Experiences of a FileMaker Pro Database Developer

Charting

FileMaker Pro version 11 has new charting options. These are nicely integrated directly in the layout options. For simple charts, FileMaker’s built-in options are a great choice.

I needed something a bit more powerful and interactive. My solution was to use Highcharts, interactive JavaScript charts. Here’s an example of a chart created from one of my FileMaker databases using Highcharts: Highchart Example.

By clicking the legend, you can turn the graphs on and off. You can also drag and select to zoom in on specific areas of the chart.

In order to integrate with FileMaker,  use the substitute function and building pieces of the chart using calculations formatted as html snippets. Next, build a master chart with variables that when processed with the substitute function, the variables are replaced with the html snippets. Click here for an example of the master chart that I used. You will need to view the source in order to see the html.

I dump the master chart into a global text field and then process that field with the substitute function. Use a separate substitute for each variable.

Make sure to check out the demo gallery to see all the charting options available.

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Find FileMaker Developers

Looking for a developer, start here first at Find FileMaker Developers: http://www.findfilemakerdevelopers.com.

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FileMaker Inc.

It’s inevitable that you’ll need to visit FileMaker’s site. Wether you need to search the knowledge base, solutions made for FileMaker (databases and plug-ins) or download resources like white papers and other technical material, this is where you’ll start.

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Brian Gardner’s STUDIOPRESS

The best WordPress themes out there are by Brian Gardner and his creative team at Studiopress. The new Genesis Framework is the only way to go if you are developing a site using WordPress. Their themes are like my databases, clean, clear, concise and simple to use. Check out StudioPress here: http://www.studiopress.com.

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Dr. Ray Cologon’s Demos

Ray’s FileMaker work is impeccable and a must have resource for anyone developing in FileMaker Pro. Make sure to check out his FileMaker Pro 10 Bible as well as his demos here: http://www.nightwing.com.au/FileMaker/demos.html.

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How do you “fit” report layouts to a page?

There is no easy way to scale FileMaker layouts, and this is a huge nuisance especially when you have to add a field to a report that has already been tweaked to fit the page just right. Scaling in page setup is not always an option, especially between cross platforms and using a variety of printers.

I’m wondering how long we have to wait to have a decent printing option that will autoscale reports we design to fit to a selected page? Acrobat and Apple’s Preview do a nice job…

I usually end up manually re-formatting the layout, decreasing point size, condensing type, stacking lines, etc. I think less is more, but as we all know that’s not what the client always wants. They want to see it “all” on one report.

In some cases, I’ve been able to scale consistently in page setup and then save as a PDF, open in Acrobat or Preview and print to fit to page from there. Just another work-around.

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Beware if you change a server-side script name

If you setup server-side scripts and everything is working fine. Then, for some reason, you rename the script, the server schedule will “loose” the script and an error will be generated saying it cannot be found.

This is so “unlike” FileMaker where everywhere else we can change layout names, script names, field names, etc. and we just “know” all their references are updated.

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Server-Side Script Abort Fails to Disconnect

A new feature in FileMaker Server 11 is the ability to set a time limit on a script. When the time limit is reached, the script is supposed to abort and quit running. This feature works great most of the time, but sometimes it doesn’t. For one client of mine, I’m experiencing real problems with server-side scripts aborting based on my time-out settings, but not disconnecting. I’m running FMS v11.02 on Windows 2003 Server.
I set the abort in order that the scripts do not take too long to run. Based on the number of entries, the scripts will take longer. Mondays are particularly heavy based on entering data for 3 days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday data). When the scripts do not disconnect, the next time the scripts runs (every 15 and 30 minutes), this causes multiple instances of the scripts showing as though they are running. I believe they are still running in some fashion based on my processor load.
I try to disconnect them and I’m able to with some instances, but not others. The only way I’ve been able to definitely disconnect them is to stop the server, restart the machine and start the server again. I also know that I will need to run a backup first because the databases will not close properly nor will FMS stop properly. This is based on experience and similar situations in the past.
I cannot pinpoint when this will happen, but it has happened numerous times and usually after the Server has been running consistently for about 2 weeks or more. When it happens, users complain about slow performance and multiple processors are showing heavy use.
By the way, my procedures involve ALWAYS running a backup before closing databases and stopping FMS. I’ve been burned too many times.

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Plug-in Deactivated

Recently, the Scriptmaster plug-in deactivated itself and would no longer work. I tried checking off the plug-in to activate, but it said something like Java was not running. I thought the problem was due to a recent upgrade with Parallels on my Mac and the Windows version just wasn’t happy. I tried updating the plug-in, removing all other plug-ins and nothing seemed to work.

I’ve been using the Scriptmaster plug-in by 360 Works in order to help stitch together multiple PDF documents. Some PDFs are existing documents and some are generated from FileMaker Pro. I learned the technique from Matt Petrowsky’s Combing PDFs – The Blazing Fast Method. The process works great and is very quick. I also use 3 other plug-ins; Dacon’s Mailit! and FileFire Advanced and Troi’s Dialog plug-in.

A week later, the client’s machine had the same problem. Now I had to solve the issue. I worked with 360’s support and we took all the plug-ins out and then we were able to activate the Scriptmaster plug-in again. I swear I did the same thing and it didn’t work for me, but go figure, that’s the way it happens. After ScriptMaster was running fine again, I added each plug-in back, one at a time. Each time I would quit and restart FileMaker Pro just to make sure all the plug-ins worked and were activated. I was able to put all plug-ins back and everything worked again.

I’m not sure why this happened, a possible crash or something, and I’m not sure why taking these steps got Scriptmaster to work again. It’s possible there is some kind of FileMaker Plug-in preference that got corrupt and just performing these steps solved the issue.

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Reporting

Today I’m working on some report glitches. I still haven’t tracked down the specific problem and I may need to wait when I’m onsite next week. I’m re-running the reports as I’m logged in remotely.

I’m currently working in a live development situation and bugs get worked out as users begin using new features. These new batch of reports are quite complicated and take a while to run since information is gathered from many sources. In the report module, records are supposed to get deleted and then updated and new records are imported. This assures that we are working with the latest and greatest information.

This week, a new user ran the reports, so I’m suspecting it might be a user privilege setting and this user doesn’t have access to delete the records. I think this user just might have the wrong privilege set assigned in Active Directory which means I have to adjust the privileges to allow deleting in the table or assign her to a new group. I can’t stress the importance of testing, test and then test again — then deploy!

More on the caveats of developing in a live hosted environment in future posts.

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