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Formtastic

Formtastic is a Rails FormBuilder DSL (with some other goodies) to make it far easier to create beautiful, semantically rich, syntactically awesome, readily stylable and wonderfully accessible HTML forms in your Rails applications.

The Story

One day, I finally had enough, so I opened up my text editor, and wrote a DSL for how I’d like to author forms:

  <% semantic_form_for @article do |form| %>

    <% form.inputs :name => "Basic" do %>
      <%= form.input :title %>
      <%= form.input :body %>
      <%= form.input :section %>
      <%= form.input :publication_state, :as => :radio %>
      <%= form.input :category %>
      <%= form.input :allow_comments, :label => "Allow commenting on this article" %>
    <% end %>

    <% form.inputs :name => "Advanced" do %>
      <%= form.input :keywords, :required => false, :hint => "Example: ruby, rails, forms" %>
      <%= form.input :extract, :required => false %>
      <%= form.input :description, :required => false %>
      <%= form.input :url_title, :required => false %>
    <% end %>

    <% form.inputs :name => "Author", :for => :author do |author_form| %>
      <%= author_form.input :first_name %>
      <%= author_form.input :last_name %>
    <% end %>

    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button %>
    <% end %>

  <% end %>

I also wrote the accompanying HTML output I expected, favoring something very similar to the fieldsets, lists and other semantic elements Aaron Gustafson presented in Learning to Love Forms, hacking together enough Ruby to prove it could be done.

It’s better than SomeOtherFormBuilder because…

  • it can handle belongs_to associations (like Post belongs_to :author), rendering a select or set of radio inputs with choices from the parent model.
  • it can handle has_many and has_and_belongs_to_many associations (like: Post has_many :tags), rendering a multi-select with choices from the child models.
  • it’s Rails 2.3-ready (including nested forms).
  • it has internationalization (I18n)!
  • it’s really quick to get started with a basic form in place (4 lines), then go back to add in more detail if you need it.
  • there’s heaps of elements, id and class attributes for you to hook in your CSS and JS.
  • it handles real world stuff like inline hints, inline error messages & help text.
  • it doesn’t hijack or change any of the standard Rails form inputs, so you can still use them as expected (even mix and match).
  • it’s got absolutely awesome spec coverage.
  • there’s a bunch of people using and working on it (it’s not just one developer building half a solution).

Why?

  • web apps = lots of forms.
  • forms are so friggin’ boring to code.
  • semantically rich & accessible forms really are possible.
  • the “V” is way behind the “M” and “C” in Rails’ MVC – it’s the ugly sibling.
  • best practices and common patterns have to start somewhere.
  • i need a challenge.

Opinions

  • it should be easier to do things the right way than the wrong way.
  • sometimes more mark-up is better.
  • elements and attribute hooks are gold for stylesheet authors.
  • make the common things we do easy, yet still ensure uncommon things are still possible.

Documentation

RDoc documentation should be automatically generated after each commit and made available on the rdoc.info website.

Installation

The gem is hosted on gemcutter, so if you haven’t already, add it as a gem source:

  sudo gem sources -a http://gemcutter.org/

Then install the Formtastic gem:

  sudo gem install formtastic

Optionally, run ./script/generate formtastic to copy the following files into your app:

  • config/initializers/formtastic.rb – a commented out Formtastic config initializer
  • public/stylesheets/formtastic.css
  • public/stylesheets/formtastic_changes.css

A proof-of-concept stylesheet is provided which you can include in your layout. Customization is best achieved by overriding these styles in an additional stylesheet so that the Formtastic styles can be updated without clobbering your changes. If you want to use these stylesheets, add both to your layout:

  <%= stylesheet_link_tag "formtastic" %>
  <%= stylesheet_link_tag "formtastic_changes" %>

Usage

Forms are really boring to code… you want to get onto the good stuff as fast as possible.

