Friday 28th May, 1999
When FileMaker (or Claris as it was then) was casting around for a way to provide Web publishing from FileMaker Pro 4.0, it hit upon a third-party product from Blueworld - the FileMaker Web Companion was born. However, the Web Companion shipped with FileMaker is the cut-down baby brother of Blueworld’s Lasso. And cut-down is definitely the key term here.
Now in version 3.5, Lasso is a complete cross-platform database Web serving package, running on the Mac OS, Windows 95, 98 and NT. The same product can be configured to run as a companion to FileMaker, and for both FileMaker and ODBC databases as a CGI processor, standalone multi-homing HTTP server (on the Mac OS only), or using a technique called PIXO, which is a file processor for other servers.
Like most Web publishing solutions, Lasso is based around the idea of embedding extra Lasso-specific tags into HTML pages. Pages with Lasso tags - which are grouped into a language called LDML (Lasso Data Markup Language) - are called format files. When a user calls for a format file via their Web browser, the file is read into Lasso, the embedded tags are processed, and the resulting HTML is sent to the user. This is the standard process and anyone who’s used Claris Home Page to build HTML for use with FileMaker Web Companion should be familiar with it. As you’d expect, sites created for use with the FileMaker Web Companion can be used with little or no alteration with Lasso.
The temptation is, of course, to compare Lasso with the cut-down Web Companion, but the difference in power between Web Companion and Lasso is immense. First, Lasso is a full-blown, multi-threaded, exceedingly fast Web server. Second, as a superset of CDML (Claris Data Markup Language), the LDML tag language provides three times as many tags - 330 LDML tags, compared to just 112. And the missing tags are probably also the most powerful. Third, it supports both FileMaker and ODBC databases; you can move your format files between the two, provided field names and file/table structures are the same, and you don’t use any FileMaker specific tags (script or portal tags, for example).
Lasso’s feature list is surprisingly long. For starters, it features better error handling and debugging features, with a full set of command and error substitution tags. Instead of relying on FileMaker error codes, errors are ‘typed’, so error substitution tags allow you to include error messages or numbers for the user’s benefit. There’s also a debugging module (Lasso is designed to accommodate optional plug-in modules), which tells Lasso to be extra fussy and flag errors which would normally be ignored by the server.
Lasso 3.5 also makes life simpler for Web editors by providing an alternative tagging syntax using angled brackets, rather than standard LDML square brackets, to make it more HTML editor friendly.
The processing of format files is beefed up, too. Format files can be stored both as files or as records in the database which process faster. Unlike Web Companion, for example, you can embed substitution tags within substitution tags, and you can use multiple Lasso actions in a single page by using inline tags. This is perhaps the most powerful feature of the language; you can specify multiple actions from differing databases, and information can be passed from inline tag to inline tag. Very powerful stuff.
There’s even a Post_inline action, so you can specify actions to be carried out after submission to the server after a specified time has elapsed - from a few seconds to several months. As well as conditional IF tags, LDML has a Loop tag, so you can execute part of a format time a specified number of times. There’s even the ability to use code macros to simplify the coding up of new format files.
Lasso also includes modules providing file management: you can read, write, copy and move files, as well as allow users access to files outside the root folder. There’s also a couple of Java API modules - one that allows Java writers access to FileMaker and ODBC databases via Lasso.
There’s much to enthuse about in this package - even the manual has its good points. The Instant Web Database publishing solution is talked through in a clever tutorial, showing the use of inline tags for re-using the same file conditionally to allow the user to query a database.
The one gripe is that starting off the manual with the (formidable) security aspects might put people off the product before they give it a chance. However, there’s lots of other example code to look at, and FileMaker users have the FM Link tool for creating code snippets for building format files.
Lasso’s vast number of features and tags makes it incredibly useful and excellent value for money.
Full-blown version of Blueworld’s cross-platform database Web serving application.
|Get Further Info|
|Pros||Huge selection of powerful tags ˜ Fast ˜ Cross-platform Mac and PC ˜ FileMaker and ODBC support|
|Cons||Steep initial learning curve|
|Originally Published||MacUser, Volume: 15, Issue: 10, p30|