Definitive Guide to InfoPath Templates: How to Use and Create Templates and Forms

Adriana Neagu

Author: 

Ms. Neagu is a noted expert on data applications and XML technologies. Adriana was co-inventor of Microsoft Office InfoPath, and co-holds 4 InfoPath patents.

InfoPath templates can be used for functions as simple as adding email addresses to a distribution list, or as involved as applying for insurance or ordering parts from inventory. This article explains how to create InfoPath forms, and includes downloadable InfoPath templates. As one of the co-creators of InfoPath, I’d like to share my all my simple to advanced Infopath templates with anyone still trying to thrive using InfoPath software that Microsoft sunsetted.

Inside this article:

Components of InfoPath Forms

InfoPath consists of three parts:

  • InfoPath Designer: This is used to create templates. It lets form creators design templates and publish them so users can fill them out. Using Designer’s preview mode, you can see how your forms will appear to users.
  • InfoPath Filler: If a user has this Microsoft software on their computer, forms will usually open in it rather than their browser.
  • InfoPath Form Services: This software runs on servers that host InfoPath form templates and allows users that don’t have Filler to fill out forms in a web browser.

Creating and Saving InfoPath Form Templates

You create templates in InfoPath Designer.  The Designer UI lets you create forms without coding.

Forms creators can add titles, text boxes, lists, and even information pulled from other sources (products in a database can populate a dropdown list for an order form, for example). There are also date pickers and boxes to upload files, among others. For a list of available controls, see the FAQ section.

Creators can also add logic and rules to the form so that the form will react to how the user interacts with it. For example:

  • If the form includes a fillable table additional rows can auto-add as needed.
  • Repeating tables can include cascading drop-downs that change depending on the choices made in the lists above.

Before designing InfoPath forms creators should consider design choices including:

  • How will the form be laid out?
  • What colors and fonts will be used?
  • How will data that users interact with be presented (drop-down list, check box list, etc.)?
  • Will the template be updated often? Who will be able to make changes to the template?
    Ensure that everyone that needs to update an InfoPath form design template has access it the server where it’s stored
  • Where will data be stored?
    InfoPath Forms data does not need to be stored on the same server as the form.
  • How will data be collected?
    Common options are SharePoint lists, a database or other server, and email. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.
  • What security level will be needed?
    Security choices are driven by the data connects you use, so external information needed by the form can be accessed. See this section for more information.
  • Will the form have different views?In InfoPath, each page is called a view. Use a view to either break long forms into smaller sections to make it easier on those that submit information (and to make the form’s response time quicker) or to present different information or layouts to different users via logic built into the InfoPath forms template.

When complete, the template will contain information that will drive the appearance and function of the form, including:

  • How controls react when users interact with them.
  • The layout of the form, including any instructional text, controls, field labels, etc.
  • The fonts and colors that will be used.
  • Information on views.
  • Where the data collected by your InfoPath form is stored.
  • The format for the collected data.
  • Form customizability by users
  • Error message information (what a user will see if a required field is not filled out or the data does not match what is expected in that field).

Another way to look at this is that templates have three layers. The data layer deals with both information that’s pulled from other sources entered into a form. The presentation layer manages how the form appears, including the layout, fonts, and colors. And the logic layer contains rules and business logic that drive how the form acts (such as how the InfoPath form responds based on user-initiated triggers).

InfoPath Form Template Best Practices

Adriana Neagu is one of the founders of Formotus. She was part of the team at Microsoft that created InfoPath. Her thoughts on best practices can help creators get more out of their forms.

Naming Items: “Make sure that when you create new fields in the form, you name those fields with how they are used instead of leaving the default names like field one, field two, field three. If it’s a first name, call the field first name. ”

Form Testing: “As you build a form, test it immediately to see that what you’ve done is what you were planning to do, instead of doing a whole bunch of stuff and then testing it at the very end, because that will help you figure out any rules that are not working as expected. In InfoPath, you just click on the preview button to do that.”

Form Versioning: “Save the form with different names as you work on it because at some point the form may become too complex. It’s harder to revert back and having a copy on your hard drive where the previous version is may be a faster way to recover than trying to undo things.”

Taking Advantage of Views: “Views are a feature that can be used for multiple scenarios. Giving each user a view of their own is an example.

But views are like pages that you scroll through where you can have a very complex form that requires the user to enter or review quite a bit of information. You go to page 1, then you go to page 2, and the view guides the user through the data entry or review process.

