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W3C unveils new XML Forms standard

XForms 1.0, a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard for creating XML-based interactive forms for end users, is now ready for developers to implement in Web applications, W3C officials disclosed this week.

Officially, XForms is a W3C candidate recommendation, which is one of the final steps before adoption as a standard. But it is considered stable enough to be deployed in real world applications, according to the announcement. XForms is an upgrade to the HTML Forms standard adopted in 1993, and is designed to meet the needs of developers seeking to incorporate XML functionality into forms designed for Web applications, the W3C stated. XForms splits HTML forms into three parts: data, logic and presentation.

''In contrast to HTML Forms, with functional and presentation markup 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,'' W3C documentation explains. XForms separates presentation from content to take advantage of the ability of an XML-based application to ''use forms from a PDA, a cell phone, screen reader or conventional desktop machine -- without loss of functionality for the end user,'' according to the W3C.

A number of the software vendors that are part of the W3C XForms Working Group announced this week that they would support the standard in upcoming releases of their software tools.

Novell Inc., Provo, Utah, announced on Tuesday that it will support XForms in the next release of exteNd, its J2EE-based Web application development suite, which is technology Novell gained in its acquisition of SilverStream Software. On its Web site (http://www.novell.com/xforms), Novell offers a tutorial and samples of how XForms will appear to end users in a shopping cart application.

However, Misha Davidson, Novell product manager for exteNd tools, said that in replacing HTML Forms, XForms represents ''completely horizontal technology,'' which is not tied to any application niche. It can be deployed in any Web application requiring forms, he explained, and provides advantages not available in HTML Forms, including an easier way to program client-side processing and presentation.

''There is a very interesting dimension to XForms,'' he said, ''which will play very significantly in the future, we believe. XForms, unlike HTML forms, define abstract controls. For example, in HTML Forms you define a drop-down list or a set of radio buttons. In XForms, you say this is a 'choice control' and then it is up to the XForms processor to figure out how to render it to best suit the device on which the form is displayed. So while in a PC Web browser it might be a drop-down list, on a PDA it could be a set of radio buttons.''

Davidson said current Novell plans are to include full support for XForms flexibility in the drag-and-drop tools for exteNd in a release tentatively scheduled for mid-2003.

Another member of the XForms Working Group, PureEdge Solutions Inc., Victoria, British Columbia, has announced that the next release of its e-forms product will support XForms as well as add security and signing functionality to it. Further information on the PureEdge technology is available at http://www.pureedge.com.

For standard documentation from the W3C, click on http://www.w3c.org/TR/2002/CR-xforms-20021112.

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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