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What are InfoPath and InfoPath Forms Services?
Together with Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010, InfoPath 2010 facilitates creation of end-to-end solutions on SharePoint Server 2010 that feature powerful forms together with enterprise scale workflow and access to key business data. InfoPath was designed, at its core, as a powerful XML editing engine that enables end users to interface easily with data.
Together with the powerful collaboration features of SharePoint, InfoPath 2010 is a key part of the toolset you need to rapidly create applications that meet your enterprise application needs. InfoPath 2010 and InfoPath Forms Services in SharePoint Server 2010 empower business users to automate their own business processes that collect, manage and share information. IT departments, developers, and power users can create powerful business applications on the SharePoint platform using InfoPath forms to interact with external data, to drive workflow, and to enhance web pages. User's familiarity with the Microsoft Office and SharePoint experience makes creating, using, and improving business processes with InfoPath 2010 forms quicker and easier.
Microsoft InfoPath 2010 enables you to design and fill out electronic forms, such as expense reports, time cards, surveys, and insurance forms. You can do this by using standard form controls, such as text boxes or list boxes, or insert controls that offer users the flexibility to add, remove, replace, or hide sections of a form to make a richer user experience. The forms that you design can range from simple forms for collecting data from your immediate team to complex forms that are part of a much larger business process. InfoPath forms can be used on their own, or you can design them to work with existing databases or Web services. Forms can be published to and accessed from a common location on a company network, such as a shared folder, a Web server, or a library located on a Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 or Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 site.
When filling out a form in InfoPath 2010, users can use familiar, document-like features. For example, they can check spelling in their form or insert formatted text and graphics into certain fields. Depending on the design of the form template, users may also be able to merge the data from multiple forms into a single form or export the data to other programs. If a form template is browser-enabled, users who don't have InfoPath installed on their computer can fill out the form in a Web browser or on a mobile device instead.
If you use InfoPath 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 running InfoPath Forms Services, you can design browser-compatible form templates in InfoPath and enable them for use on internal and external Web sites. This lets you share business forms with a variety of users, including employees, customers, suppliers, and partners. Users aren't required to have InfoPath installed on their computers to fill out a form, nor are they required to download anything extra from the Web. All users need is access to a browser, such as Windows Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, or Mozilla Firefox. If users do have InfoPath installed on their computers, they can display and fill out the form in InfoPath rather than a browser.
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What are the components of InfoPath?
InfoPath consists of the following components: InfoPath Designer 2010, InfoPath Filler 2010, and SharePoint Server 2010 running InfoPath Forms Services. InfoPath Designer and InfoPath Filler are installed on client computers as part of Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2010. If you want to publish InfoPath forms as browser-compatible forms, you must have access to an installation of SharePoint Server 2010 running InfoPath Forms Services.
InfoPath Designer 2010 To create and publish an InfoPath form template (.xsn), you use InfoPath Designer 2010. When you design a form template (.xsn) file, you create a single file that contains the supporting files that implement the layout, views, and logic upon which a particular InfoPath form solution depends. When users fill out a form, they are actually filling out a form (.xml) file instance, which is based on the associated form template. Using InfoPath Designer you can quickly create forms that include pre-built layout sections, out-of-the-box rules, improved rules management, and varied styles. In addition, InfoPath Designer now includes a number of different form templates, so you don't need to define all parts of the form from scratch.
InfoPath Filler 2010 With InfoPath Filler, people who are filling out forms have a simple and easy-to-use UI and can choose to save a draft, save a local copy, or save as a PDF and have a local record of the form. All the unnecessary functionality for designing forms has been removed for people who just want to open and fill out a form.
InfoPath Forms Services Improved parity between InfoPath Filler 2010 forms and InfoPath browser forms in SharePoint Server 2010 ensures greater consistency for users who are filling out forms. For example, functionality available in both environments includes: Bulleted, numbered, and plain lists; Multiple selection list boxes; Combo boxes; Picture buttons; Hyperlink capabilities; Choice group and section; Filtering functionality; Date and time controls; and People pickers.
