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README.md

mstform README

mstform is a form library written for mobx-state-tree and React. It manages form state for you and lets you define validation rules. It understands about repeating sub-forms as well.

It doesn't put any requirements on your widgets. It works with any React controlled component.

Features

  • It knows about raw input (the value you type) and the converted input (the value you want). You may type a string but want a number, for instance. mstform converts this automatically.
  • It can drive any React controlled component. It normalizes input components so it can generate the right props for it -- whether it be a input type string, type checked or a custom component that works in terms of objects - mstform has you covered.
  • Integrates deeply with a mobx-state-tree (MST) model. You give it a model instance and it renders its contents. When you are ready to submit the form, you have a mobx-state-tree model again. You can modify the mobx-state-tree instance in code as well and the form is automatically updated.
  • Thanks to MST it's easy to convert form contents to JSON and back again.
  • It knows about types. If you use vscode for instance, your editor tells you if you do something wrong. This works even in plain JavaScript if you enable ts-check.

Philosophy

Form libraries are tricky.

Web forms are an integral part of most web applications. This means that you need a lot of flexibility: you want to be able to mix form content with non-form content, use whichever React components you like for input (from plain HTML <input> to fancy UI component libraries), and style it the way you want.

Web forms are also everywhere. That's why we'd like to automate as much as possible and write as little form-specific code as possible.

But those two desires are in conflict with each other. It's tempting to start auto-generating forms. It makes writing forms really easy. Unfortunately many forms need special behavior, and it's difficult to capture this in an auto-generating form library.

This way a form library that automates too much can be in the way when you want to customize it to fit your application's requirements exactly. On the other hand if your form library that doesn't do enough means you end up writing a lot of custom code.

mstform balances simple usage with flexibility. It doesn't provide any React widgets, or in fact any React components at all. It doesn't auto-generate forms either. You write your own React components that render the form, and mstform automates the management of values and errors. It aims to make the form code that you do write look as straightforward as possible.

mstform is also built on a very powerful state management library: mobx-state-tree (MST). Both the library and the application programmer can use its features to make form construction more easy. As one example, MST makes it trivial to serialize form contents to JSON and restore it again.

A Simple Example

// @ts-check
import { observer } from "mobx-react";
import { types } from "mobx-state-tree";
import { Field, Form, FormState, converters } from "mstform";
import * as React from "react";
import { Component } from "react";

// we have a MST model with a string field foo
const M = types.model("M", {
    foo: types.string
});

// we expose this field in our form
const form = new Form(M, {
    foo: new Field(converters.string, {
        validators: [value => (value !== "correct" ? "Wrong" : false)]
    })
});

// we create an instance of the model
const o = M.create({ foo: "FOO" });

@observer
class Input extends Component {
    render() {
        const { type, field } = this.props;
        return <input type={type} {...field.inputProps} />;
    }
}

@observer
class InlineError extends Component {
    render() {
        const { children, field } = this.props;
        return (
            <div>
                {children}
                <span>{field.error}</span>
            </div>
        );
    }
}

@observer
export class MyForm extends Component {
    constructor(props) {
        super(props);
        // we create a form state for this model
        this.formState = form.state(o);
    }

    render() {
        // we get the foo field from the form
        const field = this.formState.field("foo");
        return (
            <InlineError field={field}>
                <Input type="text" field={field} />
            </InlineError>
        );
    }
}

What's going on in the example?

First we define a MST model M, which defines a string property foo. Next we define a form for that model. We pass the model definition as the first argument to the Form constructor.

A form needs to define fields for entries you want to expose in the form. Each Field needs a converter. The converter specifies how to turn a raw value as input by a user into a value you want to store in our MST model instance. Here we use converters.string, a simple string, which is also stored as a string. That's not a very fancy converter. A more complex converter would be converters.number, which converts the input string into a number, and does some validation to make sure that only numbers can be entered into the form.

The field definition also takes a number of options. The option we specify here is a validation function. You can provide additional validator functions in a list. If the validation function returns a string, that is the text of the validation error and the validation has failed -- the entered value is not stored in the underlying model instance. If the validation is successful, the function should return false, null or undefined; not returning any value is a successful validation.

We define a simple InlineError component that can display error text. It takes a field and displays its error (which may be empty). Your UI component library probably has a nicer component that helps to display errors -- Ant Design for instance has Form.Item.

We also define a simple Input component that is our input; it takes a field prop too and uses this to set the required input props (value and onChange).

We then define a MyForm component that actually displays the form. To display a form we need to initialize its form state. We create the form state with form.state and store it on this in the constructor.

The form state maintains form-related state, such as errors to display. It also can take state specific configuration (for instance how to save the form to a backend), but in this case we don't supply any.

The form state needs a MST instance; this is the MST instance that you modify with the form. When the user changes the form and it passes validation, the MST instance is directly updated.

