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Getting Started with Xataface


Web Lite is a simple framework for developing data-driven web applications in PHP and MySQL. This tutorial will show you how to get a dataface powered web application running in under 20 minutes.

Customizing Field labels, descriptions, and widgets

Using simple INI configuration files, you can customize the look and feel of your application. You can change widgets, labels, field descriptions, and more.

In the previous 2 sections we learned how to create a simple application by desiging a database and then installing the basic directory structure to make our application operational.  Now it is time to "decorate" the application a little bit.  Decoration occurs by way of simple configuration files that are placed in strategic locations in the application.  We can customize such things as:

  • Widget types (e.g., use a select list for a field rather than a text field)
  • Labels (e.g., The ProgramName field's label can say "Program Name" instead of just "ProgramName")
  • Field Descriptions . You can add descriptions to fields to help explain their meaning and how to use the application.
  • HTML attributes.  (e.g., Make a text field 50 characters wide)

Table Configuration Directories

You will recall, that when we used the 'makesite' script to generate the directory structure for our web application, it created a directory named 'tables', with subdirectories named after each of the tables in our database.  The directory structure of the application looked like:

The 'tables/Program' and 'tables/Course' are refered to as "table configuration directories" . All of the configuration files a table in a Xataface application are stored in its associated table configuration directory.  For example all configuration files for the 'Program' table are located in the 'tables/Program' directory.

There are 4 main files that are generally contained in a table's configuration directory:

  • fields.ini - Contains configuration for the fields of the table (e.g., field labels, descriptions, widget types, etc...)
  • valuelists.ini - Contains value lists (vocabularies) that can be used in the table to limit input into certain fields like select lists.
  • relationships.ini - Defines the relationships between this table and other tables in the application.
  • <TableName>.php (where <TableName> is the name of the table. - A delegate PHP class that allows you to further customize the behavior of the application with respect to this table. May contain custom fields, importing/exporting functionality, permissions information, and more...

Customizing Labels and Descriptions

We will start off by adding custom labels and descriptions to the 'Program' table of our 'FacultyOfWidgetry' application.  This sort of customization settings are placed in a file named 'fields.ini' inside the table's configuration directory.

  1. Create the 'fields.ini' file in the Program table configuration directory (i.e., tables/Programs/fields.ini).
  2. Add the following to this file:
    widget:label = "Program Name"
    widget:description = "Enter the name of the program"

    Now look at the "Edit Record" form in the Xataface application:

    Notice how the label for the "ProgramName" now says "Program Name" (note the space between "Program" and "Name"). And its description matches the description specified in the fields.ini file.

The widget:label and widget:description attributes can be defined for any field in any table of the application.

Using different widgets

If no widgets are defined in the fields.ini file, a Xataface application will make a best guess at the type of widget that should be used to edit the value in a field.  In general, the widgets used by default are as follows:

  • VARCHAR, CHAR, INT : html text field
  • DATE, DATETIME fields: calendar widget
  • TEXT fields : html text area
  • BLOB fields : html file upload field
  • INT Fields with "AUTO INCREMENT" : html hidden field
  • VARCHAR or CHAR fields with "Password" or "password" as part of the name : html password field
  • ENUM fields : html select list
  • SET fields : html checkbox group (not yet supported as of this writing).

You can change the widget that is used to edit a field by specifying a "widget:type" attribute for the field in the fields.ini file.  For more information about the available widgets, see the widget:type manual page.

Example: Using HTML Editor to edit the HTMLOutline field

Clearly the HTMLOutline field in the Program table is intended to store HTML content.  By default our application only provides a text area to do the editing so the user is expected to enter the HTML markup by hand.  It would be much better to provide the user with a WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) HTML editor widget.  That is exactly what we are going to do.

We will add a section to the fields.ini file so that it now looks like:

widget:label = "Program Name"
widget:description = "Enter the name of the program"

widget:type = "htmlarea"

Now refresh the Xataface application in your web browser and look at the edit form for a record of the Program table:

As you can see, the HTMLOutline field now has an HTML Editor widget for editing.  Most users will find this much nicer to work with than a normal text area.  Xataface uses FCKEditor for its html editor widget.

There are a number of widgets that can be specified in the widget:type parameter:

  • checkbox - An HTML checkbox (or checkbox group depending on context).
  • date - Month/Day/Year select lists for selecting dates.
  • calendar - A text field with a button that opens a small calendar widget when clicked.
  • group - A complex widget type for editing multiple values as a group (useful for XML fields)
  • hidden - a hidden field
  • password - An HTML password widget
  • select - An HTML select list (requires the 'vocabulary' attribute)
  • static - an uneditable field
  • table - A complex widget type for editing multiple values in a tabular format (Useful for XML fields)
  • text - an html text field
  • textarea - an html text area

Changing HTML attributes of widgets

Sometimes you may want even finer grained control of your widgets' appearance than to just specify the type, label, and desription.  Perhaps you want to make a text field 50 characters wide, or to set the CSS class of the html element.  This can be done using the 'widget:atts:' parameter for a field.  A short example is the easiest way to explain how this works.

Modify the fields.ini for the Program table so it looks like:

widget:label = "Program Name"
widget:description = "Enter the name of the program"
widget:atts:size = 50
widget:atts:style = "font-size: 24pt; font-family: Apple Chancery"

widget:type = htmlarea

We have added 2 lines:

widget:atts:size = 50
widget:atts:style = "font-size: 24pt; font-family: Apple Chancery"

What this does is add the html attributes size="50" and style="font-size: 24pt; font-family: Apple Chancery" to the html text field that is used to edit the ProgramName field.

Look at the results:

The HTML tag for the text field now looks like:

<input class="default" id="ProgramName" name="ProgramName" type="text" size="50" style="font-size: 24pt; font-family: Apple Chancery" value="Basic Widgetry" />	

In fact you can add arbitrary attributes to any of the fields using the same convention.  Some useful examples are:

  • widget:atts:rows for text areas to set the number of rows of text they should display.
  • widget:atts:cols for text areas to set the number of columns (1 character = 1 column)
You can even use javascript calls in here if you like:
  • widget:atts:onclick = "doJsFunction();"

Download source files

Download the source files for this application as a tar.gz archive

These source files reflect the state of the application at the current point of the tutorial.  As changes are made to the application in later sections, downloads of those versions are made available for download also.


In this section we learned how to change the labels, descriptions, and widgets for fields.  We also learned how to add HTML attributes to the widgets to achieve very fine-grained control over the display of  our forms.

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