Category Archives: FileMaker 8

Customizing with FileMaker Pro 8.5, Part 1

I have long intended to write more about how to customize my FileMaker-based Studio Manager product. I thought I would blog about FileMaker and use simple examples from Studio Manager along the way. First off, are some essential FileMaker resources at your disposal.

Studio Manager is about 99% unlocked. It is targeted towards firms and individuals who want to shape their mission critical software, at least to some extent, to their own unique needs.

To get the full value out of any FileMaker-based product (that is not locked up tighter than a drum), you need to get your hands dirty and learn a little FileMaker.

When I made a mind map on the subject of customizing Studio Manager, the first thing I noticed is that fully 80% of the topics were simply FileMaker basics. I realized that it makes no sense for me to duplicate what is already in the 108-page FileMaker 8 User Manual that comes in the box.

FM 8 User Manual

By the way, even though FileMaker Pro 8.5 is a $100 upgrade to FileMaker Pro 8, it is still FileMaker Pro 8 and therefore, the user manual is a guide to FileMaker Pro 8, not 8.5. FMI provides a one page listing of 8.5’s new features in the installation guide (see cover below) but the informational meat about FM 8.5 is in the online help.

FM85 Installation Guide

Attention Beginners: you gotta check out and use the FileMaker Pro 8 User’s Guide if you want to take charge of your database and make it do your bidding.

I am going to slant this series towards people who have purchased a FileMaker Pro 8.5 template or who have chosen to use one of the free FileMaker templates that come in the box.

Now is the time to crack open the user manual and learn a little bit about FileMaker. There is a great little overview of FileMaker on pages 9, 10 and 11 that will give you a thumbnail sketch of what FileMaker can do. The bottom of page 11 and all of page 12 tell you what is new in FileMaker 8 which is of interest if you are upgrading from a previous version of FileMaker.

This is a well-produced manual. The pages are horizontal, 6“ x 9” with two columns. Very readable and friendly. Every time I cover something related to this manual, I will give you a page reference so that you can get the straight scoop from FileMaker. And then I will embellish, provide examples and apply the basics. I will provide the real-world portion based on my 20 years of FileMaker customizing experience.

When you buy FileMaker, you get a full pdf of the user manual too. It installs automatically when you install FileMaker if you choose the default install. Two cool things about a PDF, (1) you can get to it without getting up and finding your manual and (2) it is great if you have lost your manual and (3) it is searchable by keyword.

Creating a database in fmp 85 CvrI should mention another resource in case you are not aware. FileMaker Inc. is currently giving away an introductory ebook on FileMaker Pro 8.5 when you buy a copy of FileMaker. It is called: Creating a Database in FileMaker Pro 8.5 and is a Visual QuickProject book. What is cool about this book is it is totally hands on. You are led step-by-step through a FileMaker project. This is a great way to get yourself over the hump of actually using FIleMaker as a casual developer. Highly recommended.

By the way, Amazon is selling FileMaker Pro 8.5 with free shipping for $268.99 as of this writing. You can get the ebook this way too. The free ebook deal expires on June 21st and does not apply to upgrades. For details. You can see and read some book excerpts on O’Reilly’s book page by clicking the Start Reading Online button.

FileMaker users can be classified into the following groups:

(1) data-entry basic

(2) data-entry advanced

(3) data users

(4) advanced users

(5) beginning developers

(6) intermediate developers

(7) advanced developers

(8) professional developers

If you have been tasked with entering data into a FileMaker database to perhaps enter all your company contacts and that is all you plan to do, you do not need these references. Just get a 15-minute briefing about the specific entry screen and data you need to enter and be on your way.

Otherwise, you are going to benefit greatly from these information sources. If you are already advanced, chances are you are more committed to learning FileMaker and even though you will know quite a bit of what is in these resources, there is always that tidbit now and then that will make the reading worth your while. Read for your type of use or development and skip over what doesn’t interest or apply.

The Online Help. Don’t forget the online help when you have FileMaker already fired up. Sometimes, if you have a big screen, it is easier to just have the online help open beside your database and use it there when you have a question.

Just type Cmd-? or choose FileMaker Pro Help from the Help menu. Beginners should click the first link called FileMaker Pro Basics and go from there. FileMaker’s online help is an invaluable reference. It greatly exceeds the printed user manual in the depth of its coverage.

FMP Online Help

These introductory comments are just the tip of the iceberg on this topic. I intend to talk about creating and modifying layouts very soon. Perhaps by the time you read this, you will see several other posts in this series. Our goal for the Studio Manager product is to create an entire little manual on customizing Studio Manager.

