From form to fame

Posted on January 22, 2001

There are thousands of way to make your Webpage interactive these days, from Java applets to Flash to sticking your head through your computer screen and giving the monitor a twirl. But today we will be discussing forms, one of the most elementary ways to conduct hand-to-hand combat on the Internet warfront.

Forms have been around since the beginning of time, when Eve made Adam sign a prenuptial agreement and included the entire Garden of Eden in her assets. Web forms are no different from paper forms. Well, OK, they are a lot different because you fill them out and they are sent instantly, instead of having to wait for the US Postal Service to lose them.

Because I haven't polled all 11 readers (up four from last year!), the best thing for me to do is give a few simple form suggestions and point you to valuable resources, in case you decide to make your own forms. If you refuse to make forms, citing irreconcilable differences with your computer, that's OK because somewhere along the line you've filled out a form or your computer has mysteriously recited Bible verses. If you still have questions because you just realized I've been writing 'form,' not 'from,' go to this overview page.

Forms can be made with basic HTML tags. All forms start with the <FORM> tag. The first thing you must determine is how will you receive this information. If you want the server to process the form line by line, you will use the Post method; if you want the server to process the form in its entirety, you will use the Get method. I would gather you will want to use the Post method, so for this example, that's what we'll use. Don't confuse this with Post baseball cards, which were Post cereal baseball cards that had the team logos airbrushed out of the picture.

Now you need an action, and not just any verb will do. You will likely call some sort of script, like a CGI or perl, to have your form actually work. There are plenty of ways to obtain free scripts for your forms. Because explaining forms is about as fun as licking stamps, visit the Wise-Women tutorial. Do not confuse Wise-Women with the Wise Men, who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and zip disks, or something like that.

More importantly, let's get on with the form. If you want to have a place where people can type, say, their shoe size, you would have something like this:

Shoe size: <input type=text name="shoesize" size="20"><br>

This is what it would look like in HTML:

Shoe size:

You can have as many of these entries as you would like. But what if you'd rather give people choices, so you can receive the data you want? That's not a problem. You can set up radio buttons, so people can check only one thing. For radio buttons, you would have the following:

Shoe size:<input type=radio value="Below7" name="shoesize">Below 7

<input type=radio value="7-12" name="shoesize">7-12

<input type=radio value="Bozo" name="shoesize">Bozo<br>

It would appear on the page in this way:

Shoe size:
Below 7



OK, this is a lot of material for a column, and unfortunately, even after reading this you will still have to pay 34 cents to mail a letter. But at least you should have a healthy start to building your own forms. But wait ... THERE'S MORE! There are other options to use for forms, so go to's definition page or University of Pennsylvania's form template page. You will be making heavenly forms in no time, as long as you can get your head out of your monitor.