Additionally, InfoPath 2010 is integrated with SharePoint Designer 2010 to enable you to create and customize the forms associated with Business Connectivity Services (BCS) external lists and workflow solutions.
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How can InfoPath be used?
You can use InfoPath to collect business data from the people you work with, including your colleagues, partners, suppliers, and customers. InfoPath forms can be straightforward, simple forms that are used by several people in a small workgroup. For example, a 10-person sales team can use an InfoPath form to informally collect and share information about sales calls. The data in those forms can be merged into a single summary report that is sent to management each month.
Alternatively, organizations can design highly sophisticated forms that are connected to existing corporate databases or integrated into existing business systems. For example, the developers in your information technology (IT) department can design an InfoPath form template to manage the expense reporting process for your organization. The form template can include views and business logic features that enable different categories of users to submit the expense report, review it, approve it, and reimburse the submitter.
New features introduced in InfoPath 2010 and InfoPath Forms Services make it easy to build more powerful SharePoint applications quickly, such as:
- Customizing the forms used to create, view, and edit SharePoint list items
- Creating workflow applications together with SharePoint Designer 2010
- The InfoPath Form Web part, which allows you to create powerful web parts without writing code, and to connect them with other web parts to create data mashups.
The following list outlines some of the benefits of using InfoPath:
Office system integration InfoPath works with a number of other programs and servers in the Microsoft Office system, including Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Access. For example, you can design and fill out InfoPath forms in e-mail messages, export form data to worksheets, submit form data to a database, or query data from a SharePoint list. In addition, developers can embed InfoPath forms — without menus, toolbars, or other aspects of the user interface — into custom applications.
Reusable data The data that users enter in an InfoPath form doesn't have to remain locked inside that form forever; it can be reformatted or reused in a variety of ways. This flexibility enables the developers in your organization to integrate the form data into existing business processes. For example, the data collected in sales reports forms can be used to update your company's Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems. This allows people throughout the company to access the data when and where they need it, so that they can make better-informed decisions. With more timely updates on sales numbers, it is easier for other groups, such as operations and finance, to make accurate forecasts of production and costs.
Consistent, accurate data InfoPath includes a number of features that help users avoid data-entry errors and fill out forms more quickly. For example, you can use formulas to automatically calculate mathematical values for users, use conditional formatting to draw the user's attention to data, or enable the spelling checker so that users can check for spelling errors before submitting their forms. In addition, when users fill out a form, the data that they enter can be checked for data validation errors. If your form template is connected to a database or Web service, users won't be able to submit data until they correct these errors. This helps you ensure that the data that you collect is accurate and error-free, and that it conforms to whatever standards you specify.
Low overhead Unlike paper forms, which have to be reprinted when a change occurs, InfoPath form templates can easily be modified and republished. In addition, InfoPath automatically detects when a form template has been updated so that users always have the latest version.
Offline support InfoPath forms don't have to be filled out while a user is connected to a network. Users can save forms to their computer, work on them offline, and then submit them to the corporate network when they are reconnected. This is especially useful for people who have intermittent or limited access to network resources, such as employees who travel frequently.
Fewer forms Instead of distributing and maintaining multiple paper forms for the same business process, you can create a single form template in InfoPath that includes multiple views. For example, in a form template for expense reports, you can create one view for employees who enter expenses, a second view for managers who approve expenses, and a third view for employees who process reimbursements. By default, users can switch views by selecting a view from the Current View drop-down list on the Home tab. You can also create rules that automatically switch views when users open the form, submit the form, or click a button on the form.
Flexible controls In addition to standard controls, such as text boxes and list boxes, InfoPath includes a number of controls such as repeating tables, choice groups, and optional sections. These types of controls let you design a flexible form template that accommodates your users. For example, in a form template for expense reports, you can use a repeating table to allow users to enter only as many expense items as they need.
