Oracle Forms is a software product for creating screens that interact with an Oracle database. It has an IDE including an object navigator, property sheet and code editor that uses PL/SQL. It was originally developed to run server-side in character mode terminal sessions. It was ported to other platforms, including Windows, to function in a client–server environment. Later versions were ported to Java where it runs in a Java EE container and can integrate with Java and web services.
How it works
Oracle Forms accesses the Oracle database and generates a screen that presents the data. The source form (*.fmb) is compiled into a platform-specific "executable" (*.fmx), that is run (interpreted) by the forms runtime module. The form is used to view and edit data in database-driven applications. Various GUI elements, such as buttons, menus, scrollbars, and graphics can be placed on the form. Source code may also be placed in library files (*.pll) which are compiled into library executables (*.plx) used at runtime.
The environment supplies built-in record creation, query, and update modes, each with its own default data manipulations. This minimizes the need to program common and tedious operations, such as creating dynamic SQL, sensing changed fields, and locking rows.
As is normal with event driven interfaces, the software implements event-handling functions called triggers which are automatically invoked at critical steps in the processing of records, the receipt of keyboard strokes, and the receipt of mouse movements. Different triggers may be called before, during, and after each critical step.
Each trigger function is initially a stub, containing a default action or nothing. Programming Oracle Forms therefore generally consists of modifying the contents of these triggers in order to alter the default behavior. Some triggers, if provided by the programmer, replace the default action while others augment it.
As a result of this strategy, it is possible to create a number of default form layouts which possess complete database functionality yet contain no programmer-written code at all.
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Oracle Forms is sold and released separately from the Oracle Database. However, major releases of an Oracle database usually result in a new major version of Oracle Forms to support new features in the database.
Oracle Forms started as Interactive Application Facility (IAF), which had two main components: the compiler (Interactive Application Generator - IAG) and the runtime interpreter (Interactive Application Processor - IAP). Released with Oracle Database version 2, IAF provided a character mode interface to allow users to enter and query data from an Oracle database. It was renamed to FastForms with Oracle Database version 4 and added an additional tool to help generate a default form to edit with IAG, the standard tool. The product saw one more name change before gaining its current moniker, called SQL*Forms version 2 with the Oracle 5 database.
Oracle Forms 2.3 was character-based, and did not use PL/SQL. The source file was an *.INP ASCII file. This enabled developers to commonly edit the INP file directly, although that editing method was not supported by Oracle. This version used its own primitive and unfriendly[according to whom?] built-in language, augmented by user exits—compiled language code linked to the binary of the Oracle-provided run-time.
Oracle Forms 3 was character-based, and by using PL/SQL was the first real version of Forms. All subsequent versions are a development of this version. It could run under X but did not support any X interface-specific features such as checkboxes. The source file was an *.INP ASCII file. The IDE was vastly improved[according to whom?] from 2.3 which dramatically decreased the need to edit the INP file directly, though this was still a common practice. Forms 3 automatically generated triggers and code to support some database constraints. Constraints could be defined, but not enforced in the Oracle 6 database at this time, so Oracle used Forms 3 to claim support for enforcing constraints. There was a "GUI" version of Forms 3 which could be run in environments such as X Window, but not Microsoft Windows. This had no new trigger types, which made it difficult to attach PL/SQL to GUI events such as mouse movements.
Oracle Forms version 4.0 was the first "true" GUI based version of the product. A character-based runtime was still available for certain customers on request. The arrival of Microsoft Windows 3 forced Oracle to release this GUI version of Forms for commercial reasons. Forms 4.0 accompanied Oracle version 6 with support for Microsoft Windows and X Window. This version was notoriously buggy and introduced an IDE that was unpopular with developers.[according to whom?] The 4.0 source files became binary and were named *.FMB. This version was not used by the Oracle Financials software suite.
Oracle Forms version 4.5 was really a major release rather than a "point release" of 4.0 despite its ".5" version number. It contained significant functional changes and a brand new IDE, replacing the unpopular IDE introduced in 4.0. It is believed[according to whom?] to be named 4.5 in order to meet contractual obligations to support Forms 4 for a period of time for certain clients. It added GUI-based triggers, and provided a modern IDE with an object navigator, property sheets and code editor.
Due to conflicting operational paradigms, Oracle Forms version 5 accompanied Oracle version 7. It featured custom graphical modes tuned especially for each of the major systems, though its internal programmatic interface remained system-independent. It was quickly superseded by Forms 6, which was released with Oracle 8.0 database and was rereleased as Forms 6i with Oracle 8i. This was basically Forms 4.5 with some extra wizards and bug-fixes. But it also included the facility to run inside a web server. A Forms Server was supplied to solve the problem of adapting Oracle Forms to a three-tier, browser-based delivery, without incurring major changes in its programmatic interface. The complex, highly interactive form interface was provided by a Java applet which communicated directly with the Forms server. However the web version did not work very well over HTTP. A fix from Forms 9i was retrofitted to later versions of 6i to address this.
The naming and numbering system applied to Oracle Forms underwent several changes due to marketing factors, without altering the essential nature of the product. The ability to code in Java, as well as PL/SQL, was added in this period. Forms 7 was never release to the public and only existed internally as Project Cherokee. Version 8 did not exist; This number was jumped over in order to allow the Oracle Forms version number to match the database version in v9. Forms 9i included many bug fixes to 6i and was a stable version, but it did not include either client–server or character-based interfaces, and three-tier, browser-based delivery is the only deployment option. The ability to import java classes means that it can act as a web service client.
Forms 10g is actually Forms version 9.0.4, so is merely a rebadged forms 9i. Forms 11 includes some new features, relying on Oracle AQ to allow it to interact with JMS.
(*1) Each version of Oracle Forms can connect to numerous versions of the ORACLE database and is sold and released separately from the ORACLE Database. Oracle Forms is generally forward and backward compatible with the Oracle database - for example: Oracle Forms 9 can connect to at least Oracle 8,9, 10 and 11. The database versions listed here are the primary version that was available at the time of the Form release
(*2) Oracle products have historically followed their own release-numbering and naming conventions. This changed with Oracle RDBMS 9i release when Oracle Corporation started to standardize Oracle Forms (and Reports and Developer) to use the same major version number as the database. This explains the jump in Oracle Forms versions from 6i to 9i (there was no v7 or v8)
Integration with Oracle Designer CASE Tool
Oracle Designer is a CASE tool that is sold by Oracle. It is able to generate various software modules including Oracle Forms and Oracle Report
Whilst Oracle's preferred approach for new development is its Java based Oracle Application Development Framework or Oracle Application Express. Oracle's development tools statement of direction is quite clear in its commitment to continuing to support Oracle Forms and continue to develop and enhance it in the following areas:
- Making the upgrade to the web and to new releases as smooth as possible
- Allowing Forms and Reports applications to take full advantage of the application server services and inter-operate with Java EE applications.
An Alternative to Oracle Application Development Framework is also Oracle Application Express. One of the advantages of Oracle Application Express is that it is more closely related to Forms as it also relies heavily on PL/SQL.