A friend just showed me system_settings_form in action in a configuration file for a form.

The code in question looks like this (simplified).

function my_module_generateAdminForm($form){
  $form = array();
  $form['super_secret_password'] = array(
    '#type' => 'textfield',
    '#title' => t('Headline'),
    '#default_value' => variable_get('super_secret_password','password'),

system_settings_form adds in submit buttons and handles the form submission, saving the variables. It also adds a "Reset to default" button - that resets all the variable to the default.

I basically guessed what it does because there's not a whole lot of documentation out there and my friend doesn't know exactly what it does either. My question is how does it know the variables to save/reset? Aren't I just passing an array?

Also is there any other magic in system_settings_form that I should know about?

1 Answer 1


See system_settings_form and system_settings_form_submit for implementation details. In Drupal 7 Reset to Default button is removed from System Settings form .

function system_settings_form($form) {
  $form['actions']['#type'] = 'actions';
  $form['actions']['submit'] = array(
    '#type' => 'submit',
    '#value' => t('Save configuration'),

  if (!empty($_POST) && form_get_errors()) {
    drupal_set_message(t('The settings have not been saved because of the errors.'), 'error');
  $form['#submit'][] = 'system_settings_form_submit';
  // By default, render the form using theme_system_settings_form().
  if (!isset($form['#theme'])) {
    $form['#theme'] = 'system_settings_form';
  return $form;

System_settings_form :

Add's save configuration Submit button and submit callback to system_settings_form_submit function.


function system_settings_form_submit($form, &$form_state) {
  // Exclude unnecessary elements.

  foreach ($form_state['values'] as $key => $value) {
    if (is_array($value) && isset($form_state['values']['array_filter'])) {
      $value = array_keys(array_filter($value));
    variable_set($key, $value);

  drupal_set_message(t('The configuration options have been saved.'));

Iterates through all form elements and sets variables for each form element with key as form element key and value as user submitted form element value read using $form_state['values']

So, it's just a form with submit handler that sets variables for all form values using variable_set function.

  • 5
    Good explanation. If you are confused by "each form element with key as form element key", what he means is that in your example above, $form['super_secret_password'] will cause Drupal to call variable_set('super_secret_password', ...), because system_settings_form_submit takes the name of the variable from the array key ('super_secret_password') of your form. Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 4:41
  • 1
    This is helpful. Why can't api.drupal.org just explain what it does in plain english. Instead it just gives the code... So in summary not voodoo, just using my field keys.
    – Coomie
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 5:19
  • 1
    I think it's worth noting that you should not use this to store large variables as it will stay in memory for every page request no matter there was a direct variable_get for it or not. They all are cached once in memory. Also, regular submit and validate handlers will work without a problem. Feel free to add them.
    – AKS
    Commented Oct 29, 2012 at 7:27

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