Category Archives: Level: Advanced

Virtual List Table Of Contents

A few years back I did an article on producing a PDF catalog + table of contents, with the TOC based on a vendor table and the catalog entries based on a products table. Today we’re going to use a different approach to generate a table of contents, building on techniques explored in last year’s Virtual List Reporting series… specifically we’re going to generate one big PDF combining nine reports, prefaced by a table of contents.


Demo files: and


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Earlier this year, in Virtual List Reporting, I used a custom function written by Agnès Barouh called CustomList to generate a couple basic lists, and then remarked…


Well today I’m going to attempt to make good on that assertion. In case you aren’t already familiar with CustomList, it allows you to iteratively generate and/or parse lists using the full power of the FileMaker calculation engine. CustomList can process up to 500,000 rows — it is non-recursive and very fast — and today we’re going to use it to solve a variety of problems, both real world and theoretical. [Actually, the row limit can be adjusted, and it varies by platform — for full details see the CF definition.]

Today’s article features four demos…

…as well as a number of examples that don’t require a demo to illustrate their point. Continue reading

Virtual List Reporting, part 2

Welcome back for the second and concluding installment in our exploration of Virtual List Reporting (a.k.a. VLR). Demo file:


To avoid repetition, this article will assume the reader is familiar with concepts and techniques introduced in part 1 (some of what follows may appear to be gibberish if the reader is not)… but to briefly recap, here are some benefits of VLR:

  • Flexible framework accommodates complex reporting challenges
  • Fast performance (we use the Multifind technique in this demo)
  • No need to tamper with schema in your data tables or on the relationships graph
  • Unlike traditional FM reports, you can easily combine data from unrelated tables (we saw this in report 6 in part 1)
  • Under certain circumstances, VLRs can be much faster to develop than traditional FM reports (as per discussion of report 3 in part 1)
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Virtual List Reporting, part 1

Self-plagiarism alert: to avoid repeatedly referring the reader back to earlier virtual list articles, portions of text from those earlier articles are incorporated here.

Welcome to the first installment of a multi-part series on producing reports using the virtual list technique, or more properly, collection of techniques. Demo file:


Invented and popularized by Bruce Robertson, virtual lists are incredibly flexible, and have made a number of appearances here in the past, including… Continue reading

Set Variable by Name

Recently, in the midst of various reporting and charting projects, I’ve found myself wishing for an easy way to “dynamically instantiate” one or more variables… in other words, set them by name, with the name determined programmatically, as opposed to being hard coded.

This issue has come up from time to time on this blog over the last five years or so, most notably in Dynamic Variable Instantiation, where I observed that…


…and then proposed an unwieldy mass of gobbledygook as a workaround, e.g.,


Actually, the preceding isn’t too bad for occasional use, especially if the value you’re passing to the variable is as simple as the GetSummary string shown above. Continue reading

Interview with Ray Cologon

Today it’s my distinct pleasure to present an interview with Dr. Ray Cologon, whose contributions to the FileMaker community over the last decade and more have been invaluable, and whose DevCon sessions are always packed. To add your name to a priority list for future or alternate Master Classes, complete the online expression of interest form at the NightWing Enterprises site.

You’re currently offering FileMaker Master Classes in a number of locations, including two within the US. How did that come about?

The classes being offered presently are in a sense a sequel to two classes that were offered in 2014 in Berlin and London. The original impetus came from Egbert Friedrich of FileMaker Mentoring in Berlin, who invited me to consider presenting developer-oriented material for a Berlin class. It really grew out of that.

I was interested in the idea because my own experience has been that there has been very little available to take people beyond the basics and the levels of ability required (for example) for certification. There are a few DevCon sessions each year that are listed as advanced, and there are some online resources (of which filemakerhacks is one, in fact) that delve into deeper issues. But there has been no coherent framework to address the concepts and challenges that advanced developers face.

What I think essentially sets these events apart is that the content is broad-ranging, and the topics are inter-related. It’s not taking a specific area such as user interaction or interface design in isolation. Those things are definitely under discussion, but as part of a much wider agenda.

So the Master Classes are intended for advanced developers. What does that mean, and who would you consider to be at an appropriate level to take the class?

Yes – this is three days straight of advanced content, with a pretty densely packed list of topics. It really assumes people don’t just know all the basics already, but that they’ve built and deployed some sizeable systems and have a sense of the complexities and challenges that go with that. Continue reading

Blurring the Distinction between Schema and Data, part 1

The other day I had the privilege and the pleasure to give a POE presentation entitled Runtime Code, a.k.a. Blurring the Distinction between Schema and Data, in the room behind this window at the Ace Hotel in Portland, Oregon.


The overall goal of the presentation was to explore various ways one might move business or presentation logic out of its normal location in the schema layer, and into either a) the data layer, or b) some other, non-standard, schematic realm. An example of the former might be to store object names or calculation syntax as data in a table; an example of the latter might be to change the behavior of an object (e.g., a field or script) simply by renaming the object itself. Continue reading

FM 13: Virtual List Charts, part 2

Picking up where we left off in part 1, today we’re going to take a look at examples 2 through 6 in the Virtual List Charts demo file (the demo has been updated since part 1, so I recommend downloading a fresh copy).

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We covered example 1 and most of the general concepts last time, so today we’re mainly going to touch on specific points of interest, but to briefly recap… Continue reading

FM 13: Virtual List Charts, part 1

4-20-2014 11-18-24 AMToday we’re going to look at applying the virtual list technique to FileMaker charting with the goal of producing a reusable chart “object”, or rather, a series of chart objects. We’ll need more than one because while certain attributes (e.g., chart title) can be set programmatically, others, including type (e.g., column or line), must be hard-coded into the chart object.

We’ve already explored Bruce Robertson’s virtual list on this site a number of times, but briefly, you create a utility table in your solution to facilitate non-standard viewing, reporting, etc., and pre-populate it with “more records than you’ll ever need”. The records in this table will derive their data “virtually”, by parsing it from an array — typically one or more $$variables.

Well it turns out the technique can be applied to charting as well, and today we have a demo file, Virtual List Charts, that contains six examples: three for Web Visits…

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Weekly Sales Comparison Charts

If you are responsible for helping business decision makers analyze data, you are probably familiar with questions like:

  • Are we on track to meet or exceed last year’s sales totals?
  • How is our sales team doing now, compared to this time a year or two ago?

Today’s demo file, weekly sales comparison charts, v3, can help answer these questions. It consists of an Employee table with 20 records, a Sales table with approximately 40,000 records, seven chart types, and an option to chart weekly amounts either individually or cumulatively.

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When we look at the weeks individually, it’s clear that Zola Buchanan’s sales figures are mixed so far this year, compared to 2011 and 2012. But what may not be immediately apparent is whether overall she’s doing better, the same, or worse.

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