These blog posts are intended to be chunks of content that will go into our customizing manual. We just didn’t want to wait until the whole manual was done to get the information out to you. As my fellow developer and creator of FileMaker Magazine, Matt Petrowsky, says, happy FileMaking!

Relationship Graph Post-it Notes Pay Off

Sm8 Relationships Graph 480-1

It took me a while, but now I am a believer. I just posted 2 notes into the relationships graph for Studio Manager 8. One note is a legend that shows what all my abbreviations mean and the other note is a general guide to how I have set-up and organized the relationships graph. I now see that these two notes should be a standard practice for any FileMaker database these days. Nice.

You can pick your colors for the post-its from the color wheel, so have at it!

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FileMaker 8 Certified

Fm8 Certification Certificate 480

I’m a member of a group of Marin county FileMaker consultants. In April we decided to use the group to study for and try to pass the FileMaker 8 Certification test. We bought copies of the big FileMaker Professional Training Foundation Series III book for FileMaker 8.

Then we divided the chapters among us with various members choosing chapters to teach to the rest of the group. We met every two weeks for about 3 hours on Monday evenings. In between meetings we did our homework which was to read the chapters and do the practice exercises.

At the meetings, we had two presenters for two chapters (along with 2 backups in case someone had an emergency and couldn’t present). One of our members brought his projector and one donated the conference space available to him for our meetings. We met at 6:30 pm in downtown San Rafael and grabbed a burrito, sandwich or ate prior.

All of us were already very busy with our FileMaker consultancies but we wanted to master FileMaker 8 and figured the certification credential wouldn’t hurt. If others were getting certified, what did that say about those of us who weren’t?

It seemed like a perfect opportunity. We agreed that members who had an area of special expertise would teach their strength to the rest of us. Since most of us do training in the course of our work, we had the benefit of some pretty good trainers within our group.

Our group was all about sharing knowledge and learning anyway, so why not point it at the certification credential and see what happened? We saw it as a kind of bootcamp team. Imagining that if one of us was struggling to make it over the fence, others of us could help.

We had agreed to take the test together at the end of our studying in July. When we finished our studies in mid-July, all but one of us felt ready to take the test. As planned, the day before the test, we did a 4 hour review together on Sunday and then crammed individually that night and the next morning. The five of us took the test on July 24th at 3 pm allowing time for celebration afterwards. Happy Day, we all passed!

When you take the test, you are swarn to secrecy (sign a non-disclosure agreement) to not reveal anything about the nature of the test itself, so I have to end my story here. Framed certification certificates arrived by FedEx within the week. It actually looks really good hanging in my office where my clients and colleagues can see it. Of course, probably most important, where I can see it.

It felt good to do the work. It was great working as a team. And well, we learned a lot. Filling in the holes in our knowledge where they existed. The learning makes me all the more enthused about FileMaker 8.5 and FileMaker in general.

I’m really enjoying my development work these days. The kick in computer work has always been that feeling of awe and accomplishment when you build something really cool. I’ve got lots of neat tools (toys) to play with these days. They make me look good.

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Documented Issues in FileMaker 8 v1 and v2

Fm8 Adv Box

According to FileMaker Inc., there are some significant issues in both FileMaker 8 v1 and v2. The company is working to release v3 soon which is expected to resolve the new issues introduced in v2. There is a good summary of the issues at the FileMaker Knowledge Base. It looks to me that you might be better off with the v1 release for the time being. If you are using FileMaker 8 or just about to start using it, you should read this yourself

There is one corruption issue in each of the versions which is my main concern. In v1, some batch operations and schema changes can corrupt indexes. Fortunately, those indexes can be easily rebuilt by turning the indexing on and off for that particular field with index problems. In v2, recovering a file corrupts the variable names in calculations. If you are using lots of variables, a new FileMaker 8 feature, you would want to check your variable names if you have to recover the file.

Developers might want to have a copy of both FileMaker 8 v1 and FileMaker 8 v2 around in case they want to switch between the two. For example, if you need to recover your file and you use variables a lot, you’ll want to be recovering with v1.

Anyone with more real world information about this is welcome to share it here in the comments. We will revisit this topic with an update when additional information is available or when v3 is released whichever comes first.

On a personal basis, I recommend Studio Manager customers use FileMaker 8 v1 until v3 is available. Neither of the two issues identified in v1 should present problems in Studio Manager. If you are customizing Studio Manager extensively, you should keep these issues in mind, however.

Knowledge Base article #5907 says this about the issues in v1:

  • Some calculations that require local client information (such as Get(WindowHeight)) are incorrectly calculated on the server. There are no known workarounds in this version.
  • Certain batch operations and schema changes might cause indexes to become corrupt. These indexes can be rebuilt via the Define Fields dialog box by turning the index off, and then on again.

