Forms are typically a kind of application, sometimes a series of pages, which allow you to collect information from a user. You are probably familiar with forms found on the Internet. You might have filled out a registration form when you activated Flash or given detailed information if you are applying online for a job. You have probably filled out forms to become a member of an online forum. These forms gather the data you enter and submit this data to a server when you click a button indicated for that purpose (think "submit").
Because of the addition of components and server integration, Macromedia Flash 8 Basic enables you to create forms easily and quickly, including search forms, feedback forms, and polls, which ultimately enhances your application (as long as you don't go form crazy that is). You can even build complete website administration sites, as an example, in which you can add, modify, and delete items like news events, or manage your other content. Using a few short lines of ActionScript and components, you or a developer can easily integrate a Flash application with a server-side language, such as ColdFusion, PHP, ASP, or JSP. Server-side languages help you integrate your website with an application server. You might want to integrate with a database, XML, or other forms data (such as a Web Service) that is then used and displayed by the website.
This book is designed to cover only the features found in Flash 8 Basic. However, if you are using Flash 8 Professional or upgrade to Flash 8 Professional at a later date, it is even easier to integrate Flash with these technologies using the Flash Data components. One of those components makes it easier to work with a technology called Flash Remoting, which allows you to pass data back and forth between ColdFusion, ASP, or Java by using ActionScript to enable this data transfer. Flash 8 Professional makes this kind of data transfer easier by allowing you to exchange data with the server without having to write large amounts of ActionScript. Flash Remoting is fast, beautiful, and a wonderful thing. You should check it out!
Macromedia Flash 8 Basic provides a few other technologies that allow you to easily talk to a server-side language such as XML. XML is a markup language that you use to format data (for example, names, addresses, and phone numbers) and transfer it to other computers, operating systems, or applications such as Flashwhere it can be used in various ways. It is a very simple and intuitive way to organize data, although there are simple to very complex ways used to format and use it online. Flash has excellent XML support, meaning that a SWF file can read and parse (turn into an ActionScript data structure that is) XML documents and send XML data to a server, although Flash 8 Professional also offers the option of using a special XMLConnector component to make the communication easier. Flash 8 Basic also comes with a special class called the LoadVars class, which is used to load and send data. You will use the LoadVars class in Lesson 9 to load information and in Lesson 10 to send information from the feedback and questionnaire forms you set create in this lesson.