Monthly Archives: September 2004

FM7: What it takes to migrate to a single file solution

SM7 relationships graph

After attending the FileMaker Developer’s Conference a couple weeks ago, we are back to looking to see if we can do a single file solution for our product, Studio Manager, in the near rather than distant future. Unless money starts falling from the skies and we can hire more help, we will still release a multi-file version with minimal changes first. We’ve been working feverishly on the single file version lately to see just how much work it is going to take to deliver this solution. It is a LOT of work.

Again, the quickest way to 7 is to plan, prepare, convert, fix what broke, enhance slightly and deploy. Since attending Filemaker 7 Bootcamp in July, this has been our target. We are well along that path in the testing and refinement stages now. We are still hopeful that we can get the multiple file version out by October 1st.

Here’s what’s involved to migrate to 7 the hard way without simply starting all the way from scratch:

1. Run the best version of your files through MetaDataMagic.

2. Clean Up the File References so your files will open quickly in 7. MDM can do that with auto-fix with a little manual tweeking using the program. It’s easy. Document and clean up passwords so that you can open the files at all in 7. You can always sneak back into the FM6 version to see what went wrong if need be. But this might require reconversion – a pain.

3. Use FMrobot to convert all these FileMaker 6 files to tables in FileMaker 7 within a single file: FileMaker 7’s holy grail. You’ll get all the fields but most of the calculated fields will be commented out. Once your relationships diagram is clean, most of the calculations will work by just deleting the comment syntax, but the calcs with relationship references will only work if the relationship names match.

4. Look at the Conversion Issues in MDM and clean up your FM6 files as much as you can.

5. Convert all your files to FM7 by dropping the folder onto the FM7 application icon (Mac) or blank FM7 window (Win).

6. You have no decent layouts right now in the 7 version just fields and raw layouts with no formatting, logical placement, color, tabs, buttons or value lists. Decide on screen sizes for the new layouts you need. I decided to go with 845 x 650. We are assuming 1024×768 minimum screens for Studio Manager 7. This is up from 650 x 500.

7. Import sample data file by file.

8. Create blank layouts and copy and paste in your old layouts. Increase their size as planned. You can duplicate layouts and modify when you’ve got several that are similar.

9. Come up with a table navigation script that can get you from one table to another (such as from Contacts to Jobs to Timesheets and back to Contacts). The script needs to keep track of the layout you were on in Contacts so that when you eventually return to Contacts, you come back to the same layout. This is not automatic as it was in FM6. We created a Tables table that has a field called LastLayout so that every time you switch tables, you write the name of the layout you are leaving from into this table. When you move to a new table, you lookup that table’s LastLayout and navigate to it. It works!

10. Come up with a scheme for layout navigation buttons. Control all layout navigation within the same table with a single script. This is possible using the script parameters. The minimal scheme would have the layout name as the script parameter in each button. The only problem with it is that if you change a layout name, all the buttons that point to that layout break.

11. Figure out how to handle the fact that you now have a single layout navigation button and a single Scripts menu for your entire solution instead of separate ones for each file. You’ll need to sharply limit what appears on these lists or they will be too long and cumbersome.

12. Organize, re-organize, color code and carefully name and label the elements of a huge relationships graph. As you go along, this graph gets bigger and more complex all the time. We didn’t really fully anticipate the size and complexity this graph would have as it gets close to full size.

13. After you’ve got your navigation buttons working and all the layouts you are sure you’ll need, your next challenge is to script it all. Remember, the scripts didn’t come over with FMrobot. You can import your scripts from your old files and group and name them so that you can keep track of everything. This is your chance to decide not to duplicate all functionality. In many cases you’ll need to modify the scripts in some way to get them to work properly.

14. Get a journal going to capture the problems you encounter, the changes you are making and the ideas you are getting, etc.

15. Start using the ability to write field comments and to comment within calculations as opportunities arise.

16. Stay alert to new ways of doing things that will save time or provide more value, but keep on task. Don’t let feature creep keep you from completing your version 1.0. Just note other possiblities as you go along. Only the best of the best ideas that appear to offer immediate rewards should be introduced into your development process at this point.

17. Test, fix and polish.

Book Alert: Using FileMaker 7

UsingFileMaker7BookWe’ve got a bible – a big one – for FileMaker 7. And it’s for the Intermediate-Advanced crowd this time! The full book title is Special Edition Using FileMaker 7 by Steve Lane, Bob Bowers, Scott Love and Chris Moyer. I got it at the Developer’s Conference for $35 ($44.99 list). If you buy from Amazon without thinking, you might pay the full list price. But, if you click the used & new link, you can get a brand new copy for about $30.

This thing has 1082 pages and is at least 2 inches thick. On the accompanying CD, you get 40 sample database files and the entire book as a searchable pdf!!!! What a great idea for a big, heavy reference book. Now I’ll have this amazing reference and learning tool with me wherever I take my Powerbook.

UsingFM7_pdf_big

As many of you know, Chris Moyer has peerless credentials as a FileMaker book author and consultant. Bob Bowers collaborated with Chris recently on the excellent Advanced FileMaker Pro 5.5 Techniques for Developers and also wrote Advanced FileMaker 6 Web Development with Steve Lane.

This is not a sexy book, but it’s solid, well-illustrated and well-written. It’s written by people whose reputations are on the line. People who had to take the time to learn 7 well enough to address FileMaker 7 in all its glory. A big undertaking.

I’ll just give you a sampling from their tips, notes and cautions:

When you first start sketching your ERD, you might just be scribbling on the back of an envelope. But sooner or later, especially for large projects, you’ll want to turn your ERD into an electronic document of some kind. We recommend you find a suitable tool for doing this. If you want to go with a dedicated diagramming tool, Visio is popular for the PC platform, and on the Mac, OmniGraffle is an excellent tool. But if you don’t want to spring for (or worse, spend time learning) a new tool, well, FileMaker’s Layout Mode also makes a great ERD tool! It’s easy to whip up a small library of ERD adornments and cut and paste them where needed. That way, each of your Filemaker Solutions can contain its own ERD, squirreled away in a a hidden layout somewhere. p. 149

You might be wondering how to create a multiple-match relationship that works if any of the criteria are true, as opposed to those that work only if all the criteria are true. This isn’t possible, unfortunately. p. 186

Be aware that the only fields you can use from an unrelated table are those with global storage. There’s no way FileMaker could determine which record(s) to reference for non-globally stored fields…. p. 218

If you have a large group of employees all starting on the same date, the account status feature allows the database administrator to set up all the accounts in advance without activating them. After the employees start, all that needs to be done is to set the account status to Active. p. 325

At least for now, this is the FileMaker 7 bible. Now, all we need is a companion book that focuses primarily on the tips, hints, tricks and gotchas. Because there is so much to do to just cover this product set, there’s not as much room as I would like for commentary. Still, an incredible bargain and tool for you today!