smerf

by springbok

springbok / smerf

SMERF is a Ruby on Rails plugin that allows you to easily create dynamic forms which you can use for...

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*** IMPORTANT *** This branch contains as yet untested Rails3 changes supplied by ferrisoxide (thanks Tom). If you want to use SMERF in production use the 1.0-stable branch.


= Simple MEta Rails Form (SMERF)

SMERF is a Ruby on Rails plugin that allows you to easily define dynamic
forms which you can use for surveys, questionnaires, and data collection
forms for example. It records which forms a user have completed and saves the users responses so that they can easily be analysed via SQL.

== Requirements

  1. You need to have a table that stores details about the users of your application. SMERF will keep track of the forms a user completes as well as the users responses to questions on these forms.
  2. The name of this users table as well as the primary key and model needs to conform to the Rails convention, i.e.
    • DB table name needs to be plural, e.g. users
    • Primary key assumed to be named id
    • Model name is singular of the DB table, e.g. user
  3. SMERF is a RESTful plugin
  4. It has only been tested with Rails V2

== Download

=== Get it from GitHub http://github.com/springbok/smerf

== Installation

The plugin is easy to install, once you have downloaded the source code run the following command from the root directory of your Rails application

./script/generate smerf usermodelname

Replace UserModelName with the model you use for storing details about your applications users, for example

./script/generate smerf user

Please note the model name needs to be specified in lowercase.

== Configuration

  1. Run the DB migration
    rake db:migrate
  2. Include smerf in the controller where it will be used, if you want all controllers to have access add it to the application.rb, e.g. include Smerf
  3. Set the record ID of the current user so that SMERF can save responses for each user. This can normally be done once the user has been authenticated by using the following code as an example: self.smerfuserid = current_user.id
  4. You can use the example stylesheet(smerf.css) supplied with the plugin which was copied to the /public/stylesheets directory by adding it to your application layout, e.g. <%= stylesheetlinktag "smerf", :cache => true %>
  5. To create a link to display a form you can use the Standard REST Path method used for the show action passing the name of the form definition file as a parameter, for example linkto('Complete Test Smerf Form', smerfform_url('testsmerf'))

== Testing your installation

To test the installation you can display the test form that comes with SMERF when you install it. Everything will work as is as long as you have an existing user record with id = 1. If not you need to modify the smerftestcotroller.rb file found in vendor/plugins/smerf/app/controllers.

Simply change the line self.smerfuserid = 1 and set smerfuserid to an existing user record id.

To display the SMERF test form by doing something similar to this http://localhost:3000/smerf_test

== License SMERF is Copyright(c) 2008 Etienne van Tonder, Cascadia Software Pty Ltd, released under the MIT license

== Support The SMERF homepage is http://smerf.cascadia.com.au and the project is hosted on
SourceForge at http://rubyforge.org/projects/smerf. If you go to these sites you will find links to downloading the plugin, documentation and forums for requesting new features or to notify us of bugs.

Also feel free to contact me by sending an email to [email protected]

== Please Consider 1. If you find this plugin useful it would be greatly appreciated if you could recommend me at Working With Rails. I'm a freelance developer and would value your recommendations.

http://workingwithrails.com/recommendation/new/person/10053-etienne-van-tonder

  1. That you consider freely sharing any changes that you make to the plugin. Also that you share any new functionality that you creare for use with the plugin that you consider may be useful to other users.

== Usage The SMERF form definition file allows you to define the contents of a form. Each form is made up of groups and within each group there are any number of questions which can accept free form text as the answer or presents a list of possibilties to the user.

In some cases an answer may ask for additional information by asking another questions, these can be defined using the subquestion field when defining the answer. Subquestion fields are defined using exactly the same fields as a normal question, you can nest subquestions to any level. An example subquestion may be for the answer 'Other', in some cases additional information is required when the user selects this answer, a subquestion can be defined to accept free form text where the user can add additional information.

=== Form Definition File

To create a new form we define the content of the form using a YAML file. I decided to use YAML as it seems to be the defacto standard for Rails, its simple and has a nice hierarchical structure which suits the way forms are structured. At a later date I or someone else may develop a web based form definition interface. All form definition files are assumed to be located in the /smerf directory.

