Handling Checkboxes In Forms With body-parser

How-To Reference

Today I learned a bit about HTML forms, specifically working with checkboxes. And more specifically, handling the data these checkboxes produce on the server with the help of body-parser, thanks to this SO Q&A.

Checkbox Input Format

To have a group of checkboxes grouped together in the form data, this is the proper format:

<input type="checkbox" name="languages" value="english">
<input type="checkbox" name="languages" value="tagalog">

This will tell body-parser to create an array, for example if both boxes are ticked, the result would be:

languages: ['english', 'tagalog']

Both a name and value are required. If for example you tick the English box but have name="english" and omit the value, the form data will be sent as:

english: 'on'

Not very helpful to process the form data.

Tricksy body-parser

By default, body-parser will put the values into an array, but only if 2 or more checkboxes are ticked. If only one has been ticked, it returns the value as a string:

languages: 'english'

This makes it somewhat harder to process the form data, because then you have to add logic for handling either a string or an array. That just gets sloppy.

Instead you can force body-parser to always send the data back as an array (even for one item) by altering the input element slightly:

<input type="checkbox" name="languages[]" value="english">
<input type="checkbox" name="languages[]" value="tagalog">

In the above example it would therefore return:

languages: ['english']

Now you can map away on the result until your heart’s content.