Building an Application

This will walk you through the steps of building a Data Management Application from scratch. The goal is to start with an empty folder and show you the necessary steps to create a working application that runs on your Android device.


This section covers topics useful to Deployment Architects. A Deployment Architect is an author of a data management application or a consumer of collected data. This person might create forms and edit Javascript on their computer to deploy to the Android device. Or they might download data from the server and use Excel to perform analysis. Examples include technical staff and data analytics staff.


You will need to install:

Before getting started, be sure you have familiarized yourself with the ODK-X platform. The Getting Started User Guide and Getting Started Deployment Architect Guide guides are a good place to start. The ODK Survey: Sample Application and ODK Tables: Sample Application are also good reference points.

Cleaning App Designer

Your freshly installed copy of Application Designer comes with lots of example forms, tables, and configuration. This is useful for learning the tools and as references when building our application, but the files should be cleaned before building your own application.

Enter your Application Designer directory, navigate to app/config/ and delete everything inside the directory.

ODK Survey: Designing a Form

When creating a new form, the appropriate directory structure must be created. Once this directory structure is in place, an .xlsx form can be created. From this .xlsx form, a formDef.json file will be generated using the XLSX Converter. This formDef.json, in the appropriate directory, is what the system will use to create the Survey form.

Creating the Directory Structure

New forms must be placed under the app/config/tables/ directory as described in the The app/config/tables/ Folder section. Given a form with the name formId, it will have a tableId of the same name unless you explicitly specify otherwise. The directory structure that should be created is app/config/tables/tableId/forms/formId (where, under many circumstances, the value for tableId will be the same as the value for formId). To get started, for Windows open a cmd window within your Application Designer folder (click the cmd shortcut you created earlier), and for Mac/Unix open a terminal window within your Application Designer folder. Type:

$ grunt addtable:tableId

Where tableId is the name of your new form and table. For example, to create a census form, type:

$ grunt addtable:census

This will create the required directory structure for an individual table, including the forms directory. It also created basic HTML and JavaScript files, which will be covered later.

Navigate into the forms directory (app/config/tables/census/forms/ in our example), and create a directory with the form ID as its name. For our example, create a app/config/tables/census/forms/census directory. Within that directory, ODK Survey expects to find the formDef.json that defines the form.


We recommend placing the .xlsx file used to generate that formDef.json in this folder as well. Survey will not use this file, but it is a useful reference and provides an easy to remember storage location in case the form needs to be updated in the future.

Any custom screen, prompt templates, or other media related to the form should be also placed in this directory (or in a sub-directory).

Creating an xlsx Form

With the proper directory structure in place, you can now create your form. The ODK XLSX Converter documentation extensively details the full range of options, settings, and features available when creating a form. For this basic example, follow these instructions:

  1. Create a new file census.xlsx inside the app/config/tables/census/forms/census folder created in the previous section.
  2. Create a settings worksheet. This sheet holds general settings for the form. Create the following headers:
  • setting_name: has defined options, such as form_id.
  • value: the value of the named setting.
  • display.title.text: the text shown to the user inside Survey.

Reminder: the settings worksheet, and any other worksheets to be defined later, are to be created within the .xlsx file you created above. DO NOT create separate .xlsx files for each worksheet.

  1. Create the following rows:
settings worksheet
setting_name value display.title.text
form_id census  
form_version 20180101  
table_id census  
survey   Census Form
  1. Create a survey worksheet. This sheet defines the questions and flow of your form. Create the following headers:
  • type: the prompt type.
  • values_list: the name of the list of choices for a multiple choice question.
  • name: the variable name.
  • display.promp.text: the question the user will see in Survey
  1. Create the following rows:
survey worksheet
type values_list name display.prompt.text
text   name What is your name?
select_one yesno isAdult Are you 18 years or older?
  1. Create a choices worksheet. This sheet contains the lists of responses you define for your multiple choice questions. Add the following headers:
  • choice_list_name: the group name for all the responses in a choice set
  • data_value: the data value to be selected
  • display.title.text: the text the user will see to select this value
  1. Create the following rows:
choices worksheet
choice_list_name data_value display.title.text
yesno y Yes
yesno n No

With this .xlsx file you've created a simple Survey form that will ask the user to type in their name and respond whether they are 18 years old or not. This form will be titled Census and it will write to a table in the database with table ID census.

