The shift from linear storage of user input data to much more useful XML based storage (like DITA) is a trend which is becoming increasingly pronounced. Information written to an XML standard offers increased automation potential, reuse, and is altogether a far better bet than regularly formatted text.
With forms being a primary means for enabling interactive web applications, a lot of effort has gone into making them yet more interactive and accessible via XML standards.
XForms 1.0 is the latest response to this demand and provides a new platform-independent markup language for online interaction between persons and remote agents. The W3C believes XForms will have considerable advantages over older HTML form formats, and this week came out and formally recommended that developers adopt the standard by publishing what amounts to a manual for implementing XForms.
The primary difference between XForms and HTML forms is the separation of the data being collected from the controls collecting the individual values. The underlying essential part of a form is no longer bound to the page it is used in, but is instead available for multiple uses.
Furthermore, while XForms is designed to be integrated into XHTML, it is not restricted to be a part of that language but can be integrated into other XML based languages.
* 'Strong' Typing - User errors are caught at the compile stage, meaning that users are less likely to submit incorrect/illegal data and have their form rejected on the server side. Makes for a quicker, not to say less maddening, experience for the user.
* XML Submission - Submitted information goes straight to the application back end without any intervening server interpreter wasting time.
* Existing schema re-use - Obviates duplication
* Internalization - Submitted data is easily translated to multiple languages.
* Enhanced accessibility - XForms separates content and presentation. User interface controls encapsulate all relevant metadata such as labels thereby enhancing accessibility.
* Multiple device support
* Less scripting
As far back as 1997, the W3C started to address concerns that HTML based form formats were simply not powerful enough. Later on, the W3C began to examine how web forms could be augmented.
As a direct result of this line of thought, the first XForms draft specification was published in April 2000. This original blueprint has been revised on several occasions and this document represents the latest and clearest roadmap yet for XForms implementation.
Get the full lowdown, and an extensive user manual, at the XForms homepage.