Most organizations with any active Web site or portal use dozens of HTML forms to pass data to the back-end DB2
or Domino NSF database. But as XML becomes more common, forms technology needs to be updated from HTML to XML.
One option for Notes Domino shops that are implementing WebSphere Portal or Workplace technology is to use IBM's new Workplace Forms product to create and process XML-based online forms.
IBM's implementation of the XML standard -- via the addition of XForms to the current Workplace product lineup -- underscores the company's desire to make Workplace an open standards-based line of technologies that support service-oriented architecture (SOA). In the future, Workplace products will deliver Web pages based on the XForms and XHTML 2.0 specification.
The Workplace Forms software consists of a browser plug-in viewer, a form and process designer, and a server for delivering forms and integrating the XML forms data with other applications. Workplace Forms is based on the Extensible Forms Description Language (XFDL) and XForms open standards, and was originally developed by PureEdge Solutions, which IBM bought last summer.
It packages the presentation and business logic and data as XML components in a single envelope, and can be used with other IBM products including IBM Workplace products, Lotus Notes and Domino, and WebSphere Portal.
The future release will hopefully become a part of the Workplace Collaboration Services family. It would also make sense for IBM to fold in the Workplace Forms Designer with the Workplace Designer package, but that will likely not happen until 2007 or beyond.
Why XML Forms?
Ten years after the original HTML standard for forms was introduced, Web developers need more sophisticated and scalable standards for more complex transactions that exceed the limitations of standard HTML forms. XForms provides a more robust and device-independent way of handling input from a Web-based source.
Using the XForms standard approach, rather than rendering traditional HTML Web forms (i.e., using Domino, NSF-based Form elements today), makes it more flexible in the future to transmit and combine disparate data from various databases and applications; and to incorporate Web services and support data exchange within an overall services-oriented architecture.
It also enables organizations to standardize their Web forms format and interface, and streamline forms-based processes, which is particularly important to industries needing to meet government regulations that require adaptability of processes and transactions and records retention. Existing forms, such as paper documents as well as electronic ones in PDF, Word and other formats, can be converted to XFDL and imported into the Workplace Forms Designer.
Some key points about the XForms standard:
- XForms standard is platform- and device-independent.
- XForms will replace HTML forms.
- XForms is richer and more flexible than HTML forms.
- XForms will be the forms standard in XHTML 2.0.
- XForms separates data and logic from presentation.
- XForms uses XML to define form data (rules storing data in XML and transporting the form information).
- XForms stores and transports data in XML documents.
- XForms allows for calculations and validations within forms.
- XForms reduces or eliminates the need for scripting.
- XForms is a W3C Recommendation (as of Oct. 2003).
- An XForms processor for Web browsers is under development, and we should expect future Web browsers to support XForms. One early XForms-enabled browser, from the Mozilla Project, can be obtained at http://www.mozilla.org/projects/xforms/.
Much like early HTML, the XForms standard is just emerging as a valuable solution for organizations and government agencies inundated with forms and data. Just as HTML provided an invaluable alternative to paper-based forms, XForms is a much needed step up for electronic forms.
About the authors:
Steven Gerhardt, Ixion's vice president, is a certified IBM e-business software architect with 10 years of experience in managing Internet software development. He is currently responsible for managing Ixion's business development efforts with IBM's WebSphere and Lotus software products, including the company's IdentityPointe user provisioning software, Q.Mobile sales force automation software and its XForms for Portal and Workplace.
Sue Hildreth is a freelance writer based in Waltham, Mass. specializing in enterprise and e-commerce software. She can be reached at Sue.Hildreth@comcast.net.
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