Form Building Software and Hosting
One commonly-used and powerful, yet difficult to master feature of HTML is the interactive HTML form.
With form controls, you can change a simple HTML document to an interactive tool that gathers user data and feedback.
Setting Up Forms
However, setting up interactive forms can be tedious, and styling them so that they are not offensive to the eye can be difficult.
Then, when you are done with all the front-end-related tasks, you'll need to set up the server-side handling of your data.
Thankfully, there are tools to help you build and manage beautiful forms. In this article, we will cover how forms work and why styling them is difficult.
Then we'll look at good form builder tools which provide an easy way for you to create and style your online forms.
How Online Forms Work
It is helpful to have a solid understanding of how forms normally work so that you can get the most out of a form-building tool.
Types of Form Inputs
Remember, a form is a collection of form controls. Each form control is capable of receiving input from the user.
There are many different types of form inputs, including:
- Drop-down selectors
When a form is submitted, the values of the various form elements are collated into an HTTP request and sent to whatever URL is specified in the form code.
From there, it is up to a server to handle the data.
An HTTP request is the same type of request that your browser makes when you load a new webpage.
The server that receives the form data handles the request the way it would any other HTTP request — it processes the data it receives, and then it responds.
The target URL where the form data is sent, as well as the HTTP method used to send the data, is defined in the main form element.
Method Requests - GET and POST
The GET method request is used for forms which are asking for information from the server, such as search results — the request is seeking to get some content (this is the type of request you make when you load a new web page).
The POST request method, on the other hand, is used send (or post) some information to the server.
It should be used whenever the form's purpose is to collect data from the user.
Styling Your Forms
The default display of form elements (or fields) in most browsers is extremely unattractive.
In addition to the use of the general 'battleship gray' buttons and drop-down UI, there are typically serious problems with alignment, line height, and spacing.
In addition to individual elements being visually unattractive, the overall effect of the form with all of the elements put together is . . . not great.
Building a Stylesheet
Some, but not all, of the problems (like vertical height and spacing), are dealt with in some of the more popular CSS resets.
If you are going to build a CSS stylesheet for your project from scratch, be sure to create several detailed example forms using all of the form elements in a variety of combinations.
Be especially mindful of multi-column forms.
Because of the difficulties of form styling, using form builder software can often save you a lot of trouble.
Server-Side Handling of Your Forms and Your Data
You need to have some server-side script or application to process form input.
If you are using a Content Management System, you might have the capacity to set this easily, but if not, you will need a service to provide this functionality for you.
Web Form Builders
The easiest way to set up this functionality is to use a web form builder.
Standalone form building systems, however, will save your collected form data into an account where you can view it.
They will often email form responses to you as they come in.
More than easy to form creation, however, is the security form building tools offer. Using a form building tool typically means that you will not be responsible for setting up the security required to guard the integrity of your data.
Data breaches are hot news items, and there is more and more legislation governing the protection of individuals' data.
If you do not feel confident in building your own security system, or you prefer to let others do the heavy-lifting, a form building tool is a way to go.
It can be daunting to choose the perfect form building tool for your needs, so in the following sections, we have reviewed some of the more commonly used options to help you get started in finding the right fit.
JotForm is an online form builder that allows you to do things like:
- Generate leads for your marketing team
- Collect payments
- Conduct surveys
- Find job applicants
- Register event guests
When creating your form, you have access to many different themes and templates (so that you are not starting from a blank slate).
Additional Functionalities and Subscription
Furthermore, widgets allow you to add additional functionality to your forms (like image slideshows or YouTube videos), and plugins allow you to integrate your forms with third-party applications and services like PayPal and Google Docs.
JotForm offers a free subscription plan that allows you to try out most of their features.
To get the most from the product, you will likely want to upgrade to one of the more feature-rich plans.
Plans begin at $19 per month.
Google Forms is the free-form building tool that is a part of Google's productivity suite (you have probably used it's more well-known products, including Google Docs and Google Sheets before).
Google Forms is not the most powerful product around, but it is definitely one of the easiest tools to use. Google Forms is as close to a drag-and-drop form builder as you can get.
It can be used for things as simple as planning the next camping trip for your friends to crowdsourcing information from hundreds of your coworkers.
Artifical Intelligence Help
When designing your forms, you can take advantage of the artificial intelligence Google provided (upload your logo or a photo and Google will choose a complementary color scheme) or choose from one of the provided themes.
Sharing your forms with your users is extremely easy, and you get some basic access control features to restrict access to your form.
Furthermore, while most people will not have issues with HTML forms, you can rest assured knowing there are few people out there who have never used a Google Form before.
All of the forms you create are responsive by default, and the responses you get are collected in easy-to-read ways (complete with basic charts).
For more in-depth analysis, you can send your data to Google Sheets. The biggest downside to Google Forms, however, is that you can't embed it onto your site.
You can only link to your form, though this means that Google will handle everything related to the back end for you.
phpFormGenerator is a free, online for building tool that, as its name implies, builds forms compatible with PHP applications.
It has not been updated since 2007, but the tool is still available for use.
No Programming Needed
You do not need any type of programming experience to use phpFormGenerator — you use the provided graphical user interface (GUI) to create your form, and phpFormGenerator will automatically generate the required:
- HTML code
- Form processor code in PHP
- Field validation code (this helps to ensure that the user enters the correct data in the correct fields — for example, it does not make sense to include numeric values in the name field)
All you have to do is copy and paste the created code into your website or web app.
