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Enketo Transformer

NodeJS library that transforms ODK forms for use by Enketo Core. Both Transformer and Core are most commonly used as part of Enketo Express. Transformer can also be embedded into different backend web applications (e.g. a form server) or wrapped by a robust API to make a standalone service. A simple testing server API is provided in this repository.

Project status

Enketo Transformer is maintained by the ODK team (primarily Trevor Schmidt). Broader context is available in the Enketo Express repository.

ODK XForms are based off of W3C XForms which were originally intended to be supported natively by web browsers. Browser support did not happen and the ODK standard drifted too far from the W3C standard to have used it anyway. Enketo chose to transform XForms to HTML5 forms before rendering them. Enketo Transformer performs this work by applying an XSL transform followed by a few post-processing steps in Javascript. This was time-consuming for forms with certain characteristics so the transformation was designed to happen on the backend so it could be cached across client requests.

Historically, forms with many questions or many translations were prohibitively slow to transform. Starting in Enketo Transformer v2.2.1 (Feb 2023), they are much faster.

In v2.3.0 (Mar 2023), a web compatibility layer was introduced so that Enketo Transformer can be run in either a web browser using native DOM/web APIs, or in Node using a partial DOM compatibility layer wrapping equivalent libxmljs APIs/behavior. Each respective implementation is aliased as enketo-transformer/dom, resolved at build time to src/dom/web/index.ts or src/dom/node/index.ts respectively. Interfaces for the subset of DOM APIs in use are defined in src/dom/abstract, which ensures the Node compatibility layer conforms to the same browser-native interfaces.

Our current primary goals are:

  • Rethink transformation to be as minimal as possible, ideally without XSLT, and moving most (or all) of Enketo Transformer's current responsibilities to other parts of the Enketo stack.
  • Identifying and addressing remaining performance bottlenecks to remove the need for server-side caching.


  1. Volta (optional, but recommended)
  2. Node.js 16 and npm 6 (Node.js 14 is also supported)

Use as module


import { transform } from 'enketo-transformer';

const xform = fs.readFileSync('path/to/xform.xml');
const result = await transform({
    // required string of XForm
    xform: xform,

    // optional string, to add theme if no theme is defined in the XForm
    theme: 'sometheme',

    // optional map, to replace jr://..../myfile.png URLs
    media: {
        'myfile.png': '/path/to/somefile.png',
        'myfile.mp3': '/another/path/to/2.mp3',

    // optional ability to disable markdown rendering (default is true)
    markdown: false,

    // optional preprocess function that transforms the XForm (as libXMLJs object) to
    // e.g. correct incompatible XForm syntax before Enketo's transformation takes place
    preprocess: (doc) => doc,

// ... do something with result


Enketo Transformer may also be used on the web as an ESM module. It is exported as enketo-transformer/web:

import { transform } from 'enketo-transformer/web';

const xformResponse = await fetch('https://url/to/xform.xml');
const xform = await xformResponse.text();
const result = await transform({
    // ...

Note: because preprocess depends on libxmljs which is only available for Node, preprocess is also not supported on the web. If you must preprocess an XForm before it is transformed, you may do that before calling transform.

Development/local usage


npm install

Interactive web demo

Enketo Transformer provides a simple web demo which allows you to select any of the XForms used as fixtures in its test suites to view their transformed output, as well as toggling several of the available transform options to see how they affect the transform. To run the demo:

cd ./demo
npm install
npm run demo

This will print out the demo URL (typically http://localhost:3000, unless that port is already in use).

