I am continuing my study of the new FileMaker 18 functions. We see this new release as a continuation of the dramatic change in FileMaker as a platform. Todd calls this new release the “End of the Beginning“. Therefore, it’s important to take a look at what’s new and see how game-changing each feature is. It’s just as important, too, to think of when new features will be used. And finally, it’s vital to think of how fast a new feature should be adopted. Let’s study the While Function up close and personal (with all the mistakes and pauses that happens in normal development) and learn more about the FileMaker While function.

Watch me learn

Since I didn’t know much about the While function, I explored it and recorded my exploration. I spend 30 minutes working through the function: reading the help, making mistakes, and occasionally finding success. I’m not sure how others learn and code, but I took my time and played around with things. Many times these new features require some testing and getting things wrong; they’re complex and need some study.

This exploration video is rough; you get to see me without a whole lot of post-production (I don’t even put a title screen on this video). But give it a try. See if it’s useful to you, and feel free to comment on how you code and how you do things the same or differently.

Anyway. Turn down the lights. Grab some popcorn. And explore the While() function with me.

Some Thoughts about the While function

The FileMaker While function is pretty cool. There’s a lot of new possibility, and with that comes great responsibility. We’re responsible for learning about the While() function–the structure and how it works–, and we’re responsible for learning when and when not to use it. So let’s write down some thoughts.

  • The syntax is very specific and takes some getting used to. I’m using aText to auto-create the function formatted in a way that makes sense.
  • You actually don’t have to declare all the variables in the While() declaration area, but you do have to declare most of them. If the variable is used in the result portion of the function, you must declare it above. Otherwise the function will return an error. You don’t have to declare the variable in the declaration area if the variable is ONLY used in the logic portion.
  • It matters where you place the iteration variable. Placing the iterator–in my case i + 1–before the rest of the logic changes what is returned. I don’t think I have a preference where it goes. I’m choosing to put it after the logic, just like I structure my Loop structure in a script.
  • The While() function has ‘block scope’. Roughly put, variables inside the function do not overwrite variables of the same name outside the function. The picture below shows the variable name with two values: the yellow name variable contains my last name. It’s outside the While() function. The variable can be used inside and outside the function, though I’m not sure why anyone would do this, to be honest.
  • I unchecked the “Automatically evaluate” box in the calculation dialog. I kept making mistakes, and I’d crash the window. I didn’t want the evaluation to happen while I was getting the syntax correct.
  • It’s a bit tough to debug. The logic portion might contain quite complex calculations, and you can’t really test it will. At least none that I’ve figured out yet. I have started to extract that logic and test it in another calculation dialog. Get it working, and then put it back in.

When to use While()

As I was playing with this new function, I was thinking of where it could be used. Like the good ol’ ExecuteSQL() function, this new one could be overused and used too fast. It might be adopted as the new and shiny thing without thought of consequence or consideration. I have no issue with using the function, but I want to stop and consider its use.

We have a bunch of JSON Additions custom functions that use the well-used recursive ability. They work just fine. These functions could be re-written using the FileMaker While() function, but they already work. So why rewrite them?

Additionality I like to use scripts and subscripts to do a lot of my looping over records or to process records. The While() function could take the place of many scripts, for sure. But I wonder if I’ll do this. I can easily debug scripts. And I can write modular scripts to work from different contexts, and I am decent at writing scripts.

Using the FileMaker While() function will take some consideration.

Onward

This new function is worthy of study and use in innovative apps. It does solve some problems for us and it does give us an efficient (one-function) way of performing tasks on records or data. As with any new feature the FileMaker While() function deserves a place in our toolbelt.

FileMaker’s innovative platform requires ever more security as the platform’s transition to a First Class Web Citizen continues. As more services connect to our systems and as more people interact with the data, a file needs tighter and more security. FileMaker 18 has introduced changes that increase security, remove false security, and open up more security access to authorized users.  Those changes include Enabling “Require Full Access Privileges to use references to this file” by default, removing false security of password challenge for full-access, alerting the developer to unsigned plugins, and adding a new option to allow non-full access users to manage non-full access accounts.

Let’s take a look at the FileMaker 18 security changes that have been introduced.

A new security interface

For one, the security interface has been redesigned to be more efficient for a developer or user coming to adjust the security settings.

FileMaker 18's redesigned security interface

FileMaker 18’s redesigned security interface

Those people who are assigned the role (more on that later) can adjust the privilege set, enable or disable it, or set/reset the password. This redesign seems to solve the “number of clicks” problem. The developer or a user can do what they need to do in fewer of them.