Creating framework.xlsx

The framework.xlsx file is central to the structure of the Application Designer. It defines which forms exist. It has no persisted data. In this case, it only presents a list of forms and allows you to open them.

  1. Create the following directories: config/assets/framework/forms/.
  2. Inside that folder, create framework.xlsx
  3. Create an initial worksheet. Add header: clause and value do section survey.
initial worksheet
do section survey
  1. Create a settings worksheet. Add the same headers: setting_name, value, display.title.text.
  2. Fill in the following rows:
settings worksheet
setting_name value display.title.text
table_id framework  
form_version 20180101  
form_id framework  
survey   Common JavaScript Framework
  1. Create a framework_translations sheet. This sheet allows you to translate or customize the text displayed in buttons, messages, and other system text. Translations for your form would be specified in its own translations sheet in its .xlsx file. For now, copy the string_token and text.default columns from one of the example framework.xlsx files provided with the default Application Designer.
  2. Create a choices sheet. Add the same headers: choice_list_name, data_value, display.title.text.
  3. Add the following row:
choices worksheet
choice_list_name data_value display.title.text
test_forms census Census Form
  1. Create a survey sheet. Add the headers: branch_label, url, clause, condition, type, values_list, display.prompt.text.
  2. Add the following rows. They tell the software what to do if you're previewing in Chrome.


This is only tested and expected to work in Chrome and not other browsers like Firefox, Safari, or Edge.

survey worksheet
branch_label url clause condition type values_list display.prompt.text
opendatakit.getPlatformInfo().container == "Chrome"
        user_branch test_forms Choose a test form
        note   This is the default form.
    end if        
    exit section        
'?' + odkSurvey.getHashString('census')
    external_link   Open form
    exit section        

Updating framework.xlsx

To add another new form to an existing framework.xlsx file, take the following steps.


These steps are not part of the running example. They are provided here for reference.

Assuming you have created a testForm.xlsx, the appropriate directory structures for testForm.xlsx, and then properly generated and saved the formDef.json, the following lines would need to be added into the framework.xlsx survey worksheet.

Example Framework Survey Worksheet
branch_label url clause condition type values_list display.text display.hint
  ''?' + opendatakit.getHashString('testForm')     external_link   Open form  
    exit section          

The following changes will also need to be made to the framework.xlsx choices worksheet

Example Framework Choices Worksheet
choice_list_name data_value display.text
test_forms testForm testForm

The changes to the choices sheet add the testForm form as one of the choices that is shown in the user_branch prompt (a user-directed branching prompt type). The changes on the survey sheet add a branch label, testForm, that matches the data_value from the choices sheet (this branch label will be jumped to if the user selects the testForm selection on the user_branch screen). The new branch label then renders an external_link prompt type that has the necessary arguments to open the testForm.

Generating formDef.json

Once you have a saved your .xlsx file, you can use the XLSX Converter to create a formDef.json. Make sure your Application Designer is running (see Launching the Application Designer) and navigate to the XLSX Converter tab. Drag the .xlsx form or select it with the Choose File button and use the Save to File System button to save the form definition file back to the file system.

For the ongoing example, convert the app/config/assets/framework.xlsx using the instructions above. Then repeat this process with app/config/tables/census/forms/census/census.xlsx


The Save to File System button uses the form_id and table_id within the .xlsx file to identify where to write the formDef.json file. If you have copied the .xlsx file from some other location, and forgot to edit it, it may update back to that older location! If the form_id is equal to the table_id, two additional files are written that define the table's user data fields and that define the key-value properties for the table.

Once you have made these changes and used XLSX Converter on the framework.xlsx file to update the app/config/assets/framework/forms/framework/formDef.json file, you should see your new form show up in the Preview tab of the Application Designer. Clicking on that should open your form.


If you don't see your form in the Preview, try refreshing your browser.


You can also convert your forms with the Grunt command:

grunt xlsx-convert-all

Debugging your Survey

The XLSX Converter should report most problems with your survey.

If the form is not being rendered correctly but your survey generates a formDef.json without an error, first try purging the database (dropping all the existing data tables) using the Purge Database button on the Preview tab. You will typically need to purge the database whenever you add or remove fields from your form or change their data type.