Here the MST instance is o from the global scope. but typically the object to edit in the form comes in as a prop, and we can access it here.

Then in render we retrieve the field accessor for the foo field. This has everything we need: error to show the current error, and inputProps for the input component, so we pass the field to InlineError and Input.

I've enabled ts-check on top. If you're using vscode you can see it reflect the correct types -- it knows raw is a string, for instance. This can help to catch errors.

RepeatingForm

Many forms have a sub-form that repeats itself. The MST model could look like this:

const Animal = types.model("Animal", {
    name: types.string,
    size: types.string
});

const Zoo = types.model("Zoo", {
    animals: types.array(Animal)
});

Here we want a form that lets you add and remove animals:

import { RepeatingForm } from "mstform";

const form = new Form(Zoo, {
    animals: new RepeatingForm({
        name: new Field(converters.string),
        size: new Field(converters.string)
    })
});

We can now use it in our render method:

// this represents all the sub forms
const animalForms = state.repeatingForm("animals");

const entries = o.animals.map((animal, index) => {
    // get the sub-form we want
    const animalForm = animalForms.index(index);
    // and get the fields as usual
    const name = animalForm.field("name");
    const size = animalForm.field("size");
    return (
        <div>
            <InlineError field={name}>
                <Input type="text" field={name} />
            </InlineError>
            <InlineError field={size}>
                <Input type="text" field={size} />
            </InlineError>
        </div>
    );
});

return <div>{entries}</div>;

SubForm

Some MST models have a sub-object. When you render the form for such a model, you want to be able to include fields for this sub-object. The MST model could look like this:

const Animal = types.model("Animal", {
    name: types.string,
    size: types.string
});

const House = types.model("House", {
    description: types.string,
    pet: Animal
});

We want a form that includes information about the pet:

import { SubForm } from "mstform";

const form = new Form(Zoo, {
    description: new Field(converters.string),
    pet: new SubForm({
        name: new Field(converters.string),
        size: new Field(converters.string)
    })
});

We can now mix fields from the main form with those from the sub-form in our render method:

const description = state.field("description");
const name = state.subForm("pet").field("name");

Accessors

mstform defines a bunch of accessors:

  • FieldAccessor, which you define with Field and get with field(). This represents a field in the form that you can actually fill in and interact with.

  • SubFormAccessor which you define with SubForm and get with subForm(). This represents a sub-object in the underlying model instance.

  • RepeatingFormAccessor which you define with RepeatingForm and get with repeatingForm(). This represents an array of objects in the underlying model instance.

  • RepeatingFormIndexedAccessor which you define along with RepeatingFormAccessor using RepeatingForm. You access it via the index() method on a RepeatingFormAccessor. This represents a sub-object in the underlying array instance.

  • GroupAccessor. You define this in a second argument on forms. You can access it via the group() method on any form accessor. This is a special kind of accessor that only implements the isValid and isWarningFree methods. It's a way to aggregate validation results from other accessors.

  • Finally there is the FormState itself, which is the accessor at the root of all things. You get it with form.state().

Accessors can contain other accessors. In particular, FormState, SubFormAccessor and RepeatingFormIndexedAccessor allow you to access all varieties of sub-accessor on it (except for FormState itself). RepeatingFormAccessor allows only a single kind of sub-accessor, namely RepeatingFormIndexedAccessor, which you access via index(). You cannot access any sub-accessors on FieldAccessor. GroupAccessor doesn't allow you access sub-accessors either.

All these accessors, except for GroupAccessor which is truly the odd one out, have some properties in common:

  • value: the underlying MST value that this accessor represents.

  • path: The JSON path to the underlying MST value (see mobx-state-tree).

  • fieldref: a generalization of the path to a pattern. foo/3/bar becomes foo[].bar.

  • context: The context object such as passed into form.state().

  • isValid: Is true if the accessor (and all its sub-accessors) is valid.

  • error: An error message (or undefined). Note that errors on non-field accessors can only be set by external means such as with the getError hook.

  • warning: A warning message (or undefined). Warning messages can only be set using the getWarning hook.

Supported converters

A converter specifies how to convert a raw value as it is entered in the form to the converted value as it's stored in the MST instance, and back again. A converter also specifies the empty form of the raw value (such as an empty string), which is used by add forms. It also specifies which controlled props to generate by default for React. Conversion may fail, in which case the converter generates a validation error.

Converters from raw string value

The input raw value is a string. The converted value may be a string or some other object:

  • converters.string: value is a string.

  • converters.number: value is a number.

  • converters.integer: value is an integer.

