Episode 5 - How To Use Forms

On this episode, we will learn about HTML forms and Django’s form system to use when collecting input from users.

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Last Episode

On the previous episode, we looked at templates, the primary tool that Django provides to build user interfaces in your Django app.

Web Forms 101

HTML can describe the type of data that you may want your users to send to your site. Collecting this data is done with a handful of tags. The primary HTML tags to consider are form, input, and select.

A form tag is the container for all the data that you want a user to send to your application. The tag has two critical attributes that tell the browser how to send data: action and method.

<form method="GET" action="/some/form/">
    <input type="text" name="message">
    <button type="submit">Send me!</button>

When the form’s method is GET, the form data will be sent as part of the URL in a querystring. The GET request sent to the server will look like /some/form/?message=Hello. This type of form submission is most useful when we don’t need to save data and are trying to do some kind of query.

The POST method of sending form data is for data that we want to be secure or saved within an application.

We’ve seen that form is the container that guides how to send form data. input and select are the tags that let us display a meaningful form to the user.

You can see a full list of types on the MDN input documentation page.

The other attribute, name, is the identifier that the form will pair with the user data. The server uses the identifier so it can distinguish between the pieces of data that a form submission may include.

Django Forms

Django’s form features act as a bridge between HTML forms and Python classes and data types. When presenting a form to a user in view, the form system is able to display the proper HTML form tags and structure. When receiving this form data from a user’s submission, the form system can translate the browser’s raw form data into native Python data that we can use.

# application/forms.py

from django import forms

class ContactForm(forms.Form):
    name = forms.CharField(max_length=100)
    email = forms.EmailField()
    message = forms.CharField(max_length=1000)
  1. Django forms are sub-classes of the Form class.
  2. The data that we want to collect is listed as class level attributes.

If the template looks like:

{{ form.as_p }}

Then Django will render:

<p><label for="id_name">Name:</label>
  <input type="text" name="name" maxlength="100" required id="id_name"></p>
<p><label for="id_email">Email:</label>
  <input type="email" name="email" required id="id_email"></p>
<p><label for="id_message">Message:</label>
  <input type="text" name="message" maxlength="1000" required id="id_message">

To make it possible submit the form, we need to wrap this rendered output with a form tag and include a submit button and a CSRF token.

<form action="{% url "some-form-view" %}" method="POST">
    {% csrf_token %}
    {{ form.as_p }}
    <p><input type="submit" value="Send the form!"></p>
# application/views.py

from django.http import HttpResponseRedirect
from django.shortcuts import render
from django.urls import reverse

from .forms import ContactForm

def contact_us(request):
    if request.method == "POST":
        form = ContactForm(request.POST)
        if form.is_valid():
            # Do something with the form data like send an email.
            return HttpResponseRedirect(reverse('some-form-success-view'))
        form = ContactForm()

    return render(request, 'contact_form.html', {'form': form})
  • When the form is valid, the view does the extra work represented by the comment and redirects to a new view that can show some kind of success message.
  • When the form is invalid, the view goes out of the if clause and calls render. Since the data is bound to the form, the contact form has enough information to show which form fields caused the errors that made the form invalid.

That’s the core of form handling! The presented view is a common pattern for handling form views in Django. In fact, this view pattern is so common that Django provides a built-in view to implement what is done in the example named FormView.

# application/views.py

from django.views.generic import FormView

from .forms import ContactForm

class ContactUs(FormView):
    form = ContactForm
    template = 'contact_form.html'

    def get_success_url(self):
        return reverse('some-form-success-view')

    def form_valid(self, form):
        # Do something with the form data like send an email.
        return super().form_valid(form)

Form Fields

With the basics of form handling done, we can turn our attention to the kinds of fields that forms can use. The extensive list of fields is in the Django documentation, and we will look at a few of the most common ones in this article.

Fields are the critical intersection between the world of the browser and HTML and the Python world with all of its robust data types.


CharField is a real workhorse for Django forms. The CharField captures text input and uses a standard input tag with a type of text. If you want to collect more text, like in a feedback form, you can switch from the default TextInput widget to a Textarea widget. This will make your form render a textarea tag that will give far more space for any input.

