Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Creating web forms can be a time-consuming development task. For web developers looking for a way to simplify and shorten the form-creation process, Simfatic Forms 3.0 offers help. The product's simple promise is to let you quickly and easily create web forms for your website. I'll walk through my experience of creating a sample form using Simfatic Forms and review the product's primary strengths and limitations.
Installation is simple and painless. The only decision you really need to make is where you want the program to save files to. This is important because you'll later need to move these files to your web server for the form to display online—so if there are only certain folders that you connect to an FTP server, for instance, that would be the place to have these files go.
Once you open Simfatic Forms, you'll notice that the form-creation process consists of five to 10 simple steps, depending on what level of customization you select. In the first option, General, you select the form's name, whether you'd like to use standard look and feel or custom (for colors and border sizes), and whether you'd like to use the native form-processing capability in Simfatic or your own form processor.
If you chose custom look and feel, the next step will be to choose from some basic design options. You can select the color, border thickness, and background color for the form, headings, and so on. You can choose from a basic selection of colors or type your own color combination in, so it's very easy to create a form consistent with your website's colors. Now, click Next and move on to drawing the form itself.
Creating the Form
You're taken to a nice GUI where you can pick and choose what elements to use from your form, as Figure 1 shows.
Next to most of the options is an arrow that leads to more default options. So for instance, if you click the arrow next to the Textbox field, you can choose from Name, Email, and a dozen other options. Click an option, and the field will pop into your window displaying what the form will look like. If no option exists for the category name you're looking for (e.g., Favorite Superhero), you can just enter the Name textbox, for instance, then double-click Name and change the value to Favorite Superhero.
From there, add any other fields you need for your web form. One of the things I really like about Simfatic Forms is that it automatically enters each new field in a location that aesthetically makes sense, reducing the amount of manual shuffling around you need to do with the fields on your form. To put this in perspective, I can easily create a form that asks for Name, Address, Phone Number, Email, a few basic Yes/No questions, and a Comments box, then Submit and Reset buttons in about 30 seconds, as Figure 2 shows.
However, the product has some limitations to the drawing process. For instance, you're fairly restricted to the stylistic choices used in the program. Most people probably won't care that the radio buttons are a certain style, and there's not much you can do to change that, but I feel like it's worth mentioning. You can add images but can't link them to the form, so you're pretty much stuck with the types of buttons and boxes used in the program.
In the next menu, you can select a number of input parameters. First, decide which fields you'd like to make mandatory for users to complete the form and what format a response must take (e.g., an email address). Next, define minimum or maximum character limits for your fields. The comparison option lets you draw comparisons between different field entries, such as stipulating that one answer must be a number greater than another. Finally, you can create string patterns for each field, to further verify that someone has submitted a valid postal code, for instance.
Selecting Form-Processing Options
In this menu, you can add any of the following options to your form:
• Show a "confirm the data" page. This will automatically take visitors to a separate page after they click Submit, listing their responses and asking them to confirm accuracy.
• Mail the submitted form data to one or more email addresses. If you'd like to receive an email every time someone submits the form, click this.
• Send an auto response to the visitor who submitted the form. Constructing a response email is a good opportunity to make first contact with the user and offers an opportunity to provide additional information about your company or products.
• Save the form submission data in a database table or to a file on the server.
For each box you check, you'll get one more step added to the creation process. For most of these extra pages, there is an Auto Generate Page that prevents you from manually creating all these pages. The final step to complete is to create a thank you page that users will be redirected to. You can opt to have Simfatic auto-generate this page.
Uploading the Form
Finally, click the Take the Code! option to upload the form. For step one, simply type in your website URL. In step two, select what email address to display in your outgoing email message (the default is [email protected]). In step three, you'll select the location on your LAN where the code files will go. Take note of this location, because you'll need to find it to send the files up to the server. (If you selected the save the form submission data in a database table option, you'll also have a step where you input the database server name, database name, and username/password.)
In step four, select whether to use Simfatic Forms' swift upload or to manually upload and configure the script. If you click swift upload, input the URL and username/password information for your web server, and it should work automatically. If you select to manually upload this information, you'll need to create a folder on your web server and provide the path to that folder. Finally, you'll need to either upload all the script files via FTP or manually upload them to the server. Manually uploading the files is a pain because it requires you to create separate folders to mirror the forms folder's structure, then upload 20 or so files. Once you've completed the upload, you should also get a code output that you can take to add this form to any web page.
One important feature of Simfatic Forms is the ability to create templates from your created forms. So, for example, if you'd like to use a standard color scheme across all your forms, you can save a base template with just this information entered. Also, once you've created a template with the data for your database and web server already added, non-technical users can create and upload forms themselves, significantly reducing the back and forth of creating these web forms. (Or staff can draw the form, then let IT upload it.)
Drastically Simplify Creating Basic Forms
If your organization frequently needs to create basic web forms, using Simfatic Forms can make the process simple and painless. Best of all, the product lets you put the form-creation process in the hands of people who have requested the form, such as marketing or sales staff. A free 30-day trial of the product is available at simfatic.com.
Brian Reinholz ([email protected]itpro.com) is production editor for DevConnections, System iNEWS, Windows IT Pro, and SQL Server Magazine, specializing in training and certification.