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Sweet Sixteen, Part 2: Web Served

It’s been too long, but we can finally get back to our Sweet Sixteen series of posts on the new features of FileMaker 16.

One of the reasons I’ve been away for so long is I’ve just been crazy busy. I recently retired from my day job so I could work with Net Caster Solutions full time, but that created a flood of activity demanding my attention. You probably noticed our new web site. That was one thing. We had to get all the retirement paperwork and transition out of the way. But, far and away, the thing that kept me the busiest was the development of iCare 2.0 for our client Lullaboo Childcare up in Ontario, Canada.

Now, I’m not going to go into great detail about that project, except to say that it was very large. But I do want to cover one very specific feature we built into the product, because it dovetails nicely with our next FileMaker 16 feature: Web service support.

The iCare system sends out a lot of emails. A lot. And the number of emails the customer wanted increased dramatically during the development. Now, plain text emails are directly supported in FileMaker, but sending nicely formatted HTML mail requires some extra help. Until the provision of the web service support in version 16, you typically needed to use a plugin to send HTML mail. So that was the route we were pursuing (and what the existing system did).

The customer, however, was not very happy with the plugin situation. Getting the license to register in the new database proved to be way more difficult than we had anticipated, and after trying two other plugins – without full success – I suggested we look at the web services route.

We settled on SendGrid, an email service that provides lots of options for sending email. The service expects JSON (which we can do now, thanks to version 16), and is quite simple to set up. We successfully implemented the email, and it’s humming along nicely.

Sending email is just one example of what you can do with web services. Services exist not only to send mail, but receive it. You can tap into public APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) for all kinds of tasks, including interacting with public services like Facebook, Google, WordPress, and tons of others. Many public web sites provide an API to extract information directly into your app. (One example we’re exploring is the InspectionAide product we built for Hargrove Inspection Services. They use a web-based tool to schedule their inspections, and we’re looking at drawing that schedule out and into InspectionAide to avoid double data entry.)

Now, strictly speaking, it was possible to do these things prior to version 16. Doing so unfortunately required a plugin and a lot of manual parsing. Between the improvements in the Insert From URL script step and the native JSON parsing, 16 is just … sweet.

If any of this sounds interesting, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We’d love to discuss what FileMaker 16 can do for you.