Using Dataphor Forms

1. Summary

Dataphor Applications consist of a collection of user interfaces called forms. These forms generally fall into three different categories:

Dashboard

Dashboard forms provide access to various functions of the application. Most applications will begin with a dashboard, or main form, that provides various starting points for the application.

Browse

Browse forms display a list of items such as employees or accounts. Browse forms typically allow searching and the ability to manage the list of items by adding, editing, viewing, and deleting items.

View

View forms display a single item and any related data such as a single employee record. View forms can be used to add a new item, as well as edit or view an existing item.

Of course, these are only general categories. Often, the actual forms in an application will play multiple roles at once.

2. Form Components

Regardless of the roles being played, all the forms in a Dataphor Application have certain characteristics in common. The following screen capture displays the main form for a simple application:

Sample Application - Main Form

The topmost section of the form is called the title bar. On the left side of the title bar, the form’s icon is displayed. Single clicking the icon shows the system menu for the form. This menu exposes capabilities such as minimizing the form, maximizing it and closing it. Double-clicking the form’s icon will also close the form.

Next along the title bar is the title, or caption of the form. This caption will typically contain text describing the action that is being performed by the form, for example Add Contact or Browse Organizations.

On the right side of the title bar, the form has three buttons for minimizing, maximizing or restoring, and closing the form, respectively.

Note that the title bar is a feature of forms in the Windows Client because each form is a window in the Microsoft Windows Environment.

Immediately below the title bar is the menu bar containing the available menu commands. All forms will have a Form menu that contains form management commands. Most forms will have additional menu items such as navigation or view menus.

Below the menu bar, each form has a tool bar that exposes commonly used commands as tool bar buttons.

The bottommost section of the form is called the status bar. The status bar will typically display hints or other information about the current state of the form. On the left side of the status bar is a panel which displays a description of the currently selected control. The right side of the status bar displays a message about navigating through the form.

The rest of the area within the form is called the client area and contains the main contents of the form. This will typically be filled with controls, or user interface elements such as text boxes and buttons.

Surrounding the entire form is a thin margin called the border. When hovering the mouse over the border, the cursor will change to indicate that the border can be dragged to resize the window.

3. Form Navigation

When a form is initially displayed, the first control on the form is currently selected, or focused. The focused control is the one that will receive keyboard input. Focusing a control can be accomplished simply by clicking on it with the mouse. Advancing focus to the next control is done by pressing the Tab or Enter key.

Within a Dataphor Application, each form can be in one of two modes. If the form is waiting for user input, or the data on the form is modified, the form is in accept-reject mode. While in this mode, the buttons available on the tool bar will be Accept and Reject instead of Close. Accepting the form will accept any outstanding changes and close the form. Rejecting the form will cancel the changes and close the form. Note that the accelerator Alt+C will close the form in both modes, corresponding to the Accept in accept-reject mode. The Esc key will also close the form in both modes, corresponding to the Reject in accept-reject mode.

The right side of the status bar at the bottom of the form will display a key combination to perform some common action on the form, such as advancing to the next control, or accepting the form.

In addition to the basic controls for editing values, forms can include organizational controls such as a group, or a page control. Groups provide a visual grouping of a set of controls and do not have any special behavior.

Page controls allow multiple user interfaces to be embedded into a single space using tabs to allow for the selection of the embedded user interfaces. The following screen capture provides an example of this type of control:

Sample Application - Add Person

This form shows a group for the address, as well as a page control displaying phone numbers, associated organizations, websites, and email addresses. Each embedded user interface can be selected by clicking on a tab in the page control. While focused on a control within a tab, the page control can be navigated using Ctrl+Tab to select the next tab, and Ctrl+Shift+Tab to select the previous tab.

4. Using Browse Forms

Browse forms enable navigation of items, incremental searching for a specific item, and management including adding, editing, and deleting items. The following screen capture displays a simple browse form:

Sample Application - Browse Person - Phone Type

The grid control provides basic navigation of a list of items. The currently selected row in the grid is indicated by the highlighted row. In addition to navigating the grid with the mouse using the scroll bar on the right side of the grid, the following keystrokes can be used to perform navigation:

Key Action

Home

Navigates to the beginning of the list.

PgUp

Scrolls the grid one page up.

Up Arrow

Moves the selected row one row up.

Down Arrow

Moves the selected row one row down.

PgDn

Scrolls the grid one page down.

