Learn to use these 7 InfoPath controls first

The 7 controls you really need

When you open the controls pane in InfoPath 2013, you are faced with over 30 controls divided into three categories. Egads! What are all those input controls, objects and containers, anyway? It doesn't matter, because you really only need these 7 to build a great form:

  1. Text Box. You can build a whole form using only textboxes -- and beginners often do. Right-click a textbox and get to know its properties. It can be read-only, it can have a default value, and it can be a multi-line box if the user needs to enter lots of text. But the most important thing about text boxes is that you want to avoid them whenever possible. Entering text is not the strong suit on mobile devices, so you want to use other controls to create more of a multiple-choice experience.
  2. Calculated Value. Formerly known as an Expression Box, this control is very similar to a read-only text box and is good for displaying values or calculations in a way that looks like normal text.
  3. Drop Down List Box. Dropdowns are your users' best friends. Use them everywhere you can to offer multiple-choice answers instead of blank text boxes.
  4. Option button. Also known as Radio Buttons, these round ones really offer the same functionality as dropdowns but with one less tap. As a rule of thumb, use option buttons if there are 2-3 choices (e.g. Yes, No, N/A) and dropdowns if there are more.
  5. Date Picker. Never type in a date, always use a date picker control. Very handy.
  6. Check Box. The square checkbox lets people choose all that apply from a multiple choice list. It can also be a toggle workhorse. Add a rule to a control or a whole section that hides it depending on the state of the checkbox, and you can give the user lots of control over what shows in the interface.
  7. Button. The power of buttons is in the rules you put on them. Tapping a button can do almost anything: pop up a message, switch views, set a value, query a data source, submit the form, you name it. And a button doesn't need to be gray, it can be any color, it can look like link text, or it can be a picture button.

The 5 Formotus custom controls

The really good controls don't come with InfoPath, they come from Formotus. Use our custom controls to snap a photo into your form, capture a signature or a diagram, or include a GPS location or other device info in a form.

The 3 advanced controls to use carefully

  1. Section. Sections in your interface correspond to groups in your data source. Drag a group into your design and all the fields in that group will appear as controls inside a section in your form. Sections in the interface are great if you want to use a rule to hide a whole set of controls.

    >> Why to be careful: Nesting section-in-section-in-section is not a good idea as it can cause performance problems, so you should only nest section-in-section, 2 deep. Avoid optional sections, which let the user add or remove them, because they are troublemakers. Use a rule to hide a regular section instead. In general use tables rather than sections to control the visual layout of your form.
  2. Repeating Section. Repeating sections let the user add as many instances of a section as needed. This is great when the user needs to answer the same set of questions an indeterminate number of times, as for inspection violations, witness reports, etc.

    >> Why to be careful: Formotus custom controls can be 'finicky' inside repeating sections. Try not to make any changes to the control after inserting it. If you encounter problems, try removing the control and inserting a new one. Also, be aware that allowing the user to insert an unlimited number of photos can cause problems if the form becomes too big.
  3. Repeating Table. Very similar to a repeating section but in table form, it allows the user to add as many rows to a table as needed. Very useful for things like inventory, invoicing, expense reports, etc.

    >> Why to be careful: Same as Repeating Section above.
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