Home > Articles > Web Development > HTML/CSS

XForms: Are They for Real?

The "next big thing" for facilitating interaction between web sites and devices may be XForms, a proposal currently under discussion by W3C. In this article, Jasmit Singh Kochhar discusses what XForms is all about, and shows how the coding would work for creating a standard online form.
Like this article? We recommend

Like this article? We recommend

My previous articles discussed how to use the existing web infrastructure to submit XML documents. The examples revolved around using the HTML form elements that were processed suitably on the server side into an XML tree by Active Server Pages or a Java class. But what if I told you that "soon" there will be a technology available that allows us to submit XML data directly to the server without using even one line of the code we previously discussed? This article introduces the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Markup Working Group's current proposal to introduce XForms and explains how it's likely to simplify the interaction between a web infrastructure and a device like a browser on your workstation. I'll also discuss what resources are available for you to find out more about this set of standards.

Before We Begin: Why Do We Need "Another" Forms Technology?

HTML forms need no introduction. They're pervasive on the web—from the airline tickets that you search for on Expedia to the next DMV appointment that you schedule online. They're being used to collect information or to allow searching of information all over the web in very innovative ways. Every interaction that we have with a web site that provides dynamic content uses HTML forms in some shape or form. The ubiquitous <FORM> element, along with its range of radio buttons, check boxes, text boxes, select lists, and text areas, is found on almost every site on the web.

But there are distinct challenges to this approach. HTML forms have originated from the initial objective of HTML to provide user-readable information. This implies that the data in these forms is very closely coupled with how the information needs to be presented. The HTML forms require that the data submitted be validated by either some JavaScript code on the client browser or be validated at the server end by some server-based code for its integrity. In addition to validation, the scripts may be required for calculations, business logic, and ensuring that all required data is available. The data from an HTML form is submitted as URL-encoded name/value pairs (as discussed in a previous article). This implies that all data is treated as string data, unless the program on the server suitably converts it and processes the data with the associated types.

Even though HTML's <FORM> element has become so successful, it suffers from the lowest-common-denominator syndrome for its controls. Despite the number of years that the technology has been in common use, we don't have a slider control, a gliding scale to represent continuous values, a drag-and-drop for widgets, or other GUI elements that we take for granted in other user interfaces.

Also, it's fairly challenging for developers to deal with devices other than a web browser on platforms other than a workstation or a PC. Handheld devices that have similar interaction needs use a stripped-down version of HTML and HTML forms. Companies like Everypath are good examples of business models that provide services to enable web sites for handheld content, by acting as a translation layer between handheld devices and the actual web site.

Another challenging aspect for HTML form-based applications is forms that span multiple pages. For example, suppose you apply online for some insurance. Based on the questions that you answer on the first page of the form, you're provided with a series of questions on subsequent pages until you finish the application process. Typically, this interaction and flow is handled in one of the following ways:

  • Cookies are saved on the user's browser, containing some of the content from previous pages or the unique identifier of the user's session, which binds it to some session-information table. This session table may be persisted in the memory of the server (usually a bad programming practice) or a temporary table, which allows the information to be built on the final submit.

  • An easier approach is typically to hide this information as hidden form fields. As the user goes from one step to the next, the corresponding data is a payload that piggybacks on the HTML form of the next step. This continues until the final submit, when the hidden data from all the previous steps is finally committed to the application.

Needless to say, each of these approaches can be reasonably challenging.

Developers have been creating applications that are based on content-scrapping from other services or that involve interaction of two machines, by using HTTP web interfaces to exchange XHTML information. The applications rely heavily on predefined mapping templates and are prone to lot of parsing errors because any change in structure of one site affects the interaction between the two systems.

Keeping in mind the above limitations of the current HTML-based infrastructure, a subgroup of the W3C Markup Working Group has proposed XForms to improve human/machine and machine/machine interaction.

InformIT Promotional Mailings & Special Offers

I would like to receive exclusive offers and hear about products from InformIT and its family of brands. I can unsubscribe at any time.


Pearson Education, Inc., 221 River Street, Hoboken, New Jersey 07030, (Pearson) presents this site to provide information about products and services that can be purchased through this site.

This privacy notice provides an overview of our commitment to privacy and describes how we collect, protect, use and share personal information collected through this site. Please note that other Pearson websites and online products and services have their own separate privacy policies.

Collection and Use of Information

To conduct business and deliver products and services, Pearson collects and uses personal information in several ways in connection with this site, including:

Questions and Inquiries

For inquiries and questions, we collect the inquiry or question, together with name, contact details (email address, phone number and mailing address) and any other additional information voluntarily submitted to us through a Contact Us form or an email. We use this information to address the inquiry and respond to the question.

Online Store

For orders and purchases placed through our online store on this site, we collect order details, name, institution name and address (if applicable), email address, phone number, shipping and billing addresses, credit/debit card information, shipping options and any instructions. We use this information to complete transactions, fulfill orders, communicate with individuals placing orders or visiting the online store, and for related purposes.


Pearson may offer opportunities to provide feedback or participate in surveys, including surveys evaluating Pearson products, services or sites. Participation is voluntary. Pearson collects information requested in the survey questions and uses the information to evaluate, support, maintain and improve products, services or sites, develop new products and services, conduct educational research and for other purposes specified in the survey.

Contests and Drawings

Occasionally, we may sponsor a contest or drawing. Participation is optional. Pearson collects name, contact information and other information specified on the entry form for the contest or drawing to conduct the contest or drawing. Pearson may collect additional personal information from the winners of a contest or drawing in order to award the prize and for tax reporting purposes, as required by law.


If you have elected to receive email newsletters or promotional mailings and special offers but want to unsubscribe, simply email information@informit.com.

Service Announcements

On rare occasions it is necessary to send out a strictly service related announcement. For instance, if our service is temporarily suspended for maintenance we might send users an email. Generally, users may not opt-out of these communications, though they can deactivate their account information. However, these communications are not promotional in nature.

Customer Service

We communicate with users on a regular basis to provide requested services and in regard to issues relating to their account we reply via email or phone in accordance with the users' wishes when a user submits their information through our Contact Us form.

Other Collection and Use of Information

Application and System Logs

Pearson automatically collects log data to help ensure the delivery, availability and security of this site. Log data may include technical information about how a user or visitor connected to this site, such as browser type, type of computer/device, operating system, internet service provider and IP address. We use this information for support purposes and to monitor the health of the site, identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents and appropriately scale computing resources.

Web Analytics

Pearson may use third party web trend analytical services, including Google Analytics, to collect visitor information, such as IP addresses, browser types, referring pages, pages visited and time spent on a particular site. While these analytical services collect and report information on an anonymous basis, they may use cookies to gather web trend information. The information gathered may enable Pearson (but not the third party web trend services) to link information with application and system log data. Pearson uses this information for system administration and to identify problems, improve service, detect unauthorized access and fraudulent activity, prevent and respond to security incidents, appropriately scale computing resources and otherwise support and deliver this site and its services.

Cookies and Related Technologies

This site uses cookies and similar technologies to personalize content, measure traffic patterns, control security, track use and access of information on this site, and provide interest-based messages and advertising. Users can manage and block the use of cookies through their browser. Disabling or blocking certain cookies may limit the functionality of this site.

Do Not Track

This site currently does not respond to Do Not Track signals.


Pearson uses appropriate physical, administrative and technical security measures to protect personal information from unauthorized access, use and disclosure.


This site is not directed to children under the age of 13.


Pearson may send or direct marketing communications to users, provided that

  • Pearson will not use personal information collected or processed as a K-12 school service provider for the purpose of directed or targeted advertising.
  • Such marketing is consistent with applicable law and Pearson's legal obligations.
  • Pearson will not knowingly direct or send marketing communications to an individual who has expressed a preference not to receive marketing.
  • Where required by applicable law, express or implied consent to marketing exists and has not been withdrawn.

Pearson may provide personal information to a third party service provider on a restricted basis to provide marketing solely on behalf of Pearson or an affiliate or customer for whom Pearson is a service provider. Marketing preferences may be changed at any time.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user's personally identifiable information changes (such as your postal address or email address), we provide a way to correct or update that user's personal data provided to us. This can be done on the Account page. If a user no longer desires our service and desires to delete his or her account, please contact us at customer-service@informit.com and we will process the deletion of a user's account.


Users can always make an informed choice as to whether they should proceed with certain services offered by InformIT. If you choose to remove yourself from our mailing list(s) simply visit the following page and uncheck any communication you no longer want to receive: www.informit.com/u.aspx.

Sale of Personal Information

Pearson does not rent or sell personal information in exchange for any payment of money.

While Pearson does not sell personal information, as defined in Nevada law, Nevada residents may email a request for no sale of their personal information to NevadaDesignatedRequest@pearson.com.

Supplemental Privacy Statement for California Residents

California residents should read our Supplemental privacy statement for California residents in conjunction with this Privacy Notice. The Supplemental privacy statement for California residents explains Pearson's commitment to comply with California law and applies to personal information of California residents collected in connection with this site and the Services.

Sharing and Disclosure

Pearson may disclose personal information, as follows:

  • As required by law.
  • With the consent of the individual (or their parent, if the individual is a minor)
  • In response to a subpoena, court order or legal process, to the extent permitted or required by law
  • To protect the security and safety of individuals, data, assets and systems, consistent with applicable law
  • In connection the sale, joint venture or other transfer of some or all of its company or assets, subject to the provisions of this Privacy Notice
  • To investigate or address actual or suspected fraud or other illegal activities
  • To exercise its legal rights, including enforcement of the Terms of Use for this site or another contract
  • To affiliated Pearson companies and other companies and organizations who perform work for Pearson and are obligated to protect the privacy of personal information consistent with this Privacy Notice
  • To a school, organization, company or government agency, where Pearson collects or processes the personal information in a school setting or on behalf of such organization, company or government agency.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that we are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of each and every web site that collects Personal Information. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this web site.

Requests and Contact

Please contact us about this Privacy Notice or if you have any requests or questions relating to the privacy of your personal information.

Changes to this Privacy Notice

We may revise this Privacy Notice through an updated posting. We will identify the effective date of the revision in the posting. Often, updates are made to provide greater clarity or to comply with changes in regulatory requirements. If the updates involve material changes to the collection, protection, use or disclosure of Personal Information, Pearson will provide notice of the change through a conspicuous notice on this site or other appropriate way. Continued use of the site after the effective date of a posted revision evidences acceptance. Please contact us if you have questions or concerns about the Privacy Notice or any objection to any revisions.

Last Update: November 17, 2020