Re: SGML and Forms

Subject: Re: SGML and Forms
From: "W. Eliot Kimber" <eliot@xxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 04 Mar 1998 11:38:51 -0900
At 10:38 AM 3/4/98 -0600, Kendall G. Clark wrote:

>I'd kill for some suggestions or tips or even notes about software
>packages, commercial or otherwise, which are suited to handle forms in

The Dialog Tag Language (DTL), originally developed for OS/2 1.2 and still
used CICS (IBM's mainframe panel-based interaction system) is a pretty good
model, at least as an example of how complex forms can be represented in
SGML (my first real exposure to SGML was writing a program to format DTL
dialogs into character graphic representations of the panels).  You should
be able to still get the DTL manuals from your local IBM branch
office--have them search on "dialog tag language" in the online manual

The HTML form approach also provides a clue of how to do it, although the
HTML forms markup is too simpleminded for production tasks (it lacks the
containment and grouping structures you'd need to really do forms well).

Forms are like tables in that they combine graphical presentation aspects
with content-specific aspects. In the DTL, the basic idea was that you had
elements for the different control types that could be grouped together in
vertical or horizontal "regions". By nesting regions in clever ways, you
could define the relative positioning of controls or groups of controls
without having to define the geometry explicitly (much as you can have
tables with auto widths).  Controls were bound to application variables
using attributes and conventions for mentioning application variables. The
markup design also provides elements for describing menus.

Another place to look is Visual Basic. If you look at a VB .frm file,
you'll see that it looks very much like an SGML document--you could almost
just add angle brackets and you'd have it.

Given something like DTL, then it's just a matter of programming to
generate the executable and printed versions of the forms. It's non-trivial
style work, but it can all be done with DSSSL. You could also do things
like write Java or VB code to interpret your forms markup directly ala HTML
forms (but more sophisticated).


<Address HyTime=bibloc>
W. Eliot Kimber, Senior Consulting SGML Engineer
Highland Consulting, a division of ISOGEN International Corp.
2200 N. Lamar St., Suite 230, Dallas, TX 95202.  214.953.0004

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