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Seventeen is Prime

Last year was sweet sixteen. This year is prime seventeen. That's the best title I could come up with after Googling the number seventeen. Not much out there for this number. While seventeen is a prime number, prime can also describe the new FileMaker 17, adding features that will change the way you develop your FileMaker solutions. Seriously! Also, I'm going to focus on desktop enhancements but I'm sure there are many bloggers out there who will talk at length about FileMaker Go and FileMaker Server enhancements, of which there are many.
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Interface Ease

Good interface design should be instantly recognizable and immediately useable. Creating an appealing layout is easy with themes. Designing a functional layout is another story. There are many techniques out there for developing intuitive interfaces but I prescribe to the grid. Grid interfaces provide a clean, organized and calming effect on users. Your interface design can make or break the success of your project, so design carefully by starting with a well designed form and list layout based on the grid system. Not only will the grid system be covered but a plethora of other interface tips, tricks and guidelines for creating successful interfaces without a ton of effort.
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File Freedom

In my two decade career, I've only seen corrupt files while working in technical support. I was in technical support for five long years but even then it was not a common occurrence. Rarely have I encountered a corrupt file while working with a client or in my own personal FileMaker solutions. With good file management practices, your FileMaker file can live a long and happy life, free of corruption. I'm not saying corruption doesn't happen, it's just rare. Still you need to be prepared if the FileMaker God's choose your file for repair. This article will explain how corruption occurs, how to avoid it and how to fix it if needed.
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FLF

I've mentioned FLF (Find-List-Form) in several other articles on this web site but I think it's so important that I wanted to devote an entire article to the subject. So many developers have moved so far away from the roots of FileMaker that they almost don't even know what they are. Then they teach other budding FileMaker developers wacky workarounds for something that is so easy to accomplish with basic FileMaker tools, and these impressionable minds think it's always the right approach. Yes, sometimes we need a good workaround but most of the time we just need good FileMaker fundamentals.
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Stuff Ya Oughta Know

Some things in FileMaker require an entire article to explain thoroughly. Others are just a paragraph of description but are no less important to your FileMaker professional career. Some people call them tips but I like to think of them as nuggets of truth. The stuff in this article was hand picked by myself based on the criteria of how important they were to me when designing a successful solution in FileMaker. I've probably forgotten to mention so many cool tips I use on a daily basis but this is what came to me when writing this article. Feel free to throw out your own personal ideas in the comments below. I'd love to hear about your nuggets of truth!
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Alternatives to Serial Numbers

In this final article from a series of four articles, I want to cover alternatives to restoring records using serial numbers and relationships. The first method I will cover uses the Snapshot Link feature and is fairly straightforward. Just a few issues with interface to overcome. The second is a script to save and restore find criteria. Restoring find criteria is no walk in the park. Strap on your galoshes cause we'll be wading through muddy waters. There are also various advantages and disadvantages of each technique that you'll want to pay close attention to so you can choose the right approach for the right situation.
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Collecting Unique Values

Since Darren Terry published his infamous article on saving found sets for future retrieval in 1996, a lot has changed in FileMaker. The additions from the last thirteen versions of FileMaker offer many alternatives for amassing unique identifiers. The differences in collection methods mostly come down to speed but there are a few other considerations that shouldn't be overlooked. However, restoring records remains the same, relying on the humble Go to Related Record (GTRR), and will not be discussed in this article. I also won't be able to point specifically to the originators of the additional methods for collecting unique values as they have been lost in the vastness of time. For all I know, I was the first to come up with some of these techniques.
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Saving a Found Set

Found sets are what make a database a database. Without found sets, a database wouldn't be much more than a relational spreadsheet. Found sets determine which records print, sort, export and preview. Practically all features in FileMaker are structured by the found set. Sometimes you have to break the found set, current record or sort order, unbeknownst to the user. Maybe the user is running a script that does something very complex that requires destroying one of these elements. The user doesn't care how difficult it is to program a feature. The user just wants a smooth experience. If you have to change the found set, current record or sort order, you had better restore it. The only person who should modify the records showing is the user himself. In this followup article, I will demonstrate how to permanently save found sets.
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Preserving Found Sets