You can also create template parts, which are portions of a form template that can be saved and reused in multiple form templates. A typical template part consists of controls and a data source and may also include features such as data connections, data validation, and rules. Using template parts can save you time and help ensure that the form templates in your organization are consistent in tone, structure, and behavior.
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What is the target audience for InfoPath?
InfoPath 2010 is designed for both advanced business users and IT pros and developers, depending on the type of forms-based solution a user or organization wants to create. Users of all levels, however, can fill out forms.
For Advanced Business Users
With InfoPath 2010, you can design sophisticated electronic forms to quickly and cost-effectively gather information required for an immediate business need. You can customize forms with features such as calculated fields, setting default values, conditional formatting, and ScreenTips, all without writing code. If your organization also uses SharePoint Server 2010, you can create these forms for information stored in SharePoint lists. Storing information in a shared location (such as a SharePoint list) makes it easy for team members to use the information, facilitating collaboration.
In addition, with improvements to the form-filling experience in InfoPath Filler and interoperability with other Microsoft Office 2010 applications, including Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010 (formerly known as Microsoft Office Groove), you can give users more options when filling out forms, including completion online, offline, and on mobile devices. You can also use InfoPath 2010 to customize document information panels in Microsoft Office Word, Microsoft PowerPoint, and Microsoft Excel applications to collect metadata about documents.
For IT Pros and Developers
InfoPath 2010 provides a complete environment for the design, development, deployment, hosting (together with SharePoint Server), collection, aggregation, and integration of electronic forms. Built from the ground up using World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) XML recommendations, InfoPath 2010 is designed to work with your existing infrastructure and process management environment.
For advanced forms for departmental and enterprise business processes, you can create composite applications and workflow sequences with InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 — using little or no code. InfoPath 2010 can be fully integrated with SharePoint Server 2010.
You can connect InfoPath forms with other data sources and line-of-business systems such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, and SAP using SharePoint Server 2010 Business Connectivity Services, Web services, and SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and REST (representational state transfer) Web services. Your InfoPath solutions can also be portable using SharePoint Foundation 2010 solutions file (.wsp) and SharePoint site template (.stp) formats, so you can easily move the application from site to site and server to server. In addition, InfoPath now stores URLs as relative (instead of absolute) to enable portability.
These are just a few examples of InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 capabilities to help you create powerful forms-driven business process automation solutions.
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How InfoPath works with other programs and technologies
To get the most out of InfoPath, you will likely want to use it with other programs, servers, and technologies, including the ones listed in the following table.
|Program or technology
||How it works with InfoPath
|Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010
You can publish form templates directly to a library on a server that is running Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010. This enables related forms to be stored in a single, convenient location. For example, a sales team can use a SharePoint site as a place to fill out, save, and view data from sales report forms. In the library, users can fill out forms that are based on your form template, export the data from completed forms to Excel, or merge the data from several forms into one form. You can also set up a data connection in your form template that receives data from a SharePoint list or library or submits data to a library.
You can additionally publish a form template as a site content type on a server running SharePoint Foundation 2010. This enables you to assign multiple form templates to a single library or assign a single form template to multiple libraries across a site collection.
|Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010
Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 is an integrated suite of server applications that extends the core functionality of SharePoint Foundation 2010.
You can publish form templates directly to a library on SharePoint Server 2010 and then enable them for use on the Web. In addition, you can take advantage of the following features:
InfoPath Forms Services You can design a browser-compatible form template and publish it to a SharePoint Server that is running InfoPath Forms Services. Users can then fill out forms that are based on your form template in a Web browser or on a mobile device. In addition, InfoPath Forms Services provides a central location to store and manage form templates for your organization.