  • converters.decimal({maxWholeDigits:x, decimalPlaces:y, allowNegative:z}): value is a string (not a number) that contains a decimal number with a maximum maxWholeDigits (default 10) before the period and a maximum of decimalPlaces (default 2) after the period. decimalPlaces also controls the number of decimals that is initially rendered when opening the form. With allowNegative (boolean, default true) you can specify if negative values are allowed. With normalizedDecimalPlaces you can set the amount of decimal places the converted number has. It should not be lower than decimalPlaces, but can be higher. If it is, the given number is automatically padded with additional decimal places set to 0.

    Conversion error types are:

    • default: Cannot be parsed, not a decimal number

    • tooManyDecimalPlaces: we entered too many digits after the decimal separator.

    • tooManyWholeDigits: we entered too many digits before the decimal separator.

    • cannotBeNegative: you entered a negative number where this wasn't allowed.

Number and decimal converters also respond to a handful of options through the use of converterOptions. decimalSeparator specifies the character used to separate the integral and fractional part of a number or decimal. thousandSeparator specifies the character used to group thousands together. renderThousands determines whether or not the thousand separators should be rendered.

Boolean

converters.boolean: raw value is a boolean, value is also a boolean. The default raw value in add forms is false.

Arrays

converters.stringArray: raw value is an array of strings. value is an observable array of strings. Note that this is for using arrays that are treated a value -- a list of which checkboxes are selected, for instance. When you want the user to be able to add items to the array, using RepeatingForm instead.

Text Arrays

converters.textStringArray: raw value is a string with newlines. Value is an array of strings split by newline. You can use this with a textarea to edit an array of strings by newline.

Models

converters.model(Model): does not do any conversion (model instance goes in, model instance comes out), but allows you to specify that a MST model comes in as a raw value and is the value. Typescript will be happy. This can be used to support an input component such as a drop-down selection that generate a reference to an object. This fits MST's types.reference.

Maybe and MaybeNull

converters.maybe(converter): This works on string converters as well as model converters.

When you wrap it around any converter that takes a raw string value, the empty value (such as the empty string) is accepted and converted into undefined. This allows you to model empty values.

It can also be wrapped around a model converter, in which case it now accepts empty. This is handy when you have a types.maybe(types.reference()) in MST.

converters.maybeNull(converter) is like converters.maybe but is designed to work with types.maybeNull, so the empty value is null.

Dynamic

converters.dynamic(converter, getOptions). This works on any converter that expects a parameter object for its configuration. Currently this is only converters.decimal.

This is a way to make the parameters for a converter dynamic and get decided at run-time, based on the context you pass into state() as well as the field accessor -- these get passed into the getOptions function as arguments. So:

const form = new Form(Foo, {
    value: new Field(
        converters.dynamic(converters.decimal, (context, accessor) => {
            return { allowNegative: context.weWantNegatives };
        })
    )
});

allows negative values for this decimal dynamically if context.weWantNegatives is set to true.

converters.maybe and converters.maybeNull wrap around converters.dynamic, so it's converters.maybe(converters.dynamic(converters.decimal, getOptions)).

Object

converters.object: this accept any object as raw value and returns it, including null. Prefer converters.model if you can. Warning: the default raw value is null and using this with basic data types (string, boolean, number and such) won't make the type checker happy as they don't accept "null". Use more specific converters instead.

Converter options

Converters can be passed various options. Number and decimal converters respond to decimalSeparator, thousandSeparator and renderThousands. These can be set in a converterOptions argument on the state:

const formState = form.state(o, {
    converterOptions: {
        decimalSeparator: ".",
        thousandSeparator: ",",
        renderThousands: false
    }
});

Controlling the conversion error message

A converter may fail to convert a raw value. In this case, the UI displays a conversion error. You can control this conversion error with the conversionError property for a field.

const form = new Form(M, {
    nr: new Field(converters.number, {
        conversionError: "This conversion failed"
    })
});

You can also make conversionError a function. It takes a context as its first argument. Context is an arbitrary object you can pass into the state method from your application:

const form = new Form(M, {
    nr: new Field(converters.number, {
        conversionError: context =>
            context.language === "en"
                ? "This conversion failed"
                : "De conversie faalde"
    })
});

Some converters can return multiple types of conversion error. If you care about showing these differences in the UI, you can set up an object for conversionError:

conversionError: {
    default: "Not a number",
    tooManyDecimalPlaces: "Too many decimal places",
    tooManyWholeDigits: "Too many whole digits",
    cannotBeNegative: "Cannot be negative"
}

This object must always contain a default key, which contains the fallback conversion error if no error type matched.

It's also possible to use a function to dynamically generate the messages, like this:

conversionError: {
    default: context => "Not a number",
    tooManyDecimalPlaces: context => "Too many decimal places",
    tooManyWholeDigits: context => "Too many whole digits",
    cannotBeNegative: context => "Cannot be negative"
}

Defining a new converter

You can define a new converter. For instance this is a converter which takes a text in the UI and considers "t" as true and the rest as false:

const boolean = new Converter<string, boolean>({
    emptyRaw: "f",
    emptyImpossible: true,
    convert(raw) {
        return raw === "t";
    },
    render(value) {
        return value ? "t" : "f";
    }
});

Converter is a generic type, with <R, V>. R is the type of the raw value (as you have to render in a React component), and V is the type of the converted value (as you have in the MST model).

