By Ed Tittel
Anybody who's ever built forms using HTML forms markup, and then had to handle the results is likely to get a big lift (not to mention some great ideas) by perusing the latest working draft of the XForms 1.0 specification released on Friday, February 16, 2001. In case you're not already familiar with the work that's underway on this initiative, here are some of the high points of what XForms can bring to interactive, online data collection and delivery:
- Separation of forms into a behavioral description of what the form does, and a presentational description of how the form looks
- Device independent description of forms according to a formal XForms Model that can work with standard user interfaces (e.g. XHTML) or proprietary user interfaces
- Standard definition of forms controls that work not only with XHTML but also with other kinds of XML documents, including Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), and with voice and other highly accessible browser interfaces
- Ability to assign formal data types and various types of value, appearance, and other kinds of constraints to guide users to fill out forms completely and correctly, and to check their contents before posting them to a server. It is also possible to define relationships between and among forms data elements, so that selecting a "spouse" entry in one part of a form could trigger solicitation of the spouse's name, age, and so forth
- elsewhere in a form.
- Packaging of collected form data, called XML instance data in the language of the specification, in a completely structured and self-documenting form, using a formal data channel for delivery called the XForms Submit Protocol to govern how XForms send and receive data
Alas, with anything this good there's got to be a catch. In this case, the catch is that XForms remains a work in progress with W3C Recommendation status not expected until later this year. Since browser vendors won't implement this functionality until it's more or less fully defined and less (rather than more) fluid, you can't take advantage of this great functionality just yet. But someday, the W3C willing and the specification complete, XForms will help make all of our data collection online much easier to create, and far easier to collect and manage.
In the meantime, check out the current specification at http://www.w3.org/TR/xforms/index.html. You won't be sorry you did, but you may be sorry you still have to wait for this entirely worthwhile effort to grind to its official conclusion.
Send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions for Ed on this or other XML topics. He's waiting for the next step in the XForms process, because he's convinced relief is in sight.
Ed Tittel is a principal at LANWrights, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of LeapIt.com. LANWrights offers training, writing, and consulting services on Internet, networking, and Web topics (including XML and XHTML), plus various IT certifications (Microsoft, Sun/Java, and Prosoft/CIW).
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This was first published in February 2001