Make Forms for SharePoint Lists With InfoPath 2010, you can create attractive forms with a click of a button based on SharePoint regular or external lists. In a browser, simply navigate to a SharePoint list, and on the SharePoint Ribbon under List Tools, choose to use InfoPath to customize the form. You can automatically generate a form with all the SharePoint list fields and then customize it, reducing the time to create a form. Publish the form with one click and the form will be active on the SharePoint list and ready to use.
Use SharePoint Workspace 2010 for Offline Completion With InfoPath 2010 and SharePoint Workspace 2010, business process participants can work either online or offline. SharePoint Workspace 2010 interoperates with InfoPath forms which makes it easy to take a SharePoint list or library with InfoPath forms offline. Information entered in the forms will be automatically synchronized once the participant is back online, helping people be productive regardless of their connection.
Embed Forms in Web Pages In SharePoint Server 2010, it is easier than ever to host your forms on Web pages using the new InfoPath Form Web Part. In SharePoint Server 2007, users who wanted to host their InfoPath forms on Web pages had to write ASP.NET code in Visual Studio. Now, without writing a single line of code, you can simply add the InfoPath Form Web Part to a Web Part page and point it to your published form. You can use the Web Part to host any InfoPath browser form that has been published to a SharePoint list or form library. You can also connect it to other Web Parts on the page to send or receive data.
Connect Forms with Line-of-Business Systems SharePoint Server 2010 offers an extensible architecture for managing user access to data connections and systems. This simplifies the development of complex forms with access to multiple data sources and minimizes IT support headaches.
InfoPath 2010 interoperates with the Business Connectivity Services (BCS) of SharePoint Server 2010. BCS enhances Microsoft Office applications and SharePoint platform capabilities with out-of-box features, services, and tools that streamline development of solutions with connections between external data and services. BCS can connect to external data sources in multiple ways. BCS can consume and interact with data in a relational database via an ADO.NET data provider. It can also connect to any standard Web Service over SOAP 1.2 protocol, described by a WSDL 1.1 or 2.0. BCS can consume and interact with a Windows Communication Foundation service as well as Microsoft .NET custom code compiled by a developer of a solution. Also, InfoPath 2010 now supports getting XML data from REST Web services. REST Web Services use input parameters that are passed in through a URL. Form designers can now change the URL parameters dynamically in the InfoPath form without any code using rules to get desired data from the REST Web Service.
Using SharePoint Designer 2010, you can build custom InfoPath forms to create, read, update, and delete data in an external list, and these form customizations are preserved when the external list is taken offline using SharePoint Workspace 2010. You can also add business logic with code behind it that works on the server and the client in SharePoint Workspace 2010.
SharePoint Server Sandboxed Solutions With InfoPath 2010, users can now deploy InfoPath forms with a single click, with managed code running as part of a SharePoint Server Sandboxed solution. With SharePoint Server Sandboxed solutions, form designers can upload solutions with code to their SharePoint sites, within a limited set of permissions. A resource quota limits excessive resource usage. The site collection administrator remains in control and makes trust decisions about the solution. The farm administrator can be hands-off.
Data connection libraries If multiple form templates will use the same or similar data connections, you can store the settings for the data connection in a data collection file in a data connection library on an SharePoint Server 2010 site. When a user opens a form that connects to a data connection file, InfoPath uses the settings in that file to connect to the external data source. In this way, multiple form templates can use the same data connection file, so there is no need to create the same data connection from scratch for each form template. Moreover, if the location or connection settings for an external data source change, you need to update only the data connection file, not each form template.
Workflows If you use InfoPath in conjunction with SharePoint Server 2010, you can participate in server-based document workflows directly within InfoPath. You can start a workflow on a form template, track the status of a workflow in progress, or complete a workflow task. SharePoint Server 2010 includes several predefined workflows that are designed to manage common business processes, such as document approval, document review, or signature collection.
