Forms contain inputs

a <form> is an HTTP element that contains input elements

  • when the user enters data into these input elements
  • and clicks the "Submit" button
  • then the browser will wrap up all those values and send it to the server

MDN: form

Form Example

<form method='post'>
  Name: <input type='text' name='name' value='Alice'>
  Password: <input type='password' name='password'>
  <input type='submit'>

Forms are semantic

  • a form wraps input elements for submission
    • but may also include or be included within other styled elements
  • most of the time your <form> element will correspond to a block element (viz. the border of the form)
    • but by default <form> is an inline element
    • and instead of making it a block element, it's usually better to wrap it in a div
    • and apply styles to the wrapper and leave the form alone

Form attributes

<form method='get' action='/login'>
  • method corresponds to the first word in the HTTP protocol
    • "GET" is the standard (default) method; there are also POST, PUT, HEAD, DELETE, etc.
  • action is the server path to submit the form to
    • if it's blank then it uses the same path as the current page (which is usually not what you want)

Form Methods: GET vs. POST

  • GET means "return me a page (based on these parameters)"
  • POST means "take these parameters (and return me a page)"

Basically, GET is for reading and POST is for writing

but that distinction is often blurry


  • GET sends all parameters via the request URL
  • POST sends some or all parameters via the request body*

Form elements

<form method='GET' action='/search'>
  <label>Search by Author: <input type="search" name="author"></label>
  <input type='submit' value='Search'>
  • <label> marks some text as belonging to a certain input element
  • <input name='q' type='search'> is a text field
    • (that removes line breaks and may look different)
  • <input type='submit' value='Search'> is a button whose label is the string "Search"
    • (yes, the names are confusing; the submit button goes way back to HTML 1.0)

There are many more types of form elements (or "widgets") that let the user enter data in a wide variety of formats.

Intercepting forms with JavaScript

  • your JavaScript code can add a submit event handler
    • also known as "onsubmit"
  • this function will be called after the user clicks "Submit"
    • but before the data is sent to the server
  • this lets you modify the data sent to the server, or execute code before sending the data to the server, or just cancel the server call altogether
  • if you intend a form to only be used by JavaScript, do one or both of these:
    • <form href='#'> in your HTML
    • event.preventDefault(); in your JS event handler

Form submission: how does it work?

client-server illustration

  1. The user enters some values into the form elements
  2. Either...
    • the user clicks "Submit"
    • or the user presses Enter in a text field
    • or JavaScript calls form.submit() on the form DOM element
  3. The client sends an HTTP request
    • including parameters like q=apple&submit=Search
    • (yes, the submit button's text label becomes the value)

Form submission in detail

Form reply: body

After the server receives and processes the request, it can return any HTTP response.

Usually that request is a full HTML page (for display to the user) or a JSON document (for use by your client-side app).

Form reply: redirect

Sometimes the response is a 302 redirect which helps keep your endpoints and address bar clean:

  1. form page, visible before the user starts entering values
  2. form submit handler, which redirects to...
  3. results page

...but many times it's an all-in-one handler which redraws the original page.

Form reply: error

Sometimes the response is an error.

It's important for you to design your app to be robust, meaning that if an error happens, it will fail gracefully.

Usually this means informing the user that the request could not be completed, and giving them the option to try again immediately, or asking them to try again later.

In the Fetch API, you can provide an catch callback which will receive network errors if and when they happen; you can also check if (!response.ok) { inside your main then callback.


References - docs - guide