End

Navigates to the end of the list.

All these keystrokes are available when the grid is the focused control. In addition, the PgUp, PgDn, Up Arrow and Down Arrow keystrokes can be used when the search control above the grid is focused.

The browse form also introduces a Navigation menu that contains First, Prior, Next, and Last commands, as well as a Refresh command that can be used to refresh the contents of the grid.

As the screen capture above shows, the grid column titles display a direction indicator that shows the direction of the order of the rows in the grid. Clicking on the grid column title will sort the rows of the grid by that column. Note that this functionality is only available if the application allows sorting the contents of the grid by that specific column. Clicking on a grid column title that is already sorted will reverse the sort order, and the direction indicator will change accordingly.

Directly above the grid is a search control, that can be used to incrementally search for a specific item in the list by the search criteria. The search criteria is the same as the sort order used to display the list. The lookup button on the far right side of the search control displays the list of available sort orders. The following screen capture shows a typical order browse:

Sample Application - Browse Order - Person Phone Type

When the search control is focused, the list can be searched by typing in the desired criteria:

Sample Application - Browse Person - Phone Type - Search

The search control waits until the criteria has been entered, and then searches the list for the first row that matches the given search criteria. If a match is found, the unspecified portion of the matching value is added to the end of the entered search criteria and highlighted. Continuing to type will replace the highlighted portion of the criteria and continue the search.

Note that although this example illustrates searching based on a single value, the search control allows for multiple-value searches as well.

Pressing Enter anywhere on the browse form will execute the default action for the form. If the browse form is in accept-reject state, this will accept the form. Otherwise, the default action will edit the currently selected row.

Pressing Esc anywhere on the browse form will close the form. If the form is in accept-reject state, this is equivalent to pressing the Reject button.

4.3. Management

In addition to searching and navigation, browse forms will typically allow the list of items to be edited. The following buttons are usually available on the panel to the right of the grid control:

Command Action

Add

Displays a form for adding a new item.

Edit

Displays a form for editing the current item.

Delete

Displays a confirm delete form, and deletes the item if accepted.

View

Displays a read-only view of the current item.

5. Browse-to-Edit Pattern

Pattern

By clearly defining the role of each type of form in an application, the overall flow through the user interfaces follows an intuitive and flexible pattern called browse-to-edit. As the name indicates, the pattern begins with a browse form, and all editing of the items displayed is done using a form built expressly for adding, editing, or viewing.

In addition, the add, edit, view, and delete forms that manage the data manipulation from the browse are shown modally. This means that the original browse form that launched the edit form cannot be reached until the edit form is closed, either accepted or rejected. This does not mean that other browse forms in the application that are already open cannot be reached, only that the browse form that launched the edit form is hidden. This allows multiple "threads" to be run within a single application.

6. Common Patterns

Typically, each form will correspond with some type of data in the application such as an employee record. The various forms in the application will present different perspectives of the data. Regardless of the perspective, each type of data in the application may be related to other types of data, for example employees have email addresses, work in departments, and perform tasks.

These relationships can be loosely categorized as:

  • Details

  • Extensions

  • Parents/Lookups

6.1. Details

A detail is a "has many" relationship. For example an employee may have multiple email addresses or phone numbers. The Details menu will be available whenever there are detail relationships that can be followed. For example, when viewing the employee form, the details menu will contain a menu item to allow the list of email addresses for the employee to be displayed.

Note that if an email address is added from the detail browse, the employee does not need to be specified as it can be obtained from the employee form that was used to launch the detail.

6.2. Extensions

An extension is a "has one" relationship. The Extensions menu will be available whenever there are extension relationships that can be followed. For example, when viewing the employee form, the extensions menu will contain a menu item to allow the address of the employee to be displayed, and possibly edited.

As with the detail relationships, the information about how the extension is related to the launching form is automatically maintained by the application.

6.3. Parents/Lookups

Lookup relationships indicate a category or type. For example, a phone number has a phone number type. The phone number type is a list of values for the type of each phone number. For example, "home" or "mobile" phone number. The View menu will be available whenever there are parent or lookup relationships that can be followed. For example, when viewing a phone number, the view menu will contain a menu item to allow the phone number type of the phone number to be displayed.

Note that the category of a relationship is a matter of perspective within the application. For example, from the perspective of a phone number type, the phone numbers of that type are a detail. Typically, a Dataphor Application will allow relationships to be viewed from any perspective.

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