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Sophisticated Super Forms

Guest Post by Rob Beattie.

Super Forms is a set of PHP-based stacks which allow you to create forms that are more sophisticated than the built in Contact Page that Rapidweaver ships with. They're simple to set up, there's no fiddling at the server end and although the stacks are very limited typographically, it's possible to create all manner of useful forms quickly and easily.


There are 10 stacks in the bundle, one container stack and then individual extra stacks to handle different kinds of fields. So you get one for a title, one for a short text field (maybe the visitor's name) and one for longer text (perhaps a description or comment) one that must contain a valid email address, another for drop down lists, one for checkboxes, one to upload files, one for choosing a date and time and one designated as a CAPTCHA field .
The main container includes general formatting options to control the background colour as well as that of the text, borders, input field text and buttons; each individual stack can then be dropped into the main container in any order.
Each stack comes with a range of specific settings - for example you can enable a help button and customise the text that appears when a visitor hovers the cursor over it, you can provide a hint that only appears when the field is in focus and a note which is displayed permanently. (Hint: if your forms need that much explanation, you probably need to work on your labels). Usefully, any field can be marked as 'required'.
The ability to specifiy a start and finish date - perhaps for the duration of a course, a stay at a B&B and so on - as well as start and end times for single appointments, together with a simple CAPTCHA field, means that Super Forms is more flexible than the built-in Contact Form page type and because it's Stacks-based, you can incorporate images, icons and other visuals to make your forms more attractive.
Currently Super Forms overrides your theme fonts with its own, single sans serif font, which limits your ability to make it blend in with your chosen theme; this looks to be something simple to fix. It's also not very forgiving if your chosen layout restricts the amount of space allocated to each field - for example, we scratched our heads for 20 minutes trying to work out why the '?' buttons weren't displaying only to discover that we hadn't given that particular field enough margin/padding. In addition, with some themes, the hint text is always visible, when when the field isn't in focus.
We also found that trying to create more expressive layouts (over multiple columns, for example) sometimes produced unexpected results that required a bit more manual fixing than we'd like. It looks to us as though Super Forms has been designed to be used 'straight' across a single column so that it'll scale down neatly, right down to iPhone portrait mode.
It's early days for Super Forms. A few users have reported problems getting it to work properly on various hosts, and 1LD has already produced one update which fixed the issue - at least for some of them - but that said, if we need a simple, good-looking, single column form that works well across all devices and offers more flexibility (and help for people filling it in) then Super Forms will have a place in our toolbox - especially when it can use more than its own default font.

Rob Beattie is a freelance copywriter who designs sites using Rapidweaver. He's been reviewing computer hardware, software and web services since 1981. Yes...that long. And he's also the author of The Bluffer's Guide to Fishing


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