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FileMaker Developer 5.5

Friday 14th December, 2001

With the standard and server versions of FileMaker Pro 5.5 already released, it’s now the turn of FileMaker Developer 5.5 to get the Mac OS X makeover. As with the previous versions of the developer application, the box comes with FileMaker Developer installers for both Mac and Windows platforms on the same CD. The disc also contains the FileMaker Developer Tool, which is the application formerly known as the FileMaker Binder.

In past versions, the Developer Tool application attracted most of the attention. It allows you to take a FileMaker solution you’ve developed, and turn it into a stand-alone, single-user, non-networkable solution. Most importantly, it’s a freely distributable solution for you to sell or give away to anyone on CD or across the Internet. Given that you have access to a copy of the tool for both Mac and PC, you can also create cross-platform versions.

FileMaker provides a set of template folders for each platform solution for you to plug your files in to once they’re bound. This means that when the end-user first runs the solution, the application installs any necessary plug-ins, system libraries, or even fonts.

Not a bind

Using the Developer Tool to perform a binding is easy enough. Locate the files for your solution and select a primary file. Specify a Solution name, a binding key (which is a password so only you can alter the files once they’ve been bound) and a three character extension (so that files can be identified as belonging to the solution when they’re double-clicked). The binder then collects your files, binds them and puts them into a folder creating your standalone application.

The Developer Tool also allows you to perform a couple of cross-file operations that solve some of those niggling problems that you’ve previously put up with. First, you can rename files and update internal links. If you’ve ever tried just ‘renaming’ a file within a set of FileMaker files, you’ll know what a useful tool this is. It allows you to change whole sets of names at once, without having to worry about lost fields value-lists.

You can also perform the Draconian ‘permanently prevent modification of database structure’. It does just what it says, so it should to be used with caution. But for give-away single user solutions, you can see how it might be useful option.

Apart from OS X compatibility, the two big new additions to the FileMaker Developer application are the Database Design Report and the Script Debugger. The Database Design Report is a documentation tool. Select the files you wish to document and it will create a cross-referenced searchable listing of the fields, layouts, relations, scripts, and value lists in those files, either as a separate new FileMaker file, or an XML viewable in Internet Explorer.

The Database Design Report is a great idea. In fact there is already third-party tool out there - Analyzer 2.0 from Waves in Motion (www.wavesinmotion.com) - that does the same job. Admittedly, it doesn’t do it as cleanly but its interface is better and it provides useful features, such as spotting possible script errors, that the FileMaker version lacks. However, we can probably expect third-party vendors to figure out FileMaker mechanisms for getting hold of script info to improve their solution.

A weakness of the Database Design Report and third-party equivalents is that the report is an historical document. It doesn’t link back to the original files, so you have to go and find the script or layout you’re looking for by hand, which is annoying and often fiddly.

Mopping up

The Script Debugger, activated by selecting Debug Scripts from the Scripts menu, is a new dialog box that shows up whenever a script is run, either from a button, command key, or from the menu. It shows you the list of the current script’s steps and a set of controls for stepping through your scripts, or opening the ScriptMaker dialog box. It also has a separate list of the current calling stack and the names of all the active scripts that you’re in. You can set break points within the Debugger window by clicking next to a script step, or in a similar fashion in the ScriptMaker dialog box. That way you can run your scripts until they hit a break point.

The Debugger window doesn’t provide any direct method for viewing or setting fields, while the script is paused, you’re free to navigate between layouts and manually alter any field values you could normally change. It’s a definite advantage to see exactly what’s happening inside a script without having to hand insert message dialog boxes to flag where the script has reached.

Read me

Aside from these two new features and the Binder, perhaps the most important feature to the developer version is the documentation. It includes information on CDML (FileMaker’s HTML markup language that lets you create custom Web solutions with the Web companion), the XML publishing process, creating custom layout themes using XML, developing external plug-ins, and the Java, JDBC and ODBC APIs. Given the demise of HomePage, and the fact these interfaces are included in the standard version, it does seem odd that these items are just in the developer’s manual and not the standard manuals.

Developer is certainly value for money and is the only game in town if you want to create distributable solutions in FileMaker. However, it seems a shame that its big feature, script debugging, isn’t included in the standard version. It’s not just a tool for advanced developers, it’s something that novice FileMaker users would find helpful when they’re trying to come to grips with the basics of Script Maker. Perhaps this will be rectified in version 6?


Developer is certainly value for money and is the only game in town if you want to create distributable solutions in FileMaker

Get Further Info
Rating 4
Manufacturer FileMaker
Pros Mac OS X support + Database Design Report + Script Debugger
Cons Design Report doesn't link to original files + No upgrade pricing
Price 429
Originally Published MacUser, Volume: 17, Issue: 23, p23