HTML Form Entry Module Technical Overview

HTML Form Entry Process Flow

Form Display

The first step in displaying an HTML Form is the creation of a FormEntrySession instance, which holds, among other things:

  • HtmlForm instance that holds the XML that defines the form associated with the session.
  • HtmlFormEntryGenerator instance that provides methods to translate the HTML Form XML into HTML that can be displayed by a web browser.
  • FormEntryContext instance that holds the context data around generating the HTML widgets.
  • FormSubmissionController instance, initially empty, that holds the actions that need to be taken when a form is submitted.
  • FormSubmissionActions instance, initially empty, that holds the details of what data objects need to be created or modified to commit the form to the database.

When the FormEntrySession is instantiated it first populates the FormEntryContext with any existing Patient or Encounter data associated with the form .

Next, the FormEntrySession generates the HTML to display using the HtmlFormEntryGenerator. It first calls the applyMacros(), applyTemplates(), and applyTranslations() methods of HtmlFormEntryGenerator to perform the substitutions required for any macros, templates (repeats), or translations defined in the form.

Then it calls the applyTags(FormEntryContext,String) method of HtmlFormEntryGenerator to do the bulk of the form generation work – converting all other HTMLFormEntry-specific tags to Html – and to populate the FormSubmissionController with all the actions needs to process the form. applyTags iterates through all the nodes in the HtmlForm xml; for all HtmlFormEntry-specific tags, it retrieves the appropriate TagHandler for the tag (tag to tag handler mappings are defined in moduleApplicationContext.xml) and uses that tag handler to process the tag.

A TagHandler serves two primary purposes:

  • It creates an instance of the appropriate HtmlGeneratorElement implementation and calls it's generateHtml(Context) method to generate the Html input fields to substitute for the tag. When a HtmlGeneratorElement is instantiated, it creates any widgets needed to render the element, and registers the widgets with the FormEntryContext.
  • It creates an instance of the appropriate FormSubmissionControllerAction  implementation, and adds it to the FormSubmissionController. The FormSubmissonController will use this to handle the specifics of form submissions for this element.

Note that the HtmlGeneratorElement and the FormSubmissionControllerAction may be (and, in fact, are likely to be) an instantiation of a single object that supports both interfaces. (For example EncounterDetailSubmissionElement, EnrollInProgramElement, ObsSubmissionElement, PatientDetailSubmissionElement, and PatientElement all serve as the HtmlGeneratorElement and the FormSubmissionControllerAction for their respective elements.)

All the above steps happen during the instantiation of the FormEntrySession, so, to display form, a web controller can simply instantiate a FormEntrySession – passing as parameters the patient, encounter, mode (read, enter, or edit), and the HtmlForm to use – and then use the FormEntrySession as a backing object. The field htmlToDisplay of the FormEntrySession will contain the html to display in the view.

Form Submission

When a form is submitted, the web controller handling the submission retrieves the FormSubmissionController from the session and calls its handleFormValidation(FormEntryContext, HttpServletRequest) method to validate the form. The FormSubmissionController, in turn, iterates through all the FormSubmissionControllerActions associated with it and calls their validateSubmission(FormEntryContext, HttpServletRequest) methods to validate the individual elements in the form.

If validation in successful, the web controller then calls the FormSubmissionController handleFormSubmission(FormEntrySession, HttpServletRequest) method. Again, the FormSubmissionController iterates through all the FormSubmissionControllerActions, this time calling their handleSubmission(FormEntrySession, HttpServletRequest) methods to handle the submission of the individual elements in the form.

Significantly, the handleFormSubmission methods don't directly commit the changes to the database. Instead each FormSubmissionControllerAction adds the needed actions to commit the changes to the FormSubmissionActions instance associated with the session. (Yes, this is a little confusing ... there are two types of actions... a FormSubmissionControllerAction creates a new action, or set of actions, that are stored in FormSubmissionActions).

After the FormSubmissionController finishes executing all the handleFormSubmission methods without error, the web controller can call the FormEntrySession applyActions() method, which applies all the actions stored in the FormSubmissionActions instance and actually commits the changes to the database, creating or modifying any data objects as necessary.

That's a basic, but not exhaustive, overview of how the module work. We didn't discuss how obsgroups are implemented, or about the various classes in the schema package, among other things. Check out the javadocs for more information.

Other Features

Custom Tags

Custom tags can be registered by calling the HtmlFormEntryService addHandler method().  Modules can register new tags by calling this method... for an example, in the HTML Form Flowsheet module the onLoad() method in the HtmlFormFlowsheetActivator registers a handler for a new "htmlformflowsheet" tag.  To create a custom tag, you will need to define implementations of TagHandler, HtmlGeneratorElement, and FormSubmissionControllerAction for this new tag.  You can take a look at some of the existing tags for examples of how to do this.

Defining attribute descriptors for custom tags

Starting in HtmlFormEntry version 1.7.2, all tag handlers are required to implement a getAttributeDescriptors method.  Attribute descriptors define what attributes a tag supports, to facilitate sharing tags via the metadata sharing module.  When preparing a form for export, all metadata referenced by the form need to be included in the export package.  For example, in the following tag, all the concepts referenced by id, uuid, or concept mapping need to be loaded and included:

<obs conceptId="1000" answerConceptIds="1001,XYZ:HT,1002,32296060-03-102d-b0e3-001ec94a0cc7"/>

Attribute descriptors provide a means for a tag handler to define how to find all the metadata that may be referenced within the tag.  For example, the DrugOrderTagHandler defines the following descriptors:

protected List<AttributeDescriptor> createAttributeDescriptors() {

 	List<AttributeDescriptor> attributeDescriptors = new ArrayList<AttributeDescriptor>();

 	attributeDescriptors.add(new AttributeDescriptor("drugNames", Drug.class));
	attributeDescriptors.add(new AttributeDescriptor("discontinuedReasonConceptId", Concept.class));
 	attributeDescriptors.add(new AttributeDescriptor("discontinueReasonConceptAnswers", Concept.class));

 	return Collections.unmodifiableList(attributeDescriptors);

The easiest way to add attribute descriptor support to a tag handler is for the tag handler to extend AbstractTagHandler, which provides a basic implementation of getAttributeDescriptor that returns null.  To define attribute attribute descriptors, override the AbstractTagHandler.createAttributeDescriptors method as shown above for DrugOrderTagHandler.  (Note that SubstitutionTagHandler now extends AbstractTagHandler, so any tag handler that currently extends SubstutitionTagHandler will have default attribute descriptor support built-in.)

Currently, the module supports exporting any openmrs metadata referenced by id, uuid, or name.  It also supports exporting concepts referenced by concept mapping.

Note that currently, before exporting a form, all references to persons, roles, and patient identifier types are removed from the form, though this may become configurable in the future.

Note that to work with version 1.7.2, any existing custom tag handlers will need to be modified to implement getAttributeDescriptors (though if the custom tag handler already implements SubstitutionTagHandler, no change will be required).

In the future, attribute descriptors may be used for other purposes besides metadata sharing.  For instance, the Html Form Entry Designer module could use the descriptors to determine the valid attributes for a tag.

Custom Content for Velocity Context

If your module instantiates a Spring bean that implements org.openmrs.module.htmlformentry.velocity.VelocityContextContentProvider then your bean's populateContext() method will be called each time a new HTML Form is opened (for entry, view, or edit). (Since HTML Form Entry 1.11)

See an example from the Kenya EMR module on github.