Monday, August 31, 2015

Responsive design

When you create a form, Form Builder encourages you to layout fields using multiple columns. This gives you more flexibility in:
  • grouping fields in a logic way;
  • making better use of the space available on the page.

This works well on well on laptops, desktops, and tablets, but not so well on mobile phones. In general, you just don't want your fields to be shown in multiple columns on mobiles, as this will require users to scroll horizontally to see fields "to the left of the page", thus greatly reducing usability.

This is why, starting with version 4.10, your multi-column forms will automatically show in 1 column when accessed from a mobile phone, or any device with narrow screen.

This is done automatically for you, using an approach referred to as responsive web design. If you're upgrading from Orbeon Forms 4.9 or earlier, you'll get this out-of-the-box: you don't need to change anything in in your forms, or set any configuration setting.

For more, see our documentation on responsive design.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Orbeon Forms 4.10

Today we released Orbeon Forms 4.10! The main user-visible feature is the introduction of responsive design for mobile devices such as smartphones. Form Builder also gets some nice enhancements.

Major features and enhancements
  • Form Builder
    • Control appearance switcher. Form Builder now features a general-purpose mechanism to switch between control appearances: this allows for example switching between a dropdown menu and radio buttons, adding a character counter to your fields, and more, with just one click! (blogdoc)
    • Maximum and minimum length validations. This release introduces the notion of common constraints. These are validation constraints which can be enabled via the Form Builder user interface without writing formulas by hand. As a first step, we introduce maximum length and minimum length constraints. (blogdoc)
    • Integration. You can now open the Form Builder "New" page with URL parameters which skip the initial dialog. (doc)
  • Form Runner
    • Responsive design for mobile. The Form Runner detail page now features a single-column layout on smaller devices. This also supports the Wizard view. (blogdoc)
    • Accessibility improvements. Output fields use HTML labels. (#1243)
    • Option to show a "character counter" next to a field. This new option for input fields, password fields and text areas displays a character counter next to the field, showing the current number of characters, or, if a maximum length is set, the number of remaining or extra characters. (docblog)
    • Section templates fixes. 
      • Fix execution of actions upon section templates load. (#2233)
      • Fix sending of email recipients, subjects and attachments in section templates (#2016)
    • Form Runner Home page.
      • Don't ask user for credentials more than once. (#2276)
      • Fix refresh of remote server  data when more than one remote server is configured. (#2274)
  • XForms
    • New validation functions. There are two new functions: xxf:max-length() and xxf:min-length(). (doc)

See Localizing Orbeon Forms for the latest localization support. Localization depends on volunteers, so please let us know if you want to help!

Other new features and bug-fixes

Including the major features and enhancements above, we closed over 60 issues since Orbeon Forms 4.9.
    Current browser support
    • Form Builder (creating forms)
      • Chrome 44 (latest stable version) and Chrome 46 dev (current dev channel)
      • Firefox 40 (latest  stable version) and the current Firefox ESR
      • IE 11
      • Safari 8
      • Form Runner (accessing form)
        • All browsers supported by Form Builder (see above)
        • IE8, IE9 and IE10
        • Safari Mobile on iOS 7 and iOS 8
        • Chrome for Android (stable channel)
      Compatibility notes
      • XBL event handlers.
        • Until this version, it was possible for event handlers to listen for events on a different XBL scope. This was not desirable and is removed in this version. Custom XBL components which rely on this will need to be updated. (#243)
      You can download the latest version of Orbeon Forms from the downloads page.
        Don't forget to grab a trial license for the PE version.

        Please send feedback:
        We hope you enjoy this release!

        Wednesday, August 12, 2015

        A dangerous Java 7 JVM option: TieredCompilation

        A while back, we had a customer with a production server exhibiting a curious problem: performance would start well after an application server restart, but over a few days, and sometimes over a single day under heavy load, response times would become longer, until the system would become unresponsive.

        Over weeks we analyzed logs files, trying to figure out whether there were unusual patterns in the user requests. We also connected monitoring tools and a profiler to the production system in order to see whether the VM was running out of memory or other resources.

