You will be redirected in 30 seconds or close now.

ColdFusion Authors: Yakov Fain, Jeremy Geelan, Maureen O'Gara, Nancy Y. Nee, Tad Anderson

Related Topics: ColdFusion

ColdFusion: Article

Data Entry ReFORMed

Data Entry ReFORMed

HTML-based data entry is a pain, both for developers and for end users. There's no way to sugarcoat it, HTML forms as used today are pathetic. Sure, there are new form specifications on the way, but they are not yet in use, browsers don't support them, and they are still unproven entities. Luckily, there's an option available right now; it's called Macromedia Flash MX.

The Forms Quagmire
Are HTML forms really that bad? Consider the following, first, from a developer's perspective:

  • HTML form controls are limited; you can't extend HTML with your own controls (simple things like date choosers or calendars).
  • HTML form controls provide almost no automatic validation (sure, you can validate text post-input, but you can't prevent the user from typing invalid characters in the first place).
  • There is no simple event model in form controls; basic form control that should be simple (things like graying out controls or making them available based on other selections) is anything but.
  • And one of the most annoying of all, because browsers cannot make round-trips to servers within a page, it is impossible to do things like creating side-by-side list boxes whereby options in one change based on selections in another. (We've all tried this one at some point.)

    To make up for these limitations, developers create multipart forms. These are not a feature of HTML, they are a hack born of necessity. Consider the following, this time from an end user's perspective:

  • Server-side form field validation is time-consuming and extremely annoying. Forcing a user to hit "Back" to make corrections is not user friendly.
  • Some browsers may even lose all entered data, requiring the user to reenter it all.
  • Users will often submit forms multiple times, or hit Back and Refresh repeatedly, creating multiple records or executing multiple requests (which they'll then e-mail you about later).

    And this is just the start of it. As a developer you've probably wasted countless hours having to accommodate for glaring inadequacies in HTML as it exists today.

    Which brings us to Flash MX.

    Why Flash-Based Forms?
    I am not going to sell you on the virtues of Flash - that's another column, and one probably better suited to be written by the Flash experts among us. For now, suffice it to say that Flash is readily available, can be very lightweight, is extremely portable, and (this is the most important part) can be used for more than animation, movies, and annoying popup ads.

    Not that I'm saying Flash should not be used for those things, it should be (well, maybe not for those popup ads that invade your screen, but for everything else). But Flash can also be used for building entire application clients or parts thereof, parts like forms.

    So why don't you see more Flash-based forms out there? There are a couple of reasons for this. First, until recently, Flash was rather inaccessible to developers (those of us who actually create forms); the tool was geared far more toward designers. And second, creating forms meant starting from scratch - actually creating form controls.

    Flash MX addresses both of these problems. It is far more developer friendly than any previous version of Flash, and it also comes with all sorts of form controls that you can literally just drag and drop into place.

    That alone makes Flash MX an ideal solution for building forms, but it gets better. Flash MX and ColdFusion MX can talk to each other with minimal work on your part, which makes creating forms that interact with back-end processing very easy.

    Still not convinced? I'll show you. Let's walk through an example together, in which we'll build a Flash-based form used to select an employee. For this example, we'll create the much-needed side-by-side list boxes. The left list box will display departments, and when a department is selected, the right list box will automatically update with the employees in that department allowing easy selection.

    The Back End
    ColdFusion MX and Flash MX interact in several ways, but one of the simplest is via ColdFusion Components (explained in detail in CFDJ Volume 4, issues 6, 7, and 10). So we'll start with a simple CFC which contains two methods: GetDepartment returns a list of all departments, and GetEmployees returns all employees (either in a specific department or in all departments. Here is employees.cfc:

    <!--- employees.cfc --->
    GetDepartments method
    Get all departments.
    <CFFUNCTION NAME="GetDepartments"

    <!--- Get departments --->
    <CFQUERY NAME="Departments"
    SELECT *
    FROM tblDepartments
    ORDER BY DepartmentName

    <!--- Return query --->
    <CFRETURN Departments>


    GetEmployees method
    Get all employees if no department
    specified, otherwise gets employees
    in specified department.
    <CFFUNCTION NAME="GetEmployees"
    <!--- Optional department ID --->
    <!--- Get employees --->
    <CFQUERY NAME="Employees"
    SELECT *
    FROM tblEmployees
    <CFIF IsDefined("DeptID")>
    WHERE DeptIDFK = '#DeptID#'
    ORDER BY LastName, FirstName

    <!--- Return query --->
    <CFRETURN Employees>


    Create a simple ColdFusion script to test the component. The following code invokes GetDepartments and lists the returned department names:

    <CFINVOKE COMPONENT="employees"

    <CFOUTPUT QUERY="depts">
    The following snippet tests the GetEmployees method, again displaying returned data in a list:

    <CFINVOKE COMPONENT="employees"
    <CFOUTPUT QUERY="emps">
    <LI>#Lastname#, #FirstName#</LI>
    Assuming that the code worked correctly, you now have a CFC capable of accessing and returning data - a component that may be used by ColdFusion (as in this test code) and also by client-side Flash.

