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Composite Fields for Dynamic HTML Applications Disclosure Number: IPCOM000014168D
Original Publication Date: 2001-Apr-27
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2003-Jun-19
Document File: 8 page(s) / 153K

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Managing structured entry fields in HTML forms

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Composite Fields for Dynamic HTML Applications

Managing structured entry fields inHTML forms


In many HTML forms there are different types of input value which need to be viewed and/or entered by the user. Some of these types are simple , such as text strings (e.g. a house name), while others are complex , such as dates (e.g. a date of birth), social security numbers, etc . Unfortunately, HTML does not provide input fields specifically for any complex types, nor does it provide a good mechanism for defining complex input fields.

Sometimes a web page developer will decide to use one simple field for a complex type. This is frequently confusing and frustrating for the user, even when the required input format is explained clearly, and it can lead to mistakes being made. It is preferable to assist the user to perceive the structure of the complex type and supply a suitable value efficiently. This can generally be achieved by using multiple input fields each presenting a part of the overall value. However, this significantly alters the format of the data values which are supplied via HTTP when the form is submitted, and can sometimes cause time-consuming and expensive software modifications to become necessary at the server. Furthermore, any later changes to the structure will necessarily require corresponding changes on the server. Most seriously, the preferred way to present a structured value can vary with the language or culture of the user. While the text on a web page can readily be translated, it is usually much harder to enable the server to cope with variations in the number, type, format and purpose of the various input fields within a form.

This paper describes a technique for incorporating complex types into an HTML form using multiple input fields. The technique does not require any modifications to be made on the server either when first applying the technique or when making later changes to the structure. It enables an HTML form which has been built using simple fields for complex types to be improved to use multiple input fields without requiring any modifications to be made on the server. Furthermore, the technique makes it straightforward to deploy internationalized versions of the form in which the structure of the input fields is different, still without requiring any modifications to be made on the server.

Delivering data from HTML forms

HTML forms can select one of two submit methods, "GET" and " POST". Whichever method is used, the information delivered when the user submits the form consists of the names and current values of the various input fields within the form. This form data set is usually processed by a server agent, e.g. a CGI script or Java TM servlet.

When the "GET" method is specified, submitting a form causes the user's web browser to try to load a new page using a URI which incorporates the entire form data set. The form action URI is taken, a " ? " is appended, and this is then follo...