A New Perspective

A New Perspective on FileMaker

When I tell people I’m learning to be a FileMaker developer, I almost always get one of two responses: “What’s that?” or “FileMaker is still around?”

A New Player Has Joined

That second one is usually said with a smile, but it’s still a genuine question. Most of the people who ask it encountered FileMaker decades ago, back in the system’s infancy. For most of them, it was maybe something they played with soon after its introduction or encountered at work. They might not have even used it themselves, just heard of it; and now, it is popping back up again, attached to a fresh, young face. From what they tell me, it was a system they thought had quickly fallen out of favor and passed into obscurity.

With what I’ve seen in my short time at Skeleton Key, though, I’m increasingly surprised that knowledge of FileMaker isn’t more widespread. Especially so when some of the people expressing incredulity have needs that could be served by the platform quite well.

I’ve only been at Skeleton Key since December 2018, but FileMaker is not my first experience with either databases or computer development. I have a bachelor’s in computer science, have worked with large SQL databases, and developed backend web coding in C# and PHP.

So, FileMaker is far from my first database system. It is, however, the most intuitive one I’ve learned, despite being almost alien from my previous experiences. Prior experiences help when picking up a new system or language, of course; understanding the fundamental or similar concepts greatly eases the transition into something new.

For either new users or advanced, though, FileMaker feels far more user-friendly than any other system I’ve used.

What Did I Think FileMaker Would Be?

When I started learning about FileMaker, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew a few things about it, both from prior research and conversations with the people who had just become my coworkers:

I understood that it was a database system. I’d worked with databases before, SQL and Access, so I expected raw tables of data with abstract ways of organizing them. Collections of data would be grouped into tables with loose, arbitrary rules connecting one table to another. Navigating between tables would be an exercise in logic and carefully-constructed queries.

I understood that it handled the user side of an application, the UI. I’d worked with user interfaces before, JavaScript and the unrelated Java, so I expected a tangle of code tweaking icon placement on the screen. Assembling a presentable screen would be an exercise in finagling pixel placement. Interactivity would be through event listeners and handlers. As much of the inner workings of an application as possible would be hidden from the end user.

I understood that it was the product of an Apple subsidiary. I actually hadn’t worked much with Apple-related products before, so that was new.

These expectations weren’t exactly wrong, but they fell far short of the reality of FileMaker.

So What Is FileMaker, Really?

FileMaker is a system designed to offer an easy-to-use platform to end users while giving powerful tools to database developers. It is a single tool that offers both a graphics-based user interface and a relational database management system. It offers lightweight development to get a useable system set up in as little as a few minutes as well as the depth and toolset to enforce highly specific and variable business logic. But this isn’t supposed to be a sales pitch, this is supposed to be my impressions of FileMaker after almost a half-year of study.

I suppose the foundation for my esteem for FileMaker is in contrast to the other systems I’ve used. Instead of a base interaction of raw code, almost every piece of development is based on a natural user experience. It is a specialized tool with a focus on applications to interact with a database. But what makes FileMaker different? What really distinguishes it from other options?

Easy-to-Use Data

I find that the chief difference is that FileMaker is much cleaner and more welcoming to a user than your typical database management system would be. This is the result of blending a drag-and-drop graphic interface with a relational database that handles most of the heavy lifting for you.

For the former, most programming languages can create a beautiful, intuitive experience for the user, but the developing period will involve a tangled mess of code. The developer will spend more time staring at rows and rows of computer characters than anything resembling the finished product. In FileMaker, though, moving a text field is as simple and clicking and dragging it to where you want it. No coding needed.

A well-designed interface will still require experience and time to create, but there’s no disconnect between what the developer sees while developing and what the user sees during use. It’s relatively easy to build an interface where a user can have no idea they are working directly in a database.

