Zotero PDF Reader - Compatibility with External PDF Readers

Hello, all -

If I understand correctly, annotation sync-ing between external PDF app and Zotero's PDF viewer is uni-directional: highlighting and notes added in the external PDF app are viewable (but not editable) in Zotero's PDF viewer (there is a little lock symbol in the annotation list). They only become editable in Zotero if one chooses File: Import Annotations. In contrast, Zotero annotations (highlighting and notes) do not seem to show up at all in an external PDF app, unless one first chooses File:Export Annotations in Zotero.

(NB: The Important Annotations and Export Annotations menu commands do not appear if the PDF is opened in a separate window in Zotero. Can this be modified so those menu items are available even with PDFs in separate windows?)

This takes some acclimatization on my part, and now I am not sure I will find the internal Zotero PDF functionality so useful. At least on my initial impression, and under assumption that I will still frequently use an external PDF app (usually Acrobat, sometimes Preview), I would prefer that the standard annotation approach of saving within the PDF be used so changes made in any environment appear in all the others. I see there were technical reasons to take this proprietary approach ("Annotations are stored in the Zotero database, not in the PDF file, which allows for much more advanced functionality as well as fast syncing" - https://www.zotero.org/support/pdf_reader_preview)

• Is it possible to have a preference that Zotero uses the standard PDF annotation approach (saving in the PDF file rather than in the PDF database), for easy interchange/compatibility with external PDF readers?

Failing that, may we have a preference to automatically Import Citations when opening the PDF in Zotero, and automatically Export Citations when closing the PDF in Zotero?

Thank you as always for consideration of these ideas.
  • Me too would like an option to auto import and export annotations.

    I guess this should require more resources and can be unreliable or unstable.
    Also, since it involves with some "more advanced functionality and fast syncing", I would say add an hidden advanced option may be the best solution, letting advanced users take their own risks.
  • @astroHao Yes, I imagine the developers will prefer to avoid this option, as it's risky. Namely, what happens if a user ends up having the document open simultaneously in both the Zotero PDF reader and an external PDF reader?

    Maybe it's possible to have Zotero give an error dialogue if the PDF is open in another reader. Ideally that error would appear as soon as one tries to open the PDF in Zotero, and also when one tries to export the annotations from Zotero.

    However, the external PDF reader would not give any such error message if the PDF id also open in Zotero....
  • @ZenonMarko Yeah you're right. But I guess either way will be impractical. To detect if the file is being edited by another process should be a OS-related editing lock or something similar.

    I don't see an easy solution to this potential confliction. That's the main reason I will stick to an external reader. If it provides a hidden option to auto export to PDF files, I may have a try with the build-in reader.
  • +1 for this. It messes with my Obsidian integration that I cant embedd the annotations into the file itself.
  • edited December 14, 2022
    @Kobuster: It's not going to happen:


    This isn't necessary for integrating Zotero and Obsidian — there are various plugins for that.
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