by May 14, 2007 0 comments

Most online applications, that is Web-based apps, rely on HTML forms that
interact with the users to display and gather information from them. However,
storing this information requires at least some knowledge of software
development and skills to read and write from a database. But with the new
InfoPath 2007 application working with SharePoint 2007, anyone can create and
publish forms for others to  use that can gather and store information to
be collated later. This article introduces you to the concepts and the way to
actually implement this.

InfoPath 2007 is the latest version of the XML-based forms designer and
viewer application, which is part of MS Office. InfoPath allows you to create
very dynamic forms that users can open and enter and edit information in. This
version has a number of features that make it even easier to use and we shall
look at some of them a little further on.

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MS Office SharePoint Server 2007 is the new version of what used to be known
as SharePoint Portal Server. This has a very large number of new features, some
of which we have covered in the past. One of the new features is the Forms
Service. This ‘component’ of SharePoint lets you us. InfoPath to create forms
and use SharePoint to host and render the forms when requested. Unlike the
earlier versions of InfoPath, once the form is hosted within SharePoint, end
users do not require InfoPath installed on their machines to be able to interact
with the forms. SharePoint manages the rendering of the entire form within the
browser itself.

The first thing to do is set up SharePoint to accept InfoPath forms. Do note
that if you only need the forms service functionality, you do not need the full
SharePoint product. Instead you can install the Office Forms Server product
instead. In either case, you will need to configure the forms service. In MOSS,
open the Central Administration site and go to the ‘Application Management’ tab.
Here scroll down to the ‘InfoPath Forms Service’ section and enter the
‘Configure InfoPath Forms Service’ link. This page lets you change the settings
of the forms service. Here you can turn on the options to both allow users to
create browser-enabled forms and allow the service to actually render them in
the browser. Without these settings, the forms service will not host the forms
for you nor will it render the form within a browser. Once these settings are
done, you should go to the site where you wish to host the forms. Here you need
to create a new Document Library that stores the form templates as well as the
one that stores the form inputs.

MOSS Central
Administration for Forms service. These two options allow browser
Here you can create a
new ‘Forms Library’ that hosts InfoPath form templates

Go to Documents and click on Create. In the list that appears, select ‘Form
Library’. Create a new library by entering the name here. Once the library has
been created, you are ready to create a form to be hosted on it. For this, open
InfoPath from any machine on the same network. Select ‘Design a Form Template’
and then ‘Blank Form’ from the templates list. But before you press OK, make
sure that the option ‘Enable browser-compatible features only’ is turned on.
Design the form by dragging and dropping elements such as tables, textboxes etc.
and typing directly into the form design area. Once the form looks the way you
want, save it locally as a form template with an XSN extension. To get it into
SharePoint, you need to Publish it. You also need to allow the submit action to
let users submit forms. For this, go to Tools>Submit Options… and turn the
‘Allows users to submit the form’ on. In the destination, select SharePoint
Document Library and click on Add. Enter the URL for the form library you
created earlier, and give either a static name or a dynamically generated name
for the form submit action. Save the submit action.

When designing a new
template, make sure the ‘enable browser compatible features only’ option is
checked in
A simple form using
tables and textboxes in design mode in InfoPath 2007

Go to File>Publish to open the publishing wizard. In the first step, select
‘To a SharePoint server…’ and click on Next. Now you need to point to the
SharePoint site that the form is going to be published to. When prompted, enter
authentication information to allow writing to the site. In the next step,
ensure that the ‘Enable this form to be filled out by using a browser’ option is
turned on and you are publishing to a Document library. Click on Next to
continue. The next step allows you to select where the form is going to reside.
Select the form library you created earlier. You can now select the columns you
wish to show as data within the library view itself. Once this is done, you can
publish the form to SharePoint. When the wizard completes, you can open the
document library or the form itself within the browser.

Forms can have much more advanced features too. For instance, you can add
data validation rules such as required fields, data pattern matching (like
numbers in amount field, e-mail address, etc.) and others. One of the nice
things you can do is pull in data from other SharePoint lists to show in
drop-down controls on the forms. For this, change any textbox field in your form
to a Dropdown Listbox. Once changed, open its properties dialog and in the
Listbox entries section, select ‘Look up values from an external data source’.
In the wizard, select ‘Create a new connection to: Receive data’ and in the next
step select ‘SharePoint library or list’. Go back to the SharePoint site and
create a new Custom list. Enter few values here that need to get populated. Now
back in the InfoPath wizard, enter the URL to this list and when prompted,
select the column to show in the dropdown. Use the treeview for the ‘entries’
section to select the field for display (and optionally value if different from
the display field). Save and Publish the form to allow users to use the
validations and populated data fields in the form.

Select the fields on the
form you wish to show as columns in the library view
Here give the name of
the document library and a dynamic file name for each submit

The forms library looks
like this with two forms submitted. Note the column names in the library
You can quickly change
any control to another type while working with the form

InfoPath and MOSS 2007 allow non-developers also to create rich and dynamic
forms that can be used to gather data within your organization. The new forms
service enables browser based rendering, so that all end users do not require
InfoPath installed on their machines. This is a great way to IT enable processes
or data stores that otherwise was done in less organized manners.

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