Knowledge Base article #5907 says that “while FileMaker 8.0v2 addressed key problems in 8.0v1, it introduced some new issues”:

  • When using a FileMaker 8.0v2 product (Pro/Pro Advanced or Server/Server Advanced) as a host with clients prior to 8.0v2, performing find requests on unstored calculations result in all records being found. This is particularly dangerous when used in scripts that perform operations across the found set, such as replacing data or deleting records. To avoid this, make sure that all clients are using FileMaker Pro 8.0v2 or FileMaker Pro 8.0v2 Advanced. You may utilize the Get(ApplicationVersion) function to check the client version.
  • When using a FileMaker 8.0v2 product (Pro or Server) as a host, unstored calculations are always processed by the client application. In some network scenarios, this creates a significant decrease in performance, particularly when searching on these fields.
  • When printing from Windows based clients, layouts that use fixed margins will experience a shifting of the image by several pixels.
  • Recovering a file corrupts variable names in calculations.

Here is the advice from FileMaker Inc.:

During the period prior to this upcoming release, we recommend that you study the list of issues above carefully to best determine which version is right for you.

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Useful FileMaker Blog for You to Check Out

Mikhail

I discovered a new FileMaker blog today that looks good. I’ll probably have some more soon as I search for what’s available these days. This FileMaker blog is called Bits and Pieces and it is written by Mikhail Edoshin who has been a FileMaker developer for about 8 years. The photo here is of Mr. Edoshin.

At first glance, Mikhail’s blog seems to mainly have explanatory posts about various FileMaker calculations. But, there are some longer articles if you go back a little ways. The post I found most useful was called FileMaker field naming conventions written on November 6, 2005. Mikhail says that he’s tried very complex naming schemes in the past but has decided that simple, natural-sounding field names like First Name are better than the coded ones. He explains why.

A couple other posts I thought looked especially interesting were Merge Expressions and Custom functions to simplify reading the current state of modifier keys.

All of this content is valuable and should be on your required reading list if you are a FileMaker developer or intermediate to advanced user. The value a developer like Mikhail can add is all the real-world, in the field detail and context that isn’t provided in the online help or user manual.

Instead of merely responding to a filemaker forum question, a FileMaker blogger is choosing among his wide experience and picking something he thinks is worth sharing with a wider audience. Generally speaking, you can expect the shared item will have value to the community whereas a forum question might apply to only a few other FileMaker folks.

These experience-based reports and explanatory articles are really valuable. At minimum, they (1) give you a different slant on something you’ve read before, (2) remind or introduce you to functions and aspects of FileMaker development that you may not have found or thought about on your own and (3) provide extra commentary based on road-testing in the real world.

Blogs can add a lot to the FileMaker community. And some FileMaker developers, who may have previously relied on static web pages are, like Mikhail, have started blogging. Blogs, comprised of chronological posts, are convenient to create and operate, tell users what is most current, have great automatic archiving features and are linkable by post rather than whole web page.

A blog is much easier to maintain, gives you more Google juice due to the metadata it provides automatically and offers the ability for users to interact via comments. While providing a great service, Mr. Edoshin also introduces himself to colleagues and prospective clients. Speaking for myself, blogging is a great way to contribute and participate in the FileMaker community and incidentally gets the word out about you and your FileMaker business.

Prior to establishing Bits and Pieces in September, Mikhail created a website in 2000 that was devoted to filemaker. Some of that material may be migrated over to the blog over time but I wasn’t clear that any has been migrated so far. If you would like to take a look a Mikhail’s previous contributions about FileMaker, check out his Onega Software: FileMaker from the other side website.

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You Should be Accessing Your FileMaker Database from Home

Fm8 Adv Box

If you are running FileMaker 7 or FileMaker 8, there’s no excuse for not using FileMaker’s robust and speedy remote access capability. All it takes to get it going is to have a fixed IP address for your FileMaker server (even if it is run from FileMaker Pro not FileMaker Server) and holes in your firewall for 5003, 50003 and 50006.

I’m not a networking expert, but the typical in-house IT guy or gal can handle this with a quick look at the documentation for the device on your network that is running your firewall. If you don’t already have a fixed IP address, you can either get one or use a DNS service for a small monthly fee (less than $10) that will make your dynamic IP address operate like a fixed IP address.

You don’t even need extra copies of FileMaker for home use. Just install the same copy of FileMaker that you use at work on your home machine. Since you can’t be in two places at once, you’ll never have a conflict between your identical installation codes. If you are already using a Powerbook as your main machine, run don’t walk to get this remote access going. It’s way too convenient to miss out on.

