The New Way to Filemaker

The biggest new feature of the FileMaker 17 platform isn’t in FileMaker Pro Advanced. That’s right. It’s not that everyone gets Advanced, the new layout tools, Master-Detail portalsDefault Fields, variables for custom dialog input fields, the ability to create directories, send emails with multiple attachments, or even the new Button Setup dialog. And it’s not even any of the great improvements made to FileMaker Server. It doesn’t come with your license, and you can’t buy it in a box at the Apple Store. In fact, it’s something that your users will never interact with.

So what is it?

The biggest new feature of the FileMaker platform is a command line tool for developers called the FileMaker Data Migration Tool. It’s a tool that lets you quickly move data from one FileMaker file into another clone file.

Why is that a big deal?

You may ask yourself, “Can’t we already import data from one file to another?” If you’ve used the import field mapping dialog lately, you’ve realized that it’s cumbersome and imports are slow especially with field indexing and calculated fields. If you have a system of any complexity at all, mapping fields on several tables probably fills you with dread. With the FileMaker Data Migration Tool, that all goes away.

Let FileMaker be FileMaker!

Good, bad, or otherwise… FileMaker is a very forgiving platform. It lets us get away with a lot of things that other environments just won’t allow. It is very forgiving with table and field naming conventions. We get a lot of extras “for free” …or at least included with the price of admission. But the biggest thing that is nearly unheard of in other development platforms: we get to code LIVE. We can make changes while users are in the system and they are reflected instantly. How amazing is that‽ It is amazing. But it’s also dangerous.

“You were so preoccupied with whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” – Dr. Ian Malcom, Jurassic Park

Have we learned nothing from Jeff Goldblum?

There are a lot of things that can go wrong. A dropped network connection while in Manage Database can render a file useless. Editing schema while users are creating records can cause unexpected behavior. Editing a layout that users are on can cause confusion as objects move and tabs change. It’s called “cowboy coding” and in FileMaker land, it is so easy that it has become the norm. You know who you are. We’ve all done it. But it needs to stop. This is one area that we can stop “letting FileMaker be FileMaker.”

A paradigm shift…

With the FileMaker Data Migration Tool, we can migrate a data from a production file to an updated development copy in minutes, rather than hours. Field mapping is automatic and really intelligent. Serial numbers are set automatically (you aren’t still using serial numbers as primary keys are you?). In other words: all of the excuses are gone. It’s time to stop work working on live files! It’s time to start delivering features when they are complete, rather that exposing them to end users as they are being developed.

What needs to happen?

That’s the great thing. It’s actually not that difficult to get started. You just need another copy of your database to work on. You can leave the data in it if you like. Real sample data can be very helpful. Depending on if your custom app is a single- or multi-file app, you can either change the name and host it on the same server, or set up a second development server. We still recommend working on the file hosted, rather than on your local desktop. A local crash can corrupt a file, but if you have a good backup routine, that risk is reduced. With FileMaker 17’s User Licensing model, everyone gets 3 installs of FileMaker Server. You can have a proper dev/test/production environment set up if you want. But even just development and production are a huge improvement.

Where do I get FileMaker Data Migration Tool?

Most end users won’t have access to the Data Migration Tool directly. It is a command line tool for developers. There are two ways to get it: it is included with membership in the FileMaker Business Alliance (FBA) or with the FileMaker Developer Subscription (FDS). LuminFire is an FBA Platinum member. If you work with a FileMaker developer, they should have it through one of these channels. If you are an in-house developer, the $99/year FDS is worth looking into.

How do I use the FileMaker Data Migration Tool?

We aren’t going to dive into the actual use of the FileMaker Data Migration Tool here. We may in another blog post. There are resources out there from FileMaker and others, if you want to study up. The point of this article is to get you thinking about your development workflow and how easy it is now to change to a safer way of doing things.

We will be having conversations with our clients that do not currently have a development copy of their custom app. If you want to update your development workflow to a safer standard, contact us today to start the conversation.