A converter needs to define a convert and a render method. convert takes a raw value and converts it to the MST value. render takes the MST value and converts it to the raw value. You can trigger a conversion error by throwing ConversionError inside convert; it takes the conversion error type as its first argument.

emptyRaw is the raw value that should be shown if the field is empty in the UI. We also set emptyImpossible -- it's impossible for the result of this conversion to be empty (it's either true or false). In other cases, an empty value can exist: for instance a converter to a string could produce the empty string, or a maybe converter can produce undefined. In this case you need to set the emptyValue property to what the value is when it's not filled in. It's not allowed to set emptyValue when you also define emptyImpossible to be true.

You can optionally set defaultControlled, the controlled props to be used by default for this converter. You can also optionally set neverRequired; this is handy for fields where the required status makes no sense -- a checkbox is an example.

convert and render take an optional second argument, options. With options, you can pass converterOptions and a context. context is an arbitrary value you can pass in as a form.state() option from your application:

const formState = form.state(o, { context: { something: "FOO" } });

This is useful when you want to make a converter that depends on an application-specific context.

Controlled props

A controlled component is a React component that displays a value and defines an onChange handler that is called when the value is changed by the user. The component itself does not manage its value; this is done externally. mstform is a library that helps you control these components for you.

Controlled components receive subtly different props:

  • input type string has a value prop and an onChange with an event. It gets the updated value from event.target.value.

  • input type checkbox has a checked prop and an onChange that receives event.target.checked with the updated value.

  • There are also higher level widgets where value and onChange are symmetrical. A date picker widget for instance could have a JS Date as value and onChange directly returns a new Date instance.

mstform offers a controlled hook. It takes a function that given the field accessor returns the right props for control. This can be used to ensure that accessor.inputProps contains the right information for your particular controlled component.

There are three controlled implementations built in:

  • controlled.value - value and onChange processes event.target.value.

  • controlled.checked - checked and onChange processes event.target.checked.

  • controlled.object - value represents some object and onChange gets a new object as an argument. Symmetrical value and onChange.

By default the converter determines which is used. If you use the string converter or a derivative, controlled.value is used, and if you use the boolean converter by default the controlled.checked is used. For anything else the default is controlled.object.

You can always override controlled in the field configuration. For example:

import { observer } from "mobx-react";
import { types } from "mobx-state-tree";
import { Field, Form, FormState, converters, controlled } from "mstform";
import * as React from "react";
import { Component } from "react";

// we have a MST model with a string field foo
const M = types.model("M", {
    foo: types.string
});

// we expose this field in our form
const form = new Form(M, {
    foo: new Field(converters.string, {
        controlled: controlled.string
    })
});

For backward compatibility with earlier versions of mstform, mstform also supports fromEvent and getRaw in the field options. fromEvent is a flag that indicates we want to pull the raw value to validate and convert from the event.target.value. getRaw is a function that given the arguments to onChange turns them into the updated raw value.

Add Mode

So far we've described how to use mstform with edit forms -- we display what's in a MST instance and allow the user to edit it. There's another use case where you want to create a new MST instance however: an add form.

Consider this MST model:

const M = types.model("Foo", {
    nr: types.number
});

How do we create an add form for it? The add form needs an MST instance so that it can store the user-entered values. But this model requires you to create an instance with a value for nr.

Let's do that and use an arbitrary number for nr. We could have picked any number but 0 is probably the most clear, so we use that:

const node = M.create({ nr: 0 });

Let's look at the form definition:

const form = new Form(M, {
    nr: new Field(converters.number)
});

If we create a normal edit form for this node, we would see the raw value "0" in the input widget the form. That's not what we want to do in an add form; we want to display an empty input widget (raw value "", the empty string). We can accomplish this by setting the form in add mode when we create it:

const state = form.state(node, { addMode: true });

This way the form is shown correctly, with the empty values. How does it know what empty values to display in an add form? The converter actually specifies this -- converters.number for instance knows that the empty value is the empty string.

In case you already have a default value for a field and you do not want it to be in add-mode, you can exclude them by including its fieldref in the addModeDefaults option:

const state = form.state(node, { addMode: true, addModeDefaults: ["nr"] });

Now the nr field is shown with the value 0 in it immediately.

If the field you reference from addModeDefaults is configured to be derived, this is used to calculate the derived value automatically.