# application/forms.py

from django import forms

class FeedbackForm(forms.Form):
    email = forms.EmailField()
    comment = forms.CharField(widget=forms.Textarea)


The EmailField is like a specialized version of the CharField. The field uses an input tag with a type of email. Many modern browsers can help to check that valid email addresses are provided. Also, when this field is validated within the framework, Django will attempt to validate the email address too in case the browser wasn’t able to do it.


A DateField is another field that is mostly like a CharField. The field even uses the input type of text when rendered. The difference with this field comes from the data type that the form will provide after it is validated. A DateField will convert a variety of string formats into a Python datetime.date object.


A ChoiceField is useful when you want a user to make a choice from a list of options. For this field type, we must provide a list of choices that the user can pick from. Imagine that we want to ask users what their favorite meal of the day is. Here’s a form that can do that.

# application/forms.py

from django import forms

class SurveyForm(forms.Form):
    MEALS = [("b", "Breakfast"), ("l", "Lunch"), ("d", "Dinner")]
    favorite_meal = forms.ChoiceField(choices=MEALS)

This will contain a form with a select tag that looks like:

  <label for="id_favorite_meal">Favorite meal:</label>
  <select name="favorite_meal" id="id_favorite_meal">
    <option value="b">Breakfast</option>
    <option value="l">Lunch</option>
    <option value="d">Dinner</option>

Validating Forms

What is is_valid actually doing? It does a lot!

When is_valid is True, the form’s data will be in a dictionary named cleaned_data with keys that match the field names declared by the forms. With the validated data, you access cleaned_data to do your work. For instance, if we had some kind of integration with a support ticket system, perhaps our FeedbackForm above is handled in the view like:

if form.is_valid():
    email = form.cleaned_data['email']
    comment = form.cleaned_data['comment']
    create_support_ticket(email, comment)
    return HttpReponseRedirect(reverse('feedback-received'))

When is_valid is False, Django will store the errors it found in an errors attribute. This attribute will be used when the form is re-rendered on the page (because, if you recall from the view example, the form view pattern sends a bound form back through a render call in the failure case).

If you have a form field, you can add customization by writing a method on the form class. The format of the method must match with the field name and prepend clean_. Let’s imagine that we want a website for Bobs. In order to sign up for the website, your email address must have “bob” in it. We can write a clean method to check for that.

# application/forms.py

from django import forms

class SignUpForm(forms.Form):
    email = forms.EmailField()
    password = forms.CharField(widget=forms.PasswordInput)

    def clean_email(self):
        email = self.cleaned_data['email']
        if 'bob' not in email:
            raise forms.ValidationError('Sorry, you are not a Bob.')
        return email

These clean_<field name> methods are hooks that let you include extra checking. This hook system gives you the perfect place to put validation logic for data that is specific to your application. But what about validating multiple pieces of data? This might happen when data has some kind of interrelationship. For instance, if you’re putting together a genealogy website, you may have a form that records birth and death dates. You might want to check those dates.

# application/forms.py

from django import forms

class HistoricalPersonForm(forms.Form):
    name = forms.CharField()
    date_of_birth = forms.DateField()
    date_of_death = forms.DateField()

    def clean(self):
        cleaned_data = super().clean()
        date_of_birth = cleaned_data.get('date_of_birth')
        date_of_death = cleaned_data.get('date_of_death')
        if date_of_birth and date_of_death and date_of_birth > date_of_death:
            raise forms.ValidationError('Birth date must be before death date.')
        return cleaned_data


That’s how forms make it possible to collect data from your users so your site can interact with them. We’ve seen:

  • Web forms and the form HTML tag
  • The Form class that Django uses to handle form data in Python
  • How forms are rendered to users by Django
  • Controlling what fields are in forms
  • How to do form validation

Next Time

In the next episode, we’re going to talk about storing data in a database. Django gives us the ability to do this storage with models. Models are a way to represent your application’s data and make your website very dynamic.

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