Use JavaScript to enable formatting of Data View UI controls

andy Hi, Andy Lewis here again.  Today I'm here to talk about how to work around a certain type of challenge you might run into when trying to customize the user experience (UX) of a form in a SharePoint application.

When I began trying to make the leap from generic web development into SharePoint development, I found I needed to get used to the fact that I no longer had direct control of some of the key building blocks of the UX: the HTML controls. In SharePoint, the HTML controls are emitted out of server-side controls. You don't have direct control of the markup that is sent to your customer's web browser.

Note: In this article, some of the material that explains how to perform the more basic tasks is hidden from view by default if you have JavaScript turned on. If you want to print this article with all the material included, click here: Show All.

My users need more pixels!

As I began getting used to working within the context of SharePoint, one challenge I faced was figuring out how to make even simple adjustments to the UX, such as modifying the width and the height of a user interface (UI) control.  Simply put, I wanted to make my customers more comfortable by giving them more pixels!

Modify the size of a text-value field

For some fields, their presentation is fairly easy to adjust.  For example, in Modify the lengths of List Form Fields, John Jansen showed how to use a little CSS to modify the width of the textbox field used to edit the Title value of a SharePoint list.

While playing around in code view, I noticed another option.  The SharePoint:formfield tag accepts an attribute called DisplaySize.  If you add this attribute to the tag (for example DisplaySize="100") in your custom form, then you can also make a text value field (such as the standard Title field), longer. (This attribute does not work for all SharePoint list column types.)

But let's move on to how to make a customization that is a bit more challenging.

Expand size of the lists for a multi-value lookup column

I was recently working on a custom form that included a multi-value lookup field.  SharePoint renders the UX for this kind of field in the form of two select list controls and two button controls to move items between the two lists.


The catch is that these controls are wrapped inside other HTML tags, one of which blocks CSS from working because it has a hardcoded style in it. The structure that is sent by the server to the web browser looks something like like this if you edit the source in SharePoint Designer and selected one of the select controls:

<span> <table-ms-long> <tr> <> <div> <select>

While working on the application I was building, I was feeling really motivated to make the two select controls bigger because my users would be choosing from a long list of items, some of which would be very wide.  In short, I wanted to be able to offer the customer wider and taller controls like these:


I expect that this is probably a common UX enhancement that site owners want to make, which is why I decided to write this article.

The site

To follow the examples below, you need to create a Team Collaboration site that includes:

  • A custom list called Projects
  • A Tasks list (included by default in a new Team site) that has a multi-value lookup column that looks up the Title from the Projects list.

Create custom NewForm for the Tasks list

Important: Before you modify any of the three core list forms (DispForm, EditForm, or NewForm), you must always remember one rule: Never delete the ListFormWebPart object.  If you do, you may break your list! In the steps below, I'll explain how to hide this form and replace it with your own custom form.

  1. Create the select-container style that defines the width and height of the select controls the user uses to modify values in the multi-value lookup column:

    1. On the File menu, point to New, and then click CSS.

    2. Add the following code to the new CSS file:

      .select-container div {

    3. On the File menu, click Save and then use the Save dialog box to save the file as shared_styles.css in the root directory of your site.

  2. Create the removeLocalStyleAttributes() function that you will use to remove the hardcoded width and height style attributes that block your select-container style from working correctly:

    1. On the File menu, click New, click JavaScript, and then click OK.

    2. Add the following code to the new JavaScript file:

      function removeLocalStyleAttributes() {
      var coll = document.body.getElementsByTagName("div");

      for(x=0;x < coll.length; x++)
      if(coll[x].className == "select-container") {
      var collDivControls = coll[x].getElementsByTagName("DIV");

      for(y=0;y < collDivControls.length; y++)
      collDivControls[y].style.width = null;
      collDivControls[y].style.height = null;

    3. On the File menu, click Save and then use the Save dialog box to save the file as shared_functions.js in the root directory of your site.