    Creating the Flash Movie
    Now fire up Flash MX. We're going to keep the Flash really simple - we'll ignore frames, layers, animation, tweening, etc., so feel free to close the TimeLine window (as I routinely do). The only windows you'll need open are the Actions window, the Properties window, and the Components window (as seen in Figure 1).

    Next, save the new (empty) Flash movie somewhere beneath your Web root (so that you can get to it).

    The form we'll create has two drop-down list boxes (actually called ComboBoxes), so drag two ComboBoxes from the Components window (make sure the drop-down list at the top of the window reads "Flash UI Components") onto the stage. We'll also need a Submit button so drag a PushButton component onto the stage as well. You now have three ready-to-use components on your stage (as seen in Figure 2).

    The next step is to name the instances of the components we just placed on the stage (so as to be able to programmatically script them). Make sure the Properties window is open, then click on each of the three components to access its properties:

  • Click on the left ComboBox and specify dept_cb as the instance name (as seen in Figure 3).
  • Click on the right ComboBox and specify dept_emp as the instance name.
  • Click on the button and specify submit_btn as the instance name and Submit as the label.

    Save the movie and then execute it. Either select Test Movie from the Control menu to run it right within Flash, or select Publish from the File menu to publish the movie so that it may be loaded in a Web browser. You now have a working (albeit rather useless) Flash-based form (as shown in Figure 4).

    ColdFusion-Powered Flash
    Now we need to get Flash to interact with the CFC. Open the Actions window (if it is not already open) and make sure the Actions for Frame 1 of Layer Name Layer 1 option is selected from the drop-down list above it, and enter the following ActionScript code (as seen in Figure 5):

    #include "NetServices.as"
    #include "DataGlue.as"

    // Init stuff
    if (inited == undefined) {
    inited = true;
    // Configure connection to ColdFusion
    var gwURL = "http://localhost:8500/flashservices/gateway";
    gw = NetServices.createGatewayConnection();
    employeeService = gw.getService("cfflash.employees", this);
    // Invoke the GetDepartments method

    The first two lines of code are include statements (kind of like <CFINCLUDE> in CFML). The first includes support for Flash Remoting (the ability to interact with back-end systems like ColdFusion) and the second includes DataGlue, a series of functions that dramatically simplifies binding returned data to UI controls (as you will soon see).

    The next block of code is initialization code that needs to be run only once, as it checks to see if it, itself, has been run already (checking for a variable that is defined within the if statement).

    A variable is then declared to store the URL to the Flash Gateway on the ColdFusion MX server. The snippet shown here accesses a local ColdFusion MX using the integrated HTTP server, so the URL is localhost:8500. You'll need to change this to point to your own ColdFusion server as needed.

    The next few lines of code create a gateway connection, and then a local reference to a remote CFC. The path here is specified as cfflash.employees which points to the employees.cfc file in the cfflash directory. You'll need to change that path as needed so that it points to your own employees.cfc file.

    The last line of code actually calls the GetDepartments method. Flash knows that employeeService has been bound to a CFC on the other end of a connection, and so a call to employeeService.GetDepartments() is actually a call to the GetDepartments method in the service bound to employeeService. As soon as this last line of code is executed, Flash will have a query containing the list of departments.

    If you were to run the Flash movie now, it would look no different than it did before. Data is being retrieved but nothing is being done with it (think of it as a <CFQUERY> without a <CFOUTPUT>). The next step is to tell Flash how to populate the appropriate ComboBox with the retrieved data.

    When GetDepartments() is executed, results are returned. Flash automatically looks for a function named GetDepartments_Result(), and will execute it if present. So we'll need to create that function which will loop through the returned data, processing one row at a time and inserting them into the ComboBox. Fortunately you don't have to do that manually; that's where DataGlue comes into play. Here is the GetDepartments_Result() function:

    // Process retrieved departments
    function GetDepartments_Result(result) {
    // Populate dept_cb with results
    As you can see, GetDepartments_Result() is really simple. It calls DataGlue.bindFormatStrings() to bind the data in result to ComboBox dept_cb using #DepartmentName# as the label (display text) and #DepartmentID# as the value.

