someone from opening the PDF at all. That's right - you can actually lock a PDF down so tight that a password is needed to see any of the contents at all.

Because a PDF owner password doesn't restrict the opening of a PDF file, you must use a PDF user password to provide "document open" security in PDF files.

Some of the PDF programs I've already talked about will also let you enable a user password to secure a PDF from being opened.

How to Recover, Remove, or Unlock a Password Protected PDF

If you can't remember the owner password or user password that you used to secure a PDF file, there are several free tools that can either recover the password for you or remove it completely.

See my Free PDF Password Removal Tools list for a number of programs that will let you unlock a PDF, removing the permissions entirely, providing full access to the previously restricted PDF file.

More From Us