        Unfortunately, in spite of a number of false leads, we could not figure out anything conclusive. It was as if the system just became slower for no good reason!

        Luckily, after a good deal of additional Googling, we figured out that the culprit was JBoss, or rather, a combination of a particular version of JBoss (JBoss AS 7.1.1.Final) and a particular version of the Java virtual machine (Java 7). [1]

        This version of JBoss forces the -XX:+TieredCompilation VM option behind the scene, and this option is the direct cause of the problem. It is supposed to improve performance, but turns out to have a very serious adverse effect instead. [2]

        Practically, the issue is solved very easily by setting PRESERVE_JAVA_OPTS=true in standalone.conf.

        Clearly, it was wrong of JBoss to set this option by default, and it seems that this was reverted in subsequent versions of the application server. But many organizations are still using JBoss AS 7.1.1.Final, even though it is more than three years old now, and we hope that this post will be useful to somebody else.

        1. Here are some useful links on this issue:  ↩

        2. This option is activated by default with Java 8, and it might be that Java 8 fixes the issues associated with it, but we haven’t tested that.  ↩

        Thursday, July 16, 2015

        How Common Constraints Work

        Form Builder allows you to configure several types of validations associated with form controls:

        • Required: whether the value can be empty or not.
        • Datatype: such as string, decimal, date, or time.
        • Formulas: custom formulas, expressed in XPath.

        In Orbeon Forms 4.10, we are introducing the additional notion of common constraints. These are validations which are predefined by Form Builder and which you can just select with a dropdown menu.

        There are currently two such constraints:

        • “Has Maximum Length”
        • “Has Minimum Length”

        Where you could only choose “Formula” in addition to the preset “Required” and “Datatype” validations, you can now select one of the common constraints.

        Choice of common constraints
        Choice of common constraints

        Each of these two common constraints takes a numeric parameter specifying respectively the maximum number of characters and the minimum number of characters allowed in the field.

        Setting values for common constraints
        Setting values for common constraints

        These constraints are equivalent to the following formulas:

        string-length(.) le 140
        string-length(.) ge 10

        But in fact, under the hood, we introduced two new custom validation functions to make things more palatable to Form Builder and the forms engine. With these formulas the constraints become:


        In practice, as a user of Form Builder, you do not have to care about these functions and they remain hidden to you.

        One benefit of using custom functions is that special properties can be set by them when they run. For example, if you set the maximum length of a field to 140 characters, a max-length property becomes associated with that field. The new “Character Counter” appearance for example has access to that property and is able to show the number of characters remaining or the number of characters over the limit.

        The character counter uses the max-length property
        The character counter uses the max-length property

        Now that we have a solid foundation, we hope to introduce many more useful custom constraints in the future. And in fact we have already come up with a pretty good list of such constraints. You can see some of them in this RFE.

        We hope that you like this new feature!

        Wednesday, June 10, 2015

        How the new Form Builder Appearance Selector Works

        Recently, a customer asked us to implement a feature which looked simple at first: adding a character counter to input fields, text areas, and rich text controls (think a Tweet or an instant message which must fit in an SMS, for example). It looks like this:

        Input Field with Character Counter
        Input Field with Character Counter

        We could have gone the easy way:

        • write 3 new custom controls,
        • add them to the Form Builder toolbox,
        • and done!

        This would be easy enough to do with Orbeon Forms custom controls, but it is not an ideal solution. Instead we would like:

        • the “character counter” function to be independent from the control to which it applies (input field, text area, or rich text control),
        • and the ability to switch back and forth, in Form Builder, between a control with and one without the character counter.

        Going down to the markup level (that is, how the form definition is specified), an input field looks like:

        <xf:input bind="message-bind"/>

        What we want to do to add the character counter is add an appearance attribute, like this:


        The appearance attribute is a standard XForms attribute[1] which allows specifying how a control “looks like” without changing the kind of data it captures.

