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Using HTML Forms with Servlets

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In this sample chapter, Marty Hall discusses using HTML forms as front ends to servlets or other server-side programs. These forms provide simple and reliable user interface controls to collect data from the user and transmit it to the servlet.
This sample chapter is excerpted from Core Servlets and JavaServer Pages (JSP), by Marty Hall.

Topics in This Chapter

  • Sending data from forms
  • Text controls
  • Push buttons
  • Check boxes and radio buttons
  • Combo boxes and list boxes
  • File upload controls
  • Server-side image maps
  • Hidden fields
  • Grouping controls
  • Tab ordering
  • A Web server for debugging forms

This chapter discusses using HTML forms as front ends to servlets or other server-side programs. These forms provide simple and reliable user interface controls to collect data from the user and transmit it to the servlet. The following chapter discusses the use of applets as servlet front ends. Using applets in this role requires considerably more effort and has some security limitations. However, it permits a much richer user interface and can support significantly more efficient and flexible network communication.

To use forms, you'll need to know where to place regular HTML files in order to make them accessible to the Web server. This location varies from server to server, but with the JSWDK and Tomcat, you place an HTML file in install_dir/webpages/path/file.html and then access it via http://localhost/path/file.html (replace localhost with the real hostname if running remotely).

16.1 How HTML Forms Transmit Data

HTML forms let you create a variety of user interface controls to collect input on a Web page. Each of the controls typically has a name and a value, where the name is specified in the HTML and the value comes either from the HTML or by means of user input. The entire form is associated with the URL of a program that will process the data, and when the user submits the form (usually by pressing a button), the names and values of the controls are sent to the designated URL as a string of the form

Name1=Value1&Name2=Value2...NameN=ValueN

This string can be sent to the designated program in one of two ways. The first, which uses the HTTP GET method, appends the string to the end of the specified URL, after a question mark. The second way data can be sent is by the HTTP POST method. Here, the POST request line, the HTTP request headers, and a blank line are first sent to the server, and then the data string is sent on the following line.

For example, Listing 16.1 (HTML code) and Figure 16–1 (typical result) show a simple form with two textfields. The HTML elements that make up this form are discussed in detail in the rest of this chapter, but for now note a couple of things. First, observe that one text field has a name of firstName and the other has a name of lastName. Second, note that the GUI controls are considered text-level (inline) elements, so you need to use explicit HTML formatting to make sure that the controls appear next to the text describing them. Finally, notice that the FORM element designates http://localhost:8088/SomeProgram as the URL to which the data will be sent.

Before submitting the form, I start a server program called EchoServer on port 8088 of my local machine. EchoServer, shown in Section 16.12, is a mini "Web server" used for debugging. No matter what URL is specified and what data is sent to it, it merely returns a Web page showing all the HTTP information sent by the browser. As shown in Figure 16–2, when the form is submitted with Joe in the first textfield and Hacker in the second, the browser simply requests the URL http://localhost:8088/SomeProgram?firstName=Joe&lastName=Hacker. Listing 16.2 (HTML code) and Figure 16–3 (typical result) show a variation that uses POST instead of GET. As shown in Figure 16–4, submitting the form with textfield values of Joe and Hacker results in the line firstName=Joe&lastName=Hacker being sent to the browser on a separate line after the HTTP request headers and a blank line.

That's the general idea behind HTML forms: GUI controls gather data from the user, each control has a name and a value, and a string containing all the name/value pairs is sent to the server when the form is submitted. Extracting the names and values on the server is straightforward in servlets: that was covered in Chapter 3 (Handling the Client Request: FormData). The remainder of this chapter covers options in setting up forms and the various GUI controls you can put in them.

Listing 16.1 GetForm.html

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN">
<HTML>
<HEAD>
 <TITLE>A Sample Form Using GET</TITLE>
</HEAD>

<BODY BGCOLOR="#FDF5E6">
<H2 ALIGN="CENTER">A Sample Form Using GET</H2>

<FORM ACTION="http://localhost:8088/SomeProgram">
 <CENTER>
 First name:
 <INPUT TYPE="TEXT" NAME="firstName" VALUE="Joe"><BR>
 Last name:
 <INPUT TYPE="TEXT" NAME="lastName" VALUE="Hacker"><P>
 <INPUT TYPE="SUBMIT"> 
 <!-- Press this button to submit form -->
 </CENTER>
</FORM>

</BODY>
</HTML>

Figure 16–1 Initial result of GetForm.html.

Figure 16–2 HTTP request sent by Netscape 4.7 when submitting GetForm.html.

Listing 16.2 PostForm.html

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN">
<HTML>
<HEAD>
 <TITLE>A Sample Form Using POST</TITLE>
</HEAD>

<BODY BGCOLOR="#FDF5E6">
<H2 ALIGN="CENTER">A Sample Form Using POST</H2>

<FORM ACTION="http://localhost:8088/SomeProgram"
   METHOD="POST">
 <CENTER>
 First name:
 <INPUT TYPE="TEXT" NAME="firstName" VALUE="Joe"><BR>
 Last name:
 <INPUT TYPE="TEXT" NAME="lastName" VALUE="Hacker"><P>
 <INPUT TYPE="SUBMIT">
 </CENTER>
</FORM>

</BODY>
</HTML>

Figure 16–3 Initial result of PostForm.html.

Figure 16–4 HTTP request sent by Netscape 4.7 when submitting PostForm.html.

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