    While we're at it, add a similar function to process results returned by GetEmployees(), as we'll be needing that next:

    // Process retrieved employees
    function GetEmployees_Result(result) {
    // Populate emp_cb with results
    "#lastname#, #firstname#",
    If you save and execute the Flash movie, you'll now see that the left ComboBox is being populated by data returned by ColdFusion. So far, so good. Now for the left ComboBox. What we need is a way to force the left ComboBox to refresh each time a selection is made in the right ComboBox. First create a new function named employeesRefresh(). Each time this function is called, it invokes the GetEmployees method in the employees.cfc (which in turn triggers the GetEmployees_Result() function just created). In order to get employees for the currently selected department, the getSelectedItem() ComboBox method is used to get the current department ID, which is passed as a parameter to GetEmployees(). Here is the employeesRefresh() function:

    // dept_cb change handler
    function employeesRefresh() {
    // Invoke GetEmployees method

    To actually get this employeesRefresh() function to be executed when a department selection is made, all we need to do is add the following code into the initialization code (you can put it right after the inited=true;):

    // Set change handler for first combobox
    This code sets employeesRefresh as the change handler for dept_cb (the left ComboBox), so that any time a change is made in dept_cb, employeesRefresh() will be executed and the employee list will be refreshed which in turn will force emp_cb to be updated.

    Try out your new form. You should see both ComboBoxes populated (as seen in Figure 6) and whenever a department is selected, the employees in that department will be listed automatically. This process makes round-trips to ColdFusion as needed, but it happens so quickly and efficiently (and without needing a page refresh) that you'd never even know.

    There is one last step needed. To actually submit the form, you need form processing code, something that will be executed when the submit button is clicked. Here is the code:

    // Process submit button pressed
    submit_btn.onrelease = function () {
    EmployeeID = emp_cb.getSelectedItem().data;
    getURL("action.cfm", "", "POST");
    To post a form variable, you first need to create it, so the first line of code creates a variable named EmployeeID, and populates it with whatever the id of the selected employee is (again using the getSelectedItem() method). Then getURL is used to actually submit the form fields; here the action page is named action.cfm but you can name yours whatever you'd like. For a simple test you can create an action.cfm that contains the following:

    EmployeeID: #EmployeeID#
    And there you have it. That's all the code you need to create side-by-side ComboBoxes that do exactly what is needed without requiring a single screen refresh. Just to be on the safe side, Listing 1 shows the complete ActionScript code listing.

    Creating Flash-based forms is not complicated once you understand the basic steps. Using the form components that are provided removes the need for UI work (where most of us CFers would have gotten stuck) and requires minimal ActionScript. The best part of it is that the form we just created is highly usable and is only 11K in size (yes, believe it or not, Flash need not be big and bloated).

    Give it a try (and be sure to go to the Developers Exchange at www.macromedia.com to download additional form controls, including a complete calendar, a tree control, and even a data grid). You'll find that Web-page form nightmares are a thing of the past.

  • More Stories By Ben Forta

    Ben Forta is Adobe's Senior Technical Evangelist. In that capacity he spends a considerable amount of time talking and writing about Adobe products (with an emphasis on ColdFusion and Flex), and providing feedback to help shape the future direction of the products. By the way, if you are not yet a ColdFusion user, you should be. It is an incredible product, and is truly deserving of all the praise it has been receiving. In a prior life he was a ColdFusion customer (he wrote one of the first large high visibility web sites using the product) and was so impressed he ended up working for the company that created it (Allaire). Ben is also the author of books on ColdFusion, SQL, Windows 2000, JSP, WAP, Regular Expressions, and more. Before joining Adobe (well, Allaire actually, and then Macromedia and Allaire merged, and then Adobe bought Macromedia) he helped found a company called Car.com which provides automotive services (buy a car, sell a car, etc) over the Web. Car.com (including Stoneage) is one of the largest automotive web sites out there, was written entirely in ColdFusion, and is now owned by Auto-By-Tel.

    Comments (4)

    Share your thoughts on this story.

