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Constructing an Application with Flash Forms from the Ground Up

You can do much more with them than with simple forms

As you may know by now, ColdFusion 7 includes a new feature that lets us create forms in flash format. They work as a replacement for html forms, but give us some additional controls like the tree, grid, and calendar. Even if making a "form" doesn't sound very appealing to you, once you start using this feature you will find that you can do much more than simple forms.

But the best is that they can enhance the usability of your regular forms, even if they are simple, with built-in features such as validation, tooltips, and tabs. It doesn't take much to make a flash form; basically, we only have to specify that the form's format is flash in the cfform tag and proceed with the cfform elements.

In this article, we'll walk you through the process of creating a small application interface using only flash forms. There's a lot to discover about flash forms, although you don't need know every detail to start using them. Since going over every feature would be impossible, we'll cover some of the most commonly used features that will likely be present in your next application.

To take a look at the interface we'll construct, see Figure 1.

Step 1 - Setting the Layout
Every flash form starts with a cfform tag that encloses the whole form definition and has the format attribute defined as "flash."

<cfform format="flash">

But before we start coding our application, we must first define the layout. In our address book, we have a panel on the left for a list of contacts and three panels on the right, one for previewing the contact info, the second to edit it, and a very small panel to contain a checkbox.

Before the advent of flash forms, we would write html (tables, paragraphs, etc.) to position the form elements. We can't transfer that to flash forms; they require special layout containers. We must use the new tag cfformgroup to position and lay out all elements and controls in a flash form.

To layout our four panels, we use an enclosing <cfformgroup type="hbox"> container that lets us position its contents horizontally. In the hbox, we have a panel labeled "Contacts" and another container, a cfformgroup type="vbox." The vbox contains the other two panels "Preview" and "Edit" that are positioned one below the other. See Figure 2.


<cfformgroup type="hbox">
<cfformgroup type="panel" label="Contacts" width="350">
</cfformgroup>
<cfformgroup type="hbox">
<cfformgroup type="panel" label="Preview"></cfformgroup>
<cfformgroup type="panel" label="Edit"></cfformgroup>
</cfformgroup>
</cfformgroup>
Step 2 - Adding Controls
Now that we have our panels positioned, we can start adding controls.

We show the list of contacts in the left panel in a grid with three columns: first name, last name, and e-mail. The grid's data comes from a query, specified in the "query" attribute of the <cfgrid> tag. firstName, lastName, and e-mail are columns of the query. Later we will need additional columns for the other fields, but we'll just assume our query has all the necessary columns. Note that we also specify rowheaders="false" because we don't want an extra column with row numbers.


<cfgrid name="contactList" query="contactsQuery" rowheaders="false">
<cfgridcolumn name="firstName" header="First Name" />
<cfgridcolumn name="lastName" header="Last Name" />
<cfgridcolumn name="email" header="Email" />
</cfgrid>
We want to be able to add new contacts, so let's add a button at the bottom of the grid:

<cfinput type="button" name="addContact" value="Add Contact" />

The Edit panel is a little more involved because it includes 16 inputs: 14 text inputs, one text area, and one hidden input to contain the id of the contact.


<cfinput type="text" name="firstName" label="First Name:" />
...the rest of the inputs...
<cfinput type="hidden" name="contactId" />
<cftextarea name="comments" height="45" label="Comments:"></cftextarea>
Let's also add two buttons labeled "Delete" and "Add New." These buttons are contained in a <cfformgroup type="horizontal"> tag that lays them next to the one another.

<cfformgroup type="horizontal">
<cfinput type="submit" name="deleteContact" value="Delete" />
<cfinput type="submit" name="addContact" value="Add Contact" />
</cfformgroup>
You may have noticed that "hbox" and "vbox" types are used when we want to position containers horizontally or vertically respectively, and "horizontal" and "vertical" types when we want to position controls.

Step 3 - Binding Controls
In the Edit panel, we have what looks like a typical form: several text inputs, a textarea, and submit buttons. We added them in the last step. However, while you weren't looking, we made a little change to them. Now, every text input looks like this:

<cfinput type="text" name="firstName" label="First Name:"
bind="{contactList.selectedItem.firstName}" />

Everything looks pretty normal, except for one part - bind, a strange-looking attribute with braces around its value. The bind attribute is used to set the value of the control at the evaluation of the expression between the braces. That means that we can put any ActionScript expression that can be evaluated inside the braces and the result will become the value of the control. In our form, we're populating the text inputs with data from the contactList grid, which contains all the columns and rows of the source query. To get the data corresponding to the selected row in the contact list, we access the cfgrid by its name, "contactList" and the special property "selectedItem," which points to the row that's been selected by the user. Then, by using dot notation, we get to the specific column we need, which is different for every input. The complete path would be "contactList.selectedItem.columnName."

More Stories By Nahuel Foronda

Nahuel Foronda is one of the founders of Blue Instant (http://www.blueinstant.com), a web development firm specializing in Rich Internet Applications where he has been creating award-winning applications and offering training for the last five years. He also maintains a blog, called AS Fusion (http://www.asfusion.com), where he writes about Flash, ColdFusion and other web technologies.

More Stories By Laura Arguello

Laura Arguello is one of the founders of Blue Instant (http://www.blueinstant.com), a web development firm specializing in Rich Internet Applications where she has been creating award-winning applications and offering training for the last five years. She also maintains a blog, called AS Fusion (http://www.asfusion.com), where she writes about Flash, ColdFusion and other web technologies.

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