Imagining a database without found sets is like picturing a bird without feathers. It just doesn't make sense. Found sets are the essence of a database. If there were no found sets, you would need to sort your entire list of records and scroll to find a record. To say the least, this would be an inefficient process... especially if you have more than a thousand records. Found sets are what make a database a database. Not only do finds allow you to locate a specific record but they also enable you to perform actions on a subset of records like importing, exporting, printing, sorting and looping, to name just a few. With such a far-reaching effect on the processes in FileMaker, found sets often need to be preserved and/or reloaded. "Save" is a good word to describe what I'm going to talk about in this article but there are all kinds of saves. Some saves are temporary and other are more permanent. Being able to work with different save techniques is crucial to applying the best method to the task at hand.
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Multi-User Contradistinction

How you design a FileMaker solution often depends on how it will be accessed. Is it a single-user solution running off the local hard drive? Is it a multi-user database with all users accessing from the LAN? Maybe there is a occasional remote access from someone at home? What if the company is distributed across the United States and needs a completely cloud based solution? Maybe some users won't always have an internet connection? It could be that some users don’t even have FileMaker? These are some important questions to ask yourself or your client before beginning the design phase of a solution.
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Reconciling Record Locking

One of the most important concepts to grasp hold of tightly, when moving from the design of single-user to multi-user FileMaker solutions, is record locking. It's a fairly simple concept to understand. It just prevents two people from editing the same record at the same time. The complex part of record locking is programming your scripts to manage record locking. In this article, I'll start by defining record locking, demonstrate what causes record locking, show you how to test for record locking without hosting your solution and finally how to trap for record locking. I'll also throw in a few examples for good measure so you can measure your newly found skills in the context of a real life scenario.
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Eating Your Own Dog Food

I took a different technology approach than every other person out in cyber land writing FileMaker blogs. I actually created my own FileMaker database to manage my content. Go figure! I could have taken the easy way out and used canned blog software but FileMaker is perfect for this job. Besides, I'm a firm believer in eating your own dog food. It just makes sense since FileMaker is the career I have chosen. Let me tell you a little bit about why I chose FileMaker as blog back end and reveal some of the key features that make it a better choice for me than off the shelf software designed for the masses.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Wrangling Relationships

The relationship tab in Manage Database is not an ERD (Entity-Relationship Diagram). Sometimes it looks a lot like an ERD but it is so much more. An ERD represents the structure of your solution while the relationship graph contains structure as well as what I like to call techniques. Techniques are relationships that allow a feature to function properly, not provide structural integrity. You might create a filtered portal as an interface option or use a multi-key relationship and a script to drill down through records to create found sets or even a conditional popup menu that requires a non-structural relationship to operate. With a discussion of anchor-buoy relational design as the main thrust, this article attempts to impart a better understanding of relationships.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Preferences and Options

I'm no SQL expert but I know when, and when NOT, to use the ExcecuteSQL function. ExecuteSQL is not for creating replicas of portals, despite the numerous examples floating around the internet. It's also not designed to replace the built-in FileMaker find feature, even though it seems to replicate the search abilities of find mode. In fact, there’s really nothing ExecuteSQL can do that a relationship can’t do, it just can do it without a relationship. In other words, it resolves Relationship Graph clutter but, only under under certain circumstances.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Becoming Certified

The most common non-technical question I get is, "how do I become certified" or "how do I study for the certification test"? It's a good question. If you're taking the test seriously then you need to study, right? Not only does it cost a few hundred bucks to sign up but it's an important milestone in your FileMaker career. I mean, why wouldn't you want to have that feather of certification in your proverbial FileMaker hat. It tells clients you have achieved a level of competency that only a couple other thousand people in the world can lay claim. It sets you apart from the rest of the FileMaker crowd in a way that can easily be identified by a logo.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Logically Speaking

