QPDFJob: a Job-Based Interface

All of the functionality from the qpdf command-line executable is available from inside the C++ library using the QPDFJob class. There are several ways to access this functionality:

  • Command-line options

    • Run the qpdf command line

    • Use from the C++ API with QPDFJob::initializeFromArgv

    • Use from the C API with qpdfjob_run_from_argv from qpdfjob-c.h. If you are calling from a Windows-style main and have an argv array of wchar_t, you can use qpdfjob_run_from_wide_argv.

  • The job JSON file format

    • Use from the CLI with the --job-json-file parameter

    • Use from the C++ API with QPDFJob::initializeFromJson

    • Use from the C API with qpdfjob_run_from_json from qpdfjob-c.h

  • The QPDFJob C++ API

If you can understand how to use the qpdf CLI, you can understand the QPDFJob class and the JSON file. qpdf guarantees that all of the above methods are in sync. Here’s how it works:

QPDFJob Interfaces





"someOption": ""



"someOption": "value"


positional argument

"otherOption": "value"


In the JSON file, the JSON structure is an object (dictionary) whose keys are command-line flags converted to camelCase. Positional arguments have some corresponding key, which you can find by running qpdf with the --job-json-help flag. For example, input and output files are named by positional arguments on the CLI. In the JSON, they appear in the "inputFile" and "outputFile" keys. The following are equivalent:

qpdf infile.pdf outfile.pdf \
   --pages . other.pdf --password=x 1-5 -- \
   --encrypt user owner 256 --print=low -- \
  "inputFile": "infile.pdf",
  "outputFile": "outfile.pdf",
  "pages": [
      "file": "."
      "file": "other.pdf",
      "password": "x",
      "range": "1-5"
  "encrypt": {
    "userPassword": "user",
    "ownerPassword": "owner",
    "256bit": {
      "print": "low"
  "objectStreams": "generate"
C++ code:
#include <qpdf/QPDFJob.hh>
#include <qpdf/QPDFUsage.hh>
#include <iostream>

int main(int argc, char* argv[])
        QPDFJob j;
            ->pageSpec(".", "1-z")
            ->pageSpec("other.pdf", "1-5", "x")
            ->encrypt(256, "user", "owner")
    catch (QPDFUsage& e)
        std::cerr << "configuration error: " << e.what() << std::endl;
        return 2;
    catch (std::exception& e)
        std::cerr << "other error: " << e.what() << std::endl;
        return 2;
    return 0;

Note the QPDFUsage exception above. This is thrown whenever a configuration error occurs. These exactly correspond to usage messages issued by the qpdf CLI for things like omitting an output file, specifying –pages multiple times, or other invalid combinations of options. QPDFUsage is thrown by the argv and JSON interfaces as well as the native QPDFJob interface.

It is also possible to mix and match command-line options and JSON from the CLI. For example, you could create a file called my-options.json containing the following:

  "encrypt": {
    "userPassword": "",
    "ownerPassword": "owner",
    "256bit": {
  "objectStreams": "generate"

and use it with other options to create 256-bit encrypted (but unrestricted) files with object streams while specifying other parameters on the command line, such as

qpdf infile.pdf outfile.pdf --job-json-file=my-options.json

See also examples/qpdf-job.cc in the source distribution as well as comments in QPDFJob.hh.

QPDFJob Design

This section describes some of the design rationale and history behind QPDFJob.

Documentation of QPDFJob is divided among three places:

  • “HOW TO ADD A COMMAND-LINE ARGUMENT” in README-maintainer provides a quick reminder of how to add a command-line argument.

  • The source file generate_auto_job has a detailed explanation about how QPDFJob and generate_auto_job work together.

  • This chapter of the manual has other details.

Prior to qpdf version 10.6.0, the qpdf CLI executable had a lot of functionality built into it that was not callable from the library as such. This created a number of problems:

  • Some of the logic in qpdf.cc was pretty complex, such as image optimization, generating JSON output, and many of the page manipulations. While those things could all be coded using the C++ API, there would be a lot of duplicated code.

  • Page splitting and merging will get more complicated over time as qpdf supports a wider range of document-level options. It would be nice to be able to expose this to library users instead of baking it all into the CLI.

  • Users of other languages who just wanted an interface to do things that the CLI could do didn’t have a good way to do it, such as just handing a library call a set of command-line options or an equivalent JSON object that could be passed in as a string.

  • The qpdf CLI itself was almost 8,000 lines of code. It needed to be refactored, cleaned up, and split.

  • Exposing a new feature via the command-line required making lots of small edits to lots of small bits of code, and it was easy to forget something. Adding a code generator, while complex in some ways, greatly reduces the chances of error when extending qpdf.

Here are a few notes on some design decisions about QPDFJob and its various interfaces.

  • Bare command-line options (flags with no parameter) map to config functions that take no options and to JSON keys whose values are required to be the empty string. The rationale is that we can later change these bare options to options that take an optional parameter without breaking backward compatibility in the CLI or the JSON. Options that take optional parameters generate two config functions: one has no arguments, and one that has a char const* argument. This means that adding an optional parameter to a previously bare option also doesn’t break binary compatibility.

  • Adding a new argument to job.yml automatically triggers almost everything by declaring and referencing things that you have to implement. This way, once you get the code to compile and link, you know you haven’t forgotten anything. There are two tricky cases:

    • If an argument handler has to do something special, like call a nested config method or select an option table, you have to implement it manually. This is discussed in generate_auto_job.

    • When you add an option that has optional parameters or choices, both of the handlers described above are declared, but only the one that takes an argument is referenced. You have to remember to implement the one that doesn’t take an argument or else people will get a linker error if they try to call it. The assumption is that things with optional parameters started out as bare, so the argument-less version is already there.

  • If you have to add a new option that requires its own option table, you will have to do some extra work including adding a new nested Config class, adding a config member variable to ArgParser in QPDFJob_argv.cc and Handlers in QPDFJob_json.cc, and make sure that manually implemented handlers are consistent with each other. It is best to add explicit test cases for all the various ways to get to the option.