Add mode for repeating forms

Consider a repeating sub-form. Adding a new entry to a sub-form is much like having an add form. Each time you add a new entry, the new sub-form should be in add mode, even in edit forms. mstform automatically takes care of this if you use the .push and .insert methods on the repeating form accessor, or if you manipulate the underlying model directly. Existing records are shown in edit mode, unless the whole form is in add mode.

If you use .push and .insert on the repeating form accessor, you can pass in an additional argument with the addModeDefaults array. Here is an example:

repeating.push({ a: 3, b: 5 }, ["b"]);

Here a is not mentioned and is considered to be in add-mode; instead of its value, the empty raw is shown instead. But b is referenced and therefore 5 is visible immediately in the form.

Backend interaction (save and processing)

When we create the form state, we can pass it options on how to interact with the backend. There are two features:

  • You can save the form by specifying a save function. This save function can return error messages in case the backend could not save successfully.

  • You can configure the form to be validated and updated dynamically by the backend using a process function. This can show messages and update the form while the user is typing, under the control of a backend. This is useful because validation needs to be defined on the backend anyway in order to prevent any incorrect data to be submitted. This way you can integrate this same validation code with the frontend. You can also supply a processAll function which runs all validations supported by the backend.

Save

You can write a function that defines how to save the underlying MST instance (node), for instance by sending JSON to a backend:

async function save(node) {
    // we have defined a real 'save' function on the model that knows how
    // to save the form to the backend. Should return a ProcessResult if
    // there is a problem, or null or undefined if there is no problem.
    return node.save();
}

Here is how we configure it:

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    backend: { save }
});

The save function should return undefined or null if the save succeeded and there are no server validation errors. It can also return a special process result - we discuss this below.

When you implement a form submit button, you should call state.save():

@observer
export class MyForm extends Component {
    constructor(props) {
        super(props);
        // we create a form state for this model
        this.formState = form.state(o, {
            backend: { save }
        });
    }

    handleSave = async () => {
        const success = await this.formState.save();
        if (success) {
            // success
        } else {
            // failure
        }
    };

    render() {
        // we get the foo field from the form
        const field = this.formState.field("foo");
        return (
            <div>
                ... render the form itself
                <button onClick={this.handleSave}>Save</button>
            </div>
        );
    }
}

state.save() does the following:

  • Makes sure the form is completely valid before it's submitted to the server. If not, the save is canceled and validation errors are displayed.

  • Uses your supplied save function do to the actual saving.

  • Processes the process result returned by the server.

  • Returns true if saving succeeded, and false if not due to validation errors or server processing problems.

If you don't specify your own save you get an exception when you call state.save().

Backend form processing during user interaction

Sometimes the backend knows more than the frontend, and you want to implement some form behavior on the backend. Besides the low-level hooks (such as getError) where you can integrate external behavior by hand, you can also configure this behavior at a higher level.

If you implement the form processing protocol on your backend, your backend can control validation messages (error and warning) messages, as well as control default values for fields and clear them if they become invalid.

Here is how we configure it (in addition to save):

async function process(node, path, liveOnly) {
    // we have defined a real 'process' function on the model that knows how
    // to invoke process on the backend. returns ProcessResult
    return node.process();
}

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    backend: { save, process }
});

The node argument is the underlying node that the form represents. path is a JSON pointer (aka MST node path) to the field that was just changed by the user modifying the form. liveOnly is a boolean value and is set to true before you invoked save. This can be used to distinguish between "live validations" (which always run) from those that only start running after you attempt a save for the first time. The function should return a ProcessResult structure.

The system keeps track of which field paths have been changed by the user. It also makes sure that user input is debounced, so that a change in the form only gets sent to the backend after the user stops changing the field for a field, or when a set time has passed.

Once a field path has been changed, the node is sent to an asynchronous "process" function, along with the field path that changed. You should implement this function to define backend processing. It should send back a structure with error messages, warning messages, and field updates.

The backend processing system ensures that the process function only runs one at the time, and in sequence (in the order in which they were triggered). This way, the consistency of updates is ensured.

The system also keeps track of fields that have changed but have not yet been processed by the backend. In this case any updates from the backends are ignored - new user input takes precedence.

processAll

The process function takes the path of the field that has been changed. save supports reprocessing of the whole form on the backend during saving. It can in some circumstances be useful to explicitly trigger such a reprocess by itself: run the backend process for the entire form at once. For this we have processAll.

Here is how we configure it (in addition to save and process):

async function processAll(node, liveOnly) {
    // we have defined a real 'processAll' function on the model that knows how
    // to invoke processAll on the backend. returns ProcessResult
    return node.processAll();
}

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    backend: { save, process, processAll }
});

You can invoke processAll on the form state to trigger it:

formState.processAll();

ProcessResult protocol

process, processAll and saveAll all return a ProcessResult.

