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Self Configuring Form Mailer Web Control

, 24 Sep 2003
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A web control for emailing the content of an HTML form.

Introduction

This article describes a Web control, FormMailer, which when placed on an ASPX form, transforms it into a user feedback form that's emailed to any specified email address. FormMailer has the following features:

  • Adds the email capabilities to the form just by virtue of being placed on it.
  • Any mail headers can be added to the email sent by adding special tags to the body of the FormMailer user control tag.
  • Displays a submit button or link.
  • Once the button is clicked, FormMailer gathers the values entered into the form's TextBox ASP controls, composes an email message and mails it to an email address specified as an attribute.
  • After the email is sent, the form is redisplayed with a confirmation message informing the user that the form was submitted.

FormMailer is a highly reusable and easy to use control because of its ability to automatically gather the information it needs from the form itself and turn it into an "emailable" form.

Background

The FormMailer control introduced here is an example of a self configuring object. Aside from discussing the specifics of FormMailer I would also like to say something about self configuration. I was first introduced to the concept of self configuring objects during my days as a Macromedia Director programmer, but ASP.NET is an excellent technology to take advantage of this idea. A self configuring object, be it a GUI or some non-visual component, is an object that, ideally, knows how to think and what to do no matter what environment you plop it into. In some sense, self configuration is similar to the object oriented concept of polymorphism, which says that things can have a different meaning, usage, or behavior, depending upon the context in which they are used. Polymorphism typically manifests itself as some OO language feature, such as a function that takes arguments of different types.

Self configuring objects do not specifically depend on any OO language feature, but are simply capable of looking at the context into which they are put and behave accordingly. The main philosophy of building a self configuring object is that any knowledge that can be derived by the given environment should be derived from that environment and not duplicated from somewhere else, such as passed parameters. For a specific example of this within FormMailer, take a look at the Points of Interest section.

Using the code

After you've included FormMailer.cs somewhere in your project, create a Web form with the text box fields you'd like to be emailed. The fields should be the form's top level controls, that is, not nested within any other server side tag except for the form. Register the FormMailer control with a tag such as this one:

<%@ Register TagPrefix="uc" NameSpace="YWLib.Utility.Controls.FormProcessing" Assembly="FormMailerDemo" %> .

Finally, place the FormMailer tag on the form. The following code block is a sample FormMailer tag. The FormMailer tag displays a submit button, so it should be placed accordingly. An example of a full form page can be found in the code download for this article.

<uc:FormMailer id="FormMailer" runat="server" 
     ControlToShowOnSuccess="SuccessPanel"
     SmtpServer="localhost" ControlToHideOnSuccess="InstructionsPanel">
<asp:Button id="SubmitControl" runat="server" text="Send Message">
</asp:Button>
<MailTemplate>
    ---#Name#---
    #Text#
</MailTemplate>
  <MailHeader Name="From" Text="formmailer@yourdomain.com" />
  <MailHeader Name="To" Text="webmaster@yourdomain.com" />
</uc:FormMailer> 

As you can see in the code above, the FormMailer tag contains a few properties (tag attributes), an embedded asp:Button tag, a MailTemplate tag, and some MailHeader tags.

The asp:Button tag, is just a regular ASP button control, but it exists within the FormMailer. Upon loading, the FormMailer control looks for an ASP button provided within it's body text, and automatically binds its click event to a function that submits and mails the form. In place of the asp:Button, the FormMailer control also accepts an asp:LinkButton or an asp:ImageButton.

The MailTemplate tag is used to format each of the emailed fields. FormMailer substitutes the ID of a field into the #Name# tag and the value into the #Text# tag. For example, if a form contains these two text fields,

<asp:textbox id="Name" runat="server"></asp:textbox>

and

<asp:textbox id="Email" runat="server"></asp:textbox>,

The emailed message sent by the sample FormMailer above, will look like this:

---Name---

John G

---Email---

johng@somedomain.com

Note that unlike in HTML, white spaces within the MailTemplate tag do affect the formatting. Also, the MailTemplate tag is optional, and FormMailer does use default formatting if it's missing.

