More Than One FieldConstructor with Play Framework

Often times in the Play Framework, I need to have more than one custom field constructor. Figuring out how to do this the first time took a lot of work to get it right. Here I discuss how you can create and use more than one custom field constructor in your next Play Framework 2.3.X application.

Background

The Play Framework has a set of helpers that makes building forms quick and easy. These helpers take care of populating your form elements with the correct values based upon some object that you have kicking around. For example, assuming that you have a simple User class that keeps track of user information:

public class User {
    @Constraints.Required
    public String name;
    @Constraints.Required
    public String twitterId;
}

Here there are two attributes we are keeping track of: a user’s name and twitterId. To build a form in the controller, we convert that class into a Form object
and pass it to our HTML template. So the controller for example, may have a method that looks something like this:

public static Result userDetailsForm() {
    Form userForm = Form.form(User.class);
    userForm = userForm.bindFromRequest(request().body().asFormUrlEncoded());
    return ok(views.html.userdetails.render(userForm));
}

This controller does the work of transforming our simple User class into a form object. In this example, we take any data that was passed to the controller in a POST statement, and bind it to the form. We pass that form object to an HTML template called userdetails.scala.html. In the HTML template is some code that actually lets us construct a form quite easily using the Play Framework helpers:

@(userForm: Form[User])
@import views.html.helper._

Simple User Form

@helper.form(action = routes.Application.saveUserDetails()) {
    @inputText(userForm("name"))
    @inputText(userForm("twitterId"))
}

The Problem

When creating a form with the Play Framework, you want your input elements to match the style of the rest of your page. Usually, it’s just a matter of applying the class that you want directly to your input elements. For example, if you are familiar with Bootstrap, you usually want to apply a class such as form-control to your input element. This is accomplished by inserting the element into the open set of parameters when you use the field that you want. You probably also want to use a better descriptor for the field; the label element will let you do that. You may also want to use some placeholder value to show the user an example of what they can type:

@inputText(userForm("name"),
    '_label->"User Name",
    'placeholder->"e.g. John Smith",
    'class->"form-control")
@inputText(userForm("twitterId"),
    '_label->"Twitter ID",
    'placeholder->"e.g. myTwitterID",
    'class->"form-control")

This will append the class information to the form element that you want to create. This is good, since it allows easy customization without having to write the HTML yourself. It also lets Play Framework handle the nitty gritty details of putting values into those input elements so that you don’t have to. This is a life saver when you have select elements that have lots of potential values. The rendered input elements would look something like this:

simple-user-form

Note that to generate the above input, I actually have a template system already in place that is including the correct Bootstrap CSS and Javascript.

This is good, but what happens if you want to create an input group and put an @ sign in front of the Twitter ID like so:

simple-user-form-with-at

To accomplish this, you need a custom field template to generate a FieldConstructor.

Anatomy of a Custom Field Template

Although they sound complicated, a custom field template is nothing more than an HTML template that accepts a helper.FieldElements parameter as input to the form. That’s really about it. Aside from that, they contain the HTML that you define to draw the form element. In the case of our @ sign appearing in front of the Twitter ID field, we need to create a span element before the input box that will render whatever text we pass in. I created an HTML template as a file called twitteridinput.scala.html with this template in it:

@(elements: helper.FieldElements)
<label for="@elements.id">@elements.label</label>
<div class="input-group @if(elements.hasErrors) {has-error}"><span class="input-group-addon">@elements.args.get('_prepend)</span> @elements.input</div>
<div class="info">@elements.infos</div>
@if(elements.hasErrors){
<div class="input-group has-error"><span class="help-block">@elements.errors</span></div>
}

As you can see in the code, the @elements parameter is what holds all of the field elements that get passed to the constructor. The attributes id, label, and infos all get populated from the form field that is passed it (more on that below). Aside from those, is an attribute called hasErrors that is true if there are errors with the field. The errors attribute has the actual error text. As you can see here, I check to see if there are fields with errors, and if so, I generate some friendly HTML to alert the user to the error. Finally, the input attribute contains the code to generate the actual input element that we want.

The real magic is in the “ class. How does it work? In addition to all the other attributes contained within the elements object is args. This contains a list of key -&gt; value pairs. You can put anything you want into that list. We saw this above with the '_label, 'placeholder and 'class parameters. In the case of this simple template, I expect a key called '_prepend which will have whatever you want to be pre-pended to the field. Whatever is in that named attribute will be displayed within the span class.

Using the Template

To use the new custom field template, we have to generate a FieldConstructor for it. This is a helper class in the Play Framework which will take care of a lot of the busywork for us (binding the correct things from the userForm field to the helper.FieldElements). To generate the FieldConstructor, all you need to do is put the following in the userdetails.scala.html template:

@twitterField = @{ FieldConstructor(twitteridinput.f) }

Then, to apply that template to the element that you want, you just need to specify it as the handler for that field. For example, to apply it to our Twitter ID field:

@inputText(userForm("twitterId"),
    '_label->"Twitter ID",
    '_prepend->"@",
    'placeholder->"e.g. myTwitterID",
    'class->"form-control"
)(handler = twitterField, implicitly[Lang])

That’s it! Note that the handler isn’t the only thing we have to specify – we must implicitly pass the language to the template helper too. All together, this is what is needed to generate the simple form:

@(userForm: Form[User])
@import views.html.helper._
@twitterField = @{ FieldConstructor(twitteridinput.f) }

Simple User Form

@helper.form(action = routes.Application.userDetailsForm()) {
    @inputText(userForm("name"),
        '_label->"User Name",
        'placeholder->"e.g. John Smith",
        'class->"form-control")
    @inputText(userForm("twitterId"),
        '_label->"Twitter ID",
        '_prepend->"@",
        'placeholder->"e.g. myTwitterID",
        'class->"form-control"
    )(handler = twitterField, implicitly[Lang])
}

Using this method, you can have several different custom field formats in your template. Simply define the templates you want to use, and apply them as handlers to whatever fields you need when generating your forms.