This renders a set of inputs (one for most columns in the database table, and one for each ActiveRecord belongs_to-association), followed by a submit button:

  <% semantic_form_for @user do |form| %>
    <%= form.inputs %>
    <%= form.buttons %>
  <% end %>

If you want to specify the order of the fields, skip some of the fields or even add in fields that Formtastic couldn’t detect, you can pass in a list of field names to inputs and list of button names to buttons:

  <% semantic_form_for @user do |form| %>
    <%= form.inputs :title, :body, :section, :categories, :created_at %>
    <%= form.buttons :commit %>
  <% end %>

If you want control over the input type Formtastic uses for each field, you can expand the inputs and buttons blocks. This specifies the :section input should be a set of radio buttons (rather than the default select box), and that the :created_at field should be a string (rather than the default datetime selects):

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <% form.inputs do %>
      <%= form.input :title %>
      <%= form.input :body %>
      <%= form.input :section, :as => :radio %>
      <%= form.input :categories %>
      <%= form.input :created_at, :as => :string %>
    <% end %>
    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button %>
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

If you want to customize the label text, or render some hint text below the field, specify which fields are required/optional, or break the form into two fieldsets, the DSL is pretty comprehensive:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <% form.inputs "Basic", :id => "basic" do %>
      <%= form.input :title %>
      <%= form.input :body %>
    <% end %>
    <% form.inputs :name => "Advanced Options", :id => "advanced" do %>
      <%= form.input :slug, :label => "URL Title", :hint => "Created automatically if left blank", :required => false %>
      <%= form.input :section, :as => :radio %>
      <%= form.input :user, :label => "Author", :label_method => :full_name,  %>
      <%= form.input :categories, :required => false %>
      <%= form.input :created_at, :as => :string, :label => "Publication Date", :required => false %>
    <% end %>
    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button %>
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

Nested forms (Rails 2.3) are also supported. You can do it in the Rails way:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <%= form.inputs :title, :body, :created_at %>
    <% form.semantic_fields_for :author do |author| %>
      <%= author.inputs :first_name, :last_name, :name => "Author" %>
    <% end %>
    <%= form.buttons %>
  <% end %>

Or the Formtastic way with the :for option:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <%= form.inputs :title, :body, :created_at %>
    <%= form.inputs :first_name, :last_name, :for => :author, :name => "Author" %>
    <%= form.buttons %>
  <% end %>

When working in has many association, you can even supply "%i" in your fieldset name that it will be properly interpolated with the child index. For example:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <%= form.inputs %>
    <%= form.inputs :name => 'Category #%i', :for => :categories %>
    <%= form.buttons %>
  <% end %>

Customize HTML attributes for any input using the :input_html option. Typically his is used to disable the input, change the size of a text field, change the rows in a textarea, or even to add a special class to an input to attach special behavior like autogrow textareas:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <%= form.input :title,      :input_html => { :size => 60 } %>
    <%= form.input :body,       :input_html => { :class => 'autogrow' } %>
    <%= form.input :created_at, :input_html => { :disabled => true } %>
    <%= form.buttons %>
  <% end %>

The same can be done for buttons with the :button_html option:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    ...
    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button :button_html => { :class => "primary" } %>
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

Customize the HTML attributes for the <li> wrapper around every input with the :wrapper_html option hash. There’s one special key in the hash (:class), which will actually append your string of classes to the existing classes provided by Formtastic (like "required string error")

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <%= form.input :title, :wrapper_html => { :class => "important" } %>
    <%= form.input :body %>
    <%= form.input :description, :wrapper_html => { :style => "display:none;" } %>
    ...
  <% end %>

The Available Inputs

The Formtastic input types:

  • :select – a select menu. Default for ActiveRecord associations: belongs_to, has_many, and has_and_belongs_to_many.
  • :check_boxes – a set of check_box inputs. Alternative to :select for ActiveRecord-associations: has_many, and has_and_belongs_to_many.
  • :radio – a set of radio inputs. Alternative to :select for ActiveRecord-associations: belongs_to.
  • :time_zone – a select input. Default for column types: :string with name matching "time_zone".
  • :password – a password input. Default for column types: :string with name matching "password".
  • :text – a textarea. Default for column types: :text.
  • :date – a date select. Default for column types: :date.
  • :datetime – a date and time select. Default for column types: :datetime and :timestamp.
  • :time – a time select. Default for column types: :time.
  • :boolean – a checkbox. Default for column types: :boolean.
  • :string – a text field. Default for column types: :string.
  • :numeric – a text field (just like string). Default for column types: :integer, :float, and :decimal.
  • :file – a file field. Default for file-attachment attributes matching: paperclip or attachment_fu.
  • :country – a select menu of country names. Default for column types: :string with name "country" – requires a country_select plugin to be installed.
  • :hidden – a hidden field. Creates a hidden field (added for compatibility).