Test/dev server

Enketo Transformer provides a simple server API. It may be used for testing locally, but isn't a robust or secure server implementation so it should not be used in production. You can start it in a local dev environment by running:

npm start

It provides two endpoints:

  • limited use with GET /transform with xform parameter (required, xform URL), or
  • full-featured use with: POST /transform with URL-encoded body including xform (required, full XForm as a string), theme (optional, string), and media (optional, map) parameters

sample GET request:

curl http://localhost:8085/transform?xform=https://example.com/forms/78372/form.xml

sample POST request:

curl -d "xform=<xform>x</xform>&theme=plain&media[myfile.png]=/path/to/somefile.png&media[this]=that" http://localhost:8085/transform

Response format:

    "form": "<form>.....</form>",
    "model": "<model>...</model>",
    "transformerVersion": "1.13.0",
    "languageMap": { "Français": "fr", "English": "en" }

How Enketo Transformer is used by other Enketo projects

Enketo Core uses the transform function directly to transform XForm fixtures used in development and test modes. It also currently uses the test/dev server in development mode to transform external XForms. It does not currently use any transformation functionality in production.

Enketo Express uses the transform function to serve requests to its server-side transformation API endpoints, and caches transformed XForms in Redis. It also uses the escapeURLPath function (implemented in url.ts).

Neither project currently uses the following functionality:

  • Media URL mapping. Enketo Express has its own implementation of this functionality, so that dynamic media replacements are not cached. This functionality is maintained for backwards compatibility.

  • The openclinica flag. This functionality is used by OpenClinica's fork of Enketo Express.

  • The deprecated preprocess option. This functionality may be used to update XForms with deprecated content, but its use is discouraged as users can achieve the same thing by preprocessing their XForms before calling transform.


  • run tests with npm test
  • run tests in watch mode with npm run test:watch
  • Tests can be run in watch mode for TDD workflows with npm run test-watch, and support for debugging in VSCode is provided. For instructions see [./#debugging-test-watch-mode-in-vscode](Debugging test watch mode in VSCode) below

Debugging test watch mode in VSCode

Basic usage:

  1. Go to VSCode's "Run and Debug" panel
  2. Select "Test (watch + debug)"
  3. Click the play button

Optionally, you can add a keyboard shortcut to select launch tasks:

  1. Open the keyboard shortcuts settings (cmd+k cmd+s on Mac, ctrl+k ctrl+s on other OSes)
  2. Search for workbench.action.debug.selectandstart
  3. Click the + button to add your preferred keybinding keybinding


The script npm run develop runs the app on port 8085 and also serves test/forms on port 8081. You could test the transformation output by placing an XForm in test/forms and running http://localhost:8085/transform?xform=http://localhost:8081/autocomplete.xml

There is also a helpful GET /transform/htmlform endpoint to easily inspect the HTML form output in the developer console. Example: http://localhost:8085/transform/htmlform?xform=http://localhost:8081/autocomplete.xml

A vagrant configuration file and provisioning script is also included. Use DEBUG environment variable to see debug terminal output, e.g.:

DEBUG=api,transformer,markdown,language node app.js


Releases are done each time a dependent tool needs an enketo-transformer change.

  1. Create release PR
  2. Update CHANGELOG.md
  3. Update version in package.json
    • Bump to major version if downstream has to make changes.
  4. Check Dependabot for alerts
  5. Run npm update
    • Check if node-libxslt has been updated because it has caused problems in the past
  6. Run npm audit
    • Run npm audit fix --production to apply most important fixes
  7. Run npm i
  8. Run npm test
  9. Merge PR with all changes
  10. Create GitHub release
  11. Tag and publish the release
    • GitHub Action will publish it to npm


See license document.

In addition, any product that uses enketo-transformer or parts thereof is required to have a "Powered by Enketo" footer, according to the specifications below, on all screens in which the output of enketo-transformer, or parts thereof, are used, unless explicity exempted from this requirement by Enketo LLC in writing. Partners and sponsors of the Enketo Project, listed on https://enketo.org/#about and on https://github.com/enketo/enketo-core#sponsors are exempted from this requirements and so are contributors listed in package.json.

The aim of this requirement is to force adopters to give something back to the Enketo project, by at least spreading the word and thereby encouraging further adoption.


  1. The word "Enketo" is displayed using Enketo's logo.
  2. The minimum font-size of "Powered by" is 12 points.
  3. The minimum height of the Enketo logo matches the font-size used.
  4. The Enketo logo is hyperlinked to https://enketo.org


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