Simple Form Creation with Wufoo: A Developer’s Perspective

Joe Hewitson

This is article was sponsored by Wufoo. Thank you for supporting the sponsors who make SitePoint possible!

Forms. A necessary evil in today’s online world. Collecting important data since the world wide web began, these website components can be frustrating, at best – even for seasoned developers. From dynamic JavaScript actions to secure connections, web forms are often far more complicated than it seems they should be.

This is where my own personal experience comes in. Recently contacted by a client to put together a relatively simple site, I was confronted with an unsettling revelation. Out of all the separate pieces to this rather small project, the most time consuming and difficult part was shoehorning a dynamic yet elegant form for collecting critical information. There had to be a better way.

Enter Wufoo. A form creation service aimed at non developers looking to include highly functional forms in their websites without the help of developers. Though it may seem counter-intuitive for a developer like myself to make use of a service that prides itself on developer-less use, I decided to take a look. What have I got to lose anyways, right?

Wufoo for the uninitiated

For those that haven’t heard of Wufoo, it’s essentially a pretty interface for creating complex web forms. Wufoo sells a service not a specific piece of software and, as such, users that land on the company’s website are directed to create a Wufoo account that will be used to utilize the creation tools. Being geared towards the not-so-technical crowd, all forms created are stored on Wufoo’s own servers along with the data they collect.

There are obvious advantages to this service based approach. First and foremost, the intricacies of secure data collection are automatically taken care of. This includes databases, backend code, and form scripts. Secondly, all forms created can be easily managed in one location and also reused as many times as necessary.

While these features are no doubt a strong selling point for Wufoo’s intended audience, there was a slightly different aspect of these services that grabbed the attention of a development minded chap such as myself. That is, useful APIs and code export functionality.

The task at hand

Before we get into the nitty gritty of form creation with Wufoo, let me lay out the task I had set before me. The client wanted a customer feedback form to capture responses to various questions. The form was to be laid out in a multi-page fashion with both dynamic and static fields. Certainly a manageable request that could have easily been accomplished quickly with any number of online form generators. Unfortunately for me, the client was making use of a custom web framework and needed their questionnaire to integrate seamlessly with the look and feel of their homegrown design.

With these guidelines in mind I dove headfirst into the GUI wizardry of Wufoo, holding fast to the hope that this tool would allow me to produce a full featured, integrated form in a fraction of the time.

Upon logging in to the service for the first time I was greeted with an empty form manager with big bold letters showing the way to the form creation tools.

An empty form waiting for fields:

A form awaiting fields

Jumping right, in I began dragging and dropping fields into an empty canvas. The first page was to be a simple contact information page with text fields for name and address all the way to date components for capturing a user’s birthday. A few clicks here, a few drags there and before I knew it I had the first section completed to spec.

First section complete:

First section complete

Easy doesn’t mean limited

At this point my inner developer started leaking out with typical criticisms of GUI laden web tools. The most vocal of which was the fact that I had yet to write a single line of code. I didn’t really need to. Whenever I dragged an element into the form, all tags and scripts were created and added to the form behind the scenes.

Knowing full well that I would need to include class names for the existing styles the client was using I found my way to some more advanced options. In the left hand pane where all the neat form elements were listed, I discovered a quick click of any part of my created form would open up a context sensitive menu such as this:

context sensitive menu

You’ll notice this menu contains handy options common to whatever form element you have selected. In this case it was the “Email” field. While it was certainly convenient to toggle permissions and attributes with the click of a button, the “CSS Layout Keywords” got me the most excited. With this functionality I could simply add class keywords to any form element based on my current knowledge of the client’s CSS. When my form was finished I would simply need to export the corresponding code and place it in the website framework without having to manually apply any styles.

The export process

Speaking of exporting, I took the liberty of testing the true usefulness of Wufoo for a developer like me before I even finished the form. I figured I might as well see if this solution was really going to be flexible enough to seamlessly integrate into a custom web site design.

Navigating to the “Code Manager” of my Wufoo account brought up a menu with several options for publishing my newly created form:

newly created form

Among the more pedestrian choices of simple links to the Wufoo hosted form, I opted for the complete HTML/CSS Code download. This option gave me a neat ZIP file of the form code complete with script, image, and CSS folders. Inside I found the actual HTML code taking up residence in the root level index.html file of the ZIP archive.