Here is an example ProcessResult:

const result = {
    updates: [{ path: "/a", value: "Alpha" }],
    accessUpdates: [{path: '/c', disabled: true }]
    errorValidations: [
        { id: "one", messages: [{ path: "/b", message: "This is wrong" }] }
    ],
    warningValidations: []
};

updates is a list of fields to update. Each field is indicated by path. The rest of the structure is up to the developer and defines the update information. By default, you need to supply a value with the new value to put in the form there, but you can implement by your custom update procedure based on other information if you pass an applyUpdate function (to be described later).

accessUpdates is a list of fields to update as well. Each field is indicated by path. The rest of the structure updates whether a field is disabled, readOnly, hidden and required. Not passing a particular boolean results in no change for that field. You can also use paths for accessors that aren't fields, such as a repeating form, in which case for disabled,readOnlyandhiddenthe information is inherited by all fields in it. Settingrequired` only has meaning on the field accessor itself and is not inherited.

Both errorValidations and warningValidations are lists of validation structures. These validation structures each have an id -- if a new validation structure comes in, the previous validation structure with that id (if it exists) is removed. A validation structure contains a list of validation messages, each have a path. The path may be a path to a non-field such as a sub-form, or repeating form as well, in case the validation error applies to this.

The idea is that the backend associates validation functions with one or more patterns of field paths (such as using the fieldref mechanism). Each validation function has a unique id and can generate messages for arbitrary field paths in the form. When a process request comes in, the backend only has to re-run validation functions that match the path that just changed. Other fields that are not affected do not have their messages affected - the frontend holds on to these validation messages.

Warnings are like errors, but appear on field accessors with the warning property. They do not make the form invalid - saving is still possible.

Configuring backend processing

Here is how we hook our process function into the backend.

const M = types.model("M", {
    foo: types.string
});

const o = M.create({ foo: "FOO" });

async function myProcess(node, path) {
    // call the backend, turn into ProcessResult and return it
}

form.state(o, { backend: { process: myProcess } });

This causes myProcess to be called whenever a field changes in the form (debounced). You can control the debounce delay by passing delay (default 500):

form.state(o, { backend: { process: myProcess, delay: 300 } });

As mentioned before you can also configure the applyUpdate function with a custom one:

import { applyPatch } from "mobx-state-tree";

function myApplyUpdate(node, update) {
    // same behavior as the default
    applyPatch(node, [
        { op: "replace", path: update.path, value: update.value }
    ]);
}

form.state(o, { backend: { process: myProcess, applyUpdate: myApplyUpdate } });

Save errors

Before we described how to dynamically update validation information during user interaction. We can also send back validation information when the user saves the form. If the save failed to pass backend validation, we can also also send back a ProcessResult instead of undefined or null (which both mean success). This ProcessResult may be partial - if you don't include a property, it is assumed to be the empty list.

Low level getError hook

If you retrieve your errors in another way than using the process function, you can use the getError hook:

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    getError: accessor => (accessor.path === "/name" ? "Is wrong" : undefined)
});

The error property of the field will contain the "Is wrong" error message if the field does not return undefined with the getError function. If a field contains both an internally generated error message and one that is generated via getError, the internally generated message trumps the one returned by the getError hook.

Other accessors in mstform - SubForm, RepeatingForm and Form - also use this error hook, allowing you to set errors on the complete form - or any accessor within it. Indexed entries within repeating forms can also be set with an error. If, for example, we want to raise an error when a RepeatingForm is empty, we can raise an error on the repeating form accessor like this

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    getError: accessor =>
        accessor instanceof RepeatingFormAccessor && accessor.length === 0
            ? "The repeating form must contain at least one form"
            : undefined
});

Low level getWarning hook

mstform has a hook which allows you to include warning messages in its accessors. Warnings are similar to errors, but don't make the form invalid. The idea is that you can show warnings for certain fields in your form as a notification to the user.

const state = form.state(o, {
    getWarning: accessor =>
        accessor.raw < 0 ? "This value is negative" : undefined
});

To implement warnings, pass a getWarning function. It is up to you to decide how and when you wish to show these warnings in the UI. To check if the form contains any warnings, you can use

state.isWarningFree; // true or false

Ignoring the required validation

You can pass an option into save() to ignore the required validation. This can be useful if you have fields which are required in the form yet want allow intermediate saves where this required setting is ignored.

Here's how to ignore the required validation:

this.formState.save({ ignoreRequired: true });

This lets save proceed even if fields marked as required are not filled in. It's up to you to construct the underlying MST model to allow empty values (typically with types.maybe()) and to let the form accept them too (typically with converters.maybe()).

Ignoring the getError hook

You can also ignore the getError validation during save:

this.formState.save({ ignoreGetError: true });

This lets save proceed even though there are still external validation errors. save still is blocked when you have an internal validation error -- a raw value that cannot be successfully converted.