For the latter, in my experience, most database development is figuring out how to join tables together. If you need to know what parts go into the products ordered by a particular customer, you need to first figure out how to explain to your database how those things are even connected. FileMaker, however, takes a far more intuitive approach: define at the beginning how things are connected. Once you have your relationships set up between tables, you don’t have to worry about establishing those connections every time you need a piece of information from another table. Where a SQL query involving a dozen tables could take a DBA hours to even set up, a developer setting up a FileMaker layout can just drag a field from a related table onto the layout.

Essentially, FileMaker remembers the relationships established between tables in a way that doesn’t have to be spelled out every time like in other database systems.

An Open Toolbox

These features are my primary takeaways from FileMaker, but they are far from the only ones. Because of its lightweight design interface, FileMaker solutions can be rapidly made into a useable state and, just as quickly, modified to fit evolving requirements. This means both that prototypes can be quickly produced and that features can be added on to existing solutions without taking apart existing work.

With FileMaker’s easy to use toolset, anyone can begin building a solution for any business need. You don’t have to be a seasoned developer to build something to your needs.

Having worked now with many clients who have built their own solutions, it has really become clear to me that FileMaker greatly empowers the average user to take control of their own solution. An in-house, dedicated DBA is not longer tied to day-to-day functionality, unlike other platforms can require. For more elaborate systems, there is an extensive community of FileMaker-certified developers out there that would be happy to help you.

The Every-Business Multi-Tool

Whether you have a degree or not, FileMaker is getting easier and easier to use. Now, that’s not to say FileMaker can’t handle any complex business need that could arise; whether automating workflow, sending files to third-party services, or grabbing data off the internet, FileMaker is capable of anything I can imagine a business could need. FileMaker is a powerful platform not in spite of its simplicity but because of it. In the very short time I have been at Skeleton Key, I have learned more about FileMaker than I thought a platform like it could handle. I look forward to learning even more.

 

This article was a collaborative effort of Bryce Tyler and Jesse Simmons. Bryce and Jesse both joined Skeleton Key in December 2018. Both were new to the FileMaker platform, but are now well on their way toward becoming FileMaker Certified Developers.

About Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key develops apps on the FileMaker platform making them easy-to-integrate, easy-to-use, and quick to build and deploy. Our team of experts takes a comprehensive consulting approach to focus on learning how your organization operates. With deeper insights into the way your team works, we can create an ideal solution built around your operations while forming a partnership founded on trust and transparency. We hope you found this content useful and we would love to hear from you if we can be of any further assistance.

TechSupport Hero behind the screen help

Selecting Objects In A Group In FileMaker 17

Grouping objects together when designing layouts is a very helpful tool and one of my favorites to use. I am very excited for the new ability to select an individual object while it is still in a group in FileMaker 17.

Grouping And Ungrouping Objects In Previous Versions

If you are not familiar with grouping and ungrouping objects in previous versions here is a recap: By selecting all objects you would like to group and clicking the group button in the inspector, you can group multiple objects together even if they are different types of objects. This allows you to work with them as one single object, manipulating its stacking order or alignment, for example. It comes in handy often as I have perfectly aligned a group of fields and need to move them around to continue working on other parts of my layout without disturbing their current alignment relative to each other.

Previously, you could not make an adjustment to a single object after it was in a group without selecting it from the Layout Objects window. The layout objects window allows you to select an object that is currently grouped and make changes to its appearance in the inspector, but you do not have the ability to adjust its size or position. You would first need to ungroup it, make your adjustment and regroup. This could get tedious if you had many changes to make. Additionally, I find it helpful to specifically name my groups in the layout objects window so I can distinguish which group I am working with. However, the custom object name for a group is erased when the objects are ungrouped. Additionally, if you have formatted your group as a button, you will have to recreate your button and add back your script if you ungroup it.

The portal inside a group is being selected in the layout objects window, notice I can adjust its appearance but I cannot adjust its position or size in the inspector.

What’s New For Grouping Objects In FileMaker 17?