If that does not resolve the issue, try stopping the grunt command (on Windows, Control-C should produce a prompt asking to confirm whether to stop or not. On Mac, Control-C kill the process with no prompt.), and re-running it. Grunt can sometimes get overwhelmed with changes and stop working. After restarting, test your form.

If there are other problems, the contents of the JavaScript Console will be helpful to the ODK core team for debugging. Open the JavaScript Console by clicking the icon with the three bars in the top right, select More Tools, select Developer Tools, and then select the Console tab. Select all of the debugging output, then copy it, save it to a file, and post it to the ODK Forum or create a ticket on the Github Issue Tracker.

Moving Files To The Device


You must have USB debugging enabled on your device in order to perform this step. See these instructions for help.

In order to see these changes on an Android device, you must first have ODK Survey installed on your device. Then:

  1. Connect the device to your computer via a USB cable
  2. Open a cmd or terminal window within the Application Designer directory (the one containing Gruntfile.js), as described in the Application Designer Directory Structure documentation.
  3. Type:
$ grunt adbpush


If it gives you an error, you may need to run grunt adbpush -f to force it.


If you do not see the form, you may need to reset the configuration.

This will copy all of the files under config onto your device. You should then be able to launch ODK Survey, and it will display your form in its list of forms. Click the form to open it.

More grunt commands can be found in Pushing and Pulling Files.

ODK Tables: Designing a Custom View

One of the most powerful aspects of ODK Tables is its ability to run HTML and JavaScript pages as the skin of the app. Through a JavaScript API presented to these files, you can query the database and control the app.

Writing an app using HTML and JavaScript yields a lot of power. However, it can lead to a complicated design cycle.

The HTML and JavaScript files you write rely on the JavaScript API implemented within the ODK Tables APK to retrieve database values for your application. This JavaScript API, since it is implemented in the APK, makes it difficult to debug your custom views off the phone. At present, the only way to test your HTML pages is on the device. Fortunately, on Android 4.4 and higher, Chrome can access the browser Console and set breakpoints on the device, providing a clumsy but viable debug environment.

Understanding the Web File

There are several pieces of boilerplate you have to include in your own code in order to debug the files in Chrome.

In the default Application Designer, open app/config/tables/Tea_houses/html/Tea_houses_list.html. Alternatively, if you are doing the running example, open app/config/tables/census/html/census_list.html, which should have been automatically created for you. Notice the following four lines in <head>:

<script type="text/javascript" src="../../../assets/libs/jquery-3.2.1.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/js/odkCommon.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/js/odkData.js"></script>
<script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/tables/js/odkTables.js"></script>

In the first line you are making the jQuery object available to your code. jQuery is a powerful, commonly used set of functions for accessing and performing actions within a webpage. In the next three lines you are adding the odkCommon, odkTables, and odkData objects if they are not already provided by the browser environment. When running on the device, the ODK Tables APK will provide these, and the contents of these files will be ignored. When running in Application Designer on your computer, these files provide the approximate functionality of the APK, allowing you to create and debug your scripts. However, at the moment, these implementations make use of RequireJS, which the ODK Tables HTML files do not use (RequireJS is extensively used by ODK Survey). This causes these to break in Application Designer Previews.

More detail is provided in ODK Tables Web Pages.

Creating Web Files

To write your own file, first decide on the tableId for your table and instantiate a directory using the grunt command:

$ grunt addtable:tableId

If you completed the example in ODK Survey: Designing a Form you have already done this for the census table.

This grunt task creates the needed directory structures and also constructs the HTML and JavaScript files with the necessary features for working within the Chrome development environment.


These files need content from your data table to display. It is recommended that you first design a Survey form (for example, using this guide) which you can use to populate data. You can also prepopulate data into the database with a tables.init file. Further instructions are available in the Configuring an App at Startup guide.

Creating a List View

Continuing the ongoing example, open or create the file app/tables/census/html/census_list.html. This will display a list of records collected with the form.

