Create a custom task pane to help users fill out a form

A complex form can be confusing for users to fill out. Placeholder text, views, conditional formatting, and rules can help make filling out a form easier, but none of these features provides an overview of how a form works.

You can create a custom task pane and add it to a form template to help make forms that are based on your form template easier for users to understand and fill out correctly.

 Important   Custom task panes are not supported in browser-compatible form templates (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.). If you want to use a custom task pane, your form template must only be filled out by using InfoPath.

In this article


Overview

A custom task pane is a Web page that displays in a Microsoft Office InfoPath task pane (task pane: A window within an Office program that provides commonly used commands. Its location and small size allow you to use these commands while still working on your files.) when a user fills out a form.

Form with a custom task pane

Callout 1 The name of the custom task pane appears here.
Callout 2 The Web page appears here.

You can specify one Web page to use as the default custom task pane for a form template. If you want, you can add more Web pages to a form template as resource files (resource file: A file created outside of InfoPath, such as an .html, .xml, or .xsd file, which is added to a form template to support the functionality of the form.), and then use hyperlinks to connect them. When people fill out a form that is based on the form template, they can navigate these Web pages in the custom task pane.

 Note   Only HTML (HTML: The standard markup language used for documents on the World Wide Web. HTML uses tags to indicate how Web browsers should display page elements such as text and graphics and how to respond to user actions.) is rendered in a custom task pane.

 Tip   You can use Microsoft Office Word to create the content for your custom task pane, and then save it as a Web page. Most Word formatting is retained.

Once you have created the content for your custom task pane, you can do one of two things with it:

  • Add it to the form template    If you expect to update the custom task pane content infrequently or not at all, you should add the HTML file to the form template. This lets users view the custom task pane even when they fill out the form while they are offiline.
  • Link to it from the form template    If you plan to update the custom task pane content frequently, and you do not want to republish the form template every time that you update the content, you should store the HTML file in another location. Then you can link to the content from the form template. When you want to update the customer task pane, you revise the HTML file, or replace it with a new one.

 Note   The location in which you store the HTML file must be avaliable to the people who fill out forms that are based on your form template. Also, if the location is not in the same domain as the form template, users will see a warning when they start to fill out the form.

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Before you begin

  1. Plan your content.    If you are designing a new form template, talk to people who will fill out forms that are based on your form template to understand their needs. This will help you plan what kind of content you want to include in the custom task pane. If you are adding a custom task pane to an existing form template, talk to the people who have filled out forms that are based on the form template, and to the people who have used the collected information. This will help you determine what help people need.

 Note   Your overall help strategy should include other elements, such as placeholder text. For more information, see the See Also section.

 Tip   If you are planning help content for a form template that will be deployed in a large enterprise, you might consider convening a focus group or conducting a survey to help determine your overall help strategy.

  1. Decide how you will create the Web page.    You can use Microsoft Office Word to write the content for your custom task pane, and then save the file as a Filtered Web page. This format is a generic HTML format that does not contain any Office-specific features. You can also use Web page editors, such as Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer, as long as your finished Web page does not depend on files located in other locations, such as subfolders. You can also write simple HTML files by using a text editor, such as WordPad.
  2. Prepare other resources.    If you are linking to a page from a custom task pane, instead of adding the page to the form template, you will need a Web server that all your users can access. You might also want people to be able to amend the custom task pane, perhaps by using a specific account created for that purpose.

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Compatibility considerations

When you design a form template in Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007, you can choose to 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.). When you design a browser-compatible form template, some features are unavailable. For example, custom task panes (custom task pane: An .html file whose content is displayed in a window next to a form. Custom task panes can provide form-specific commands and Help content.), which are often used to display custom Help text, are unsupported in browser-compatible form templates. To add Help to a browser-compatible form template, consider another way to add Help, such as using conditional formatting (conditional formatting: The process of changing the appearance of a control, including its visibility and read-write state, based on values entered into the form.) to display contextual Help.

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Create a custom task pane

  1. Write the content for the custom task pane and save it as a Web page. If you use Word to write the content, save the file as a Filtered Web page.
  2. Open the form template in design mode (design mode: The InfoPath design environment in which you can create or modify a form template.).
  3. On the Tools menu, click Form Options.
  1. In the Form Options dialog box, under Category, click Programming.
  2. Select the Enable custom task pane check box.
  3. To add the custom task pane to the form template, so that forms can be filled out offline, do the following:
    1. Click Resource Files.
    2. In the Resource Files dialog box, click Add.
    3. In the Add File dialog box, locate the file that you want to add, and then double-click it.
    4. Repeat the previous two steps until you have added all the resource files that you need. If you are using multiple Web pages, make sure that you add them all.
    5. When you are finished adding resource files, in the Resource Files dialog box, click OK.
  4. In the Task pane name box, enter a name for the custom task pane. The name will appear above the task pane.
  5. In the Task pane location box, do one of the following:
  • If you put the Web page on a Web server, enter the URL for the page.
  • If you added the Web page as a resource, click the arrow, and then select the Web page from the list. If you have more than one resource file, select the file you want as the default.
  1. Click OK.
  2. To test your changes, click Preview on the Standard toolbar, or press CTRL+SHIFT+B.

Your custom task pane should appear next to the form.

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Applies to:
InfoPath 2007