A third scenario for views is where you’re actually showing the same data, but in a different way. For example, you can have a form where you enter data in two or three different views and at the end you have a summary view that shows you the highlights of what you entered. Another scenario for views is to have a menu on the first page; it’s like a spoked type of navigation. You have the menu on the first page and then just have buttons that take you to different parts of the form and you come back to the main menu when you want to go to a different part.”

Form Security

InfoPath includes robust security options that protect where data displayed in the form is pulled from.

  • Restricted: No data can be retrieved from outside the template itself.
  • Domain (or Domain Trust): Data can be pulled from a particular internet domain based on the Internet Explorer settings. Full trust: Data can come from anywhere.
  • Internet Explorer (IE): IE’s security levels are cumulative, so if the second is used, for example, it also includes the first. These are considered sandbox options.
      • Client Computer: Data can come from the user’s computer.
      • Intranet: Data can come from the user’s intranet.
      • Internet: Data can come from anywhere on the internet.
  • Full Trust: Data can come from anywhere.

What’s an Access Path?
The Access Path is the identified location of the form template. When a form is saved or published on a server, that server is the default Access Path. When a form is opened, it looks at the Access Path location for the template.

What’s a Form ID?
Each form has a Form ID. It’s a unique for each form and links it to the template that it was created from via processing instructions.

Signed Form Templates
A template is considered signed if it has a digital signature certificate attached. This certificate will help ensure that the template hasn’t been altered. When a template is signed, the form template can open with Full Trust security and there won’t be a cache conflict message if the form is moved to a new location

Publishing an InfoPath Form Template

Once a template is created and saved, it needs to be published (saving it does not automatically make it available for users). Publishing takes a few steps, and involves addressing a few options.

The InfoPath publishing wizard will walk you through the steps to get your template published.

  • Quick Publish works well for a template that has been previously published, or if the template is a SharePoint list or workflow form. In these cases, InfoPath Designer will publish or republish the template to the SharePoint server where the template was created or was previously published.
  • SharePoint Server will publish the template to a SharePoint server. When the form is published via SharePoint and the data will be collected there, a SharePoint library will automatically be created.
  • Email will send the form via email (known in InfoPath as email deployment).
  • Network Location will publish the template to a server that isn’t SharePoint, or some other file location.

Administrator Approval

Sometimes a template will need to have administrator approval before it can be published to a, InfoPath Forms Services server. This will occur when:

  • The template contains managed code
  • The template requires the Full Trust security level
  • The template uses an administrator-managed data connection
  • The template is mobile-enabled

Editing an Existing InfoPath Template

When editing an existing form template, the same best practices apply. But form creators need to be aware that there are some changes that can cause previously-saved data to be lost. Those changes are:

  • Changing a repeating field or group to nonrepeating
  • Substituting the data type of a rich text field
  • Renaming or moving a field or group
  • Removing a field or group from its data source

Once the template has been edited, it needs to be republished for the new version to be accessible.

Benefits of Using SharePoint with InfoPath Forms

Microsoft built SharePoint and InfoPath to work together. Our InfoPath expert Adriana Neagu recommends taking advantage of the SharePoint connection:

“InfoPath has very reliable data connectors with SharePoint, so using SharePoint as your backend will make things easy. You can leverage SharePoint further to move data to SAP or another backend; going through SharePoint makes it easier to build the form and to have data submitted.”

Beyond that, storing data in SharePoint lists and your forms in SharePoint document libraries has these advantages:

  • The SharePoint Business Apps Resource Center has documentation and other assistance for InfoPath users.
  • SharePoint lists are a convenient and easy to use way to store information gathered from InfoPath forms, and as primary data source to export to other applications.
  • SharePoint’s parent and child site paradigm, content type function, promote properties function, and central administration functions support easy management of data and form libraries.

Free Downloadable InfoPath Templates

The InfoPath templates below can be downloaded and modified for many uses.

Asset tracking
Expense report
Meeting agenda
Status report
Travel request

FAQ About Microsoft InfoPath Form Templates

What are the supporting files for an InfoPath template?

The template is stored in a file with the extension .xsn, which references several support files.  Those are:

  • Manifest (extension .xsf): Also known as the form definition file. It contains the map of how the form is assembled.
  • Schema (extension .xsd): XML files that are used to validate the data in the form and constrain any fields (such as numeric-only fields or required fields)
  • View: Creates the HTML that a user sees when they view the form in a browser. These also may have XSL transformation files linked to them.
  • Form (extension .xml): The data that appears in form controls, such as the list of states in an address section, or the values that are in a checklist.
  • There may also be optional files:
    • Presentation to show custom images or text panes
    • Scripts for business logic
    • Binary for programming code and additional business logic

InfoPath Experts can update the supporting files to update the template. To view these files, take the following steps:

  • Create a blank form template.
  • Click File > Save as Source Files
  • When you see the Browse for Folder dialog, choose where to save the files, and then click OK.
  • Go to the location chosen

What InfoPath controls and features are available to be used in a template?

