Tim Dietrich

Custom Software Developer

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FMEasyWeb: What To Expect

FM EasyWeb has come a long way in recent weeks, and I'm working towards a "reveal" of sorts - maybe as early as next week.

As development has progressed, the scope and purpose of EasyWeb has become more clear. I want to share some of what we've discovered and decided on, at least as far as the initial release goes.

Motivation and Initial Scope

When Hal Gumbert and I first started talking about EasyWeb, the plan was to develop a relatively lightweight browser-based FileMaker client. A cross between Instant Web Publishing (IWP) and WebDirect, but more like IWP than WebDirect. And we wanted to do this for a number of reasons...

Starting with the FileMaker 13 platform, IWP is no longer available, making WebDirect the only official browser-based FileMaker client. And while WebDirect is an impressive and amazing technology, in many cases it's just too expensive to implement. There's the cost of the concurrent licenses, the cost of the powerful hardware needed to host it, and so on. Those costs can add up quickly, and often make WebDirect too expensive for many small businesses and non-profits that would otherwise eagerly embrace it.

The other issue has to do with how developers want to use WebDirect. Again, WebDirect is really a browser-based FileMaker client. And while you can make a WebDirect-based solution public-facing, doing so can be… Well, "less than ideal" is a nice way to put it.

Every active visitor to a WebDirect site consumes one of those costly concurrent connections. If the WebDirect site starts getting traffic, the situation can easily spiral out of control. It's entirely possible that the site will consume all of the concurrent user connections that are available. At that point, additional visitors will be unable to access the site. And, under that kind of load, performance is likely to suffer.

And yet developers are trying to use WebDirect in this way. I've seen public-facing WebDirect-based sign-up and contact forms, and even entire Web sites that are really just FileMaker databases being served up via WebDirect.

Changing Scope

So that was our original motivation for developing EasyWeb. But things have changed a bit…

While we could continue to push EasyWeb and turn it into a browser-based FileMaker client, it would never be as feature-rich as we would like it to be. For example, in a previous alpha release, we had support for performing finds and managing the found set, and basic support for sorting records. But in that release, EasyWeb could not handle anything more than a basic, single-request find, and sorting wasn't dynamic. Portals were supported to some extent, but adding, editing, and deleting related records through them was challenging (and somewhat odd in terms of the UI). There was no support some of the layout objects that we've come to depend on, such as pop-overs, tab controls, etc. So as a true FileMaker client, EasyWeb just didn't cut it. If that's what you're looking for, then you need WebDirect.

However, what we did find was that EasyWeb met two of the other use cases that we wanted to address.

Use Case #1: Collecting Data

The first use case involves collecting data via the Web and storing it in a FileMaker database. For example, a public-facing registration or signup form, a contact form, and so on. Or even a protected form, where you want to collect data only from authorized users.

EasyWeb can handle that scenario, and does it very well. It generates nice looking, easy to use forms. It supports nearly all of the standard FileMaker field control types, and it even supports uploading files into container fields. With EasyWeb, a FileMaker developer can quickly and easily setup one of these forms. And, with a little knowledge of CSS, they can also customize the form as needed. There's even support for custom Javascript (including jQuery or other libraries), custom dynamic PHP code, and more.

Use Case #2: Publishing Data

The second use case involves publishing data that is stored in a FileMaker database. For example, a schedule of events, a membership directory, the results of a race or contest. And, like the form use case that I described above, we want to support limiting access to the data to authorized users. EasyWeb can handle this use case as well. It provides a "list view" of multiple records, with filtering, sorting, and paging, as well as support for an optional "form view" that users can drill down into to see a record's details. And, just like it does with forms, EasyWeb supports custom CSS, Javascript, PHP, and so on.

Making EasyWeb "Easy"

One of our other goals with EasyWeb has been to make it as easy to implement as possible - and I think we've accomplished that goal as well.

All that's involved in setting up an EasyWeb solution is to install the PHP code on a Web server, update the settings file with the address and name of the FileMaker database that you want to integrate with, and you're done. For public facing solutions (that do no require authentication from users), you'll also need to setup an account in the database that has the "fmphp" extended privilege enabled and permission to access the tables and fields that are involved.

My other goal was to be able to prop up an EasyWeb solution in less than 10 minutes, and I think that's entirely possible.

To use EasyWeb's advanced options (custom CSS, Javascript, etc), you'll need to add a simple table to your database. That's what EasyWeb uses to get the customization info. I've joked before about being "CSS-challenged," and when customizing EasyWeb solutions, that's where I seem to spend the most time. Regardless, everything that EasyWeb renders is classed and ID'd, so referencing things is easy to do.

Getting Close

That's a good summary of EasyWeb and what you can expect to find when it's released. And while we still don't have a firm release date, we have started to give private demos. So... We're getting close.

If you want to be notified when EasyWeb is released - or to keep up with the things that I'm doing in general - then please consider signing up for my newsletter.

And thanks for your interest in and support of EasyWeb.