A Privilege to manage user accounts

As clients become more used to manage their own day-to-day security, they expect more control over accounts and such. As a developer we can provide scripts to do some of this, but that is a pain. FileMaker 18 adds a new privilege for any non-full-access account to manage non-full-access accounts.

The new privilege to manage non full-access accounts

The new privilege to manage non full-access accounts

A user with this privilege can do what we as developers used to have to do manually or build scripts. She can add accounts, change privilege sets (but not create them), change passwords, and more. If the same user has the older “Manage Extended Privileges” privilege, then she has more control over user accounts.

This person cannot touch the full-access accounts in the file. Though she can see them, she cannot edit or delete them.

Require Full Access privileges

This is sort of a feature that’s been around for a long time but sort of been hidden and off by default. For those files created with FileMaker Pro Advanced 18, this setting is now on at file-creation. This is a good thing.

The Require Full access privileges is activated by default.

This feature ensures that only authorized files can access this file, and that authorization can only be given by the full-access account of the file. If File A has this option turned on, then File B can only reference this file after File A’s full-access username and password has been entered when setting up the reference.

This feature is off by default for files created with FileMaker Pro 17 Advanced and earlier. But it’s easy to set up. Simply navigate to the Authorization area, turn it on. Then you have to go to all files that reference this one and authorize it.

I find this feature amazing. So we’ll talk about it in the near future.

Removing password challenges (most of them) in Manage Security

A FileMaker developer’s job is to deliver to the client an innovative app that connects to other services, processes data, and displays summaries, among other things. We’re logged into the file using our full-access account for a work session, opening the script workspace, the custom function dialog and other places. In previous versions of FileMaker the Manage Security dialog was hidden behind a full-access credentials challenge. So we stop our work and enter those. We make changes in the security, then close the dialog. We’re challenged again with credentials.

And then we walk away from our computer to get coffee or a donut or something. Our computer is open and we’re still logged in.

In the past, we might not have thought about that too much. After all, no one can get into the security part of the file. That seemed like it was a security feature.

Why remove

The credentials challenge created a false-sense of security. For sure, Manage Security is one important part of the system, but it’s one part. Any full-access account can still create scripts that create accounts, run any script, delete records, see any layout. etc.  So the password challenge was not much of a security point. It was a work-break point. I am the developer with full access. I need to get everywhere in the system quickly. Now I can.

Challenge accepted

The only time we are challenged with full-account username and password is when we are trying to change that password of the full access account. FileMaker wants to make sure you know what the new password is.

Be thoughtful in security

What we have to do as developers is think security in every part of our work: from our work to the times we’re not working. At the very least, when we walk away, we should log out of the file. Even better: lock the computer.

Again, this is a topic for a later post.

Invalidated plugin warning

The FileMaker 18 security changes include a warning when plugins are invalid in some way: the plugin is unsigned or has expired or other forms of validation fails. The user will get a weird (to them) message when the file tries to use an invalid plugin.

Since FileMaker now does this, we as developers should plan for this. We should use only valid or signed plugins, and we should test to make sure that users won’t get this message.

Luckily we have a small group of those plugins, and all the developers are part of the community, so I’m sure they’re working on getting this fixed. I doubt any plugins we typically use will cause this error.

FileMaker 18 security changes

FileMaker’s security changes show us that FileMaker, Inc. is indeed concerned about security. Every release continues the security updates as the platform reaches further and further out from our local computers and touches more people. The changes introduced in FileMaker 18 are necessary and good. They tighten up security and make our delivery to our clients more efficient and neater.

FileMaker 18 is another important step for the FileMaker Workplace Innovation Platform. It has a nice collection of new capabilities and features that make our jobs as Workplace Innovators even easier. But I like to take these now-yearly releases as an opportunity to step back, look at the bigger picture and fit this release into the broader trends that I see both inside FileMaker, the community and in Workplace Innovation in general.

The Beginning

Two years ago I wrote about how important FileMaker 16 was. I called it the Biggest Change Since FileMaker 7.  We got full cURL support, JSON parsing functions, a REST API and lots of others features that enabled FileMaker to become a first class citizen of the world wide web. It is hard to imagine being able to build apps today without access to those features.  But it was really only the very beginning of what was to become a major transition for FileMaker and the community. We are now well into that transition. In fact I’d say we have reached “The End of the Beginning”

Since FileMaker 16 shipped, several important things have happened or will be happening later this year. They show a company and a community that is more focused than ever and is fully engaged in strategy that I believe has a high chance of success.  Certainly there are challenges, more on this below.  But we are coming out of the awkward 🙂 beginning stage.

