InfoPath Forms Management in Windows SharePoint Services V3

Today I'd like to talk about how to store and manage XML forms (InfoPath and otherwise) in WSS V3.

In general, forms have three special areas of functionality:

· Property Promotion and Demotion This refers to promoting and demoting document data to and from columns in a SharePoint library.

· Link Management This refers to how WSS keeps the link to the form template in the XML file up to date, if any site, sub-site, or library is renamed.

· Merge Forms Sends multiple XML files that have the same schema to a client application to be merged.

In Windows SharePoint Services Version 2, this special functionality was part of the Form Library site template. Now, in WSS V3, it's encapsulated in the Form content type instead. Instead of creating a new form library, you can create a new content type, inheriting from the Form content type. Your new form becomes the template for the content type.

This new approach offers several major advantages over the form libraries:

· Central management of forms Because you're creating a new content type, you gain all the advantages content types offer in terms of centralized management. You can control the form and its metadata from a single location, regardless of how many libraries to which you've added the content type. You can also specify enterprise content management features for your content type, such as property promotion and demotion, workflow, or (if you have Office Server 2007) information policy. And you don't have to republish the form if you make changes to the content type for which it's the form template.

· Add multiple forms to the same library Again, because each type of form is a separate content type, you can add multiple form type to the same library.

· Add forms to the same libraries as documents You can form content types to the same libraries that contain document content types. In a very real sense, there's no distinction between form and document libraries in WSS V3; there're just libraries. Any special functionality is encapsulated in the content types themselves.

(However, the form library site template has been retained in WSS V3 for purposes of backward compatibility with XML-based forms editors that do not support publishing forms to content types, such as InfoPath 2003. But if you are using an XML-based forms editor that supports content types, such as InfoPath 2007, we strongly recommend you use the Form content type instead of the form library template. And with all the obvious advantages, why wouldn't you?)

Publishing InfoPath 2007 Forms to Content Types

So let's talk specifically about InfoPath 2007 forms for WSS V3. InfoPath 2007 includes the ability to publish forms directly into new or existing content types on a WSS installation. This includes setting up property promotion and demotion: you're able to choose which data fields on your form you want to map to which SharePoint columns. You get link management and merge forms functionality for free, because the content type to which you publish your form is a child of the Form content type.

When you publish an InfoPath 2007 form, you have the option to publish it to a SharePoint site. When you do, you have the further option of publishing the form into a new or existing content type.

(You still have the option of publishing your form to a document library, just as you did with InfoPath 2003. In InfoPath 2007, though, you can update both document libraries as well as form libraries, as long as that library’s default content type is a child of the Form content type. If the library doesn’t have multiple content types, then the single library content type must be a child of Form in order for you to update it. In addition, document property demotion now works in document libraries.)

When you choose to create a new content type, you select the content type from which you want your new content type to inherit. By default, the new content type is a direct child of the Form content type, but you can specify any descendant of Form to use as your new content type's parent.

Next, you can choose which data fields you want to promote and demote to and from SharePoint site columns. To do this, you specify the columns to which you want to map the data fields in your form. You can map the data fields to existing site columns, or create new columns.

If you map a data field to an existing site column, InfoPath adds a <FieldRef> element to the content type for that site column. The <FieldRef> element contains a set of attributes you can override for the site column, as it applies to items assigned this content type. These attributes include those that specify where in an XML form the data field information is located. Because you’re mapping a data field (i.e., the data in your XML) to the column, InfoPath uses the Node attribute to specify an XPath expression for where the data resides in the form.

For more information on how the built-in XML parser uses the Node attribute for data promotion and demotion, see this earlier post.

If you create a new site column, InfoPath adds a <Field> element that represents that site column to the site, and then adds a <FieldRef> element to the content type for that site column.

For more information on how <Field> and <FieldRef> elements differ, and how <FieldRef> elements work in a content type, see my earlier post here.

If you choose to update the existing content type itself, you can stick with the existing columns for that content type, or add new ones. You can also remove columns for data fields you've deleted or don't want promoted or demoted anymore. If you do delete a column, InfoPath removes the <FieldRef> element from the content type definition, but leaves the site column intact (that is, the <Field> element for that site column remains in the site definition). You cannot remove any columns the content type inherits from its parent content type.

Once you've published your form to a content type, you can use WSS to further customize the content type, such as adding columns, workflows, and policies. Also, remember that this is a site content type; in order to use the content type in a library, you have to add that site content type to the library through WSS.

Additional Considerations

Here are a few other things to keeping mind about InfoPath 2007 forms and form content types:

Determining the Content Type of InfoPath Forms

InfoPath forms themselves do not contain the content type ID of the content type they’ve been assigned. Instead, WSS uses the form template to determine the content type of the form. The form template URL is included in the <?xml> processing instruction of the form, and points to the .xsn on which the form is based.

The built-in XML parser included in WSS first attempts to find the content type ID in the XML file, and, failing that, attempts to determine the content type based on the form template. So, for InfoPath forms, the built-in XML parser always fails its first check, and has to use the form template to determine content type.

For more information on how the XML parser determines content type, see this earlier post.

Setting the Product Used to Edit the XML File

The program ID for InfoPath 2007 forms is included in the forms in the progId2 attribute of the <?mso-infopathdocument> processing instruction. In content type definitions, InfoPath maps this to the ProgID column using the PrimaryPITarget and PrimaryPIAttribute attributes.

So, for content types for InfoPath 2007 forms, the attributes for the ProgID <FieldRef> element are set to the following values:

PITarget = mso-infopathdocument

PIAttribute = InfoPath.Document

PrimaryPITarget = mso-infopathdocument

PrimaryPIAttribute = InfoPath.Document.2

Because WSS looks at the PrimaryPITarget and PrimaryPIAttribute pair first, the InfoPath.Document.2 attribute value is promoted to the ProgID column. The ProgID column determines which application WSS calls to open a selected file.


Written while listening to The Twilight Singers : Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers