Synopsis InfoPath Forms Services is a server technology that makes it possible for people to fill out forms in a Web browser. By managing forms in a central location, you can streamline business processes and improve relations with customers, partners, and suppliers.
Users don't have to have InfoPath installed on their computer to fill out a browser-enabled form template, nor are they required to download anything extra from the Web. All they need is access to a browser, such as Windows Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, or Mozilla Firefox. InfoPath Forms Services also enables you to store and manage forms and form templates in a centralized location. InfoPath Forms Services is built on and requires Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, which enables you to publish form templates that you design to a common location across an organization. Additionally, users can submit forms to SharePoint libraries, which are folders where a collection of files is stored and where the files often use the same template. It is also possible to integrate forms into document management and life-cycle tasks such as workflow and rights management.
The InfoPath Forms Services technology is available in the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 Enterprise CAL and also, separately, in Microsoft Office Forms Server 2007.
Form templates that can be filled out in a browser are called browser-enabled form templates. To create this type of form template, you design a browser-compatible form template (browser-compatible form template: A form template that is designed in InfoPath by using a specific compatibility mode. A browser-compatible form template can be browser-enabled when it is published to a server running InfoPath Forms Services.) in InfoPath, publish it to a server running InfoPath Forms Services, and enable it for use on the Web.
In some cases, you can enable the form template for use on the Web by selecting the Enable this form to be filled out by using a browser check box in the InfoPath Publishing Wizard. In other cases, you must publish the form template to a shared location on your corporate network and then contact a server farm administrator for assistance in enabling the form template and making it available on the server.
Administrator approval is required in the following scenarios:
If administrator approval is required, the Publishing Wizard guides you through the steps of preparing the form template for hand-off to an administrator.
After a browser-compatible form template is browser-enabled, users can use their browser to fill out forms that are based on that form template.
The user experience of filling out a form in a browser is nearly identical to that of filling out a form in InfoPath. For example, controls such as repeating sections and features such as formulas and conditional formatting work the same way in both environments.
Although filling out a form in a browser is like filling out a form in InfoPath, there is one key difference. In a Web browser, the InfoPath menus and toolbars are replaced by a toolbar across the top of the form, which displays options for saving, closing, printing, and updating the form. This bar also appears at the bottom of a form, so that users don't have to scroll back to the top of a long form to complete their form.
If you enable the submit options for your form template, users also see a Submit button on the toolbar. When they click this button, the form data is submitted directly to the data source that you specified when designing the form template, such as a Web service or SharePoint list. If your form template has more than one view (view: A form-specific display setting that can be saved with a form template and applied to form data when the form is being filled out. Users can switch between views to choose the amount of data shown in the form.), users will also see a View list on the toolbar.
When you design your form template, you can customize the toolbar settings in the Form Options dialog box. For example, you can remove one or more buttons or hide the toolbar at the bottom of the user's form.
In the following sections, you will learn more about the benefits of using InfoPath Forms Services.
When you publish a form template to a server running InfoPath Forms Services, you can distribute it not just on your corporate intranet, but also on external Web sites, such as extranet sites or corporate Web sites. This allows you to collect data from customers, partners, suppliers, and others who are vital to the success of your business. For example, a large insurance company can use a single browser-enabled form template to collect and process insurance claims. An insurance customer can use a browser to fill out the claim form on the company's Web site. Alternatively, if the customer calls the insurance company to report the claim, an insurance agent can use InfoPath to fill out the same claim form on an intranet site. Similarly, a government agency can collect data from citizens by posting browser-enabled form templates on its Web site.
When users access the form, either by navigating to a library or by entering a URL for the form in their browser, one of two things can happen:
Note It you prefer, you can customize the settings for your form template so that it always opens in a browser, even if users have InfoPath installed on their computer. This can be useful when you want the experience of filling out a form to be identical for everyone, or when you don't want the form to be opened in InfoPath, because you want to discourage users from opening or modifying the underlying form template in design mode.
If users will fill out forms on a mobile device, such as a personal digital assistant (PDA) or smartphone, you can design your browser-enabled form template so that it can be opened and filled out by using a mobile device browser. When users use a mobile device to access the form, it opens on their screen in a simplified format.
Forms are at the center of many business processes. By hosting browser-enabled form templates on a server running InfoPath Forms Services, you can integrate form data with existing business processes or applications. For example, you can:
You can store your form templates and their associated forms in a centralized repository on a server running InfoPath Forms Services. This makes it easy to find, share, and manage forms and form templates.
Key benefits include the ability to:
By creating content types, you can reuse form templates and settings across a site collection (site collection: A set of Web sites on a virtual server that have the same owner and share administration settings. Each site collection contains a top-level Web site and can contain one or more subsites.). In the past, if you wanted to use a form template in multiple SharePoint libraries, you had to publish two distinct copies of the form template, one for each library. If you wanted to update the form template, you had to change the form template in both places. However, now you can publish a form template as a site content type. When you update the content type, your change is automatically applied wherever that content type is used.
You can assign a single content type to multiple libraries across a site collection or assign multiple content types to a single library. For example, you can add a content type for status report forms to all of the libraries that are used by the sales department in your company, so that each sales team is collecting and reporting the same type of information to management. Alternatively, suppose that your department uses different form templates for travel request, trip report, and expense report forms. You can publish the three form templates as site content types and add them to a single library used for storing team travel-related information. When people create a new form from the library, they can then select which of these form templates they want to use.
Note From InfoPath, you can publish a form template to a server that is not running InfoPath Forms Services. For example, you can publish your form template to a server running Windows SharePoint Services. In this scenario, you can take advantage of some of the features mentioned in the preceding list, such as the ability to publish a form template to a library. However, if you want to create a browser-enabled form template, or if you want to use features such as data connection libraries, then you must publish the form template to a server running InfoPath Forms Services.