What does GhostScript Do?
GhostScript and GPL Ghostscript as software, performs three major functions.
- It interprets PostScript programming language and portable document format (PDF) for viewing and control.
- It can convert PostScript language files to raster formats and PDF, display, and print them.
- It can also convert PDF to PostScript, and special raster formats, display, and print.
Essentially, Ghostscript allows for display, manipulation and printing of PostScript files without using the Adobe tool-chain. Historically, this has been useful for supporting the .PS convention for linux operating systems, which received little to no attention from Adobe.
For more modern context, with the proliferation of linux powered web-applications, Ghostscript has been ported to hundreds of different programming languages and built into a variety of web-based print file display web applications. Using a browser to change, view, save, or print a file means that OS compatibility is handled by the browser and the bulk of the computation happens on the server side.
How to Install & Use GhostScript
Ghostscript is available in a limited commercial version from Artifex Software Inc. A free-to-use version, called GPL Ghostscript is available under the GNU Public License (GPL). The three libraries that make up the source code are individually licensed. The source code itself is available in a proprietary git host, and the GNU version has been co-opted into the umbrella of the GNU project. Thousands of projects using GhostScript for varying purposes do exist and can be found on Github, but be sure to pay close attention to the details of each license.
The Ghostscript library offers primitive operations in both PostScript and PDF. They allow graphics and data compression, decompression, and conversion capabilities. Written in C, Ghostscript can function on many systems. You may find graphic user interfaces via third parties for Ghostscript. These allow you to view files, flip forward and backward, scroll, and zoom text in PostScript and PDF files.
Since Ghostscript is a library of specialized code and is not explicitely a web project, hosting plans are not sold as Ghostscript-optimized plans. Ghostscript can be downloaded pre-compiled or from source – and runs on both Windows & Linux, for either 32-bit or 64-bit.
The download itself comes in the two different license versions – the GNU Affero General Public License – and the the Artifex Commerical License. Be sure to understand how you will use Ghostscript prior to downloading each license type.
If you haven’t yet purchased a hosting plan, contact potential providers with your questions about Ghostscript before ordering. If you already have hosting, remember to check with your hosting provider before installing any software to avoid any compatibility problems.
It is likely that most providers will have some level of support, but a virtual private server (VPS) with root level access for executing software – will ultimately be the most simple way to use Ghostscript without permission errors.
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Ghostscript Frequently Asked Questions
Why does Ghostscript still exist today, and what function does it serve?
Adobe opened up the PS and PDF format as an ISO standard in 2008 – the file format which once was proprietary, now is open for the world to use.
Ghostscript is one of the longest standing non-proprietary PDF Creators. Paired with the long standing Ghostviewer – Ghostscript helped lay the groundwork for the PDF format to become an open format.
Ghostscript source code and projects are still much more prevalent in the linux community than many of the new partially documented adobe tools.
What alternatives or supplemental tools exist?
Mozilla has a public repository called PDF.js which has been formulated to be a general-purpose web implementation for viewing the PDF standard.
PDF.js has some interoperability with Ghostscript generated files – but it also does most of the same functions that Ghostscript does – in terms of displaying and modifying PS and PDF files.
The other big alternative to Ghostscript is the “TeX” scripting language. Often used for crafting documents with well curated fonts and standards – TeX languages like LaTeX – offer ways to generate clean PS and PDF files.
Ghostscript arguably is more focused on documents with images, while TeX scripting is best reserved for text-heavy PS editing.
About Tom Riecken
Tom has worked as a web developer and data analyst. He is involved with several global and local "futurist" organizations, where he often facilitates discussions about the social impact of technology. His strongest recreational interests include spaceflight, astronomy, and realistic science fiction. He lives in Washington.