Microsoft Corp.s InfoPath beta provides a tool natively designed to provide a forms front end for XML data. As my colleague Jason Brooks notes, the tool is a Windows client application that requires a commitment to the latest Microsoft technologies.
The usefulness of an XML forms client in an XML-centric environment is undeniable, but theres a natural synergy between the equally interoperable HTML and XML that InfoPath misses. Those looking for another approach should point their browsers at www.w3.org/TR/xforms. The next big revision of HTML, XHTML (Extensible HTML) 2.0, includes an entirely new forms specification called XForms.
The World Wide Web Consortium did a lot of hard slogging on the XForms standard all through last year, and it entered Candidate Recommendation status in November. We should see the result this year.
Like InfoPath, XForms uses XML Schema as its native forms data type language. Form elements are strongly typed, and forms have built-in logic for common error checking, such as restricting input to a range of values, use of validating regular expressions or simply making certain fields mandatory.
Forms are described using an XML syntax and have a clean separation between form contents and form appearance. Stylesheets define the structure of the form, and the same form can be rendered differently on a phone, PDA or desktop based on screen and input method constraints.
Just as InfoPath does, submitted forms data is transmitted in XML format to the server.
Were still some distance away from XHTML 2.0 and XForms-compliant Web browsers, but they are coming (Internet Explorer among them, Im sure). XML-friendly forms are a good idea everywhere, not just on Windows.
West Coast Technical Director Timothy Dyck can be reached at email@example.com.