Category Archives: Level: Advanced

Virtual List Reporting with JSON Arrays

Acknowledgment: As always a huge thank you to Bruce Robertson, for inventing virtual list, and for many other contributions to the FM community over the years.

Introduction

As a follow up to my recent “Virtual List on Steroids” presentations at DIG-FM and dotFMP, today I want to take a fresh look at using JSON arrays in conjunction with Virtual List Reporting.

JSON Array

JSON arrays + Virtual List are a natural fit, but, as we shall see, small changes in methodology can make a huge difference in terms of performance, and the approaches we’re going to explore today are the result of a lot of trial and error, and incorporate feedback and suggestions from Dave Graham, Paul Jansen and Perren Smith.

What follows will assume the reader is somewhat familiar with the basic ideas behind Virtual List. If you aren’t familiar, or need a refresher, you can find references to earlier articles here: Virtual List on Steroids, part 2. We’ll get to the demos in just a minute, but first, a review of some of the benefits of using virtual list.

  • Flexible framework accommodates complex reporting challenges
  • Fast performance
  • 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
  • Under certain circumstances, virtual list reports (VLRs) can be much faster to develop than traditional FM reports
  • 100% multi-user safe and friendly

Overview

Here’s the main idea in a nutshell:

2018-06-24_182509.png Continue reading

Custom Field-Based Value Lists

Introduction

Does this sound familiar? You’ve rolled out a solution that includes a single-record Settings table where authorized users can enter/update various system-wide settings, including one or more fields where the items will appear in popup menus… and then comes the inevitable question: Why don’t items in popup menus appear in the order I entered them? 

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The “problem”: field-based value lists sort alphanumerically

It’s a reasonable question, and in the past you might have replied, “Because field-based value lists rely on a field’s index, and their sort order is alphanumeric”… but after reading today’s article your new answer will be: “No problem — let me take care of that for you.”

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From demo #4: field-based value lists mirroring the order of their underlying source fields

(Interestingly, the above is accomplished with the same value list attached to all three popup menus, and no script triggers… or scripting of any kind for that matter. Read on to learn how.)

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Virtual List Reporting, part 3

Last year I posted a couple articles on the topic of virtual list reporting (part 1 and part 2), a.k.a. VLR. Today we’re going to look at some additional things you can do with VLR, and to avoid a lot of repetition, this article will assume the reader is familiar with the material covered in part 1, wherein benefits are extolled and fundamentals explained.

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Demo file: VLR-part-3.zip  (3.4 Mb compressed)

Did you notice in parts 1 and 2 that we were limited to producing a single report at a time? Yes, we could sequentially output them and concatenate them into a PDF, but we couldn’t display multiple reports on-screen simultaneously, nor could we interact with them in browse mode.

This time around we’re going to look at a method to produce multiple independent reports concurrently, each in its own window, based on a single virtual list table. This will entail generating a large number of dynamically instantiated $$vars[withReps], so we will also explore a way to automatically clear them out (without the overhead of having to keep track of them during instantiation).

Disclaimer/Warning: before running multiple Customer reports, open your Data Viewer and activate the Watch tab. You don’t want to display the Current tab with 5K or more variables in memory, unless you’ve got a lot of… time… on… your… hands.

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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.

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Demo files: virtual-list-toc-v1.zip and virtual-list-toc-v2.zip

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CustomList

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…

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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 installment in our exploration of Virtual List Reporting (a.k.a. VLR). Demo file: VLR-part-2.zip

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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)
    Continue reading

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: VLR-part-1.zip

demo

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

29 July 2017: custom function updated to simplify the clearing of existing vars.

16 April 2017: custom function has been updated to auto-interpret dates (rather than treating them as sequential division problems)… e.g., to recognize “4/16/2017” as a date, as opposed to “4 ÷16 ÷ 2017”.

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…

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

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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.

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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