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FileMaker 18: More Impressive Than First Impressions

FileMaker 18 was released yesterday (May 22, 2019), and naturally, we’re excited about having new toys to play with. This release, on first glance, doesn’t seem all that spectacular. No new layout gadgets. No new technologies i8mplemented. No new file format (although those of us who work with FileMaker on a daily basis greatly appreciate that one!). So, why should we care? Why did it take FileMaker a year to come out with something that, on first blush, seems so lackluster?

Because appearances can be deceiving. This release made some significant strides in the development space. Those features may not make for glossy brochure photos, but they can dramatically improve our ability to build great apps for our clients.

Let’s take a look at the highlights:

  • New Import dialog box
  • New security features
  • Save a database as XML
  • Data file manipulation script steps
  • Support for HTML mail via cURL and the Insert From URL script step
  • Save Records as PDF supports append, security features
  • RSA signature hash features
  • While function in calculation engine
  • Expanded support for multiple CPU cores

The new Import dialog box has been received with enthusiasm, ever since FileMaker announced it at last year’s Developer Conference. The old dialog was, quite frankly, often a pain to work with, because if you needed to do any field mapping other than by creation order or by field name, you had to drag each field into its appropriate position. Very tedious. The new dialog, on the other hand, allows you to map fields directly and turn fields on and off much more easily than the previous incarnation. Huge help for any manual import operation.

There are a few new security features, but probably the most significant one is the ability to allow a user with less than Full Access privileges to manage accounts (not including Full Access accounts). Previously, if you wanted to allow an individual to manage accounts without having complete unfettered access to the system, you’d have to build a scripted process. That may still be a valuable approach, but this new functionality gives you a great option, especially for simpler systems, to keep the accounts managed.

Saving a database as an XML document is mostly a developer tool, and mostly for future use. It does allow you to do some version comparisons without relying on third party analysis tools, just using a text editor. However, because this function is quite fast, I expect the third party vendors (like Geist Interactive and Goya) to step up their tools to make use of this functionality.

The data file manipulation script steps are actually more impactful than they first appear. External text files are often quite useful for functionality like exporting data to custom formats or creating easily read error logs. Previously, in order to have FileMaker interact with a text file, you’d need an external plugin. Now, you can do it completely native to FileMaker.

Support for HTML mail – good! The mechanics of doing it, though, are a little … involved. That’s not really FileMaker’s fault so much; HTML mail is a barrel of fishhooks in a lot of ways. But supporting the capability is still a nice “add”.

One feature that made me sit up and say, “Yes!” was the support for appending one PDF to another on iOS. That will allow us to make dramatically more complex PDF reports on the mobile devices than was previously possible, which will make our client Hargrove Inspection Services very happy indeed.

The RSA hash algorithms are useful if you need to verify that data haven’t been tampered with. We don’t have a use case for this functionality at present, but can see where it could be useful in various settings (like for true digital signatures).

The While function is a little tricky to explain, but basically, it allows you to define a loop inside a calculation. Previously, the only way you could do this was with a Custom Function, and those had to reference themselves to make it work (a process referred to as “recursion”). The While function gives developers the ability to have a calculation repeat itself for as long as a given set of conditions is true (“while” the conditions are true). We haven’t played with this yet, but I suspect it will make certain calculations considerably easier to manage, and probably faster as well.

Finally, support for multiple CPU cores has been expanded. Most computers nowadays come with processors that utilize multiple cores, and the more the software takes advantage of them, the more efficiently the computer can work. Soliant Consulting cautions that this may not automatically provide a performance boost, but just from the “feel” of the software so far, it seems to be at least a bit peppier than previous releases.

That’s about all for now. We’re excited about this latest evolution in the platform; it indicates that FileMaker, Inc., are dedicated to a continuous process of modernization. This platform gives every sign of being strong for a very long time.

If you have any questions about FileMaker or would like more information about custom application development, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Happy FileMaking!