The definitions within the file is space sensitive, be very careful to get this correct otherwise items will be grouped incorrectly. The structure must be as follows with items at the following levels:

smerfform
    groups
        questions
            answers

The name of the form definition file is used to identify the form. If you change the name of the file then a new DB record will be created with the new code and all links to any history will be lost as this will be treated as a brand new form. When the system loads the form file for the very first time a new record will be created with a code that is set to the name of the file.

To create a link to display a form you can use the Standard REST Path method used for the show action passing the name of the form definition file as a parameter, for example

linkto('Complete Test Smerf Form', smerfform_url('testsmerf'))

=== Defining the Form

When setting up a new form the first thing we do is define some settings for the form as a whole. Currently the following items can be defined for the form:

name:: Name of the form (mandatory) welcome:: Message displayed at the start of the form (optional) thankyou:: Message displayed at the end of the form (optional) groupsortorderfield:: Nominates which group field to use when sorting groups for display (mandatory) groups:: Defines the question groups within the form (mandatory)

Here is the definition for the test form included with the plugin:

--- 
smerfform:   
  name: Test SMERF Form
  welcome: | 
    Welcome:
Thank you for taking part in our Test survey we appreciate your input.

<b>PRIVACY STATEMENT</b><br>
We will keep all the information you provide private and not share
it with anyone else....<br>

thank_you: | Thank you for your input.

Should you wish to discuss this survey please contact<br>
Joe Bloggs<br>
Tel. 12 345 678<br>
e-mail <a href="%5C%22mailto:[email protected]%5C%22">Joe's email</a><br><br>

February 2007

group_sort_order_field: code

groups: ...

=== Defining Groups

Each form is divided up into groups of questions, you must have at least one group per form. Here are the fields that are currently available when defining a group:

code:: This code must be unique for all groups within the form as it is used to identify each group (mandatory) name:: The name of the group, this is displayed as the group heading (mandatory) description:: Provide more detailed description/instructions for the group (optional) questions:: Defines all the questions contained within this group (mandatory)

Here is the definition for the Personal Details group of the test form:

personal_details:
  code: 1
  name: Personal Details Group
  description: | This is a brief description of the Personal Details Group
    here we ask you some personal details ...
  questions:
  ...

=== Defining Questions

A group can contain any number of questions, there must be at least one question per group. When defining a question you must specify the question type, the type determines the type of form field that will be created. There are currently four types that can be used, this will be expanded as needed. The current question types are:

multiplechoice:: Allows the user to select all of the answers that apply from a list of possible choices, check boxes are used for this question type as multiple selections can be made singlechoice:: Allows the user to select one answer from a list of possible choices, radio buttons are used for the question type as only a single answer can be selected textbox:: Allows the user to enter a large amount of free text, the size of the text box can be specified textfield:: Allows the user to enter a small amount of free form text, the size of the text field can be specified selectionbox:: Allows the user to select one or more answers from a dropdown list of possible choices

The following fields can be used to define a question:

code:: Unique code that will identify the question, the code must be unique within a form (mandatory) type:: Specifies the type of field that should be constructed on the form for this question, see above list for current types (mandatory) question:: The text of the question, this field is optional as subquestions do not have to have question text textboxsize:: Specifies the size of the text box to construct, rows x cols, defaults to 30x5 (optional) textfieldsize:: Specified the size of the text field that should be constructed, specified in the number of visible characters, default to 30 (optional) header:: Specifies a separate heading for the question. The text will be displayed above the question allowing questions to be broken up into subsections (optional) sortorder:: Specifies the sort order for the question help:: Help text that will be displayed below the question answers:: Defines the answers to the question if the question type displays a list of possibilities to the user validation:: Specifies the validation methods (comma separated) that should be executed for this question, see Validation and Errors section for more details selectionboxmultiplechoice:: Specifies if the selection box should allow multiple choices

Below is an example question definition:

  questions:
    specify_your_age:
      code: g1q1
      type: singlechoice
      sort_order: 1
      question: | Specify your ages  
      help: | Select the one that apply 
      validation: validate_mandatory_question
      ...

