Working with Data on the Web
Illustration by John Hersey

Interacting with data through HTML forms


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Working with Data on the Web

with Joseph Lowery

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Video: Interacting with data through HTML forms

Often the data you need to display in your webpage comes from a preexisting source like a CSV file. However, just as frequently you're called upon to gather data from your site visitors. And the only way to do that is through a form. In this lesson, we'll take a brief look at what you need in place to successfully pull data from your web site audience. The first thing you'll need is some sort of server-side technology. As of this recording, there's no reliable way to use a client-side technology like JavaScript.
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Watch the Online Video Course Working with Data on the Web
2h 21m Intermediate Aug 21, 2013

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Often, designers need to convey simple data without the overhead of a relational database such as MySQL. This course introduces web technologies that make it easy for a designer or developer to store, retrieve, and display data online.

First, discover how data is collected via standard and advanced HTML5 forms. Then look at a client-friendly approach to storing that data using simple CSV files. Next, Joseph shows how to store, manage, and style data with the three big players: the granddaddy of static data, XML; the popular JavaScript-based JSON; and the recursively named YAML (YAML Ain't Markup Language), frequently used in Ruby-based projects. Plus, take a close look at basic HTML5 data options, including local storage and the flexible data attribute.

Topics include:
  • Interacting with data through HTML forms
  • Storing data as comma-separated values
  • Saving, retrieving, and displaying data as XML
  • Setting up and updating JSON data
  • Creating a YAML data file
  • Using HTML5 data storage solutions
Subjects:
Developer Web
Software:
HTML XML CSS JSON YAML
Author:
Joseph Lowery

Interacting with data through HTML forms

Often the data you need to display in your webpage comes from a preexisting source like a CSV file. However, just as frequently you're called upon to gather data from your site visitors. And the only way to do that is through a form. In this lesson, we'll take a brief look at what you need in place to successfully pull data from your web site audience. The first thing you'll need is some sort of server-side technology. As of this recording, there's no reliable way to use a client-side technology like JavaScript.

Including frameworks like jQuery to write to a file. For that, you'll need to use a server side tech like PHP, .NET, or the old standby CGI. It's beyond the scope of this course to go into the details of exactly how it's done. But I found that many beginning web designers are under the impression that a form by itself can handle these chores. It cannot. Next, you'll want to be aware of security concerns. Unfortunately, there are many bad actors out there who are willing and, indeed, eager to take advantage of the inherent openness of forum text fields and text areas.

Basically, if a user can enter text into a field, it's a risk. You need to make sure that executable code cannot be injected into your form. Whichever server side technology you use, you want to make sure that you strip out any executable code. Most languages have one or more functions that can handle this. For example in PHP, you could use htmlspecialchars as a function or htmlentities to convert any code to a harmless string of characters.

To get rid of any imbedded code entirely, in PHP, you use the strip_tags function. Another important measure which also adds an additional level of security as well as getting you one step closer to the data you need is form validation. You can validate your form on either the server or client side. Many web developers use a client side technology like JavaScript, because it's very easy to implement. And perhaps more importantly can give the site visitors feedback as they traverse through the form.

Specific implementation of validation is, again beyond the scope of this course. But I can point you to two really great jQuery solutions. The first, is the jQuery validation plugin, which has been around since 2006. It was created and is maintained by Jörn Zaefferer a member of the jQuery team, and lead developer on the jQuery UI team. The syntax, is very easy to implement, and is compatible with HTML5 coding standards.

You can find it at jquervalidation.org. Let's take a quick look at a demo. As the note at the very top of this page indicates, the top form validates on submission. So if I click Submit without filling in anything, you'll see all the error messages appear. Pretty handy, pretty straightforward. The other validation plug in I'd like to mention, is a bit more recent. It's the validation engine by Canadian developer Cedric Dugas.

The code is available through GitHub. But I also recommend that you check out the blog post that he mentions here. A Query in line form validation, because validation is a mess. Which you can find on the position absolute site. One of the things I really like about the validation engine is its default use of pop-up error messages. Let me show you what I mean on their demo page. Now, if I go into the first field here and just tab past it, because it's required, an error message appears as a pop-up. Pretty hard to miss right? Of course, you have complete control over styling and positioning.

These are just two of the possible validation solutions. There are literally tons available. Or, you could code your own. But whatever course you take, I strongly recommend that you include validation on all your forms. So you and your clients, can be assured of getting all the data, required.

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