The MailHeader tags allow you to add any mail header to the email sent. Just put the header's name into the Name attribute, and the header's value into the Text attribute. You can also assign the value of a header from a TextBox control by setting the MailHeader's TextFromTextBox attribute to the ID of the control. If both Text and TextFromTextBox attributes are specified, then Text acts as a default value if the text box is empty. The most important header is the To header, which specifies the recipient of the form's email. As a convenience, the headers Subject and Reply-To are automatically added to the email from text boxes whose IDs end with "Subject" and "EmailAddress" (case insensitive), respectively. The content of the subject text box is omitted from the body of the email, and therefore appears only as the email's subject

The following are the FormMailer control properties:

  • ControlToShowOnSuccess - The control whose ID matches this property will be hidden when the form is loaded and shown after the form is emailed. The control must not be nested within any other control or it won't be found by FormMailer.
  • ControlToHideOnSuccess - Similar to ControlToShowOnSuccess, except that the control is hidden after the email is sent.
  • DontMailPrefix - If this property is set, FormMailer will not email the form's TextBox controls whose ID strings start with the value of this property.
  • DisableFieldsAfterSend - If set to true, the form's fields and submit button are disabled after the email is sent. This is useful in conjunction with a label control used with ControlToShowOnSuccess that states something like "Thanks for emailing us. Here is the information you sent." The user then sees the same form, but with uneditable fields. The default of this property is true.
  • SmtpServer - Set this property to the name of your SMTP server. The default is "localhost".

FormMailer also includes an event called MailSent that is fired after the email is sent. Handle this event if you'd like to execute code after the email is sent, e.g. redirect to a different page.

Finally, FormMailer only supports the mailing of the content of TextBox controls placed on the form and the rest are ignored, but it can be easily extended to process other types of controls.

Points of Interest

Let's look at a portion of the heart of FormMailer, the function that's responsible for actually mailing the form. The rest of the code also includes many interesting points but they mostly belong to the general category of building custom controls. Perhaps I'll elaborate on that portion of the code sometime in the future.

This function is named MailTheForm(), and it's called directly from the button's click event. The full listing is in the downloadable code of course.

The first task MailTheForm performs is finding the page's HtmlForm control, and the controls it wraps.

 HtmlForm formControl = GetFormControl(Page);
 ControlCollection controlsToMail = formControl.Controls; 

It might seem simple, but this is an important part of following the self configuration philosophy. FormMailer could have just as well been designed to accept some sort of a list of IDs of controls to be emailed. But instead, FormMailer finds the controls it needs to take care of on its own.

GetFormControl() is a helper function that finds the page's HtmlForm control. It contains a simple loop:

foreach (Control control in page.Controls)
{ 
   if (control is HtmlForm)
   {
      return (HtmlForm)control;
   }
}
return null; 

MailTheForm() then loops through all the form controls, and processes the text boxes like so:

if (control is TextBox)
{
   TextBox textBox = (TextBox)control;
   if (textBox.Text.Length > 0)
   {
      if (textBox.ID.ToLower().EndsWith("subject"))
      {
         subject = textBox.Text; // subject is added as a mail header 
                                 // later in the code
      }
      else if (textBox.ID.ToLower().EndsWith("emailaddress"))
      {
         replyTo = textBox.Text; // add a reply-to header, and
         // append the to the text of the message       
         messageText.Append(mailTemplate.getTemplateText(textBox.ID, 
           textBox.Text));
      }
      else
      {       
         messageText.Append(mailTemplate.getTemplateText(textBox.ID, 
           textBox.Text));
      }
   }
} 

Notice that the first if, excludes all controls that are not text boxes. To augment FormMailer with the ability to process other types of controls, just include them in else if clauses here. textMessage is a StringBuilder that is used to form the email body string. mailTemplate is a MailTemplate type object. The MailTemplate class is responsible for formatting the text that's appended to the email body.

Conclusion

FormMailer is designed to mail-enable a form with a minimal amount of configuration, and is a good example of the reusability and compartmentalization power of ASP.NET.

This article mostly described the use of the FormMailer. For readers who would like to dive into code, I tried to include a reasonable amount of comments within the source.

License

This article has no explicit license attached to it but may contain usage terms in the article text or the download files themselves. If in doubt please contact the author via the discussion board below.

A list of licenses authors might use can be found here

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About the Author

Yaron Walfish
Web Developer
United States United States
No Biography provided

Comments and Discussions

 
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Web03 | 2.8.141029.1 | Last Updated 25 Sep 2003
Article Copyright 2003 by Yaron Walfish
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