James Gardner: Home > Work > Code > FormBuild > 3.0.1 > FormBuild 3 Manual

FormBuild v3.0.1 documentation

FormBuild 3 Manual


FormBuild has seen three major releases, each incompatible with its predecessor:

FormBuild 1

A sophisticated and complex package for doing all sorts of clever things with forms. In reality though very few of them proved useful. Essentially FormBuild 1 was over-engineered.

FormBuild 2

FormBuild 2 was a vastly simplified API focusing on the core use cases and with automatic variable escaping built in to help prevent XSS attacks. It re-used functionality from the WebHelpers package and was designed to work with FormEncode. The basic behaviour of FormBuild 2 was documented in The Definitive Guide to Pylons but no offical documentation was ever released.

FormBuild 3

FormBuild 3 is another ground-up re-write, removing the dependency on WebHelpers, avoiding the use of literal() objects and only implementing the core features of FormBuild 2, unifying and improving the API.

FormBuild 3 was written alongside FormConvert, a new package designed specifically to handle server-side validation and to complement FormBuild, avoiding the requirement to use FormEncode.

FormBuild 3 and FormConvert provide a carefully-designed and compelling form construction and validation framework but do not depend on each other and work perfectly well independently.


FormBuild does one thing: It helps you build forms in HTML, populating field values, setting options and displaying error messages. It explicitly avoids any sort of validation and can work with any framework specifically because it has no reliance on the way the framework operates. It also avoids any integration with a database schema.

Here are some alternatives:

  • If you want forms generated automatically from SQLAlchemy schema try FormAlchemy.
  • If you want combined validators and fields, try ToscaWidgets.
  • If you just want some helpers to generate the HTML for you try WebHelpers.

The reason I personally use FormBuild over these alternatives is that I like the fact that form generation is totally de-coupled from validation and yet still allows you to build sophisticated, clean forms which are easy to integrate with validation code.


For a validation library which works well with FormBuild I’m personally using FormConvert. It isn’t released yet but in the meantime you can use FormEncode or roll your own validation.

The innovation of FormBuild is model the way HMTL forms behave rather than the way they are constructed. All the various combinations of HTML fields can be modeled as either:

  • single value fields which have a name and take a single value single
  • value fields from options which have a name and take a single value which must be one of the options
  • multi value fields have have a name, a series of possilbe options and zero or more selected values
  • checkboxes which have name and take a single value but which can be checked or unchecked affecting whether the field is submitted or not


A group of single value fields with the same name do not necessarily behave like a multi value field because the available options might not be restricted in the same way. The exception to this is a group of checkboxes which when used together do behave exactly like a multi value field such as an HTML <select> field with multiple values enabled. FormBuild therefore has a special field type called checkbox_group for treating a group of checkboxes as a single multi value field. In the same way, a group of radio buttons with the same name behaves similarly to a single value field from options (except that it is possible to select no value at all with a radiogroup) so FormBuild provides a radio_group field.

FormBuild also separates form design from implementation. You can build a form in a templating language but the values, options, error messages and which check boxes are ticked are all confgured in your application. FormBuild doesn’t deal with validation which is dealt with by a separate package called FormConvert. It also doesn’t deal with multi-page workflows which is instead dealt with by the Wizard package. By treating valdidation and workflow separately from form construction and population you are also free to use alternative tools such as FormEncode or roll your own approaches to deal with more complex cases.


Creating forms in Python can be tedious. FormBuild can help, particularly if you want all the forms in a site to have a consistent style.

Start by creating your own form class from StandardForm:

>>> from formbuild import Form
>>> class StandardForm(Form):
...    pass

All your forms can now be built with StandardForm which means that if you ever need to customise the look and feel or behaviour of all your forms, you can do so in one place by customising your project’s StandardForm class.

In FormBuild there are four important variables:


A dictionary where each key is a field name and each value is the value it takes.


A dictionary where each key is a field name and each value is a string representing an error associated with the current value of a field.


Certain field types such as checkbox groups are made up of various different options of which the user picks one. Often the available options are determined at run-time based on other factors so the options variable is used to specify the available options for a particular instance of a form for the types of fields which take options.


Radio and checkbox fields only submit their name and value if they are checked. The checked variable is a dictionary where the keys are is the names of fields which can be checked and and values are True or False depending on whether or not the field should be checked.

In the application code create a form instance for each form you want to create, using your StandardForm as a basis, setting up the four required variables:

>>> form = StandardForm(
...     value = {
...         'firstname': u'James',
...         'surname': u'',
...         'hobbies': [u'1', u'4'],
...     },
...     error = {
...         'surname': u'Please enter a surname',
...         'hobbies': u'Please choose from the available options, there is no option 4.',
...     },
...     option = {
...         'hobbies': [
...             (u'1', u'Programming'),
...             (u'2', u'Swimming'),
...             (u'3', u'Reading Fiction Books'),
...         ],
...         'salutation': [
...             (u'0', u'--Please select--'),
...             (u'1', u'Mr'),
...             (u'2', u'Mrs'),
...             (u'3', u'Ms'),
...             (u'4', u'Dr'),
...         ]
...     },
...     checked = {
...         'agree': False
...     }
... )

How you generate the values, errors and options is down to your application. FormConvert can help in the conversion of values from HTTP post data to the values you need and back again.