  • Alias
  • Animation
  • Background colors
  • Browser Form
  • Bulleted List
  • Button
  • Calculated Value
  • Cascading lists
  • Check Boxes
  • Choice Group
  • Choice Section
  • Combo Box
  • Conditional formatting
  • Conditional visibility
  • Data validation
  • Date Picker/Formulas
  • Drop-Down List Box
  • Expression Box
  • External Item Picker
  • File Attachment
  • Filters
  • Hyperlink
  • Layout tables
  • Line height
  • List Box
  • Multiple-Selection List Box
  • Numbered List
  • Onafterchange
  • OnContextChange
  • Open rules
  • Option Button
  • Option buttons
  • Optional Section
  • Paging
  • Patterns
  • People/Group Picker
  • Picture
  • Picture Button
  • Plain List
  • Position
  • Preceding-sibling
  • qRules
  • Repeating Section
  • Repeating Table
  • Resource Files
  • Rich Text Boxes
  • Search
  • Secondary Data Sources
  • Section
  • SetNamedNoteProperty
  • Share to Sharepoint
  • SQL
  • Submit
  • Substring
  • Tab order
  • Task panes
  • Text Box
  • Translate
  • Views

What controls and features are supported by both InfoPath and InfoPath Forms Services?
Controls:

  • Bulleted List
  • Button
  • Calculated Value
  • Check Box
  • Choice Group
  • Choice Section
  • Combo Box
  • Date Picker
  • Expression Box
  • External Item Picker
  • File Attachment
  • Hyperlink
  • List Box
  • Multiple-Selection List Box
  • Numbered List
  • Option Button
  • Optional Section
  • People/Group Picker
  • Picture
  • Picture Button
  • Plain List
  • Repeating Section
  • Repeating Table
  • Rich Text Box Drop-Down List Box
  • Section
  • Text Box
  • NOTE: There won’t be an error message or notifications when using the Design Checker feature in InfoPath design mode.

Declarative Features:

  • Calculations
  • Rules
  • Validation
  • NOTE: Simple rules, calculations, and data validation are enabled and will be run in the browser using Jscript. Complex rules, calculations, and data validation require a connection to the server to perform these operations there.

What controls and features are not supported by InfoPath Forms Services?

Controls:

  • Horizontal Repeating Table
  • Ink Picture
  • Master/Detail
  • Repeating Recursive Section
  • Vertical Label

Function or controls that are not supported or partially supported:

  • ActiveX Controls
  • HTML Taskpanes
  • Human Workflow Services integration
  • Object model digital signature extensibility
  • Placeholder text in controls.
  • SQL database data connections are limited to read-only access
  • User roles

InfoPath controls and features that don’t have a parallel on InfoPath Services:

  • Auto-Save, Crash Detection and Recovery
  • COM Add-Ins
  • Export to Excel
  • External automation
  • Information Rights Management (IRM)
  • Mail Envelope
  • Merge Forms
  • Modal dialogs from business logic
  • Offline query caching
  • Outlook Integration
  • Pop-up dialogs during modeless validation
  • Restricted security mode
  • Spell-checking
  • Tablet / Ink Features including Ink Picture control
  • Undo / Redo
  • XML Schema error message overrides
  • XSLT extensibility

What’s XML?
XML, or Extensible Markup Language, is a data standard that is used by InfoPath forms to encode and store the data in a format that’s readable by both computers and people.

How do I tell the difference between a template and a form?
InfoPath templates will have the file extension .xsn, while the forms themselves have the file extension .xml

What’s the past and future of InfoPath?
There have been four major versions of InfoPath: 2003, 2007, 2010, and 2013. There will be no more major releases as Microsoft is phasing out the product and replacing it with a product called PowerApps. However, InfoPath will be supported through 2026.

Formotus offers a path forward for your InfoPath forms.  You can keep using your InfoPath forms as long as you like or you can gradually transition away from InfoPath and move to the Formotus creator.  Both versions of your forms will run in the same Formotus mobile client apps.  Check out these Formotus creator versions of the InfoPath out-of-the-box forms. [NOTE: You will need to download the Formotus Now app from your device’s app store: WindowsiOSAndroid to view these forms.] These Formotus creator form templates are available when you open a Formotus free trial account.
Asset tracking
Expense report
Meeting agenda
Status report
Travel request

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.