Ensure the file looks like this:

<!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
<!--List View-->
        <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" />
        <link href="../../../assets/css/list.css" type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" />
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../assets/commonDefinitions.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../tableSpecificDefinitions.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../assets/libs/jquery-3.2.1.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/js/odkCommon.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/js/odkData.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/tables/js/odkTables.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../js/census_list.js"></script>
        <div id="wrapper">
            <div id="list"></div>
            $(function() { resumeFn(0); });

This HTML file should be minimal. It links all the source files and provides <div> to put the list in. Most of the work happens in the JavaScript file. Open or create app/tables/census/js/census_list.js. Ensure its contents look like this:

/* global $, odkTables, odkData, odkCommon */
'use strict';

// The first function called on load
var resumeFn = function() {

    // Retrieves the query data from the database
    // Sets displayGroup as the success callback
    // and cbFailure as the fail callback
          odkData.getViewData(displayGroup, cbFailure);

// Display the list of census results
var displayGroup = function(censusResultSet) {

    // Set the function to call when a list item is clicked
    $('#list').click(function(e) {

        // Retrieve the row ID from the item_space attribute
                    var jqueryObject = $(;
                    var containingDiv = jqueryObject.closest('.item_space');
                    var rowId = containingDiv.attr('rowId');

        // Retrieve the tableID from the query results
                    var tableId = censusResultSet.getTableId();

                    if (rowId !== null && rowId !== undefined) {

            // Opens the detail view from the file specified in
            // the properties worksheet
                                    odkTables.openDetailView(null, tableId, rowId, null);

    // Iterate through the query results, rendering list items
    for (var i = 0; i < censusResultSet.getCount(); i++) {

        // Creates the item space and stores the row ID in it
        var item = $('<li>');
        item.attr('id', censusResultSet.getRowId(i));
        item.attr('rowId', censusResultSet.getRowId(i));
        item.attr('class', 'item_space');

        // Display the census name
        var name = censusResultSet.getData(i, 'name');
        if (name === null || name === undefined) {
            name = 'unknown name';

        // Creates arrow icon
        var chevron = $('<img>');
        chevron.attr('src', odkCommon.getFileAsUrl('config/assets/img/little_arrow.png'));
        chevron.attr('class', 'chevron');

        // Add the item to the list

        // Don't append the last one to avoid the fencepost problem
        var borderDiv = $('<div>');
      if (i < censusResultSet.getCount()) {
          setTimeout(resumeFn, 0, i);

var cbFailure = function(error) {
    console.log('census getViewData CB error : ' + error);

The HTML and JavaScript files also depend on a few more files. For convenience, the example reuses CSS and image files from the ODK Tables: Sample Application. Open up a default Application Designer and copy the following files to this application's directory (using the same directory paths):

  • config/assets/css/list.css
  • config/assets/img/little_arrow.png
  • config/assets/libs/jquery-3.2.1.js

Creating a Detail View

A Detail View will display the details of a record. It is commonly used alongside List View to provide options to browse through a data set and learn more about a particular record.

Open or create app/tables/census/html/census_detail.js Ensure the file looks like this:

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN" "">
        <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0" />
        <link href="../../../assets/css/detail.css" type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" />
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../assets/commonDefinitions.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../tableSpecificDefinitions.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../assets/libs/jquery-3.2.1.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/js/odkCommon.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/js/odkData.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../../../../system/tables/js/odkTables.js"></script>
        <script type="text/javascript" src="../js/census_detail.js"></script>

        <h1><span id="TITLE" class="main-text"></span></h1>

          Is over 18: <input id="FIELD_1" type="checkbox" name="isAdult" />

            $(display);  // calls the detail display function when ready

This HTML file should define the user interface elements that will be populated by database calls in the JavaScript. Open or create app/tables/census/js/census_detail.js. Ensure its contents look like this:

/* global $, odkTables, odkData */
'use strict';

var censusResultSet = {};
var typeData = {};

// Called when the page loads
var display = function() {

  // Runs the query that launched this view
  odkData.getViewData(cbSuccess, cbFailure);

// Called when the query returns successfully
function cbSuccess(result) {

  censusResultSet = result;
  // and update the document with the values for this record

function cbFailure(error) {

  // a real application would perhaps clear the document fiels if there were an error
  console.log('census_detail getViewData CB error : ' + error);

 * Assumes censusResultSet has valid content.
 * Updates the document content with the information from the censusResultSet
function updateContent() {

  nullCaseHelper('name', '#TITLE');

  if(censusResultSet.get('isAdult') === 'y') {
    $('#FIELD_1').attr('checked', true);
  $('#FIELD_1').attr('disabled', true);