If you only define a save function for your backend and no process function ignoreGetError is enabled automatically. This is to allow you to still save forms even though they have externally defined errors.

Ignoring the saveStatus.

You can cause save to not affect the save status when you save::

this.formState.save({ ignoreSaveStatus: true });

This causes the save status to remain before. Normally the save status is updated to after when you save, which can affect the display of validation messages and the state of the liveOnly flag that is passed to backend process and processAll.

Controlling validation messages

By default, mstform displays inline validation errors as soon as you make a mistake. This may not be desirable. You can turn it off by passing another option:

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    validation: {
        beforeSave: "no"
    }
});

Now inline validation only occurs after you save the first time, not before.

It's also possible to turn off inline validation altogether:

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    validation: {
        beforeSave: "no",
        afterSave: "no"
    }
});

In this case the user only sees updated validation errors once they press the button that triggers state.save() and no errors are generated when the user is filling in the form.

If you use ignoreSaveStatus the save status is not affect and remains before.

You can reset the save status back to before with state.resetSaveStatus().

You can remove all internal and external errors and warnings by calling state.clearAllValidations().

required fields

You can control which fields are required by setting the required flag in the field definition:

const form = new Form(M, {
    name: new Field(converters.string, { required: true })
});

This causes required property of the field accessor to be true, which you can use during form rendering. It also causes it to be a validation error if the field isn't filled in.

When the user enters an empty value (for instance the empty string), mstform empties the underlying value if possible, changing the underlying object. This is possible for the form defined above, as it uses a string converter (which can be empty). A number converter cannot be empty however:

const form = new Form(M, {
    nr: new Field(converters.number)
});

In this case, the user has to fill in a raw value that can be converted to a number, otherwise the user gets the required error message and the underlying value is not updated. Note that the required configuration in this case is optional as it's implied by converters.number.

You can control the required error message by setting requiredError:

const form = new Form(M, {
    name: new Field(converters.string, {
        required: true,
        requiredError: "This is required!"
    })
});

You can also set requiredError to a function, in which cases it receives a context argument (which you can pass in as an option to state()).

const form = new Form(M, {
    name: new Field(converters.string, {
        required: true,
        requiredError: context =>
            context.language === "en"
                ? "This is required!"
                : "Dit is verplicht!"
    })
});

requiredError (as a message or a function) can also be set on the state, where it will be applied to every field on the form unless you override the required error message on the field:

this.formState = form.state(o, {
    requiredError: "This is required!"
});

Empty and required fields

All fields have the isEmpty and isEmptyAndRequired properties. isEmpty checks whether the raw value of the field equals the emptyRaw value of the converter and if so it is considered empty. If the converter option emptyImpossible is true isEmpty will always return false.

isEmptyAndRequired additionally checks whether the required property is true for this field.

Dynamic disabled, hidden, required and readOnly fields

mstform has hooks that let you calculate hidden, disabled, required and readOnly state based on the accessor. Here is a small example that makes the foo form or field disabled. This uses the JSON Path functionality of mstform to determine whether a field is disabled, but any operation can be implemented here. You could for instance retrieve information about which fields are disabled dynamically from the backend before you display the form. The fieldref functionality described below is very useful for this.

const state = form.state(o, {
    isDisabled: accessor => accessor.path === "/foo"
});

To implement hidden behavior, pass in an isHidden function.

To implement readOnly behavior, pass in an isReadOnly function.

To implement required behavior, pass in an isRequired function. This does not only affect the required property on the accessor, but also makes the field require the form or field just as if you used the required flag in the field definition. The required flag in the definition always makes something required, no matter what isRequired says.

isDisabled returning true makes the disabled prop true in accessor.inputProps. If isReadOnly is true, the readOnly flag is added to accessor.inputProps; otherwise it's absent, but it's up to you to ensure your React input widgets support a readOnly prop (HTML input does). There is no such behavior for hidden or required; use accessor.hidden and accessor.required in your rendering code to determine whether a form or field wants to be hidden, or a field wants to be required. There is also an inputAllowed flag on accessors, which checks if a form or field isn't disabled, hidden or read-only.

When these properties are set on forms, they will automatically be passed down to the children of said form. This works for regular forms, repeating forms and subforms, and every kind of property except required.

Fieldref

Accessors that have a path property also define a fieldref property. The fieldref is a generalized form of the path that is convenient for matching.

The path /foo results in the fieldref foo. The path /foo/bar results in the fieldref foo.bar. The path /foo/1/bar results in the fieldref foo[].bar, and so does /foo/2/bar or any other index. The path /foo/1 by itself (for .repeating.index()) results in the fieldref foo[].