Notice that all the valus are Unicode strings. The options are a list of (value, label) pairs and although the values here are consecutive numbers represented as strings, you could use and values you like.

Now the form instance exists you can use it to build a form. Usually this would be done in a template but the example here uses plain Python. Whilst you can build the HTML structure yourself and add indivudual fields, here we are using FormBuild’s built-in layout tools:

>>> lines = [
...     form.start_with_layout(
...         '/form/submit.py',
...         table_class='form',
...     ),
...     form.row('<h2>Personal Details</h2>'),
...     form.field(
...         label="Salutation",
...         type='dropdown',
...         name='salutation',
...     ),
...     form.field(
...         label="Firstname",
...         type='text',
...         name='firstname',
...         required=True,
...     ),
...     form.field(
...         label="Surname",
...         type='text',
...         name='surname',
...         required=True,
...     ),
...     form.row('<h2>Hobbies</h2>'),
...     form.field(
...         label="Hobbies",
...         type='checkbox_group',
...         name='hobbies',
...         args=dict(align="vert"),
...     ),
...     form.action_bar(
...         form.submit(name='action', value='Submit'),
...     ),
...     form.end_with_layout(),
... ]

Here the required=True option adds an asterix to the label to show the user that the field is required, it has nothing to do with validation, it only affects the interface.

To make the form look prettier you’ll probably want to add some CSS styles. This is a good example:

>>> styles = """\
...     table.form td.label label {
...         font-weight: bold;
...         padding-right: 5px;
...     }
...     table.form .error, table.form span.required {
...         font-weight: bold;
...         color: #f00;
...     }
...     table.form span.small {
...         font-size: 85%;
...         line-height: 77%;
...     }
...     table.form td.label {
...         white-space: no-wrap;
...         width: 170px;
...     }
...     table.form td {
...         padding-bottom: 0px;
...         margin: 0px;
...     }
...     table.form td.field_desc {
...         padding-bottom: 8px;
...     }"""

We are using table.form in the styles because we specified table_class='form' in form.start_with_layout().

You can then put it all together like this:

>>> page = [
...     '<html>',
...     '<head><title>Test Form</title>',
...     '<style type="text/css">',
...     styles,
...     '</style>',
...     '</head>',
...     '<body><h1>Test Form</h1>',
...     '\n'.join(lines),
...     '</body>',
...     '</html>',
... ]
>>> print '\n'.join(page)
<head><title>Test Form</title>
<style type="text/css">
    table.form td.label label {
        font-weight: bold;
        padding-right: 5px;
    table.form .error, table.form span.required {
        font-weight: bold;
        color: #f00;
    table.form span.small {
        font-size: 85%;
        line-height: 77%;
    table.form td.label {
        white-space: no-wrap;
        width: 170px;
    table.form td {
        padding-bottom: 0px;
        margin: 0px;
    table.form td.field_desc {
        padding-bottom: 8px;
<body><h1>Test Form</h1>
<form action="/form/submit.py" method="post"><table class="form">
<tr><td colspan="3"><h2>Personal Details</h2></td></tr>
<tr class="field">
  <td class="label" valign="top" height="10">
    <span style="visibility: hidden">*</span><label>Salutation:</label>
  <td class="field" valign="top">
    <select name="salutation">
<option value="0">--Please select--</option>
<option value="1">Mr</option>
<option value="2">Mrs</option>
<option value="3">Ms</option>
<option value="4">Dr</option>
  <td rowspan="2" valign="top"></td>
<tr class="field">
  <td class="label" valign="top" height="10">
    <span class="required">*</span><label>Firstname:</label>
  <td class="field" valign="top">
    <input type="text" name="firstname" value="James" />
  <td rowspan="2" valign="top"></td>
<tr class="field">
  <td class="label" valign="top" height="10">
    <span class="required">*</span><label>Surname:</label>
  <td class="field" valign="top">
    <div class="error">Please enter a surname</div>
<input type="text" name="surname" value="" />
  <td rowspan="2" valign="top"></td>
<tr><td colspan="3"><h2>Hobbies</h2></td></tr>
<tr class="field">
  <td class="label" valign="top" height="10">
    <span style="visibility: hidden">*</span><label>Hobbies:</label>
  <td class="field" valign="top">
    <div class="error">Please choose from the available options, there is no option 4.</div>
<input type="checkbox" name="hobbies" value="1" checked="checked" /> Programming<br />
<input type="checkbox" name="hobbies" value="2" /> Swimming<br />
<input type="checkbox" name="hobbies" value="3" /> Reading Fiction Books<br />
  <td rowspan="2" valign="top"></td>
  <td colspan="2">
    <input type="submit" name="action" value="Submit" />

Here’s how it looks when it is rendered:


That’s it, you’ve created a reasonably sophisticated form and populated it with values and error messages.

