Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

A way to combine PDF files in UNIX and Linux

4th October 2008

My latest adventure in the world computing has led me into the world of automated PDF generation. When my first approach didn’t prove to be completely trouble-free, I decided to look at the idea of going part of the way with it and finishing off the job with the open source utility Ghostscript. It is that which got me thinking about combining bookmarked PDF files and I can say that Ghostscript is capable of producing what I need as long it doesn’t generate any errors along the way. Here’s the command that does the trick:

gs -dBATCH -dNOPAUSE -q -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -sOutputFile=final.pdf source_file1.pdf source_file2.pdf

The various switches of the gs command have very useful roles with dBATCH ensuring that Ghostscript shuts down when all is done, dNOPAUSE removing any prompts that would otherwise be given, q for quiet mode, sDEVICE using Ghostscript’s own PDF creation functionality and sOutputFile creates the output file, stopping Ghostscript from sending it to its default stream. All of this applies to Windows Ghostscript too, though the name of the executable is gswin32c for 32-bit Windows instead of gs.

When it comes to any debugging, it is useful to consider that Ghostscript is case sensitive with its command line switches, something that I seen to trip up others. I am getting initial device initialisation so it strikes me that dropping some of the ones that reduce the number of messages might help me work out what’s going on. It’s a useful idea that I have yet to try.

There is also online documentation if you fancy learning more and have an article that considers other possible PDF combination tools as well. All in all, it’s nice to have command line tools to do these sorts of things rather than having to use GUI applications all of the time.


  • bico says:

    I have been using pdfsam for this. It’s free, user friendly, and it works great, but I’m afraid it cannot be used directly from the command line like ghostscript.

  • John says:

    I recently came across O’Reilly’s PDF Hacks and that mentions quiet a few pieces of software and not just Ghostcript or anything that Adobe offers.

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