Thursday, April 23, 2015

Automatic web links in PDF files

Orbeon Forms can automatically produce nice PDF files without any extra work (see the documentation).

While PDFs are useful for printing and archival, they also have a few smarter features. For example, web links in a PDF file can be made clickable, and this is something that Orbeon Forms leverages:

  1. Links in rich text content are clickable and open your web browser to the target link.
  2. Links identified in regular input fields and text areas are automatically highlighted and clickable as well. [1]

And now we have added detection and automatic linking of email addresses in input fields and text areas as well. Here is an example of PDF output with the various types of links Orbeon Forms detects:

Examples of automatic links in a PDF file
Examples of automatic links in a PDF file

This enhancement will be included in Orbeon Forms 4.9. And for the curious, you can see the regular expressions we use for this.

  1. This feature was introduced with Orbeon Forms 4.6, but we hadn’t covered in a blog post yet!  ↩

Monday, April 6, 2015

Adding explanatory text to your forms

Some forms are complex, and form authors want to provide guidance to the end-users who will be filling out those forms. For every field, in addition to a label, form authors can provide:

  • hint, shown below the field. Using a hint works well for short pieces of information that fit comfortably below the field.
  • A help message, shown in a popover when users click on a help icon next to the field. The help works well for longer pieces of texts that users won't necessarily need.
In some cases however, form authors would like to have the explanatory text displayed in-line in the form, instead of in a popover. For instance, this can make sense when end users are likely to need that information, or if the form author wants to draw users' attention to a piece of information. For this, the upcoming Orbeon Forms 4.9 introduces a new "control": the explanation control.

In Form Builder, the explanation control shows in the left sidebar, just like other controls, so form authors can add it anywhere in the form where other controls can be added. Upon inserting an explanation control, in Form Builder, form authors can type text in a rich text editor:

At runtime, when users fill out the form, this text will just show as-is:

Just like the text in the label, hint, and help, text entered in the explanation control is fully localizable, and forms can have different version of that text for all the different languages supported by the form. Form authors can localize the text in an explanation control directly from Form Builder, just like they do for the labelhint, and help.

We'd like to thank Aaron Spike, from the Martin Luther College for contributing a large part of the underlying code for this feature. Thank you, Aaron!