a 'mooh' point

clearly an IBM drone

Custom XML in ODF (XForms) Part 1

For some time now I have had an urge to see how to do "Custom XML" or "Custom Schemas" in ODF. Saturday evening after the BRM in Geneva I was sitting in the bar at the Kempinsky Hotel at the lake - naturally talking tech-stuff. We talked about the usual ODF/OOXML-stuff and touched upon the subject of Custom XML. I was told that ODF would not have Custom XML capabilities since the ODF TC thought it was good enough to do it with XForms.

Cool, I thought ... I need to test this.

For this first test I have used the UI of OpenOffice.org 2.4 to create an XForm-enabled document with some basic data in it. I will dig deeper into the technicalities later but OOo UI will do for now. I have been searchning high and low for tutorials on XForms and their usage in ODF, and finally I found this article by J. David Eisenberg on xml.org The article is from 2006. I have made a more simple document for this test - avaliable here: xforms.odt (8,98 kb).

I have created a small form to enable the user to type in some basic data, e.g. "name", "phone" and "email".

The idea is to be able to map the typed-in data to a XML-structure. In my case the structure is this:

<xforms:instance id="clubData">
        <name />
            <name />
            <phone />
            <email />
            <city />

I have set up the document to do more or less what the original article did so let's look at what is really persisted in the ODF-package. An XForm is basically a connection between "input fields" like "text boxes", "radio buttons" and "drop-down menus" and some XML in the document. Look at the content of a part of the content.xml-file below (some details have been removed to enhance readability):

So 1) puts a control (input field) next to the text "Club name" with control-id "control1". This control is further defined in 2) where the XForms "bind"-attribute 3) tells the application to bind the  contents of the control to the XML specified with the XPath expression in 4).

It's really cool and nicely set up.

But what about persistance of the data entered in the form fields? Well, you add a button and attach an action to it. I called my button "Persist". What this action does is defined with the XForms "Submission" element.

In short the above describes that the content of the form fields should be persisted in a file on my local hard drive. Other methods could be to post it to a webserver or URI somewhere. This is very similar to how InfoPath works.

But at this moment I have two outstanding issues - and here I could use the help of you guys:

  1. I would really like to persist the data in the ODF-package - but I cannot get my head around making OOo doing it. Is it at all possible?
  2. When I click the button nothing happens - the data is not saved to disk. What am I missing here?

This is my first attempt to work with XForms in ODF, and to me it really seems kind of nifty.

So the guy tossing down beers at the bar in the hotel was kindda right - it is possible to do some kind of CustomXML-embedding in ODF using XForms. I also think, however, that it doesn't make a whole lotta sense to compare XForms with the CustomXML-implementation in OOXML - especially if it is not possible to use XForms actions to save the data directly in the package. In this case it seems to me that XForms should be compared to InfoPath instead.


So guys, what do you think? What are your experiences with XForms in ODF?