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SharePoint and InfoPath were made for each other. While Microsoft has done a great job with integrating SharePoint with Word and Excel and Outlook, InfoPath is one of those programs that if you're not using it together with SharePoint, you're really missing out on what it can do. But what is it? InfoPath is part of Microsoft Office that you won't find it in every edition of Microsoft Office. It's typically available in the more expensive versions, like Professional Plus rather than Office Standard, and it's one of the newer Office programs, only been around for a few years.
So I still do come across a lot of people that have never used it. InfoPath is a program for creating and filling out electronic forms, and by forms I mean something like a vacation request form, an expense form, a requisition order, purchase order. The kind of thing that yes, you might have previously written that in Word or Excel or converted it to a PDF, but those aren't great ways of making forms. They tend to be brittle, and they can be easily broken, and they can be easily changed. In InfoPath, you can design forms, I'm going to start with a blank form here, where you get the ability to lay out a form using a bunch of graphical controls and then insert the different elements onto that, like text boxes and date pickers and combo boxes, so that without any code you can quite easily create a rich user interface with a lot of control over the data that people have to put on the form in order to fill it out properly.
Now InfoPath works in two very different modes, either designing a form, what I'm doing here, or filling out a form, and in fact in this version of Office for the first time they've actually split it up into two programs, the InfoPath Designer and the InfoPath Filler, and here's the benefit of using InfoPath together with SharePoint. After designing a form we can move it into SharePoint. It's called publishing. We're publishing it into SharePoint as a template, so that we design the Form once, and then we can let hundreds of people fill it out without ever accidentally changing our form.
Let me show you a very quick demo of this. As you might understand, InfoPath itself is really a whole course in itself, but I'll give you some of the basics of the process here. I'm going to make a new InfoPath form. Now you'll notice that even right at the top of InfoPath forms it's got a couple of options that seem to have something to do with SharePoint. In fact, this first option here says you've got a template for a SharePoint form library. Now what is this? Well, a form library in SharePoint is very similar to a document library. It's really a library that's just designed to have an InfoPath form in it, and you'll see exactly the impact of that.
They behave very much like document libraries, but this is the one that I want. I'm going to select that and then say Design Form. I'm going to create a very simple form here. Notice that it gives you some suggestions for adding labels, so we could say well I want to put a name, then it says Add control. I click that and think, well, what would the name be? I'm going to say Text Box. Notice that as I add these fields they start off being called field1, but if I double-click that I can give that a more useful thing like Name. I could put in something like Department.
I'm now going to add a control here that would be a drop-down list. I'll change the value of that to be Department. Because I added this as a drop-down list, I can click this box to say Edit Choices where I can just manually add in a few choices such as my Operations department, my Sales department and my Marketing department. I'll leave it at that for the moment. I'm just doing this as a very quick demo and we could put in say Email. I accidentally added the field name there, there we go, and I'm going to blank out the others.
Let's put in one more here of a date. I'm going to put in a Date Picker. Call that date and here through InfoPath, I can give it a default value. It gives me some suggestions that I can insert a function here, such as average, floor, round. Well we've got some date and time stuff. I've got a Date and let's say today. That looks good, click OK and then in how much I could just put Amount, add a control that's a Text Box. We can say that this is not a text string, this is a decimal, and I could itself put in some data formats here, such as the currency symbol and if I wanted to, I could add some rules to this.
That it has to be between a certain number, and if it's between a certain number show an error or show it up as Bad, don't allow to be submitted. I'm going to leave that as Blank right now. So this is a very simple and straightforward, obviously very simplistic form here, but I'm going to show you the process of taking this and putting this into SharePoint. First I'm just going to save this file, because I'm just working right now on my desktop. This has done nothing with SharePoint right now. The thing that I need to do is go to my File menu and come down and say Publish.
It's going to ask me, where do you want to publish this to, send this by E-mail, send it to a network location or what it prefers, SharePoint Server? I'm going to click that option. it's going to ask, what's the location of the SharePoint site? I'll enter the name of that team site that I've been using all along. Click Next. I'm going to uncheck this option at the top that says Enable this form to be filled out using a browser. I'll come back to that in just a minute. It's going to ask, what do you want to create or modify, a form library? I'm going to accept the default value.