 * Assumes censusResultSet has valid content
 * Updates document field with the value for the elementKey
function nullCaseHelper(elementKey, documentSelector) {
  var temp = censusResultSet.get(elementKey);
  if (temp !== null && temp !== undefined) {

As with the List View, this view requires a separate CSS file. Copy the following file from a default Application Designer, maintaining the directory path in this application's directory:

  • config/assets/css/detail.css

Defining Default View Files

The .xlsx form should be updated to indicate the default view type, and where to find the HTML files for Detail View and List View. Open app/config/tables/census/forms/census/census.xlsx and add a new worksheet titled properties. Add the following headers: partition, aspect, key, type, and value.

Add the following rows to set your List View and Detail View default files:

properties worksheet
partition aspect key type value
Table default defaultViewType string LIST
Table default detailViewFileName string config/tables/census/html/census_detail.html
Table default listViewFileName string config/tables/census/html/census_list.html

See Properties for more details about specifying custom HTML files.

Run census.xlsx through the XLSX Converter again (Generating formDef.json) to update the configuration.

After that, you can deploy your app to your device. Open Survey and fill in a few census records. Then, open Tables and select the Census table. This should automatically launch the List View defined above. Tapping an item in the List View should launch the detail view.

Debugging Tables Web Files

You can use the Chrome browser on your computer to inspect for devices and connect to this custom screen on your Android device, and debug from there. Some useful guides include:


The edit-debug cycle is awkward because you must make the HTML or JavaScript change on your computer then push the change to your device, and reload the page (for example, by rotating the screen). When you do rotate the screen, however, it is rendered in a new web page, necessitating connecting to that new page to resume debugging (the prior page sits idle and will eventually be destroyed. If you don't see any activity, it is likely because you are pointing at the wrong web page. Return to inspect devices, and select the newest page).

As with ODK Survey, you can use the JavaScript Console to look for and fix errors in your HTML/JavaScript. If you are having trouble please check on the ODK Forum. Keep in mind that the debug objects only emit a subset of the data in your ODK Tables database.

Pushing and Pulling Files


You must have USB debugging enabled on your device in order to perform this step. See these instructions for help.

There are several times during app development where you will need to push and pull files to and from the phone. You will have to open one of the ODK tools on the device before these commands succeed.

  • The push command is used to push the entire app directory to the mobile device.
  • The pull command is used to pull the database or exported CSVs from the device to the desktop computer.


Exported CSVs can be used to set up tables.init to load test data.

Grunt tasks have been written in Gruntfile.js that perform these operations for you.

These commands can be run anywhere within the Application Designer directory.

  • grunt adbpush: Pushes everything under the app directory to the device.
  • grunt adbpull-db: Pulls the database from the device to the PC.
  • grunt adbpull-csv: Pull the exported CSVs from the device to the PC.

The pull commands will place the pulled content in the app/output/ directory.

The database is a SQLite database and can be viewed using SQLite Browser. This tool can also be used to view the content of the database used by Chrome on your computer (the location of that file is OS dependent).

If you pull the CSV files, they will be under the output/csv/ directory. You can then copy them to the config/assets/csv/ directory and set up the tables.init file to read them in order to provision test data for your development effort. If you need any of this data in production, you will want to sync to a server then export the CSV files and copy them to the config/assets/csv/ directory so that they have all of their metadata field values populated.


Running grunt adbpull will perform all the pull tasks.


There are a number of additional grunt tasks available. Assuming you have installed grunt and node, you can view the available tasks by running grunt --help anywhere in the repo.

Deploying an Application

This step requires that you first set up a ODK Cloud Endpoints.

  1. Push your application to a clean device (guide: Pushing and Pulling Files).
  2. Authenticate as a user in the table administrator group (guide: Authenticating Users).
  3. Reset the App Server (guide: Resetting the App Server).

The application is now deployed to your server. Other devices can synchronize with that server to download the application and start collected data.

Updating an Application

To update any app level or table level files, or to modify the database schema (like adding a new field to your form that adds a database column), you will need to reset the app server. Make the changes on your PC as normal, push them to the device, and reset the app server.


Resetting the app server will start a new data set. If you want to keep the old data, you should download it to a separate database.