A few tips on using openXdata

Please note, that for all the quirkiness of designing forms, collective experience shows that once a form is up and running openXdata is a stable tool for collecting data. Hundreds of thousands of forms have been collected using openXdata. You can do it too.

Nothing is saved, until you press save.

Both a blessing and a curse. If you make a mistake, don’t press save, press Refresh and you’ll magically find your mistake has gone.  Of course, if it’s been ages since you last saved you’ll lose the other work too.  So save little and often, but only when you need to!


You only need backups when you don’t have them.

  1. Designing forms is painstaking work, make sure you’re taking regular backups when you’re creating new studies and forms
  2. Your data is very, very precious and if you’ve switched away from paper your openXdata database will be your only record of your data.  Work with your IT team and data management team to have a solid backup process in place for your data.

When you’re designing forms, there’s two options:

  1. Temporarily create a back-up scheduler that frequently backups up your database while you’re designing (I use cron jobs on linux)
  2. If you’re not that nerdy, you can just take regular exports of your Forms and Studies during the design process. See “Exporting / Importing “

Lots of Form Designing to do -> do it offline

Often openXdata installations run on servers that are connected to public IPs so that phones and users can connect to it over the internet. If you have a lot of form designing to do you will likely find it much easier and quicker if you work on a desktop copy of openXdata.  Once you’ve done the bulk of your designing, you can export your study from your local copy and import it to the server, configure your users and permissions and you should be good to go.

Skip logic is buggy :(

The most buggy feature of the form designer has been the skip logic.  It has undergone major improvements between 1.2 and 1.3 and continues to improve. But a few things you can do:

  1. Watch the tutorials carefully first
  2. Design your form completely without any skip logic, save it, and then start adding the skip logic carefully taking regular backups.
  3. Check the skip logic using the Preview Function (you’ll need to have designed a web form)

Web forms vs. Phone forms – skip logic

If you’re going to make and use web-forms you may want to approach skip logic differently.  On phones where the interface is small it’s really nice to have questions hidden and only appear when you need them. Conversely, it’s usually better to have skip questions simply “disabled” when you are using web forms (related to using the auto web-form feature below).

So if you’re aiming for phones think about questions that start “If yes, then ….” as being Enabled but Not Visible, and then the skip logic is Show (and make Required).  But for mostly web forms use Visible but Not Enabled and then the skip logic is Enable (and make Required).

Getting the most out of the automatic web-form designer

The feature that auto generates web-forms can be a real time saver, if you use it right. Once you’ve auto-designed a form, the only way to get rid of the auto-design is to go into the database and delete the “layout” field of the relevant form from the “form_definition_version” table.

So before you autodesign (by clicking “Design Surface” for the first time), make sure all the questions you want to appear on your web form are Visible. That way, whether enabled or not they’ll all auto-magically appear on your design surface.

If your phone settings are driving you crazy

Sometimes you can fiddle with the connection settings so much to try and get your network provider to co-operate that you feel like you’re doing the same thing over and over again.  You can try powering off, putting in a sim from a different network, powering on, getting new settings, powering off, putting the original sim back in and getting your settings again. Or, what I prefer, reset the whole phone (this will delete everything on the phone so not appropriate if you’ve got a phonebook full of numbers or a bunch of data on the phone). On a Nokia, Menu -> Settings -> Rest. factory sett. -> Rest. all. You may need to set, and then use a security passcode – I use 12345. For more information on this look at your phone’s user manual. I find this gives me a blank slate to try again with which often does the trick.

Avoid using multiple pages (v1.2 only)

Using multiple pages often causes the form designer to get confused. Consider whether you really need multiple pages or whether you can have all your questions in one form or split your questionnaire into multiple forms.