I'm looking for a PDF viewer that provides a way to visualize named destinations. Named destinations are the formal name for what you might call anchors. Major browsers jump to the named destination foo when you follow a link to http://example.com/some.pdf#foo. Acrobat Reader, Xpdf, Evince and Okular can be instructed to jump to a named destination when opening the file.

How would you know the name to use (assuming there is one — many PDF-producing software don't include such names)?

I'm looking for a PDF viewer that provides a way to visualize named destinations in such a way that given a document with named destinations, you can browse to a place in the document and then reasonably easily find the closest preceding destination, so that you can link to http://example.com/some.pdf#foo rather than say “go to http://example.com/some.pdf and look at the bottom of page 4”. (I think major browsers understand http://example.com/some.pdf#page=4; this question is about using names — typically reminiscent of question names — rather than a page number.)

While I personally use Linux, I'd like reproducible advice, so an ideal solution would work all the major platforms that people typically have access to (Windows, Mac OS X and Linux). For widespread use, this would have to be cost-free.

• According to this thread, Acrobat Pro ($$$) has this feature but Acrobat Reader (free) can't do it.
• If you want a file to test with, try the hyperref manual which has named destinations like subsection.3.2 linking to §3.2.
• See also List named destinations in a PDF on Unix & Linux for a command line solution.

1 Answer 1


I had the same question, and eventually found a great answer via How can I visually inspect the structure of a PDF to reverse engineer it?

The answer is to use the Python package pdfminer.six. It's even one of their examples in the documentation! Cut-and-paste this code into a terminal:

pip install pdfminer.six
cat >extract.py <<EOF
import sys
import pdfminer.pdfparser, pdfminer.pdfdocument
with open(sys.argv[1], "rb") as f:
  parser = pdfminer.pdfparser.PDFParser(f)
  document = pdfminer.pdfdocument.PDFDocument(parser)
  for (level, title, dest, a, se) in document.get_outlines():
    print('  ' * level, title, dest or a, se)
python extract.py myInputFile.pdf

On my particular PDF, the output looks like this:

$ python extract.py ~/Desktop/p2786r3.pdf | head
   Abstract {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section.1'} None
   Revision History {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section.2'} None
     R3: October 2023 (midterm mailing)r3-october-2023-midterm-mailing {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section*.2'} None
     R2: June 2023 (Varna meeting)r2-june-2023-varna-meeting {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section*.3'} None
     R1: May 2023 (pre-Varna mailing)r1-may-2023-pre-varna-mailing {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section*.4'} None
     R0: Issaquah 2023r0-issaquah-2023 {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section*.5'} None
   Introduction {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section.3'} None
   Motivating Use Cases {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'section.4'} None
     Efficient vector growth {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'subsection.4.1'} None
     Moving types without empty states {'S': /'GoTo', 'D': b'subsection.4.2'} None

and indeed navigating to p2786r3.pdf#subsection.4.2 in my browser opens the PDF at that particular section. So it works great!

  • 1
    Thanks, this would be a good answer to unix.stackexchange.com/questions/246622/… which asks for a command-line solution, but it doesn't answer the question here which is about looking up anchors visually with the rendered PDF, i.e. a asking for GUI solution. Commented Feb 10 at 17:03
  • @Gilles'SO-stopbeingevil' — Ah, I had glazed over the "viewer" part. Although, in my defense, this question does ask "How would you know the name to use", and this command-line solution does give you an easily browsable list of names. That's almost certainly Good Enough, because the anchor names are likely to be human-readable (as in my example). Even if it's not, you could bolt on an extra step, like "open the document at each anchor in turn, for human perusal"; "binary-search in the anchors with human help"; "ask pdfminer to tell you the page# of each anchor"; etc. Better than nothing. Commented Feb 11 at 15:23

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