The index.html file contains everything you would expect including all form elements laid out nicely and nested within any CSS classes specified. This amounted to roughly 500 lines of code of which I wrote exactly none. Here’s an example of the HTML code generated by Wufoo:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>

<title>
Customer Feedback Form
</title>

<!-- Meta Tags -->
 <meta charset="utf-8">
 <meta name="generator" content="Wufoo">
 <meta name="robots" content="index, follow">

 <!-- CSS -->
 <link href="css/structure.css" rel="stylesheet">
 <link href="css/form.css" rel="stylesheet">

 <!-- JavaScript -->
 <script src="scripts/wufoo.js"></script>

 <!-- [if lt IE 10]>
 <script src="https://html5shiv.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/html5.js"></script>
 <![endif] -->
 </head>

 <body id="public">
 <div id="container" class="ltr">

 <h1 id="logo">
 <a href="http://www.wufoo.com" title="Powered by Wufoo">Wufoo</a>
 </h1>

 <form id="form3" name="form3" class="wufoo topLabel page" autocomplete="off" 
    enctype="multipart/form-data" method="post" novalidate 
    action="https://joewhewitson.wufoo.com/forms/q10npi4x0ghrcjv/#public">

 <header id="header" class="info">
 <h2>Customer Feedback Form</h2>

Nothing too fancy here, though you’ll notice some html5 legacy browser support along with the obligatory Wufoo branding. You’ll also see that the form is set up to send data to my Wufoo account by default, which clearly wouldn’t be of much benefit to the client. Since the project I was working on required data to be stored on the client’s own servers I needed to manually setup a PHP class here to handle the data and replace the action call to Wufoo’s servers. As for styling I simply linked the required style sheets already created by the client and the form dawned the same theme as the site that surrounded it.

The Wufoo API

Upon further investigation of the code export area on Wufoo’s site, I found my way to an intriguing section. Labeled “API Information“, I couldn’t help but click gleefully with anticipation of further customizing the form I had just created. Within the API Information section I was given an API key that acted as a password for retrieving the data collected by my form. Underneath the key was a list of all the form elements I had added to my form with a unique ID.

Immediately opening the documentation I discovered that all of the data retrieved by the form could be extracted and manipulated via this API. The possibilities of use for the API are rather comprehensive. One could create simple scripts used to backup form information, create reports based on the raw data or even add custom form handling before submitting data back to Wufoo’s servers. For folks with multiple forms and even multiple sub users, detailed management statistics can be handled with custom scripting for use on local servers.

The greatest benefit I see that this API provides is transparent access to Wufoo’s framework. This allows the use of its hosting services without sacrificing data availability or flexibility. In the case of my project I was able to convince the client to create a Wufoo account and store their data on Wufoo servers knowing that they would retain full access to all information gathered. In utilizing Wufoo as a service, the client no longer had to worry about supporting a data collection structure.

Instead, the client can use GET requests like the following to grab data from their account:

https://client1.wufoo.com/api/v3/forms/q10nfwi89/fields.xml?pretty=true&system=true

Form data can be both exported and imported in either JSON or XML formats. Simply pass in the form identifier along with format preferences and the data is retrieved. cURL is also supported and would take the form of a call like this:

curl -u [Unique API Key]:footastic [GET URL of desired content such as example above]

By intercepting the action call, the user can doctor the data server side before sending to Wufoo:

// index.html code
require_once('APIBootstrap.php');
$dataHandler = new APIBootstrap();
$functionName = $_GET['functionName'];
$dataHandler->$functionName();

// dataHandler code (submitForm function)
foreach ($_POST as $key => $value) {
    $params[$key] = $value;
} /*
* Do neat stuff with form values here
*/
try {
    $curl = new WufooCurl();
    $response = $curl->post(
        $params,

'https://client1.wufoo.com/api/v3/forms/apisubmitexample/entries.json',
        self::API_KEY);
} catch (Exception $e) {
    print_r($e);
}

Pretty handy huh?

In summary

Web development in general has come a long way in recent years. A job once dominated by technical minded programmers has opened up to the more creative at heart. This change can be attributed to functional GUI tools just like Wufoo. Despite the stigma of limited customizability attached to these tools, with advanced APIs these preconceived notions just don’t hold much water anymore.

That’s not to say there aren’t any caveats to a service like Wufoo. As always, storing data on third party services means you’ll be subject to their server reliability and security. This means forms that collect confidential information will require more scrutiny of the host.

For those with less stringent needs however, a form creation and hosting solution can trim hours off of development and support time. Oh, and did I mention you can still freely access data and
customize the resulting code to your heart’s content?

This is a sponsored article. The company that sponsored it compensated SitePoint to write and publish it. Independently written by SitePoint, sponsored articles allow us to develop and present content that’s most useful and relevant to our readers.

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  • Joan

    Seems a wonderful form generator. And you are using Internet Explorer 10 or 11, aren’t you? For I am using it too.

  • Anonymous

    Could it be integrated on a wix html5 website as it looks a gr8 form builder

  • http://www.brettwidmann.com Brett Widmann

    Very cool! Looks like a neat alternative for Gravity Forms, for those in WordPress land, as there is a plugin or few that integrate Wufoo with WP.