=== Defining Answers

If the question presents a list of possible answers to the user then we can easily define these answers by using the following fields:

code:: Code to uniquely identify the answer, code needs to be unique for each question (mandatory). The value specified here will be saved as the users response when the answer is selected. answer:: The text that will be displayed to the user (mandatory) default:: If set to Y then this answer will be selected by default (optional) sort_order:: The sort order for this answer (mandatory) subquestions:: Some answers may need additional information, another question can be defined to obtain this information. To define a subquestion the same fields that define a normal question is used (optional)

Here is an example answer definition:

  answers:
    1_20:
      code: 1
      answer: | 1-20
      sort_order: 1
      default: N
      ...

=== Defining Subquestions

Additional questions can be defined for an answer if more information is required if the user selects the answer. For example you may have an answer 'Other' that requires additional information from the user. A subquestion can be defined for the 'Other' answer that takes an additional input from the user. To define a subquestion you use the same fields as for a normal question (Refer to the Defining Question section above).

Below is an example subquestion definition:

  subquestions:
    other_industries:
        code: g1q3a4s1
        type: textbox
        sort_order: 1
        question: 
        help: | Please specify 
        textbox_size: 30x3
        validation: validate_sub_question
        ...

=== Data Store

There are three tables used by SMERF:

smerfforms:: contains details about each form smerfformsusers:: contains a record for each of the forms a user completes smerfresponses:: contains a record for each response given to each question on the form. This allows analysis of answers via SQL queries.

When a user selects to view a form the system checks the form definition file to see if any changes have been made since the last time the form was loaded, if it has the form definition file is processed and validated. A set of classes and objects are created that describes the form including SmerfFile, SmerfGroup, SmerfQuestion, SmerfAnswer, these are serialized to YAML format and stored in a single database field within the smerfforms table. If no changes have been made to the definition file then the form is simply read from the smerfforms table and unserialized from YAML with all classes and objects reconstructed.

The users responses to questions on a form are stored in the smerf_responses table which stores a separate record for each response to a question. If a question has multiple answers then multiple records will be created for the question. Responses for a question can be found by using the unique question code assigned within the form definition file. So for example if we had a question with code 'g1q1' and the user selects two answers which have been assigned code values 3 and 5 then two records will be created, i.e.

g1q1, 3
g1q1, 5

Check your DB or the migration file to see the table and column definitions for each table.

=== Validation and Errors

All validations are specified as part of the question (or subquestion) definition using the 'validation:' field. The SMERF validation system is very flexible and allows any number of validation methods to be specified for a question by comma separating each method.

validation: validate_mandatory_question, validate_years 

Currently there are two validation methods provided with the plugin:

validatemandatoryquestion:: This method will ensure that the user has answered the question validatesubquestion:: Only applies to subquestions and makes sure that the user has selected the answer that relates to the subquestion, it will also ensure the subquestion has been answered if the answer that relates to the subquestion has been selected.

SMERF also allows you to define your own custom validation methods. During the installation process SMERF creates a helper module called smerfhelpers.rb in the /lib directory. You can add new validation methods into this module and access them by simply referencing them in the form definition file. For example we have question 'How many years have you worked in the industry' and we want to ensure that the answer provided is between 0-99 we can create a new validation method called 'validateyears'.

# Example validation method for "How many years have you worked in the industry" # it uses a regex to make sure 0-99 years specified. # def validateyears(question, responses, form) # Validate entry and make sure years are numeric and between 0-99 answer = smerfgetquestionanswer(question, responses)
if (answer) # Expression will return nil if regex fail, also check charcters # after the match to determine if > 2 numbers specified res = ("#{answer}" =~ /\d{1,2}/)
return "Years must be between 0 and 99" if (!res or $'.length() > 0)
end

return nil

end

Note: There are some helper methods that you can use within these methods included in the smerfsystemhelpers.rb module which you can find in the plugins lib directory.

Your question definition may then look like this:

how_many_years:
  code: g2q3
  type: textfield
  sort_order: 3
  header: 
  question: | How many years have you worked in the industry
  textfield_size: 10
  validation: validate_mandatory_question, validate_years
  help: 

When the form is validated your custom validation method will be called. When an error is detected, a summary of the errors are displayed at the top of the form, additionally an error message is displayed for each question that has an error. This makes it very easy for the user to see which question they need to fix.

