Beginning FileMaker FAQ
So, you’ve just downloaded FileMaker and you have no idea where to start.
Having just gone through this discovery process myself, I’m here to serve as your guide.
Maybe you’re looking to create your very own custom app, or maybe you’re not sure if you have the time or energy to create an app yourself but are still looking for the perfect software fit. Fear not! Here is a curated list to answer your (*cough* my) newbie questions:
Q: What can I use FileMaker for?
A: I think a better question would be, what can’t you use FileMaker for? As FileMaker’s clever marketing folks have said, FileMaker was designed as a “Workplace Innovation Platform” to help bridge the gap between enterprise apps and appliance apps. In other words, you can fully customize FileMaker to meet your ever-changing business needs. It can do much more than just your standard office software, but it’s also accessible and won’t require a computer science degree. As a FileMaker developer, you can create database tables, interfaces, navigation, security, and more. At Codence, we’ve built hundreds of workplace solutions tailored to each of our unique clients. The sky’s the limit.
Q: What are the components of the FileMaker platform?
A: To me, there are three main components to creating a FileMaker application: The database architecture, scripting, and UI/UX design. Application architecture refers to how you model your tables in the Entity Relationship Diagram and in the Relationship Graph as part of FileMaker. Scripting is pretty straight forward as that’s how FileMaker works its magic independent of FileMaker’s relationship magic (insert joke about significant others here). UI/UX (User Interface/User Experience) design is user-centered design is all about how the app looks and what the user experiences during its use. If what I’m talking about doesn’t sound like English to you, I suggest taking a look at Commonly Used FileMaker Terms.
Q: I’m part of the FM / 42 SV Partnership. What should I know?
A: It’s not C and you don’t have to worry about memory leaks. I know, right? That is pretty exciting! If you’ve taken the web development piscine, it’s kind of like that, but just in one platform. I happen to enjoy designing apps that look pretty and are user-friendly, which is insanely easy to do with FileMaker. Unless you’ve got decent database experience, you’ll also probably be most at home with scripting. Speaking of, FileMaker has an extremely easy way to do looping that you’ll want to check out here – sadly, it took me longer than it should have to reach this conclusion. If you’re anything like me, the relational design between databases will be your weak point. Knowing MySQL doesn’t help for basic relational design, so if you can find resources about data modeling now, your life will be so much easier later.
Q: Why can’t I just use Excel?
A: Excel is a database tool that shares some characteristics with FileMaker. If you’re interested in the recent debate about giving up Excel, you can check it out here. For the TL;DR version: There are some excellent use-cases where Excel makes sense, but if you want multiple users to have access to dynamically updated data, you need something beyond Excel.
Q: How long will it take me to build my custom app?
A: That fully depends on the scope of your project. Statistically speaking, you can roll out any size app in about a sixth of the time using FileMaker than what you would normally be able to do with any other programming language. For more information on how easy FileMaker is, check out this video showing you how quick and easy getting started is.
Q: Will I be able to make my own custom app without any programming experience?
A: Yes! If you want to create your own app from scratch, FileMaker is an excellent platform for experimenting, trying things, adding features incrementally over time, and learning with. Maybe on day one, your app is fairly simple – it can grow with you as you learn how to unlock more and more of FileMaker’s power under-the-hood.
One caveat: make sure to consider the complexity of your project. Here is an excellent quiz to help you decide. If you find yourself stuck on your DIY journey or need to consult with certified FileMaker developers, we’re happy to lend a hand!
Q: Can you use FileMaker with other technologies?
A: Yes! APIs, ODBC/JDBC, and iOS SDK are just a few. There’s an extremely long list of compatible technologies that you can find here.
Q: Does FileMaker work via the Web?
A: Yes! You have two options: Web Publishing or of FileMaker WebDirect. If you use Web Publishing, you have the capability of creating your own “front end” using PHP that integrated with the data in your application. With WebDirect, you can use a lot of the functionality of FileMaker Pro in a browser window. There are limitations, so be sure you check out the FileMaker Web Overview.
Q: Can you build a mobile app in FileMaker?
A: Absolutely! FileMaker Go is available for free from the App Store on Apple devices, and you can also use FileMaker’s iOS SDK to publish your app to the App Store. While there’s currently no plan from FileMaker to make FileMaker Go available on Android devices, it is possible to use FileMaker WebDirect via your mobile browser on any device. More information on FileMaker and mobile devices can be found here.
Q: Can you host FileMaker in the Cloud or on your own Server?
A: Absolutely! FileMaker Server has options for every use and every budget. You can get more information here.
Q: Are there any out-of-the-box business solutions available?
A: Funny you should ask… Genesis Financial Suite offers a business and accounting framework that’s ideal for anyone looking to incorporate business accounting software, inventory management, information management, or financial reports using FileMaker. You can also continue to leverage the FileMaker platform by further customizing or integrating with your own files. We think of it as a “best of both worlds” option. You can start using Genesis Financial Suite without any custom features, or we can help you fully customize for your workflow!
There are also other commercial solutions out there, both apps focused on solving specific problems, and general business systems like Genesis. We encourage you to take a look at the Made for FileMaker store on FileMaker.com.
Q: Where can I find how-tos, tutorials, and DIY resources?
A: Here are some excellent resources to help you in your DIY programming journey:
- FileMaker Pro 17 Advanced User Guide
- FileMaker Developer Community
- FileMakerCustom App Academy
- FileMaker Training Series (it’s for 15 but a lot is still applicable)
- Understanding FileMaker Relationships
- Best Practices – Solution Architectures
Learning FileMaker can be both challenging and rewarding, but hopefully the path to mastery is a little clearer now! One thing that always helps me when I get stumped is to remember that after you’ve well and truly learned something, you can’t unlearn it. Take it from me, a few months from now, you’ll wonder how you ever didn’t “get it”!
If you discover any other links that you feel should be here or have any questions, please feel free to contact us!