First Class Web Citizen

New features are great and individual companies and users can adopt them as soon as they are available.  But practically speaking the ecosystem as a whole is working with an average of the versions that are currently supported. There are still a lot of people using FileMaker 15, which does not support cURL and JSON.  Therefore the whole ecosystem doesn’t get to assume they can use JSON or any other feature in 3rd party products or sharable code, without excluding some portion of the ecosystem players.

Later this year FileMaker 15 will drop out of FileMaker, Inc.’s list of supported versions. All supported versions of the FileMaker Workplace Innovation Platform will be first class citizens of the web, able to integrate with just about any service, API, or app out there.

Modern Cloud Server

FileMaker 18 Server is the first version that has been built with core support for using multiple processors. While some of the benefits of this will take some time become obvious, we need to recognize how important this is.  Re-writing a database engine for a new feature like this is not easy. It’s not like just adding a new script step or a new layout control.  It is messing with a database’s highly optimized core job of writing data to disk correctly.

This had to get done for FileMaker to move fully into the cloud. We now have a server that has the required technical foundations to function as a cloud service or a on-prem server.

Workplace Innovation Platform

I am now into my 3rd decade developing on top of FileMaker and for the first time, I feel that I am in sync with–and have an essential role in–FileMaker’s strategy. FileMaker is and always has been a Workplace Innovation Platform. But there was never a common understanding even within FileMaker, Inc., never mind within the broader community, of what it was. Now there is. The time of figuring out what FileMaker is over, and the time to grow into that category is now in full swing.

We have a new community forum, new hilarious marketing videos, and even a new design on FileMaker front page. The roadmap promises more important changes coming soon. Everything is being shifted and brought into alignment with the new focus on the Workplace Innovation Platform. We even have new changes at the top jobs at FileMaker.

Changes at the Top

Dominique Groupil as CEO kept FileMaker relevant and profitable for two decades, a truly remarkable accomplishment. But even more amazing to me is the fact that he had the foresight to kick off this transformation and make sure it was on the right track before announcing his retirement and turning over the reins to Brad Freitag.

I have had the opportunity to work with Brad on the FBA Partner Council and in various other venues.  He is a good listener. He takes the time to collect and consider many viewpoints before taking action, sometimes bold action. He also has the confidence to course correct when the landscape shifts. In short, I am sure he will do an excellent job in leading the team at FileMaker, and I have high expectations for the years ahead.

The End of the Beginning

The new FileMaker 18 Platform is the world’s leading Workplace Innovation Platform used to help problem solvers address their unique business challenges. It includes great new features for developers to create, share, and integrate custom apps.

It also marks the end of the Beginning of FileMaker’s transformation. We have new features, new marketing strategy even a new management team. The transition is now well underway. Buckle up!

Future Challenges

This all great news. FileMaker needed to rise to the challenge being presented by the market today. In my opinion the challenges that lie ahead have a lot to do with developing the right language to describe what it is that Workplace Innovators have to do everyday. We have a good description of the problems people face trying to use technology to solve problems, and we now have a good set of low level capabilities like cURL, REST, WYSIWYG forms etc. So we know the goal, i.e. where we are trying to go, and we have a good tool that can get us there, but we need to make it even easier for people to pull it off.

Let me put it this way.  In 1995, I could use FileMaker 3 to build a custom information system using the just 6 concepts: Tables, Fields, Layouts, Value Lists, Scripts, and Relationships.  If you understood those six things you could build just about anything you needed at the time.

Today, I have different requirements. Things are lot more complex. I can still do everything I need to do, but it can take a too long to do it myself.  Can we find a way to “compose” new types of objects together so that we can assemble systems faster, using larger teams of people? I am not sure we can ever get back to just needing to know about 6 building blocks. But I believe there is set of modern system design patterns that we can break down, understand and recompose with FileMaker.

For example. Since version 16 FileMaker has had the capability to connect to any API and exchange data. Thats awesome! But once you start down that road you find that it is still a lot of work. We need to make that easier. I say “we” as in we the FileMaker  community and the company. It is up to all of us.

https://www.filemaker.com/learning/devcon/2019/index.html

FileMaker DevCon 2019

I intend to share more thoughts on this topic at the FileMaker DevCon in a couple of months. I am giving two talks on Workplace Innovation Platform. One will be focused on where we are right now. The other presentation will be on where I think we are headed in the next few years.

Also Jeremy Brown is giving a Training Day Session on JavaScript and Geist Interactive is also a conference sponsor. We’ll have an awesome booth. Hope to see you there.

All the best

Todd Geist
CEO, Geist Interactive