Modernizing (a bit) some of our HTML form <input> elements

September 20, 2019

We have a Django web app for handling requests for Unix accounts, which has some HTML forms (in fact it's basically half HTML form filling). These forms (and all of the app's HTML) were put together years ago and only looked at on the desktop at the time. Recently, I poked around the app's forms on the work iPad to see how it would go. Even after I fixed the traditional viewport issue (see the comments), there were little irritations; for example, when you entered your desired Unix login, the iPad wanted to capitalize the first letter as part of its general auto-capitalization. Our Unix logins have to be all lower case, so this was a point of friction. Naturally I wondered if it was possible to improve the experience.

(Our Django web app was written in 2011, and we first got a work iPad in mid-2014. In 2011, not checking phone and table browser behavior was not crazy; today, it probably is and we likely should pay more attention to how all of our sites look on them.)

Unsurprisingly, there are ways to improve the situation by simple changes to our HTML, although not all of them were completely successful. You can find a variety of people writing about this online, and also the MDN page on <input type="text"> form fields, although it doesn't mention the autocapitalize attribute. The short version is that we apparently want to set all of the following attributes for text field that is supposed to be a login:

<input type="text" autocapitalize="none"
   autocorrect="off" spellcheck="false" ...>

Spellchecking is obviously not applicable; very few logins are dictionary words. Autocorrection is similarly probably not desirable, and autocapitalization is what we started out not wanting. The autocorrect attribute is a Safari extension, but apparently Android may want you to use autocomplete instead (which is a nominally standard attribute with all sorts of possible values).

The form also has a field for people's names. I set this to 'autocapitalize="words"', and should probably also set it 'autocomplete="name"' now that I've read about it. On my iOS devices, some combination of the attributes we're using (possibly including a 'name="name"' attribute from Django) causes Safari to be willing to autocomplete it from your contacts, which is handy if your contacts include yourself.

My less successful experiment was setting a 'pattern=...' and a 'title=...' attribute on the field for your login. What I wanted was for the browser to automatically react with a helpful error message when you entered an invalid character, but my flailing around so far hasn't produced this. We have some additional client side validation, but they involve a server check and so only trigger when the field is de-focused; faster feedback would be nice. However, my initial reading left me with the impression that doing a good job of this across both desktop and mobile browsers would require more JavaScript than I wanted to write.

(MDN has a useful page on general form validation, which I haven't read all of.)

All of this (including writing this entry) has done a good job of showing me how ignorant I am about modern HTML. Things have definitely changed here over the last decade or so, which is good to see even if it leaves me well behind the times.

PS: Django is already setting appropriate 'type=...' values on things like the field for your email address, or that would be another obvious and necessary change to make here.

Written on 20 September 2019.
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Last modified: Fri Sep 20 23:08:14 2019
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