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Citation Software Inc.
 Specialists in variable-data publishing since 1986

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QUESTION: What is an HTML form?

ANSWER: An HTML form is a collection of HTML code that is displayed in a Web-browser window and contains boxes where the user can type text, lists from which the user can select particular items, buttons that the user can click on, etc.

The mechanism that allows a user to interact with an HTML form is part of the user's Web browser. The main components of this mechanism are the HTML interpreter and other software that interprets scripts that might be contained in the HTML code.
HTML interpreter: this translates HTML code into text and graphics and displays the text and graphics in the user's Web-browser window; it also manages the interactive process that takes place when a user is typing text and making selections on an HTML form.

Other software that interprets scripts: other software within the Web browser deals with scripts that might be embedded in the HTML code. Scripts are small programs that handle tasks such as data validation; dynamic display of text & graphics; and dynamic display of form elements like text boxes, lists, and buttons. Conventionally, several different languages are used to write scripts contained in HTML code. One of the most popular languages is JavaScript.
HTML forms are often used to collect information from users via the Internet or via an Intranet. In these cases, a Web server sends the HTML forms out over the Internet or Intranet to a Web browser on a user's computer, and the HTML forms are displayed in the Web-browser window.

Most HTML forms contain a button that a user is supposed to click when he has finished filling out the form. In the typical case, the data that was entered by the user and the selections that were made by the user are sent over the Internet or Intranet to a Web server when the user clicks this button. Software on the Web server then takes control and uses the data as required. For example, the software on the Web server might utilize the data to generate a document of some kind, or it might store the data in a database for later use.

HTML forms vs. PDF forms

Using HTML forms is the conventional method for collecting data from users on the Internet or on an Intranet. However, it is possible to use PDF forms instead of HTML forms for this purpose. Click here to see some guidelines that explain when to use HTML forms and when to use PDF forms.

How do you create an HTML form?

If you are willing to invest some time in learning about HTML code, you can use any text-editing application or word-processing application to create HTML forms. For example, on a Windows computer, you can use Notepad or Microsoft Word. There are many sources of information about HTML and HTML forms on the Internet, and there are lots of good books available. Note that you'll need to make sure that you save your HTML files in plan-text (ASCII) format. You'll also want to give your files an .html or .htm filename extension, because software that deals with HTML files (such as Web browsers and Web servers) expects them to be named that way.

If you don't want to spend time learning about HTML code, you'll want to use special software known as an "HTML editor" or "Web-development tool." Such software lets you use a drag-and-drop approach to create HTML code, with or without forms. It generates HTML code behind the scenes so that you don't have to concern yourself with the details of how the HTML code is structured. It also allows you to create special visual effects and audio effects more quickly and more easily than you could if you were using a regular text editor or word processor.

Examples of HTML editors/Web-development tools are Adobe Macromedia and Microsoft FrontPage.

It's easy to obtain free information about HTML forms on the Internet. Just use your favorite search engine to search for "Web development" — you'll get lots of hits!


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