=== Complete Example

Here is the complete form definition file for the test form included with the plugin:

--- 
smerfform:   
  name: Test SMERF Form
  welcome: | 
    Welcome:
Thank you for taking part in our Test survey we appreciate your input.

<b>PRIVACY STATEMENT</b><br>
We will keep all the information you provide private and not share
it with anyone else....<br>

thank_you: | Thank you for your input.

Should you wish to discuss this survey please contact<br>
Joe Bloggs<br>
Tel. 12 345 678<br>
e-mail <a href="%5C%22mailto:[email protected]%5C%22">Joe's email</a><br><br>

February 2007

group_sort_order_field: code

groups: personal_details: code: 1 name: Personal Details Group description: | This is a brief description of the Personal Details Group here we ask you some personal details ... questions: specify_your_age: code: g1q1 type: singlechoice sort_order: 1 question: | Specify your ages
help: | Select the one that apply validation: validate_mandatory_question answers: 1_20: code: 1 answer: | 1-20 sort_order: 1 default: N 21_40: code: 2 answer: | 21_40 sort_order: 2 default: N >40: code: 3 answer: | > 40 sort_order: 3 default: N subquestions: >40: code: g1q1a3s1 type: singlechoice sort_order: 1 question: | Are you aged over 40 help: | Select the one that apply validation: validate_sub_question answers: 41_50: code: 1 answer: | 41-50 sort_order: 1 default: N 51_60: code: 2 answer: | 51_60 sort_order: 2 default: N >61: code: 3 answer: | > 61 sort_order: 3 default: N subquestions: >61: code: g1q1a3s1a3s1 type: textfield sort_order: 1 header: question: | If you are older than 61, please specify textfield_size: 10 validation: validate_sub_question

    are_you_married:
      code: g1q2
      type: singlechoice
      sort_order: 2
      question: | Are you married  
      help: 
      answers:
        no:
          code: 1
          answer: | No
          sort_order: 1
          default: Y
        yes:
          code: 2
          answer: | Yes
          sort_order: 2
          default: N

    hobbies:
      code: g1q3
      type: multiplechoice
      sort_order: 3
      question: | What are your hobbies 
      help: | Mark <b>all</b> that apply      
      header: Another header that you can group questions under
      answers:
        chess:
          code: 1
          answer: | Chess
          sort_order: 1
          default: N
        woodwork:
          code: 2
          answer: | Wood work
          sort_order: 2
          default: N
        sleeping:
          code: 3
          answer: | Sleeping
          sort_order: 3
          default: N
        other:
          code: 4
          answer: | Other 
          sort_order: 4
          default: N
          subquestions:
            other_industries:
                code: g1q3a4s1
                type: textbox
                sort_order: 1
                question: 
                help: | Please specify 
                textbox_size: 30x3
                validation: validate_sub_question

employment_details:
  code: 2
  name: | Employment Details Group
  description: | Brief description of the employment details group  
  question_sort_order_field: sort_order
  questions:
    which_industry:
      code: g2q1
      type: multiplechoice
      sort_order: 1
      question: | Which industries have you worked in  
      help: | Mark <b>all</b> that apply    
      validation: validate_mandatory_question
      answers:
        it:
          code: 1
          answer: | Information Technology
          sort_order: 1
          default: N
        accounting:
          code: 2
          answer: | Accounting 
          sort_order: 2
          default: N
        finance:
          code: 3
          answer: | Finance 
          sort_order: 3
          default: N
        other:
          code: 4
          answer: | Other 
          sort_order: 4
          default: N
          subquestions:
            other_industries:
                code: g2q1a4s1
                type: textbox
                sort_order: 1
                question: 
                help: | Please specify 
                textbox_size: 30x3
                validation: validate_sub_question

    how_many_years:
      code: g2q3
      type: textfield
      sort_order: 3
      header: 
      question: | How many years have you worked in the industry
      textfield_size: 10
      validation: validate_mandatory_question, validate_years
      help: 

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