In FileMaker 17, we now have the ability to select one or more objects inside of a group and make changes without affecting the other objects in a group or having to ungroup them. This added functionality makes grouping a more diverse tool to use, assists with speed of development and makes tasks like layering and hiding more enjoyable. You can now group objects together and move them around even if you know you still have to make adjustments to the individual objects inside.

Conclusion

Since ease and speed of development are often such high motivators for gravitating towards certain workflows and tools, I am pleased by the new flexibility of grouping objects together in development. For those of you who have shied away from grouping objects in development for lack of convenience, it may be time to consider putting it back in your toolbox.

fmp17 adv angle

FileMaker 17 Platform

The FileMaker 17 Platform is a landmark release with many new and improved features that make it more powerful and even easier to use. Here are some of the reasons why we think it’s the best version yet.

Earlier releases included three different versions of the desktop application…FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Pro (for User Connections), and FileMaker Pro Advanced. Version 17 simplifies this to one application…FileMaker Pro Advanced. The Tools menu can be enabled or disabled in the preferences. System administrators have the option to completely remove this option during installation, but the application name is always FileMaker Pro Advanced and Get(ApplicationVersion) returns “ProAdvanced 17.0.1”.

One of the changes you’ll notice as soon as you enter Layout Mode is the addition of panels on the left and right side of the window. The left panel includes tabs for Fields and Objects. The right panel is a docked version of the four-tab Inspector. The new panels put a lot of power at your fingertips, but you may find the need for a second (or third) display so that you can comfortable work in Layout Mode on one display and view your work in Browse Mode on another.

Another Layout Mode change that is less obvious is the ability to select and manipulate individual objects within groups without needing to ungroup. This can be a nice time-saver.

The My Apps window replaces the Launch Center with a more intuitive experience that makes it easier to open your apps and get started creating new ones.

FileMaker Pro 17 includes six new starter apps plus a brand new Add-on Tables feature which allows anyone to quickly add new tables and related functionality to your app.

A new portal option allows a developer to easily create master-detail layouts that have a great user experience.

Developers who love to create modular scripts that can easily be moved between apps will appreciate the new Perform Script by Name script step.

Developers who create a lot of tables will also appreciate the new Default Fields feature. By default, five new fields will automatically be created in each new table. The default fields can be overridden with your own favorite default fields.

The Send Mail script step has a simple but powerful improvement that allows multiple file attachments to be included in an email message.

FileMaker Pro 16 enabled many script steps (such as Insert from URL) to use a local or global variable as a target. In version 17, the Show Custom Dialog script step now allows the use of variables as the target for input fields.

FileMaker’s licensing options have changed significantly over the years. Version 17 takes a fresh approach to simplifying the license options and treating the previously separate products as a true platform. Whether you buy User, Connection, or Site licenses, you’ll get access to all of the individual pieces of the platform.

Both FileMaker Server and FileMaker Cloud now include an improved version of the FileMaker Data API that allows performing scripts and uploading files to container fields. The FileMaker Data API is now metered, but it includes a generous data allowance with all license types. FileMaker Server has a redesigned Admin Console, a more powerful command-line tool, and a trial version of the FileMaker Admin API. Together, these three admin interfaces offer tremendous flexibility and power. FileMaker Server admins will find they have some new things to learn.

The FileMaker Developer Subscription includes an updated version of the iOS SDK as well as a new command-line Data Migration Tool. The Data Migration Tool solves some longstanding problems by allowing fast transfer of all data, accounts, and value lists from a solution into a clone of the solution. This tool will make it much easier and faster to move updated versions of an app from development to test or production environments.

FileMaker Go 17 receives some great new features including access to sensor data and local notifications. Apps can now use auto-complete in text fields, keyboard shortcuts on external keyboards, and drag and drop of text, photos, and files on iPad.

The FileMaker 17 Platform has a great set of features and we think it offers a tremendous value and flexibility. We’re excited to build new apps that are more powerful than ever.