Dynamic Form Processing: A General Framework for Interactivity


The paper describes an implemented system for automatic form processing that structures user interactions according to an extensible lattice of presentation classes (an HTML3 extension to HTML input types) and uses an explicit representation of forms and queries to automatically recover from user input errors and to operate over multiple transport media -- presently the World-Wide Web and email.

Major features include:

All form elements are represented as objects supporting generic operations rather than characters in a flat HTML file. Forms have a series of required and optional queries as well as some descriptive text. In addition to a question or instructions, a query has an associated presentation class. This logical representation makes possible meta-level operations such as automatic retries and delivery over multiple transport media.

The Dynamic Form Authoring Tool maximizes ease and speed of interfacing applications to the Web because it allows developers to specify very rapidly the various constitutive elements of forms and queries, such as presentation class, name, instructions, and other parameters. For queries, it allows a wide choice of presentation classes, including all standard HTML input types and over 32 presentation classes (such email address, country, postal code). In addition, a modular representation of forms, queries, and presentation class makes it possible for them to be shared across applications.

The research described here and its object-oriented implementation can help guide the design of client-side input scripts and presentation classes in HTML3. Towards the end of 1994, these tools will be available as add-ons to the Common Lisp Hypermedia Server.