  3. In the Lists/Tasks folder, open NewForm.aspx.

  4. Hide and close (do not delete!) the WebPartPages:ListFormWebPart object. How?

  5. Insert a new WebPartZone at the top of the inside of the asp:Content PlaceHolderMain tag. How?

  6. In the new WebPartZone you just created, insert a New Item Form DataFormWebPart that includes the Projects field and any other fields you need in the form. How?

  7. In Code view, add the following asp:Content tag to the page:

    <asp:Content contentplaceholderid="PlaceHolderAdditionalPageHead" runat="server">

    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="../../shared_styles.css"

    <script src="../../shared_functions.js" mce_src="../../shared_functions.js"

    <script type="text/javascript">


  8. In Code view, in the XSL code of the DataFormWebPart, find the SharePoint:formfield tag for the Projects field and wrap it with a div tag that has select-container as the value of its class attribute:

    <td width="75%" class="ms-vb">
    <div class="select-container">
    <SharePoint:FormField runat="server" id="ff5{$Pos}" ControlMode="New"
    FieldName="Projects" __designer:bind="{ddwrt:DataBind('i',concat('ff5',$Pos),
    'Value','ValueChanged','ID',ddwrt:EscapeDelims(string(@ID)),'@Projects')}" />
    <SharePoint:FieldDescription runat="server" id="ff5description{$Pos}"
    FieldName="Projects" ControlMode="Edit" />


Thanks for taking the time to read this article.  What is your favorite JavaScript tip?  If you have a blog article about it, please post a comment and link to your article.

How? links

I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on a subject I've been wondering about for a while.  You will notice that in some of my articles, including this one, I offer what some might call "remedial" instructions, but I hide them behind a JavaScript "How?" widget to keep the text from getting bogged down, especially for more experienced customers who don't need the extra help.

The question on my mind is this: How many of you actually find these "How?" instructions useful?  I sometimes feel tempted to save myself the fairly significant amount of time required to enumerate these steps.  And yet, I'm not sure that a statement like this is going to be helpful enough for many folks: In the new WebPartZone you just created, insert a new DataFormWebPart New Item Form that includes the Projects field. What do you think?

New job

Finally, I'm going to be transitioning to a new role here at Microsoft.  I just started working for a team that produces user education content for Visual Studio Team System.  I want to thank the SharePoint Designer product team for so many things.  They invited me to participate here on this blog, and they have given me support, guidance, and feedback on my work.  And of course, special thanks to you for reading and participating with your comments and sometimes your very useful corrections. 

Starting a new job always makes me think about how I've been doing my work, and what things I want to try doing differently.  So I'm using this change as a kick in the pants to myself to put up my own shingle and set up a blog (finally; I am such a late adopter to this trend!). As of this writing, there is not much there, but I will endeavor to add more to the blog and keep it fresh in the future.


Comments (11)
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  2. smitman34 says:

    Good article.  Do you know of a way to customize the action of the close button on the display form to have the action go to another form as opposed to back to the list view?


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  5. Tom Stewart says:

    As far as the "How?" gizmo, it doesn’t seem to work in Firefox.

  6. Ed says:

    this does not address the issue that I have, which is to display a different text as labels on checkboxes and radio buttons than is used in the workflow custom task form

    however, it might come in handy for future reference,

    thank you

  7. Nach längere Zeit habe ich mal wieder die Kaffeetasse hervorgekramt und stelle wieder ein paar interessante

  8. Nach längere Zeit habe ich mal wieder die Kaffeetasse hervorgekramt und stelle wieder ein paar interessante

  9. Clive says:

    Great article; I have been looking for a way to do this for ages. Thanks. (I appreciate the "How" explinations. Some I knew but it just takes one wrong assumption to stop a project like this so I find them very worth while.)

  10. Sunny says:

    Thanks John Jansen,

    I have implemented your above mentioned approach but I am facing the below mwntioned issue:

    When I am adding,deleting or modifying the columns/fields on the share point site, the page is not getting modified which used to happen previously when the page was not customized.

    Is this a drawback with this approach and if not is there way to achieve auto updation of the page while customizing.

    Thanks in advance,


  11. Nancy says:

    What about modifying a long list of checkbox options to display in horizontal columns vs the default long vertical list? I want to enable this on my custom editform. I can’t figure out how to do this.

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