Repeat, Insert, and Delete XForms Actions

Basics

A very common requirement of user interfaces consists in repeating visual elements, such as rows in a table or entries in a list. Those repeated sections usually (but not always) have an homogeneous aspect: they all have the same or a very similar structure. For example, multiple table rows will differ only in the particular content they display in their cells. An example of this is an invoice made of lines with each a description, unit price, and quantity.

XForms provides a very powerful mechanism to implement such repeated structures: the <xf:repeat> action. You use <xf:repeat> around XHTML elements or XForms controls. For example, to repeat a table row, you write:

<xf:repeat>
    <xh:tr>
        ...
    </xh:tr>
</xf:repeat>

This is not enough to be functional code: you need to indicate to the <xf:repeat> element how many repetitions must be performed. This is done not by supplying a simple count value, but by binding the the element to a node-set with the ref attribute. Consider the following XForms instance:

<xf:instance id="employees-instance">
    <employees>
        <employee>
            <first-name>Alice</first-name>
        </employee>
        <employee>
            <first-name>Bob</first-name>
        </employee>
        <employee>
            <first-name>Marie</first-name>
        </employee>
    </employees>
</xf:instance>

Assuming you want to produce one table row per employee, add the following ref attribute:

<xf:repeat ref="instance('employees-instance')/employee">
    <xh:tr>...</xh:tr>
</xf:repeat>

This produces automatically three xh:tr rows. Note that we explicitly use the XForms instance() function, but you may not have to do so if that instance is already in scope. Then you display in each row the content of the first-name element for each employee:

<xf:repeat ref="instance('employees-instance')/employee">
    <xh:tr>
        <xh:td>
            <xf:output ref="first-name"/>
        </xh:td>
    </xh:tr>
</xf:repeat>

This works because for each iteration, the context node for the ref attribute changes: during the first iteration, the context node is the first employee element of the XForms instance; during the second iteration, the second employee element, and so on.

Repeat index

Each <xf:repeat> element has an associated index, representing the notion of a currently selected repeat iteration. This information can be used in CSS for example to highlight the currently selected iteration. The current index for a given repeat can be obtained with the XPath index() function.

Each nested repeat keeps its own separate index value.

The index() function should not be confused wit the position() function.

NOTE: XForms 1.1 does not explicitly limit in what type of XPath expressions index() can be used. However, in Orbeon Forms, it is strongly advised at the moment to only use index() within actions, and to avoid using it in control bindings and binds, as doing so may yield unpredictable results.

Deleting iterations with the delete action

<xf:repeat> may be used purely for display purposes, but it can also be used for interactively editing repeated data. This includes allowing the user to delete and insert iterations. Two XForms actions are used for this purpose: <xf:delete> and <xf:insert>.

<xf:delete> is provided with a ref attribute pointing to the collection of nodes to delete. It also has an optional at attribute, which contains an XPath expression returning the index of the element to delete. See how <xf:delete> is used in these scenarios:

<!-- This deletes the last element of the collection -->
<xf:delete ref="employees" at="last()"/>

<!-- This deletes the first element of the collection -->
<xf:delete ref="employees" at="1"/>

<!-- This deletes the currently selected element of the collection (assuming the repeat id 'employee-repeat') -->
<xf:delete ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')"/>

<!-- This deletes all elements of the collection -->
<xf:delete ref="employees"/>

NOTE: Prior to XForms 1.1, the at attribute was mandatory. Since XForms 1.1, it is optional, and if omitted the ref attribute specifies all the nodes to remove.

Inserting iterations with the insert action

See also the Insert a new item into a repeat how-to guide.

<xf:insert> has a ref attribute pointing to the collection into which the insertion must take place. If no origin attribute is specified, <xf:insert> then considers the last element of that collection (and all its content if any) as a template for the new element to insert: it duplicates it and inserts it into the collection at a position you specify. In this case, the last element of a collection acts as a template for insertions:

<!-- Insert a copy of the template before the last element of the collection -->
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="last()" position="before"/>

<!-- Insert a copy of the template after the last element of the collection -->
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="last()" position="after"/>

<!-- Insert a copy of the template before the first element of the collection -->
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="1" position="before"/>

<!-- Insert a copy of the template after the first element of the collection -->
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="1" position="after"/>
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="last()" position="after"/>

<!-- Insert a copy of the template before the currently selected element of the collection -->
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')" position="before"/>

<!-- Insert a copy of the template after the currently selected element of the collection -->
<xf:insert ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')" position="after"/>

The at attribute contains an XPath expression returning the index of the element before or after which the insertion must be performed. The position element contains either after or before, and specifies whether the insertion is performed before or after the element specified by the at attribute.

As an extension to XForms 1.1, Orbeon Forms supports inserting an element into a document node:

<xf:insert context="instance()/root()" origin="instance('other')">

This is particularly useful in conjunction with the xxf:create-document() function.

