There are a plethora* of places to learn or continue learning FileMaker. A developer, newbie and experienced alike, can read any one of many books. There are courses galore in the web space. There’s the community on which one may ask questions, and of course there’s simply trying, failing, and trying again in the platform itself. But oft overlooked place is FileMaker Help itself. The revamp and much-improved help guide is good for new innovators and those who’ve been working in the platform for a long time.
The FileMaker help system has undergone some welcome changes. The help guide for FileMaker Pro Advanced 17 (there is a new help guide for each version release) is much easier to navigate and more pleasing to the eye than versions of old.
Here’s a few highlights from the help guide:
- The home page contains useful topics defining where to look for answers. Such topics include “Entering Data”, “Finding Data”, “Importing Data” and “Protecting Data”.
- The home page also contains links to very useful documents. I use the FileMaker Error codes, Product Documentation, and Customer Support links often.
- There’s a “New Features” category that highlights what’s new in this version of the platform.
- The search mechanism is thorough. Any word you want to look up having to do with the platform returns many results.
- The left navigation system is persistent and is easy to navigate.
- Each page in the guide can be printed in a clean, properly-formatted way.
- Links abound in the text of the guide, navigating to other places as necessary.
- The left navigation section shows familiar high-level topics as well. When we click on these, we get a page of text on the topic as well as some subpages on that same idea. In the example, the “Creating Charts from Data” page shows additional pages: About Chart Types, Chart Planning Guides, and others. We can read through an entire concept and easily see each page’s content connection to the whole idea.
The help web pages have become more useful in the past few versions. The organization and links make it very easy to find what you’re looking for.
Accessing FileMaker Help
It is so much easier to get to a specific part of FileMaker’s help. Rather than keeping a browser window and navigating to different areas, we can access what we need from within FileMaker.
This is actually pretty amazing. If I’m working on a chart and I’m in the chart set up, I can press the shortcut key ( Command + / (macOS) ) and in my default browser window up pops the help guide on Charts. I can scan the help document, looking for a particular bit of information, then go right back to work.
Most of the modal set up windows we work in many times a day contain the context-sensitive help link. Here’s a small list of those that will open up the useful FileMaker help pages.
- Chart setup dialog
- Web viewer set up
- New Layout/Report
- Script Workspace
- Portal Setup
- Manage Database (All the tabs)
- Manage Security (all the tabs)
During my testing I discovered that any dialog with the ? Button or the “Learn more. . .” link contains this shortcut. I never knew that.
Curiously, this does not help in some setup dialogs:
- Button bar
- Calculation Dialog
- Manage Custom Functions
- Manage value Lists
- Edit Relationship
I wonder if these dialogs will eventually get the context sensitive FileMaker help link.
Script Steps & Functions
There are a lot of script steps in the script workspace. There are a lot of functions available in the script dialog. It takes a lot of time to get to know the details about each of these.
As we work to build a script or build a function, we can take advantage of the context-sensitive help to find more details about a step or a function.
Let’s say I need to use the Last () function to set a variable to a certain value. I’m not quite sure how this works, but I saw this offered as an answer on the FileMaker community. In any specific calculation dialog, even the data viewer, I can find that function and review what’s on the bottom-right.
There’s a Description box that describes the basic workings of the function. And there’s a ? button. I can click on that to get more information on this specific function.
The same ideas above apply to script steps. I can learn more about a step by using the context-sensitive help to get directly to that step.
I’m not sure how long this has been around, but I must say I started using this more often and am rather impressed. I can read up on a function or script step while developing in FileMaker. No longer do I have to turn to a book or Google to search for the function. I can get to the help straight from the function itself.
The more you know
I’m taking advantage of this newly-discovered (for me) feature of FileMaker Pro Advanced to do a little reading. When I need a break from the task at hand, or when I want to refresh my memory, or when I am intrigued by someone else’s use of a function and want to learn more, I read the FileMaker help page. There’s a lot of information there and it is useful to read various pages once in awhile.
When I’m on the community people ask how to solve a use case. Invariably I point them to some part of FileMaker help. I’m now using this context-sensitive help feature to get to the specific function or step help page much quicker. I used to have to type “FileMaker 17 Last” in a search engine. Now I don’t have to.
The FileMaker help guide is useful for beginner and veteran alike. There’s plenty to read and learn and remember, and it’s easy to get to those pages that focus on the work you’re doing at the moment. Check it out. Read the FileMaker help.
*plethora: When I was a teacher, the English teacher in my grade taught the students this word. It has stuck with me ever since.
Also published on Medium.