Document Information Panels In many Microsoft Office programs, you can update properties for a server document in a Document Information Panel, which appears as a set of editable fields at the top of a document. For example, in a Microsoft Word 2010 document, you might be required to edit properties for author name, date of creation, and document type. This ultimately makes it easier for you to find what you're looking for on the server. For example, you can quickly find all press releases where the customer property matches the name of a particular customer. You can use InfoPath to create or edit a custom Document Information Panel for use with a site or list content type. This enables you to control the look and feel of the Document Information Panel or use InfoPath features, such as data validation and conditional formatting, to customize the behavior of the form fields in the panel.
You can distribute form templates to users by publishing the form template to a list of e-mail message recipients. Similarly, you can design a form template so that users can submit completed forms as an attachment in an e-mail message.
In Outlook 2010, users can additionally open, fill out, and submit InfoPath forms as e-mail messages. They can also reply to or forward the form in an e-mail message, just as they can with any other e-mail message. In their Inbox, users can store collections of related forms in a dedicated InfoPath Forms folder. By displaying data from each form in columns in the folder, users can quickly group, filter, and sort the data from multiple forms.
||Although you can use Word to create a document that looks and feels like a form, Word works best as a word-processing program, not a form-designing program. Conversely, InfoPath was created specifically for designing and filling out electronic forms. If you want to convert existing Word documents into InfoPath form templates, you can use the Import Wizard in InfoPath to do so.
||Users can choose to export data from one or more InfoPath forms into a new Excel worksheet. In addition, some organizations use Excel workbooks as forms to collect data. These workbooks usually include blank cells for users to enter data. You can convert an Excel workbook to an InfoPath form template by using the Import Wizard in InfoPath.
You can connect your form template to an existing Access database. Users can then query or submit data to that database. Similarly, you can populate list boxes with values from the database or bind controls to the fields and groups associated with the database.
In Access 2010, you can additionally create an InfoPath form template based on an Access database and then publish the form template to a list of recipients as an e-mail message.
|Microsoft SQL Server
InfoPath works with SQL Server databases in any of the following formats: Microsoft SQL Server 2000 through Microsoft SQL Server 2008.
You can design a form template that is connected to a SQL Server database. Users can then use the form to query or submit data to the database. Similarly, you can populate list boxes with values from the database or bind controls to the fields and groups associated with the database.
|Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Applications
Although you can customize many aspects of InfoPath forms without writing code, you can also enhance InfoPath forms with code if declarative logic does not meet the needs for implementing your solution functionality. If you know how to write managed code, you can access the Microsoft Visual Studio Tools for Applications programming environment from design mode in order to create, edit, and debug form code ("code behind") written in Microsoft Visual Basic or Microsoft Visual C#. The code is then embedded in the InfoPath form template (.xsn file).
For example, if you want to include the ability for calculating interest in a form, you can write managed code in the form itself and InfoPath Filler or InfoPath Forms Services will run this code when the form is opened or edited.
||You can connect your form template to a Web service in order to exchange XML data with other programs or systems. For example, you can use a Web service to receive data from or submit data to an Oracle database, which is not directly supported by InfoPath. You can also populate list boxes with values that come from the Web service or bind controls to the fields and groups associated with the Web service.
||InfoPath is based on Extensible Markup Language (XML). When you design a form template, InfoPath creates an .xsn file, which is a cabinet (.cab) file that contains the files necessary for the form to function, such as XML Schema (XSD) and XSL Transformation (XSLT) files. When a user fills out a form in InfoPath, the data in that form is saved or submitted as industry-standard XML. However, you don't have to know anything about XML to design a form template or fill out a form. The point is that XML can make it easier for your organization to repurpose the data that it collects by using forms. For example, a single InfoPath form for trip reports can be used to provide XML data to a customer relationship management system, a petty cash system, and a travel planning system. Additionally, if your organization uses a specific .xsd file for expense reports, you can base the design of a form template for expense reports on that .xsd file. If you don't have an existing schema, InfoPath builds one for you when you add controls to your form template.
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