The documentation is pretty good for each of these (what it does, what the output is, what the options are, etc.) so go check it out.

Internationalization (I18n)

Basic Localization

Formtastic got some neat I18n-features. ActiveRecord object names and attributes are, by default, taken from calling @object.human_name and @object.human_attribute_name(attr) respectively. There are a few words specific to Formtastic that can be translated. See lib/locale/en.yml for more information.

Basic localization (labels only, with ActiveRecord):

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <%= form.input :title %>        # => :label => I18n.t('activerecord.attributes.user.title')    or 'Title'
    <%= form.input :body %>         # => :label => I18n.t('activerecord.attributes.user.body')     or 'Body'
    <%= form.input :section %>      # => :label => I18n.t('activerecord.attributes.user.section')  or 'Section'
  <% end %>

Note: This is perfectly fine if you just want your labels/attributes and/or models to be translated using ActiveRecord I18n attribute translations, and you don’t use input hints and legends. But what if you do? And what if you don’t want same labels in all forms?

Enhanced Localization (Formtastic I18n API)

Formtastic supports localized labels, hints, legends, actions using the I18n API for more advanced usage. Your forms can now be DRYer and more flexible than ever, and still fully localized. This is how:

1. Enable I18n lookups by default (config/initializers/formtastic.rb):

  Formtastic::SemanticFormBuilder.i18n_lookups_by_default = true

2. Add some cool label-translations/variants (config/locale/en.yml):

  en:
    formtastic:
      titles:
        post_details: "Post details"
      labels:
        post:
          title: "Choose a title..."
          body: "Write something..."
          edit:
            title: "Edit title"
      hints:
        post:
          title: "Choose a good title for you post."
          body: "Write something inspiring here."
      actions:
        create: "Create my {{model}}"
        update: "Save changes"
        dummie: "Launch!"

Note: We are using English here still, but you get the point.

3. …and now you’ll get:

  <% semantic_form_for Post.new do |form| %>
    <% form.inputs do %>
      <%= form.input :title %>      # => :label => "Choose a title...", :hint => "Choose a good title for you post."
      <%= form.input :body %>       # => :label => "Write something...", :hint => "Write something inspiring here."
      <%= form.input :section %>    # => :label => I18n.t('activerecord.attributes.user.section')  or 'Section'
    <% end %>
    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button %>     # => "Create my {{model}}"
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

4. Localized titles (a.k.a. legends):

Note: Slightly different because Formtastic can’t guess how you group fields in a form. Legend text can be set with first (as in the sample below) specified value, or :name/:title options – depending on what flavor is preferred.

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <% form.inputs :post_details do %>   # => :title => "Post details"
      # ...
    <% end %>
    # ...
<% end %>

5. Override I18n settings:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <% form.inputs do %>
      <%= form.input :title %>      # => :label => "Choose a title...", :hint => "Choose a good title for you post."
      <%= form.input :body, :hint => false %>                 # => :label => "Write something..."
      <%= form.input :section, :label => 'Some section' %>    # => :label => 'Some section'
    <% end %>
    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button :dummie %>     # => "Launch!"
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

If I18n-lookups is disabled, i.e.:

  Formtastic::SemanticFormBuilder.i18n_lookups_by_default = false

…then you can enable I18n within the forms instead:

  <% semantic_form_for @post do |form| %>
    <% form.inputs do %>
      <%= form.input :title, :label => true %>      # => :label => "Choose a title..."
      <%= form.input :body, :label => true %>       # => :label => "Write something..."
      <%= form.input :section, :label => true %>    # => :label => I18n.t('activerecord.attributes.user.section')  or 'Section'
    <% end %>
    <% form.buttons do %>
      <%= form.commit_button true %>                # => "Save changes" (if we are in edit that is...)
    <% end %>
  <% end %>

6. Advanced I18n lookups

For more flexible forms; Formtastic find translations using a bottom-up approach taking the following variables in account:

