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· 3 min read
Julien Jenoudet

In the digital age, e-signatures have become a cornerstone of secure and efficient document processing. However, not all e-signature methods are created equal. A closer examination reveals that detached e-signatures, such as those in the XAdES (XML Advanced Electronic Signatures) standard, offer distinct advantages over embedded e-signatures, commonly found in PAdES (PDF Advanced Electronic Signatures) format. This post delves into the inherent benefits of detached e-signatures and the limitations of their embedded counterparts.

The Hidden Complexity of Embedded E-Signatures

Embedded e-signatures might seem simpler on the surface, but this perceived simplicity masks underlying complexities. By integrating the signature directly into the document, embedded e-signatures, like those used by DocuSign or Adobe, alter the original document's content, potentially compromising its integrity and leading to various issues, including:

  • Tampering: Embedding a signature alters the original document, raising questions about the document's authenticity since the e-signature provider effectively tampers with it.
  • Compatibility Issues: The modified document may not be compatible with systems that do not recognize the embedded signature format, limiting its accessibility and usability.
  • Limited Flexibility: Embedded signatures lack flexibility, especially in scenarios requiring multiple signatures or separate management of signatures and documents. They also necessitate placeholders within the document for signatures, complicating the signing process.

The Superiority of Detached E-Signatures

Detached e-signatures offer a solution to these problems by maintaining the original document's integrity and offering greater flexibility and security. Here's why detached e-signatures, as exemplified by the XAdES standard, are superior:

  • Integrity Protection: By not modifying the original document, detached e-signatures ensure the document's authenticity is preserved, safeguarding against tampering.
  • Total Ownership: Detached e-signatures give signers complete control over their signature without reliance on large corporate networks, promoting independence and ownership.
  • Simultaneous Signing: Detached e-signatures allow for concurrent signatures, eliminating the need for a sequential signing process and thereby speeding up document workflows.
  • Versatility: They can sign any file type, including protected (read-only) PDFs, without requiring placeholders or specific document formatting, offering unparalleled flexibility.
  • Universal Verification: Documents signed with detached e-signatures can be easily verified in various PDF viewers, not just Adobe Acrobat Reader, enhancing their accessibility.
  • Compatibility and Flexibility: Since the original document remains unchanged, detached e-signatures are more likely to be compatible with different systems and offer flexibility for scenarios requiring multiple signatures or separate management of signatures and documents.


The choice between detached and embedded e-signatures is not merely a technical preference but a strategic decision impacting document security, integrity, and usability. Detached e-signatures, by preserving the original document's integrity and offering greater flexibility, security, and independence, emerge as the superior choice for individuals and organizations alike.