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World Wide Web Consortium Publishes XForms 1.0 as a W3C Recommendation


The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) announces the release of the XForms 1.0 Recommendation. XForms 1.0 is the foundation for next-generation Web- based forms, combining the ability to separate purpose, presentation, and results with the Extensible Markup Language (XML).

A W3C Recommendation is the equivalent of a Web standard, indicating that this W3C-developed specification is stable, contributes to Web interoperability, and has been reviewed by the W3C Membership, who favor its adoption by the industry.

After 10 Years, It’s Time to Upgrade Forms on the Web

When HTML forms were introduced to the Web in 1993, they provided a means to gather information and perform transactions. The structure of forms served the needs of many users at that time, as well as the devices used to access the Web.

Now, 10 years later, the original HTML form design is showing its limitations. Users now wish to access the Web through cell phones, handheld devices, and assistive technologies such as screen readers, and authors need more functionality based on their experience with HTML forms and non- Web-based forms technologies. Forms authors are looking to both minimize scripting and maximize reuse of form components, as well as cleanly separate the purpose, presentation and results of a form. And of course, companies which have made the move to XML are looking for ways to integrate forms into their business processes.

"W3C’s XForms gives authors more power and flexibility while improving the user experience," explained Steven Pemberton, Chair of the W3C XForms Working Group. "The XForms Working Group has provided a model that makes it easy for implementors to develop and reuse form components, integrate them into Web services, and deliver functionality to users and devices previously not possible."

XForms Cleanly Separates Purpose, Presentation, and Results

In contrast to HTML forms, in which functional and presentation markup are intertwined, XForms lets forms authors distinguish the descriptions of the purpose of the form; the presentation of the form, and how the results (the instance data) are written in XML.

By splitting traditional HTML forms into three parts—XForms model, instance data, and the XForms user interface—XForms cleanly separates presentation from content. This separation brings new advantages:

* Reuse: XForms modules can be reused independently of the information they collect

* Device independence: user interface controls are abstract—that is, their generic features are the only thing indicated—so they can easily be delivered to different devices with different capabilities

* Accessibility: separation of presentation from content leaves information more readily available for users of assistive technologies; in addition, the user interface controls encapsulate all relevant metadata such as labels, thereby enhancing accessibility of the application when using different modalities.

Practically speaking, XForms technologies make it possible to deliver the same form to a PDA, a cell phone, screen reader or conventional desktop machine—without loss of functionality for the end user.

XForms Aids the Author and Improves the User Experience

XForms allows authors to specify properties of, and relationships between, values being collected, for instance that a particular field must be an email address, that the total amount field is the sum of the individual line items, or that the credit card number isn’t required if payment is by cash. These are specified using simple properties such as saying a field is ’required’, or by giving the type of the field, rather than using the extensive scripting that was necessary in traditional HTML forms.

This means that the user experience is greatly improved, since the browser can always warn the user of any incorrectly filled fields before the form is submitted.

XForms Delivers the Power of XML to Online Forms

XML is at the core of the XForms model, and delivers key advantages to the XForms technology:

* Data received from an XForm is already strongly typed, well-formed, easy to validate, and process—in other words, it is XML.
* Using XML 1.0 for the description of results—called ’instance data’—ensures that the submitted data may be easily internationalized.
* XForms may be used to ’edit’ any XML document.
* Existing XML schemas from business processes may easily be used for the validation of instance data.
* XML schemas may be reused across XForms, helping keep sets of forms up to date and consistent.
* XForms can talk to Web services, finally integrating the user into the Web services process.

Moreover, XForms, while initially designed to be integrated into XHTML, may be adopted by any suitable markup language, such as Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). XForms uses XML Events, another W3C technology being released today, to define XML-based declarative event handlers that cover common use cases, so that the majority of XForms documents can be statically analyzed, reducing the need for complicated scripting for event handlers.

XForms Already Widely Implemented

No W3C specification has been so widely implemented so early in its life cycle as XForms. Current implementations can deliver the same form to a variety of devices, including cell phones, PDAs, voice browsers, PCs, and even using instant messenger clients. Some large user communities are emerging, in particular the United Kingdom e-government interoperability framework says "current guidance is to use the XForms 1.0 standards as defined by W3C" (page 14 of this document).

XForms Basic, the mobile profile of XForms which allows XForms to be implemented natively on mobile devices, is currently a W3C Candidate Recommendation. It is expected to become a Recommendation when an mobile implementation passes the XForms test suite.

XForms Working Group Includes Industry Leaders

In the competitive field of forms technology, it’s almost unheard of to have so many leading participants working together on the development of a standardized technology to be used by all. The W3C XForms Working Group serves as the place where these technology and industry leaders meet to produce results that have immediate use on the Web today. The XForms Working Group includes W3C Members and invited experts from Adobe; CWI; Cardiff; Helsinki University of Technology; IBM; Mozquito Technologies; Novell; Oracle Corporation; Origo Services; PureEdge; SAP; Sun Microsystems; and Ltd.

Marie-Claire Forgue | alfa
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