To create an isDisabled hook that makes the bar field disabled in a repeating form, you can write:

const state = form.state(o, {
    isDisabled: accessor => accessor.fieldref === "foo[].bar"
});

Extra validation

Sometimes the information needed to validate the form cannot be known in advance at form definition time. Instead, the form can be displayed multiple times in the application, each time with different validation requirements. mstform has a hook that lets you define additional validation behavior on the form level.

const state = form.state(o, {
    extraValidation: (accessor, value) => {
        if (accessor.path === "/foo") {
            return value === "Wrong" ? "Wrong!" : false;
        }
    }
});

Note that you have to use the second value argument to get the value to use to validate, as accessor.value still has the old value.

Validation groups

It can be useful to consider the validation status of a whole set of related fields, without considering the validation status of the whole form. In a UI you can then indicate that part of the form is invalid, which is especially useful if the form is not visible in its entirety, for instance if is spread out across tabs or a menu.

You can define validation groups with a second parameter you pass into Form, SubForm or RepeatingForm:

const M = types.model("M", {
    a: types.string,
    b: types.string,
    c: types.string
});

const form = new Form(
    M,
    {
        a: new Field(converters.string),
        b: new Field(converters.string),
        c: new Field(converters.string)
    },
    {
        one: new Group({ include: ["a", "b"] }),
        two: new Group({ include: ["c"] })
    }
);

Here we define two groups, one and two. Group one is valid only if a and b are valid. Group two is valid only if c is valid.

You can access a group on the state or form accessor and check its isValid or isWarningFree property:

const first = state.group("first");
if (first.isValid) {
    // only executed if a and b are valid
}
if (first.isWarningFree) {
    // only executed if none of the group members have warnings
}

When you define a group you can pass exclude instead of include:

const form = new Form(
    M,
    {
        a: new Field(converters.string),
        b: new Field(converters.string),
        c: new Field(converters.string)
    },
    {
        one: new Group({ exclude: ["c"] })
    }
);

Group one now includes all accessors except c, and therefore a and b as well.

Derived values

The value of some fields depends on the value of other fields; you can express this relationship in a MST view. In some forms you want to automatically calculate such a derived value but still allow the user to override it explicitly. Then if the input to the calculation changes, the value is updated again.

You express such derived values with mstform:

const M = types
    .model("M", {
        calculated: types.number,
        a: types.number,
        b: types.number
    })
    .views(self => ({
        sum() {
            return self.a + self.b;
        }
    }));

const form = new Form(M, {
    calculated: new Field(converters.number, {
        derived: node => node.sum()
    }),
    a: new Field(converters.number),
    b: new Field(converters.number)
});

calculated starts out with the value based on the sum of a and b. The user can modify calculated directly. When the user modifies a or b, the derived value changes again to the result of the derived function.

When you access a repeating form, the node passed into the derived function is the sub-node that the repeating form represents, so the derived value is determined within that context.

Note that derived calculations occur if you actually access the field to use it in a form; it doesn't work for fields that are never used.

Change hook

When you change one field it's sometimes useful to have some side effect, for instance to change the value of another field. You can do so with the change hook:

const M = types
    .model("M", {
        a: types.number,
        b: types.number
    })
    .actions(self => ({
        setB(value: number) {
            self.b = value;
        }
    }));

const form = new Form(M, {
    a: new Field(converters.number, {
        change: (node, value) => {
            node.setB(value);
        }
    }),
    b: new Field(converters.number)
});

We have defined an action that lets us modify b, which is represented by the field b. We implement a change hook to call that action whenever a is changed. This only happens if a passes validation -- changes to a that result in an error message don't result in an execution of the change hook.

Focus and blur hooks

You may want to react to field focus or blur events. You can do this with a custom onFocus or onBlur event handler on the input element, but in some cases you want to react generically to all focus/blur events in a form. You can pass a special hooks to the form state options for this:

const state = form.state(o, {
    focus: (ev, accessor) => {},
    blur: (ev, accessor) => {}
});

The hook receives the event and the focused field accessor. You can use the accessor to get the field name (accessor.name), value (accessor.value), etc. When you define the hook, inputProps on the field accessor contains an onFocus/onBlur handler, so if you use that with the field it is there automatically.

In addition, you can set a field to re-render itself when you blur out of it, using the postprocess option on fields. An example use case is rendering extra zeroes in decimal fields, like so:

const form = new Form(M, {
    foo: new Field(converters.decimal({ decimalPlaces: 2, addZeroes: true }), {
        postprocess: true
    })
});

Update hook

When you want to react to changes to any field value in the form, you can implement the update hook. This hook is triggered only when a change happens to the value, not when the raw is updated, so only when the underlying instance that the form represents is updated. This means that if there are any client-side validation messages, the update hook isn't yet triggered.

const state = form.state(o, {
    update: accessor => {}
});

Tips

  • Don't name your form state this.state on a React component as this has a special meaning to React and can lead to odd bugs.
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