This means basically create my own document library with this in it. It's going to ask and make sure, do you want to make a new form library? Yes, I do, I'm accepting the default on this screen again. Give it a name. I'm going to say Expense Advances. Optional description, I click Next. So now it's going to ask if there's certain fields I want from the form that I want to show up when I'm just looking at the library, the same way that I see title and date modified by when I'm looking at a document library. I'm going to say yes, I'm going to click the Add button, and it's showing me the fields that I defined on my form such as name and department.
I'll just accept those two, click Next and click Publish. My form template was published successfully. I can check to open the form library and click Close, and as we see here we're in a library called Expense Advances in our team site. There's no documents in it. You maybe thinking, well, didn't we upload one? Well no, what we did is we created that InfoPath form as the template for this library. and what that means is if I'm going through my Document option here and I say New Document, it doesn't create a new blank Word document.
It's going to create a new Expense Advance Form. It's actually going to open up InfoPath in the "fill this form out" mode, not the edit mode. Notice that I can't shift things around. I can't change this. I can't drag off controls, I can't accidentally delete a macro, the same way I might have this had been written in Excel for example. So I'll put something in, we'll select a department from the drop-down, we'll put in the email and we could even put in an amount here.
When I close this, it's going to prompt me to save my changes. Do you want to save these changes? Yes, sure, why not? Give it a name and save it back into SharePoint. I'm still looking in InfoPath here because I still have that open. Refresh this library and I actually see that entry there. If I wanted to take a look at this and perhaps edit it again, I can just click the drop-down and say Edit in Microsoft InfoPath. It opens up in the Form Filler mode. I can make the changes. You see those have all been reread in, in the correct place. I'll close down all the different InfoPath windows I had open there.
So while this is obviously a very quick and a very simplistic example of an InfoPath form, you're probably getting the picture that you can create quite powerful forms very quickly with data validation and without code. And there's one more piece to this. In what I just showed you, I created the form using InfoPath and I filled the form out using InfoPath, but what if your users don't have InfoPath? After all InfoPath is not included in the Standard Office applications. Well, there's an answer to that too, but the answer only comes if you have SharePoint 2010 Enterprise, and if you do, there's a feature called Forms Services that really means "turn my InfoPath form into a Web page." I'm going to go back into InfoPath, the Designer and open up the recent form that I was playing around with, that Expense Advance Form.
And once I have the form open in InfoPath, I'm going to go back to my Publish section on the File menu. Rather than Quick Publish, which would just take a change that I've made and keep everything the same, I'm going to republish it to the SharePoint Server. It's keeping all the things that it knows about. Yes, I'm going to go back to that same library. However, this time I'm going to check this box, Enable this form to be filled out using a browser. Now this will require that you have the Enterprise Edition of SharePoint 2010, in fact, if InfoPath detects or even thinks that you don't, it won't allow that option to be checked.
That's the only thing I'm going to do different, and then I'm going to click in the Next button, going to say update the template in the existing form library, click Next, keep my same columns and click Publish. I'm just going to close InfoPath completely down, so it doesn't confuse the picture here anymore, and go back and refresh that library. It looks the same, absolutely, but now when I click Add document, what it's going to do is open up that form, which looks identical, but this time it's in the browser, and what that means is anybody could be now filling out this form and they wouldn't have to have a copy of InfoPath on their own machine, and that's what Forms Services does for you.
Now make no mistake about it, you can use InfoPath just fine with even the most basic version of SharePoint, even SharePoint Foundation, but if you want to take your InfoPath forms and publish them as web pages, you need the Forms Services option that's only in SharePoint Enterprise. Everything else behaves the same way. We've still got the date pickers. We've got the ability to format our numbers. We can click Save. We can just save that directly into that library. It's a very well done web-based version of the InfoPath Form Filler.
Like many pieces of SharePoint, as you can imagine, working with InfoPath could be a multi-hour course all in its own, but these are the core concepts of working with InfoPath and SharePoint, and hopefully, you can understand from this if it's something that you want to pursue or not.
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