        And the good news is that since Orbeon Forms 4.9 we have a mechanism to bind custom controls with an appearance. Here is how it works:

        1. We create an fr:character-counter component which implements the logic of counting the characters in a field and acts as a wrapper around an existing control,[2]

        2. and we say that fr:character-counter must apply to input fields, text areas, and other controls if desired, when the character-counter appearance is found:

          xf|input[appearance ~= character-counter],
          xf|textarea[appearance ~= character-counter]

        This code specifies a “binding” for the custom control, and the cool thing is that it uses standard CSS selectors - yes, the same CSS selectors which developers use daily in their Web apps. This selector says in essence: “use this custom control implementation for input fields and text areas which have the character-counter appearance”.

        But there is more: this binding is declarative which allows Form Builder to discover automatically which controls support the character counter, and propose this as an option to the form author in the Control Settings:

        Character Counter Appearance Selection in Form Builder
        Character Counter Appearance Selection in Form Builder

        This is a fully general mechanism, which not only works for the character counter, but also for selection controls, buttons, and more:[3]

        Selection Control Appearance Selection in Form Builder
        Selection Control Appearance Selection in Form Builder

        Under the hood, there is a not-entirely-trivial algorithm[4] which:

        1. looks at the current control’s name (such as xf:input), datatype, and appearances,
        2. checks all available control bindings in the Form Builder toolbox,
        3. and returns the list of appearances which can apply to the control given its name and datatype.

        We are quite happy with the underlying architecture, and we hope the user-facing feature will be useful too! This feature will be available in Orbeon Forms 4.10.

        1. XForms specifies or suggests some standard appeararances. For example, a single selection control <xf:select1> with apperance full should show as radio buttons, while the compact appearance should show as a dropdown menu.  ↩

        2. Curious developers can see the very simple implementation of the fr:character-counter control here.  ↩

        3. We used to have a way to switch between selection controls before Orbeon Forms 4.0, but that disappeared during the big Form Builder rewrite which took place at that time. Now this feature is back but in a much more general way.  ↩

        4. Mostly implemented in BindingDescriptor.scala and BindingOps.scala.  ↩

        Friday, May 15, 2015

        Namespacing jQuery

        Starting with version 4.9, Orbeon Forms isn't polluting the JavaScript global namespace on the browser by exposing its own version of jQuery.

        You will benefit from this improvement if you're embedding a form created with Orbeon Forms into an existing web page, whether you do this using the server-side embedding API, the proxy portlet, or full portlet. In any of those cases, starting with Orbeon Forms 4.9, you don't have to worry about the version of jQuery used by Orbeon Forms conflicting with the version of jQuery used by your page.

        However, if your own code, designed to run with Orbeon Forms 4.8 or earlier, was relying on Orbeon Forms exposing its version of jQuery, you will need to change it, but the change should be very simple: in your JavaScript code, instead of $ or jQuery, use ORBEON.jQuery.

        Tuesday, May 5, 2015

        Orbeon Forms 4.9

        Today we released Orbeon Forms 4.9!