    Add your comment
    You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

    In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

    @ThingsExpo Stories
    Imagine if you will, a retail floor so densely packed with sensors that they can pick up the movements of insects scurrying across a store aisle. Or a component of a piece of factory equipment so well-instrumented that its digital twin provides resolution down to the micrometer.
    In his keynote at 18th Cloud Expo, Andrew Keys, Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise, provided an overview of the evolution of the Internet and the Database and the future of their combination – the Blockchain. Andrew Keys is Co-Founder of ConsenSys Enterprise. He comes to ConsenSys Enterprise with capital markets, technology and entrepreneurial experience. Previously, he worked for UBS investment bank in equities analysis. Later, he was responsible for the creation and distribution of life settle...
    BnkToTheFuture.com is the largest online investment platform for investing in FinTech, Bitcoin and Blockchain companies. We believe the future of finance looks very different from the past and we aim to invest and provide trading opportunities for qualifying investors that want to build a portfolio in the sector in compliance with international financial regulations.
    No hype cycles or predictions of a gazillion things here. IoT is here. You get it. You know your business and have great ideas for a business transformation strategy. What comes next? Time to make it happen. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jay Mason, an Associate Partner of Analytics, IoT & Cybersecurity at M&S Consulting, presented a step-by-step plan to develop your technology implementation strategy. He also discussed the evaluation of communication standards and IoT messaging protocols, data...
    Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
    In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Raju Shreewastava, founder of Big Data Trunk, provided a fun and simple way to introduce Machine Leaning to anyone and everyone. He solved a machine learning problem and demonstrated an easy way to be able to do machine learning without even coding. Raju Shreewastava is the founder of Big Data Trunk (www.BigDataTrunk.com), a Big Data Training and consulting firm with offices in the United States. He previously led the data warehouse/business intelligence and B...
    "IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
    A strange thing is happening along the way to the Internet of Things, namely far too many devices to work with and manage. It has become clear that we'll need much higher efficiency user experiences that can allow us to more easily and scalably work with the thousands of devices that will soon be in each of our lives. Enter the conversational interface revolution, combining bots we can literally talk with, gesture to, and even direct with our thoughts, with embedded artificial intelligence, whic...
    Product connectivity goes hand and hand these days with increased use of personal data. New IoT devices are becoming more personalized than ever before. In his session at 22nd Cloud Expo | DXWorld Expo, Nicolas Fierro, CEO of MIMIR Blockchain Solutions, will discuss how in order to protect your data and privacy, IoT applications need to embrace Blockchain technology for a new level of product security never before seen - or needed.
    Leading companies, from the Global Fortune 500 to the smallest companies, are adopting hybrid cloud as the path to business advantage. Hybrid cloud depends on cloud services and on-premises infrastructure working in unison. Successful implementations require new levels of data mobility, enabled by an automated and seamless flow across on-premises and cloud resources. In his general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Tevis, an IBM Storage Software Technical Strategist and Customer Solution Architec...
    When shopping for a new data processing platform for IoT solutions, many development teams want to be able to test-drive options before making a choice. Yet when evaluating an IoT solution, it’s simply not feasible to do so at scale with physical devices. Building a sensor simulator is the next best choice; however, generating a realistic simulation at very high TPS with ease of configurability is a formidable challenge. When dealing with multiple application or transport protocols, you would be...
    Nordstrom is transforming the way that they do business and the cloud is the key to enabling speed and hyper personalized customer experiences. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ken Schow, VP of Engineering at Nordstrom, discussed some of the key learnings and common pitfalls of large enterprises moving to the cloud. This includes strategies around choosing a cloud provider(s), architecture, and lessons learned. In addition, he covered some of the best practices for structured team migration an...
    Smart cities have the potential to change our lives at so many levels for citizens: less pollution, reduced parking obstacles, better health, education and more energy savings. Real-time data streaming and the Internet of Things (IoT) possess the power to turn this vision into a reality. However, most organizations today are building their data infrastructure to focus solely on addressing immediate business needs vs. a platform capable of quickly adapting emerging technologies to address future ...
    We are given a desktop platform with Java 8 or Java 9 installed and seek to find a way to deploy high-performance Java applications that use Java 3D and/or Jogl without having to run an installer. We are subject to the constraint that the applications be signed and deployed so that they can be run in a trusted environment (i.e., outside of the sandbox). Further, we seek to do this in a way that does not depend on bundling a JRE with our applications, as this makes downloads and installations rat...
    Widespread fragmentation is stalling the growth of the IIoT and making it difficult for partners to work together. The number of software platforms, apps, hardware and connectivity standards is creating paralysis among businesses that are afraid of being locked into a solution. EdgeX Foundry is unifying the community around a common IoT edge framework and an ecosystem of interoperable components.
    DX World EXPO, LLC, a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
    In this strange new world where more and more power is drawn from business technology, companies are effectively straddling two paths on the road to innovation and transformation into digital enterprises. The first path is the heritage trail – with “legacy” technology forming the background. Here, extant technologies are transformed by core IT teams to provide more API-driven approaches. Legacy systems can restrict companies that are transitioning into digital enterprises. To truly become a lead...
    Digital Transformation (DX) is not a "one-size-fits all" strategy. Each organization needs to develop its own unique, long-term DX plan. It must do so by realizing that we now live in a data-driven age, and that technologies such as Cloud Computing, Big Data, the IoT, Cognitive Computing, and Blockchain are only tools. In her general session at 21st Cloud Expo, Rebecca Wanta explained how the strategy must focus on DX and include a commitment from top management to create great IT jobs, monitor ...
    "Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
    The IoT Will Grow: In what might be the most obvious prediction of the decade, the IoT will continue to expand next year, with more and more devices coming online every single day. What isn’t so obvious about this prediction: where that growth will occur. The retail, healthcare, and industrial/supply chain industries will likely see the greatest growth. Forrester Research has predicted the IoT will become “the backbone” of customer value as it continues to grow. It is no surprise that retail is ...