Logical functions are some of the most important and widely used functions. Think of decision making when considering logical functions. They enable you to decide if a formula will return one result or another. Which fork in the road will the formula take? Testing for true or false is often referred to as boolean in the FileMaker interface so get used to the terminology. While it is common for amateur developers to overuse these functions, if utilized properly, they are extremely powerful. Logical functions include Case, If, IsEmpty and Choose, to name a few of the most important.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Efficiency

The old saying that time is money is more than just a saying. The faster you can develop a project, the more money you can make as a commercial developer or, the more time you can devote to other projects as an in-house developer. Being as efficient as possible is the key to success. That's the primary difference between amateurs and experts. Balancing speed with quality is challenging though but, can be done. As you gain experience, quality and speed will both increase naturally, especially if you strive to improve in the primary areas listed below.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Keeping the Faith

Steven Blackwell almost always starts a phone call with "greetings and salutations" and often ends with another famous quote, "keep the faith". I've never asked what he means but I'm pretty sure it's not religious. Steven Blackwell loves the FileMaker platform and he likes other people who feel the same as he does. Keeping the faith is just trusting in the FileMaker platform. I'm also pretty sure he didn't start using this quote when he started developing FileMaker solutions. It's just how he sees everything in life. When he believes in something, he gives it his all. I appreciate that about him so much. But, let me introduce you to him first since you may not know him as well as I do.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Planning

I like to compare the process of creating a database solution to the construction of a house. If you start by hiring a contractor, you probably won’t get the house of your dreams. The first step is to hire an architect. You tell the architect you want five bedrooms, three bathrooms, a man cave and a swimming pool and he designs a house based on your specifications. The architect then shares the plans with you so you can validate his design. Maybe you decide to change a few things. The architect takes your input and create new plans. The process can go back and forth until the plans are satisfactory. The same process is necessary for proper database design so let me walk you through the steps to success.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Subsummary Sandwich

The biggest mistake I see amateur developers make is using relationships and calculations to create reports. They work great in single-user mode with test records. Put that same solution in a multi-user environment with thousands of records and performance starts to grind to a halt. Add a WAN into the mix and it degrades the speed even further. The same is true for dashboards which often use the same techniques. The aim of this article is to teach standard reporting methods for beginners and seasoned developers alike. While the topics include mostly beginner and intermediate subjects, we'll dive into a couple advanced examples at the end.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Window Naming

So, what's wrong with the default window name given by FileMaker? Imagine a user of your solution has multiple windows spawned on a small screen and goes to the Window menu to select the desired window. Without good window management, all he sees is "CONTACTS", "CONTACTS - 2", "CONTACTS - 3" and so on. With good window management, you can make it easy for users to quickly find the window they want without cycling through all of them.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

The Front Door

Close scripts generally aren’t very important in a FileMaker solution, especially a multi-user solution, but Open scripts should be employed on just about every solution created. Open scripts setup up your solution for the user, making it easier to use. In the following paragraphs, there are many examples of common Open script snippets you can include in your own solutions but Open scripts are as varied as there are developers and the solutions they create. The ideas in this chapter are just a starting point but the discussions that ensue will deepen your FileMaker theory.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Modular Scripting

When you start writing scripts for the first time, they are fairly simple and can be understood quickly. Even weeks or months down the line, the name of the script should be enough to identify the functionality. As your scripts increase in complexity, you need to consider modular scripting. Modular scripting is essentially writing your scripts in pieces and connecting the pieces with a parent script.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

FileMaker Videos

I normally don't like to directly advertise products and services on this blog but there is real FREE content here. What I'm going to do is provide inline videos from part one of my new FileMaker 16 three part video series. I'll discuss why the lessons are important and provide some insight as to how they fit into the whole of the videos series. Happy FileMaking!
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

 

Compare and Contrast

In this article, multiple scripts will be created to accomplish the same task. This may seem silly at first but, it's an important exercise to learn the best approach to a problem. If you are new to this concept, you should actually build the different scripts to cement the concept in your mind. I've been using this methodology for a very long time so it just comes naturally. In fact, most of the work occurs in my head. In time, the process will become second nature and you will find yourself building more efficient and capable scripts.
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John Mark Osborne

John Mark Osborne

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