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In all my years of teaching web design, some of the most frequently asked questions that new designers ask center around the building of and the functionality of online forms. In this chapter we will examine using Dreamweaver to help us build and style clean and accessible forms. Unfortunately, making the forms functional is a bit outside the scope of this course. For more information on the processing form data, see David Gassner's Dreamweaver Dynamic Development title in the lynda.com Online Training Library.
However, before we begin building our form, it's important that conceptually you understand how forms work and how websites generally process form data. One of the most popular misconceptions about forms is that the form itself does any work at all. For the most part, forms merely collect the data from your user and send it to another page or script to be processed. This page is typically referred to, logically enough, as the processing page. This page often shows a message that gives users feedback regarding the success or the failure of the form submittal.
Therefore when you log into a website and see a page that says "thanks for logging in," chances are that's the page that did all the work. Forms are created by using a form tag. The form tag contains the name of the form, a method and an action. The action tells the form what to do with the collected data, or where to send it. This is typically a link to the processing page or script. The method describes how the form should send the data. For the method, there are two options: Post and Get. Get appends the form data to the query string, while Post submits the data in the head of the request document.
That basically means that the form data submitted with Get is visible in the page address after submittal, while data submitted with Post is hidden to the end user. The submittal method that you use will depend upon how the processing script is expecting to receive the data, and based on limitations of the submittal types themselves. Data submitted with Get is less secure and risks being truncated due to query string length limitations. Therefore, Get is typically used for non-critical data and short form data, such as a search form.
Post is typically used for more secure transactions and for forms where longer data like user comments are submitted. The form data is then sent to the processing page, where server side software such as ColdFusion, PHP, .NET or JSP receive the data and process it, often using SQL to submit and retrieve data from a database based on the form request itself. This information is then written to the database, returned to the user, or any of the other myriad uses for form data. While this description is a somewhat simplified explanation of how forms work online, for most forms this is the basic framework.
Now that we have a greater understanding of how forms work, we can turn our attention to building our own form.
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