You and your employees should set-up your FileMaker database at work as a favorite host so you can easily log-in and get things done when the need arises. Most executives have days when they don’t need to be in the office except for perhaps one little thing. If you’ve got your business data in your office database, you can usually do that one little thing and avoid the commute.

Also, if you’ve got your database set up for remote access, I can log-in and fix things on the spot even if I’m at my local Starbucks having coffee and away from my office. This is an amazing safeguard and convenience. Instead of your sending me your file(s) by email, I can often do a quick fix in 5 or 10 minutes and we are done. Same day, same hour as when the need arises.

My clients are designers. They often travel for press checks, photo shoots or simply meetings with clients in other cities. With remote access set-up, you and your employees can log-in and get very good performance from any broadband connection wired or wireless. Life goes on. Nothing changes. No disruption. Just a lot more convenience.

If you are still using FileMaker 5 or 6, remote access is a good reason to seriously consider an upgrade to FileMaker 8. Already some of my clients operate one database from multiple locations. If you are one of those firms and haven’t upgraded yet, you need to check this out.

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FileMaker 8: Using ScriptParameters to Define Variables

ToolBoxIcon_small

Script variables totally rock. Every time I create or modify a script these days, I use script variables. You don’t seem to have to use a Commit Records command after you use the Set Variable script step. One less script step to enter.

I got lucky this week and was able to convince a customer with a large FileMaker 5.5 custom system I have developed over the years to convert to FileMaker 8. I was able to do the conversion starting Thursday and finishing to the 97% level by Sunday night. I spent 25 hours. I brought all the 17 files into a single file, improved and standardized the look, eliminated a lot of layouts in favor of tab controls and put in a few other cheap improvements that were easy in 8.

Besides my own FileMaker system for my business, this is the first fairly big all-FileMaker-8 solution that I’ve worked on. My client loves it. He often uses his database remotely, so likes the improvement in remote access speed. He likes the clairvoyance, the better look of the type (remember he is coming from FileMaker 5.5). He likes the new tabs. He likes the simplicity of the single file. Just today I made a few more improvements remotely. Very cool.

The reason we moved to 8 is that my customer wants to make some substantial improvements to his system. That’s the time to upgrade. When you’ll be able to immediately take advantage of all the new development tools, efficiencies and options available in the current version of FileMaker.

Now. About defining variables in script parameters. Remember that you can put a calculation into a script parameter. And you can use the Let function to define variables in that script parameter.

This is very cool, people. This is the syntax direct from a working example:

Let ( [$$_no_dialog = 0; $$_Report = “Tasks”; $$_Detail=“Itemized”;$$_Start=“Proposals”] ; “” )

Notice that the result calculation is just quotes around nothing. All this does is define script variables. This takes the place of either being limited to a single script parameter or creating a combo script parameter with pipes or some other divider between parameters and then having to parse it out later. This approach eliminates the need for parsing!!!

With this lovely script parameter. I tell multiple scripts what is happening. I want a print dialog, I want to go to the Tasks report layout, I want the itemized version of the tasks report not the summary version and I started this sequence in proposals, so even though you use multiple scripts, return me to proposals when you are done.

Here’s an excerpt from the reporting script:

Script Parameter Let Statements

Notice the last script step passes my button script parameter on to my generic preview and reporting script so that the variables for whether or not to show a print dialog ($$_no_dialog) and where (which layout) the button was pressed from ($$_Start) are available there.

I’m still learning to use standard naming conventions in naming my variables. And I’ve created a script called Clear Persistent Variables which I call from various scripts to clean up after myself.

I want to pass on thanks to the ones I know about who passed this trick on to me. Bob Harlow, a sharp and experienced FileMaker consultant in Marin county shared this trick with me. He said he got it from the inimitable Vincenzo Menanno of Waves in Motion fame and now working with Beezwax.

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Address Clairvoyance and List Controls in FileMaker 8

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Even though I knew in theory that clairvoyance and value list controls in FileMaker 8 were cool, it wasn’t until I started tinkering with my address entry fields in Studio Manager that I found out how cool.

The thing about address fields is that everyone has them. Which of those fields can benefit from clairvoyance and list controls? I experimented with it and submitted my findings on my Studio Manager Bulletin blog. These checkbox features are just the kind of thing my clients can implement for themselves.

I’m sure you couldn’t justify putting a value list on the zip code field in a lot of situations. But in a place where most business comes from just a few zip codes like in a major city, this might have some value.

By the way, the arrows and clairvoyance disappear seamlessly when you access the file using FileMaker 7. These 2 features are 7-Safe.

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