XXX Using fields directly

XXX Adding in the checkbox to the example.

Layout API

To support common requirements for layouts the FormBuild Form class has a field() method which is used like this:

    field=dict(type='text', name='email', default=''),

The start_with_layout() and end_with_layout() methods add the <form> tags as usual but also add the code needed to start and end the HTML structures generated by the calls to field().

There are also start_layout() and end_layout() methods which you can use if you want to separate the generation of the form tags from the generation of the HTML required for the layout.

The field() method takes a number of extra arguments to customise variables such as whether the field is marked as required, the help text to display after it and any words to appear under the label or the field itself.

Notice that when working with a field() the arguments which you would normally pass to the induvidual form method as passed as a dictionary via the field argument. The field() method will handle calling the appropriate method to generate the HTML for the field. As a result of this alternative calling method you also need to pass the field type as one of the dictionary arguments.

Another consequence of calling field() rather than the form’s individual field methods is that you don’t need to specify an error message. Because the name of the field is passed as one of the values of the dictionary passed via the field arguments, the field() hepler can lookup any error message and display it accordingly. The same also applies to the field’s value. The field() method can look it up from the arguments used to create the form object and pass the correct value when it constructs the field from the field arguments. It is still useful to be able to pass a default value for a field so the field() method can also correctly handle a default key in the field argument, using the default if no value is set, otherwise using the value instead.


The old FormBuild used a series of functions for starting and stopping various components but in practice the flexibility was not needed. It was easier to simply implement an alternative field() function supporting the different layout required. This is the approach you should follow in FormBuild 2.

Custom Field Types

It is sometimes useful to be able to create a custom field type. A common requirement is that a dropdown be populated with possible values from a database. We might want to implement a custom type of dropdown field which is capable of performing a database lookup.

An implementation might look like this:

class CustomForm(Form):

    def database_dropdown(table, cursor, **attrs):
        cursor.execute('SELECT value, label FROM %s', table)
        attrs['options'] = cursor.fecthall()
        return self.dropdown(**attrs)

The field could then be used like this in the template:

form.database_dropdown(table='Color', cursor=cursor, name='color')

In order for this implementation to work the database cursor object would have to be availble in the template. It would be much easier if the cursor could be set when the form was constructed via some sort of state variable. This is exactly what happens. Form classes take a state argument in addition to their values and errors arguments. The state argument can contain any state information your induvidual form generation methods might require. As such it is very similar to the state argument you might use with a FormEncode validator.

Here’s how you might construct the CustomForm:

form = CustomForm(
    values={'email': 'someone@example.com'},
    errors={'email':'example.com is not a valid domain name'}.
    state={'cursor': cursor}

The database_dropdown() method can then look like this:

def database_dropdown(table, **attrs):
    self.state['cursor'].execute('SELECT value, label FROM %s', table)
    attrs['options'] = self.state['cursor'].fecthall()
    return self.dropdown(**attrs)

Which means the template code can just concentrate on the arguments which affect how the field is displayed:

form.database_dropdown(table='Color', name='color')

The state argument could also be used to pass a database connection, reference to a memcahced store, SQLAlchemy session or simply configuration information.

Pylons/TurboGears/WebHelpers Integration

If you are using Pylons you will want any HTML strings built by FormBuild to be treated as literal() objects. To achieve this you can define your own LiteralForm class as follows:

>>> from formbuild import Form
>>> from webhelpers.html import literal
>>> class LiteralForm(Form):
...     def __getattribute__(self, name):
...         if name in ['value', 'option', 'error', 'checked', 'flow']:
...             return Form.__getattribute__(self, name)
...         def make_literal(*k, **p):
...             return literal(getattr(Form, name)(self, *k, **p))
...         return make_literal

This class behaves exactly the same way as the Form class except that it returns literal() objects instead of Unicode strings.

Here’s an example:

>>> form = LiteralForm(
...     value={'fruit': ['1', '3']},
...     option={
...         'fruit': [
...             ('1', 'Bananas'),
...             ('2>', 'Apples <>'),
...             ('3', 'Pears'),
...         ]}
... )
>>> print form.checkbox_group('fruit')
<input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="1" checked="checked" /> Bananas
<input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="2&gt;" /> Apples &lt;&gt;
<input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="3" checked="checked" /> Pears
>>> print form.checkbox_group('fruit', align='vert')
<input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="1" checked="checked" /> Bananas<br />
<input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="2&gt;" /> Apples &lt;&gt;<br />
<input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="3" checked="checked" /> Pears<br />
>>> result = form.checkbox_group('fruit', align='table', cols=2)
>>> print result
<table border="0" width="100%" cellpadding="0" cellspacing="0">
      <td><input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="1" checked="checked" /> Bananas</td>
      <td><input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="2&gt;" /> Apples &lt;&gt;</td>
      <td><input type="checkbox" name="fruit" value="3" checked="checked" /> Pears</td>
>>> isinstance(
...     result,
...     literal,
... )


James Gardner: Home > Work > Code > FormBuild > 3.0.1 > FormBuild 3 Manual