Using a trigger to execute actions

Insertions and deletions are typically performed when the user of the application presses a button, with the effect of adding a new repeated element before or after the currently selected element, or of deleting the currently selected element. You use an xf:trigger control and the XPath index() function for that purpose:

<xf:trigger>
    <xf:label>Add</xf:label>
    <xf:action ev:event="DOMActivate">
        <xf:insert ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')" position="after"/>
    </xf:action>
</xf:trigger>

or:

<xf:trigger>
    <xf:label>Delete</xf:label>
    <xf:action ev:event="DOMActivate">
        <xf:delete ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')"/>
    </xf:action>
</xf:trigger>

Note that we use xf:action as a container for <xf:insert> and <xf:delete>. Since there is only one action to execute, xf:action is not necessary, but it may increase the legibility of the code. It is also possible to write:

<xf:trigger>
    <xf:label>Add</xf:label>
    <xf:insert ev:event="DOMActivate" ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')" position="after"/>
</xf:trigger>

or:

<xf:trigger>
    <xf:label>Delete</xf:label>
    <xf:delete ev:event="DOMActivate" ref="employees" at="index('employee-repeat')"/>
</xf:trigger>

Notice in that case how ev:event="DOMActivate" has been moved from the enclosing xf:action to the <xf:insert> and <xf:delete> elements.

Nested repeats

It is often desirable to nest repeat sections. Consider the following XForms instance representing a company containing departments, each containing a number of employees:

<xf:instance id="departments">
    <departments>
        <department>
            <name>Research and Development</name>
            <employees>
                <employee>
                    <first-name>John</first-name>
                </employee>
                <employee>
                    <first-name>Mary</first-name>
                </employee>
            </employees>
        </department>
        <department>
            <name>Support</name>
            <employees>
                <employee>
                    <first-name>Anne</first-name>
                </employee>
                <employee>
                    <first-name>Mark</first-name>
                </employee>
                <employee>
                    <first-name>Sophie</first-name>
                </employee>
            </employees>
        </department>
    </departments>
</xf:instance>

This document clearly contains two nested sections subject to repetition:

  • Departments: a node-set containing all the department elements can be referred to with the following XPath expression: instance('departments')/department.
  • Employees: a node-set containing all the employee elements can be referred to with the following XPath expression: instance('departments')/department/employees/employee. However, if the context node of the XPath expression points to a particular department element, then the following relative XPath expression refers to all the employee elements under that department element: employees/employee.

Following the example above, here is how departments and employees can be represented in nested tables with xf:

<xh:table>
    <xf:repeat ref="instance('departments')/department">
        <xh:tr>
            <xh:td>
                <xf:output ref="name"/>
            </xh:td>
            <xh:td>
                <xh:table>
                    <xf:repeat ref="employees/employee">
                        <xh:tr>
                            <xh:td>
                                <xf:output ref="first-name"/>
                            </xh:td>
                        </xh:tr>
                    </xf:repeat>
                </xh:table>
            </xh:td>
        </xh:tr>
    </xf:repeat>
</xh:table>

In the code above, the second <xf:repeat>'s ref expression is interpreted relatively to the department element of the parent <xf:repeat> for each iteration of the parent's repetition. During the first iteration of the parent, the "Research and Development" department is in scope, and employees/employee refers to the two employees of that department, John and Mary. During the second iteration of the parent, the "Support" department is in scope, and employees/employee refers to the three employees of that department, Anne, Mark and Sophie.

Iterating over plain values

XForms 1.1 only specifies iterating over instance data nodes (elements or attributes). Orbeon Forms supports iterating over values, for example:

<xf:repeat ref="1 to 10">
    <xf:output value="position()"/>
    <xf:output value="."/>
</xf:repeat>

In this case, the context item within the repeat is a number, not a node.

NOTE: This ability is also part of the XForms 2 specification.

Evaluation of initial values upon insert

Orbeon Forms supports the xxf:default extension attribute on xf:bind to specify dynamic initial values.

By default (no pun intended), xxf:default does not apply to the newly inserted nodes. But by setting the xxf:defaults attribute (note the plural "defaults") on xf:insert to true, this behavior can be changed, and any xxf:default pointing to a newly-inserted node is re-evaluated during the next recalculation.

Consider the following example where the bind points to any <value> element child of the root element, and sets a dynamic initial value:

<xf:instance>
  <data>
      <value/>
  </data>
</xf:instance>

<xf:bind
    ref="instance()/value"
    xxf:default="count(//*)"/>

The data looks like this after initialization:

<data>
    <value>2</value>
</data>

Running the following insert adds a new <value> element after the first one:

<xf:insert
    ref="instance()/value"
    position="after"
    origin="xf:element('value')"
    xxf:defaults="true"/>

Because the action specifies xxf:defaults="true", the first value element is unchanged, but the new <value> element gets its dynamic initial value set:

<data>
    <value>2</value>
    <value>3</value>
</data>

See also

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