eXist-db offers support for the W3C XForms standard. It offers both a client-side (XSLTForms) and a server-side (betterFORM) implementation. With this it is fully equipped to build complete applications that use XML from front to back. However, eXist-db will also work with other XForms processors, such as Orbeon or betterFORM.
As eXist-db also has native support for RESTful interactions, saving XML data is as easy as using a HTTP PUT submission. For more complex tasks, you can submit your XForms instances to an XQuery, post-process them and get the results back into your form. Several examples are referred to below.
betterFORM is a server-side W3C XForms 1.1 implementation written in Java. It covers 99% of the XForms recommendation and has been extensively tested against the official XForms 1.1 Test Suite. All modern browsers are supported without the need for plug-ins. betterFORM can also be obtained via Github and run separately as a standard webapp. It is published under the BSD license. It is fully integrated in eXist.
XForms processing with betterFORM is handled by a servlet filter (XFormsFilter) which nicely integrates with the URL Rewriting feature of eXist. You can use XQuery to generate your XForms markup and process it in a single request.
Warning: the following information is subject to change for eXist-db 5.0 when betterFORM will likely not be available by default any more
betterFORM is activated once you have installed eXist-db on your machine. By default betterFORM is configured to run XForms exclusively from the database.
To execute an XHTML/XForms document it is sufficient to store it into your database (using WebDAV or the admin client) and access it via the REST interface.
betterFORM can also be configured to listen for a certain collection in the database
only or to fetch documents from the filesystem (from a directory below the
webapp directory). This can be done by changing the filter mapping in
To ease the work with betterFORM it is highly recommended to install the betterFORM dashboard along with the FeatureExplorer and the demo application.
FeatureExplorer is the live documentation of betterFORM. It is itself an XForms document that offers a navigation menu with links to many sample XForms that show working examples along with relevant links to the XForms Spec. A live CSS reference helps with styling forms by showing all available CSS classes.
XSLTForms consists of two components:
the XSLT stylesheet
The XSLT stylesheet can either be applied server-side or within the
client (the browser). To let the browser do the job, all you have to
do is prepend an XSL processing instruction to your XForms document, pointing to the
Please have a look at hello.xml for a very basic example using client-side transformation.
When applying the stylesheet server-side, you need to make sure serialization parameters are set correctly. For example, you can apply the stylesheet within an XQueryURLRewrite controller pipeline:
It is important to set the
indent serialization parameter to
you apply the stylesheet server-side, make sure you remove the processing instruction from
the source file, or the browser will try to run the stylesheet as well (which most likely
leads to errors).
When you load an XForms document through eXist's REST interface, when the REST server
xsl-stylesheet processing instruction in the document, it tries to
apply the referenced stylesheet server-side. Unfortunately, the default serialization
settings of the REST interface set
indent="yes", which leads to problems
As a workaround, you can append a request parameter
the REST URI. However, the recommended approach would be to use
XQueryURLRewrite to properly handle those requests and apply the
Under certain conditions, for instance when XSLTforms is used, the betterFORM engine needs to be disabled. This can be done in two ways:
Per request, by setting an HTTP attribute:request:set-attribute("betterform.filter.ignoreResponseBody", "true")
System global, by editing
$EXIST_HOME/webapp/WEB-INF/betterform-config.xml:<property name="filter.ignoreResponseBody" value="false">
Change the value of the property
trueand restart eXist-db.
By removing the configuration for XFormsFilter in
$EXIST_HOME/webapp/WEB-INF/web.xml. By commenting the filter-mapping XForms processing will be disabled. However note that betterFORM still get loaded on the classpath.
To fully remove betterFORM from your eXist-db binary, you have to comment the line
include.feature.betterform = truein
$EXIST_HOME/extensions/build.propertiesand rebuild the code.
betterFORM@github - source code available here
betterFORM coverage of W3C XForms 1.1 Test Suite
XForms Wikibook is a useful place to learn XForms
XRX Wikibook about XML application building
XSLTForms Wikibook provides specific information on XSLTForms
XSLTForms coverage of W3C test suite