Installing And Communicating Updates To FileMaker Solutions

From Dwayne Wright PMP, PMI-ACP, CSM
Certified FileMaker Developer

TWITTER: dwaynewright
YOUTUBE: FileMakerThoughts

One thing common about most FileMaker databases, they sure do like to evolve! The best method of installing a new version of the database and communicate "what's new" to the users could easily be a guide of it’s own. You have the technical aspects of installing a set of new files or making live changes seem transparent. You also have the nontechnical aspect of communicating the changes to your users and provide training assistance as necessary.

MY OLD FILEMAKER 6 METHOD - My technique has served me very well through the years. I have a database that holds all the bugs, feature requests and milestones for each database project. Any communication about these is recorded in the database for future use. I create a clone of each updated file with the auto-enter serial number with a letter in the front incremented by one. So if the internal record id number is B1245, I make the next value C1245. This means my key will be unique. FileMaker does not increment text values in serial auto enter options.

WHERE FILEMAKER 7 MAKES A DIFFERENCE - FileMaker 7 lets you do "almost" all design changes in a live database. So you can work with fields, layouts, scripts, relationships ... and even ... security settings without taking the database off the network. Now the question can be asked, "Just because you can, should you?" If you are the type that likes to work on the high wire without a net below you, then I guess so. Most changes in database structure do not have an undo, once they have been committed.

However, the ability to do live changes to a database without booting all the users off of it can have tremendous value. You cannot walk the line with FileMaker 7 as easily as you could with FileMaker 6. In FileMaker 6, you could work with copies of some of the files off-line. When you were ready to install them, you only brought those files down, imported the new data, updated the primary key auto enter sequence and brought the files back online. If you FileMaker 7 database has tables instead of files, there is no way to upload just a table within a file.

So far, I've pretty much said what you can do ... and ... why you probably shouldn't do it. Not that helpful, I admit. It really boils down to your comfort level, your FileMaker design experience level and what your workplace environment allows you to do. As much as it would shock and dismay many, I do most of my work on live databases. A year or so, I was working for a company in Seattle and while there, I never did a live update. It really comes down to what I can do. If I have direct access to a FileMaker server and I'm in charge of it, I don't do live updates. If I don't have direct access to the server and have to rely on others to update my files, I tend to go the live design route. I have a ton of little things that I do to make the live updates safer ... and ... someday ... I might just write about it ( grin ).

Using either method ( off-line design or live design), I would recommend a solid backup strategy. With FileMaker Server, you can perform up to the minute backups on live databases. In FileMaker Server, you can setup schedules for events. You can setup a schedule to backup certain databases, at certain times, to certain folders and even execute a schedule on demand. So I tend to have a schedule called on demand, which backups to an on demand backup folder. When I’m doing significant changes, I run the “On Demand” schedule manually and this becomes my safety net underneath my high wire act.

COMMUNICATING UPDATES - I usually have a scrollable field right on the front of the main screen of the database that explains everything that has been changed. This links to an online help file / table that does the same thing. Back in those Seattle days I mentioned earlier, I would send a "what's new in the database this week" email to all users describing changes and give thanks to the users that identified the needs or bugs.

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© 2007 - Dwayne Wright -

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