Dyce & Sons Ltd.

Helping IT since 1993

4D Server 6.0.5

Tuesday 14th July, 1998

4D Server is a cross-platform Rapid Application Development database system which lets you build databases that run on the Mac and Windows. The server package consists of the server application, the client software, and 4D Backup, an application specifically designed for managing the backup process of shared databases.

4D software has a very large, if mainly silent, following. Having been one of the first Mac relational databases, 4D is what you might term a ‘proper’ relational database, constructed from tables, with each table consisting of a group of fields.

Tables are displayed graphically in a window, and you create relations by dragging links from one field to another, either within the same table or to a field in another table. Unlike FileMaker, all tables for a particular database, and indeed all layouts and pieces of code, are stored within the same file. This means that, again unlike FileMaker, you can only run one database per licensed copy of the server. But unlike FileMaker, once you’ve created your database, all the data is stored in a separate data file. This has tremendous advantages in terms of redeveloping an existing database, as changes can be made away from a system that’s being used and then integrated only when all of the changes have been completed and tested.

The server application acts as an application server, Web server, programming design server, and client server. Out of the box it supports two connected clients and five Web clients concurrently. Licensing is handled at the server end, so you can install the client software on as many machines on your network as you like (clients aren’t serialised), but you can only use any two of them simultaneously. To run more clients (either networked or Web-browser based) you’ll need to purchase extra licences.

Unlike its other siblings, 4D Server is based entirely around the client/server model - the system expects you to be running the server on one machine and developing your database on another client machine linked to it.

While it’s possible to run both the client and server on the same machine, it’s not recommended - you need to use a utility (provided free with the package) to install extra code that locally duplicates some database resources. To be honest, the utility smacks of a kludge, and the result on a 200MHz 603e brought back nostalgic memories of an old Mac IIci in terms of speed and stability.

4D Server can be used to serve databases designed using any of the other 4D products in the range. To develop your own database, you first need to create a new database file from within the server application and then switch to a machine running the 4D client. This may seem strange, but the client/server architecture means, along with the two-client licence, that two of you can be developing different aspects of the same database at the same time.

As well as running previously constructed databases, the client software provides you with the full set of development tools found in other versions of 4D 6.0. Once you’ve created your tables, you can create forms for users to interact with the data, have wizards build them for you from templates, or construct your own forms manually, and have 4D use them as templates in turn.

The programming model is object based and each element within the system can have a method or piece of code attached as well as object methods, form methods (which are also known as triggers), database methods and project methods.

The programming interface allows access to the various objects, commands and variables from scrolling lists within the code editing window, and the built-in functionality can be enhanced using editor plug-ins. These include 4D Write for word processing, 4D Calc for spreadsheets, 4D Draw for line graphics, and 4D Open, which provides a C-based API for 4D operations.

4D Server is also a Web server, providing automatic translation of a 4D database directly onto the Web. However, the default results can be less than spectacular, and far less user-friendly than the FileMaker approach. However, you can customise the HTML version of your database and access database objects using JavaScript within your Web browser.

Overall, 4D Server is an excellent product. It requires an in-house developer, and the learning curve is initially steep, but the rewards in both functionality and long-term maintenance are worth it.

One criticism we have is that the manuals are provided in online HTML and PDF format. For a complex product which requires time spent away from the Mac to understand it, this is unacceptable. Admittedly, you can send off for printed manuals, but you’ll have to pay from £85 for them. By all means provide online supplementary manuals, but most people would like to see more in the box than just a CD and two installation guides for their £750.


This bundle of database utilities enables users to develop for both Mac and Windows.

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Rating 3.5
Manufacturer ACI
Pros Powerful extensible feature set ˜ Good programmer tools ˜ Industrial-strength interface elements
Cons Steep learning curve ˜ Expensive deployment for small business ˜ No paper manuals
Price 750
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 14, Issue: 13, p33