        Major features and enhancements
        • Form Builder
          • New control for showing explanatory text. Lots of forms require explanations, often inline with form fields. Until now, you had to use workarounds to do this in Form Builder, such as using a Text Output field with an HTML label. The new Explanation control addresses this need, and allows you to place explanatory rich text anywhere in your form. (blog post, #507)
          • Custom alerts for invalid data types and missing required fields. Since version 4.3, Form Builder allows you to set separate alert messages for constraints. Now you can also set separate alerts to show when the datatype is incorrect, as well as when a field is required but missing. (doc, #1978)
          • Deselecting all radio buttons. Radio buttons do not have a way, in HTML, to be completely deselected except programmatically. This is usually not something you need to do in a form, but in Form Builder this is often desirable. The Itemset Editor now allows you to do just this (with thanks to Aaron Spike).  (#595)
          • Performance improvements. We improved performance of very large forms in Form Builder. (#2183#2181)
        • Form Runner
          • Fix for occasional data loss with section templates. This is an important fix, which we have also backported to previous version of Orbeon Forms. We recommend patching Orbeon Forms if you are using section templates. (#2106)
          • New wizard validated mode. This new wizard mode allows you to only navigate forward if there are no errors on all preceding pages as well as the current page. This helps ensure that the user follows specific steps when filling out a form. (blog post, #2066)
          • Email validation too strict on TLDs supported. Up until recently, it was possible to know which top-level domains (such as .com, . fr, etc.) were actually in use and to include such tests as part of email validation. But currently there are 810 of those, and the number is likely to grow. So we have relaxed our email validator to allow any TLD. (#2116)
          • Configurable PDF file name. You can now configure the filename to use with the PDF button on the Form Runner Detail page. The filename is configurable via XPath and can even depend on form data. (#2122)
          • Accessibility improvements.
            • Screen readers will now tell you whether an input field is invalid and/or required, via the aria-invalid and aria-required attributes. (#2148)
            • The Refresh button now includes a label. (#2158)
            • Button with menus tell you they are collapsed or expanded (#2162)
          • Performance improvements. We implemented a couple of performance enhancements, in particular to handle large form updates under Chrome. (#2185, #2174)
        • XForms
          • Nested required and type elements. You can now use elements instead of attributes to assign required and type model item properties. This allows giving them distinct identifiers and alert messages. (doc and doc, #1978)
          • New functions to access the username,  group and roles. The following functions can be used to access current user information: xxf:username(), xxf:user-group(), and xxf:user-roles(). These functions also work when using headers-based permissions. (doc#2062#2063)
        • Other
          • Namespaced jQuery.  Orbeon Forms is now a better JavaScript citizen by namespacing our version of jQuery. This way you can include your own version of jQuery or Zepto.js in your page, and it won't conflict with the version used by Orbeon Forms. (blog post#1155)


        See Localizing Orbeon Forms for the latest localization support. Localization depends on volunteers, so please let us know if you want to help!

        Other new features and bug-fixes

        Including the major features and enhancements above, we closed over 80 issues since Orbeon Forms 4.8.2 (and almost 100 since 4.8.0).
          Current browser support
          • Form Builder (creating forms)
            • Chrome 42 (latest stable version) and Chrome 44 dev (current dev channel)
            • Firefox 37 (latest  stable version) and the current Firefox ESR
            • IE 11
            • Safari 8
            • Form Runner (accessing form)
              • All browsers supported by Form Builder (see above)
              • IE8, IE9 and IE10
              • Safari Mobile on iOS 7 and iOS 8
              • Chrome for Android (stable channel)
            Compatibility notes
            • jQuery. The version of jQuery used by Orbeon Forms is now "namespaced", which means you can't use it directly anymore by referring to $ or jQuery. Instead, if you want to refer to the version of jQuery used by Orbeon Forms, use ORBEON.jQuery.
            • HTTP header forwarding
              • The oxf.xforms.forward-submission-headers property is deprecated. Use  oxf.http.forward-headers when needed.
              • You don't need to add Orbeon-Client to oxf.http.forward-headers anymore.
              • The XForms xxf:forward-submission-headers attribute on xf:model, which allows to specify header forwarding on a per-form basis, is removed. Use instead the global oxf.http.forward-headers property.
            • XForms error handling
              • XPath static errors now always cause an error upon form load, and XPath dynamic errors never do. (doc)
              • The oxf.xforms.fatal-errors-during-initialization property is removed.
            • Authentication. There is now a separate servlet filter called orbeon-form-runner-auth-servlet-filter which provides authentication information to Form Runner. Previously the functionality performed by this filter was done internally. If you make changes to the Orbeon Forms web.xml file, you need to make sure that this filter is present. If you use the stock web.xml, there shouldn't be any need for changes.

            You can download the latest version of Orbeon Forms from the downloads page.
              Don't forget to grab a trial license for the PE version.

              Please send feedback:
              We hope you enjoy this release!