  • MODEL, e.g. “post”
  • ACTION, e.g. “edit”
  • KEY/ATTRIBUTE, e.g. “title”, :my_custom_key, …

…in the following order:

1. formtastic.{titles,labels,hints,actions}.MODEL.ACTION.ATTRIBUTE – by model and action
2. formtastic.{titles,labels,hints,actions}.MODEL.ATTRIBUTE – by model
3. formtastic.{titles,labels,hints,actions}.ATTRIBUTE – global default

…which means that you can define translations like this:

  en:
    formtastic:
      labels:
        title: "Title"  # Default global value
        article:
          body: "Article content"
        post:
          new:
            title: "Choose a title..."
            body: "Write something..."
          edit:
            title: "Edit title"
            body: "Edit body"

Values for labels/hints/actions are can take values: String (explicit value), Symbol (i18n-lookup-key relative to the current “type”, e.g. actions:), true (force I18n lookup), false (force no I18n lookup). Titles (legends) can only take: String and Symbol – true/false have no meaning.

ValidationReflection plugin

If you have the ValidationReflection plugin installed, you won’t have to specify the :required option (it checks the validations on the model instead).

Configuration

Run ./script/generate formtastic to copy a commented out config file into config/initializers/formtastic.rb. You can view the configuration file on GitHub

Form Generator

There’s a Formtastic form code generator to make your transition to Formtastic easier. All you have to do is to specify an existing model name, and optionally specify view template framework (ERB/HAML), and you are good to go. Note: This won’t overwrite any of you stuff. This is how you use it:

Alt. 1: Generate in terminal:

$ ./script/generate form Post
# ---------------------------------------------------------
#  GENERATED FORMTASTIC CODE
# ---------------------------------------------------------

<% form.inputs do %>
  <%= form.input :title, :label => 'Title' %>
  <%= form.input :body, :label => 'Body' %>
  <%= form.input :published, :label => 'Published' %>
<% end %>

# ---------------------------------------------------------
 Copied to clipboard - just paste it!

Alt. 2: Generate partial:

$ ./script/generate form Post --partial
      exists  app/views/posts
      create  app/views/posts/_form.html.erb

To generate HAML markup, just add the --haml as argument:

$ ./script/generate form Post --haml
      exists  app/views/admin/posts
      create  app/views/admin/posts/_form.html.haml

To specify the controller in a namespace (eg admin/posts instead of posts), use the —controller argument:

$ ./script/generate form Post --partial --controller admin/posts
      exists  app/views/admin/posts
      create  app/views/admin/posts/_form.html.erb

Custom Inputs

If you want to add your own input types to encapsulate your own logic or interface patterns, you can do so by subclassing SemanticFormBuilder and configuring Formtastic to use your custom builder class.

Formtastic::SemanticFormHelper.builder = MyCustomBuilder

Status

Formtastic has been in active development for about a year. We’ve just recently jumped to an 0.9 version number, signaling that we consider this a 1.0 release candidate, and that the API won’t change significantly for the 1.x series.

Dependencies

There are none, but…

  • if you have the ValidationReflection plugin is installed, you won’t have to specify the :required option (it checks the validations on the model instead).
  • if you want to use the :country input, you’ll need to install the iso-3166-country-select plugin (or any other country_select plugin with the same API).
  • rspec, rspec_hpricot_matchers and rcov gems (plus any of their own dependencies) are required for the test suite.

Compatibility

I’m only testing Formtastic with the latest Rails 2.4.x stable release, and it should be fine under Rails 2.3.x as well (including nested forms). Patches are welcome to allow backwards compatibility, but I don’t have the energy!

Got TextMate?

Well…there’s a TextMate-bundle in town, dedicated to make usage of Formtastic in the TextMate editor even more of a breeze:

Formtastic.tmbundle

Contributors

Formtastic is maintained by Justin French, José Valim and Jonas Grimfelt, but it wouldn’t be as awesome as it is today without help from over 30 contributors.

git shortlog -n -s --no-merges

Google Group

Please join the Formtastic Google Group, especially if you’d like to talk about a new feature, or report a bug.

Project Info

Formtastic is hosted on Github: http://github.com/justinfrench/formtastic, where your contributions, forkings, comments and feedback are greatly welcomed.

Copyright © 2007-2008 Justin French, released under the MIT license.

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