Five Things We Love About FileMaker 13 Container Fields

While the bread and butter of most databases is comprised of numbers, text, dates, and times, the definition of data doesn’t end there. Photos, drawings, audio and video recordings, even PDFs and word processing files can all be stored in a FileMaker database. All these files are handled by container fields. Container fields just learned a raft of new tricks in version 13 of FileMaker Pro, FileMaker Go, and FileMaker Pro Server. We picked out five of our favorite new capabilities to share with you here.


1. Barcode Scanning

FileMaker Go on iOS devices has long permitted users to capture non-text information like photographs and signatures. With FileMaker Go 13, we can use those built-in cameras for something new- scanning barcodes! After the camera obtains a photo of the barcode, FileMaker is able to determine what kind of barcode it is and decode it. This opens up countless new possibilities for FileMaker Go in businesses. But what about those of us who dream of being able to hold a barcode up to our webcams to read it? Alas, this trick is only for FileMaker GO.

FileMaker Barcode Illustration

2. More Secure Signature Handling

When obtaining a signature with previous versions of FileMaker Go, it was possible to thwart the process by pasting a copied image into the signature box. FileMaker Go knew something was in there, but couldn’t tell you for certain it was an actual signature. Now it can. Legibility, however, is up to the signer!

John Hancock's Signature

3. Metadata!

Wait, what? Did you really just read the word “metadata” with an exclamation point after it? Well yeah! Sure, information about information doesn’t seem like it could be interesting, but there’s a whole world of possibilities in the GetContainerAttribute() function.

Got a graphic in your container field? You can easily query its attributes for dimensions, file size, resolution, file name, and type.

How about a photograph? FileMaker can now tell you everything above, plus the make and model of the camera that captured it, even GPS coordinates you can extract and use to display its location on a map (like in this sample file).

Drop an mp3 or m4a audio file in a container field and you can read its tags for artist, album, release date, and play time. Heck, if there’s cover art in there, you can pull that out and place it in another container field!

The ability to dynamically read container metadata opens up many new ways to interact with container data.

Screenshot of Example File

4. Base 64 Encoding and Decoding

If you thought metadata was geeky, brace yourself for container encoding. Unlike the text and numbers that make up the contents of the other field types, containers store entire files. The programmer’s shorthand for container data is “binaries”. Whether it’s a photo, audio file, zip archive, or even another FileMaker database file, if it’s in a container field, it’s a binary file. That’s all well and good when you’re just keeping data inside the FileMaker realm. But if you need to exchange binaries with other programs or services you need a shared method for handling them. Base 64 encoding is just that method. It turns a binary file into a plain text representation of itself. To a human, encoded binaries just look like gibberish, but FileMaker and countless other products are able to decode that text right back into the file you started with. Ultimately, it’s a new way that FileMaker is able to integrate with other data management systems.

Container field before and after encoding

5. More Flexibility in FileMaker Server

For systems hosted with FileMaker Server, you can now store container data on a different drive than the database files. Many FileMaker Server deployments now run on high-speed solid-state drives. While SSD storage is much faster than traditional hard disks, it comes with a price tag to match. Databases with large volumes of container data can make switching to SSD cost prohibitive. With FileMaker Server 13, you may now run the database engine on that speedy internal drive and keep the images on a more affordable and spacious traditional hard drive.

FileMaker Server Icon

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