PHP Form Builder
PHP Form Builder is another option for those needing online forms working with PHP on their servers.
More specifically, PHP Form Builder is a great option for those who are using Twitter's Bootstrap framework to create their front-end interfaces.
PHP Form Builder boasts that, with its easy-to-use product, you are just two minutes away from a contact form. Licenses for PHP Form Builder begin at $18 each.
With Typeform, you can create beautiful forms complete with features that keep your users engaged: photos, videos, and GIFs.
You have live previews during the form creation process, and after you have shipped your work, you have a host of analytics-related tools to see how your users have responded to your questions.
Integration Kept Simple
Typeform comes with built-in Google Sheets and MailChimp integration, but using Zapier, you have access to over 500 other integrations.
Typeform offers a free subscription plan designed to let you try out the product.
However, if you want to use Typeform for any of your production environments, you will want to upgrade to a paid option.
Prices begin at $30 per month (billed annually).
Wufoo is an online form designer that can be used for contact forms, digital surveys, event invitations, and more so that you can collect the data you need. All of this can be done in three steps:
- Create your form
- Share your form
- Get your data
When it comes to retrieving the data that you have collected, you can opt to receive email or text notifications as responses come in or you can choose to get a real-time report (or both!).
Easy-to-Use Interface and Payments
Wufoo boasts an easy-to-use GUI, easy form customization, galleries, and over 400 templates so that you do not have to start your forms from scratch.
If you are ready to take your forms to the next level, you can use the provided rules functionality so that you can add logic and change the behavior of your forms based on the criteria you provide.
You can accept payments via Wufoo forms. Wufoo offers a simple, no-frills free plan, but the more feature-rich options begin at $19 per month.
FormBuilder is a super simple, browser-based online form building tool that allows you to create your form by dragging and dropping the appropriate elements.
Do note, however, that FormBuilder is just that — it does not include anything you need to manage the responses you get or secure the data you have collected.
If you are in need of form building software for an enterprise or a government-level website, look no further than Orbeon Forms.
Of the options mentioned in this article, Orbeon is probably the most powerful, feature-rich option.
However, with great power comes a steep learning curve. Orbeon is a great option if you need longer forms with more complex logic and validation. It features a browser-based GUI, and despite its complexity, you can still deploy a complete form in mere minutes.
Orbeon Features, Versions, and Responsiveness
All Orbeon forms are responsive by default, and you can access Orbeon's administrative features no matter what device you are using.
Other features you might find helpful include:
- Data calculations
- Branching, so you can customize your respondents' form experience
- Repeating sections and tables so you can reuse work
- PDF generation of your forms
- Support for multi-page form
- Robust access control features
There are two versions of Orbeon Forms.
There is the open source Community Edition, where you are responsible for all hosting- and back-end-related requirements, as well as a fully-hosted Professional Edition.
WordPress is the most popular content management system (CMS) in use.
As such, there are a lot of plugins that you can use to create forms if you have a WordPress site.
Here are some options you might consider.
Contact Form 7
Contact Form 7 is one of the more popular WordPress form options with over 5 million active installations.
Contact Form 7 allows you to do things like:
- Fully customize all the forms (including multi-page forms) you create using a simple markup language
- Manage multiple contact forms
- Handle submissions using AJAX calls
- Enable CAPTCHA to minimize the amount of spam/falsified responses from your forms
- Filter out "faked" responses
Contact Form 7 does not come with server-side handling for your responses, but the developers recommend that you use Flamingo for such purposes.
Furthermore, if you need multi-language forms, Contact Form 7 works well with Bogo. Contact Form 7 is free to use, though donations are appreciated.
In addition to the typical features you expect from a form-building tool (input selection, form customization, and auto-generated code to embed your form), Gravity Forms includes things like:
- A conditional logic for your forms
- Auto-responses to let you know when form replies come in
- File uploads so that your users can provide additional information outside of the input fields
- Calculator features so you can perform calculations in values provided by responders
- Creation of WordPress posts based on your front-end forms
Additional Features and Integration
Gravity Forms also offers elite features like surveys, quizzes, polls, and video recording.
If you use other third-party applications (think MailChimp, PayPal, Stripe, Salesforce, and more), the chances are high that you can integrate them with your Gravity Forms installation.
Licenses for Gravity Forms are solid on an annual basis with prices beginning at $59 per year.
There are no free trials, but there is an online demo for you to see if Gravity Forms will meet your needs.
TDO Mini Forms
While the TDO Mini Forms plugin is no longer available, we nevertheless wanted to mention it.
TDO Mini Forms was a form development tool, yes, but what made it stand out was its user-generated content functionality.
People could submit content by themselves, and what they submitted would be used as a WordPress post. TDO has since been removed for security reasons, but if you are interested in similar functionality for your WordPress site, check out some of the alternatives we have found.
Interactive forms are highly useful, but they can be difficult to build and even more difficult to secure.
One of the best ways to get up and running with forms for your website or web app is to use a dedicated form builder.
In this article, we covered form building options you might be interested in using.
Hopefully, you found something that fits your needs, but if not, we hope you have provided you with the advice you need to continue the search for your form builder!