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FileMaker 17: Add-on Tables

The FileMaker 17 Add-On Table feature is an improvement that will help you easily add the kind of functionality to your custom app that would normally have required you to hire a developer. There are a few classic FileMaker stories going around. Maybe you’ve heard them. Maybe one of them is your story. They usually go something like this…

Bob works in ABC department at BIG COMPANY and can’t keep track of his XYZ data. He has tried to get help from IT, but they are to busy or propose solutions that Bob’s manager would never approve because they cost too much or take too long. Bob has cobbled together the best process he can using the tools he has i.e. spreadsheets, documents, and email. When he looks for some solution, he finds FileMaker and gives it a try. He is drawn in by how easy it is for him to get things done. As he learns more he is able to apply it and help his department be even more efficient. Eventually, Bob’s department relies on FileMaker and other departments are starting to take notice and ask if Bob can build something to help them as well.

Or maybe you’ve heard this one…

Amanda owns ACME company, a small [Fill in the blank] company. She provides her customers with [Special Thing]. Amanda has found that by focusing on [Insert Secret Sauce Here] she can provide value that differentiates herself from the competition. When Amanda was just starting out she could manage the process with paper. Lately, she has needed to move to spreadsheets and she has even looked online for some software that specializes in Amanda’s industry. Everything she has found so far doesn’t really fit the way Amanda works. Instead of the specialized software working for Amanda, Amanda feels like she has to change her process to work with the software. Amanda is worried that if she changes her process she will loose [Insert Secret Sauce Here] that her customers have come to appreciate. Amanda finds FileMaker. Although Amanda doesn’t consider herself “tech savvy” she has found that FileMaker has allowed her to accomplish what she wants in the way that she wants to work.

There are a thousand variations of these stories. If you are (or have ever been) a “Bob” or an “Amanda” (or some variation), then the new Add-On Table feature is going to allow you to do even more. Often a Bob or Amanda will take FileMaker so far and then (either because they are too busy, or in over their head), they will look for help from a developer. The Add-On table feature will allow Bob and Amanda to take their solutions even farther, before needing that help.

What exactly is an Add-On Table?

Add-On Tables are a new feature in FileMaker Pro Advanced 17 that let you add entire modules to your solution. The modules offered are relatively simple in nature, but they greatly extend the out-of-the-box functionality of FileMaker to the novice user. And if we let ourselves dream a little, it is easy to envision a future where an experienced developer is allowed to create their own modules to be used by this feature.

So, how do you actually Add-On a Table?

The process for using the Add-On Table feature is pretty straightforward, although at first, it can seem like it is hidden. The Add-On Table feature is not accessed through the Manage Database window, but rather via the “Add Portal” tool in layout mode.

What kind of Tables are available?

There are 11 Tables currently available to choose from when using the “Add-On Table” feature. They include:

  • Action Items
    • A set of fields to track multiple action items for each meeting record. Includes owner, status, and due date.
  • Addresses
    • A set of fields to track multiple addresses for each contact record. Includes address type (for example, work and home). The fields for addresses are arranged in U.S. order but can be changed.
  • Attachments
    • A set of fields to track multiple attachments for each record. Includes a description.
  • Companies
    • A set of fields to track multiple companies for each record. Includes address, phone, description, and logo.
  • Email Addresses
    • A set of fields to track multiple email addresses for each record. Includes address type (for example, personal and office).
  • General Info
    • A set of fields to track multiple items for each record. Includes name, description, and image.
  • Inventory Transactions
    • A set of fields to track multiple transactions for each record. Includes units, transaction type (in or out), date and description.
  • Notes
    • A set of fields to track multiple notes for each record.
  • People
    • A set of fields to track multiple people for each record. Includes name, title, company, phone, and email. The fields for names are arranged in U.S. order but can be changed.
  • Phone Numbers
    • A set of fields to track multiple phone numbers for each contact record. Includes phone type (for example, work and home).
  • Topics
    • A set of fields to track multiple topics for each record. Includes subject and text.

Each option comes with a small preview and brief description of what will be added. The Add-On Table feature makes use of the new Universal Touch theme which is also used by Starter apps. The portal added to your layout will look like the preview in the Add-On Tables selection window. Each portal is pre-sized, it will not matter what size you “drew” the portal (when using the portal tool). The most complex of the Add-On Tables is the People table which includes not only a new table for People but also an Assignments table that allows you to set up a many-to-many relationship between People and the current table.

What changes were actually made to my file?

I created a new empty file and just named the default table “DashBoard”. I added a Company Add-On Table to the Dashboard. I then created a layout for Company and I added several Add-On tables to the Company Detail screen. I’ve moved the TOs on the graph to make for a better screenshot, but I didn’t alter any TO names or any relationships.

The Add-On Table feature, also adds scripts to your solution. For the most part, the scripts are very simple. Most tables just received a simple “Add” script which takes the user to the last row in the portal so they can create a new record using the “Allow creation of records via relationship” method. The people table received several more scripts than any other module and the more complicated scripts seemed to be well documented with comment steps. The Add-On Table process does not add any layouts to your solution for most modules. The exception is the People module. With the People module, you get both a list view, detail view and 20 sample records.

In summary:

I would encourage you to play with the Add-On Table feature. It has a place in your toolbox. For the new user who is, perhaps, coming from Microsoft Excel, it will greatly enhance your ability to extend your current solutions. For the seasoned developer, it will allow you a quick/easy tool for showing the power of FileMaker or trying to produce a quick mockup. Hopefully in the future FMI will expand this feature to give us much more control over how it is implemented and what it can do.   Chad Adams is a FileMaker 16 Certified Developer at Skeleton Key in St. Louis, MO.

About Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key helps turn complex, complicated, and outdated systems into true information platforms. Our team of consultants and developers do this by developing custom-fit software tools and reporting dashboards that help businesses find, use, and understand their data, freeing them to focus on and grow their core business. In addition to custom databases and applications, we also provide training and coaching for getting the most out of your existing systems and understanding your unruly data. Skeleton Key is an open-book management company and active player of the Great Game of Business.