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A fast, flexible Tableau Connector for FileMaker – beezwax blog

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Building a custom Tableau® Connector for Claris® FileMaker® enables faster, more reliable and more flexible connections between Tableau and FileMaker datasources, compared with the legacy Web Data Connector.

For a number of Beezwax client projects, we’ve installed and deployed a Tableau Connector (aka “TACO”) for FileMaker. The TACO was built using the Tableau Connector SDK (provided by Tableau) to connect to datasources on FileMaker Server. The TACO method uses JDBC rather than the FileMaker Data API for the connection between FileMaker and Tableau, and in our testing the performance of data extracts was up to 10 times faster.

On the FileMaker side, the TACO method uses Tables (Table Occurrences) rather than Layout context to define tables and fields for extract. Overall we found the Tableau Connector (TACO) approach to be more flexible, easier to manage and more reliable. And did we mention 10x faster!?

Legacy: Web Data Connector

For FileMaker v16 through v18, to integrate with Tableau we used the Web Data Connector (WDC) to reach in and extract data, targeting specific fields through Layout context. However, it has been a bumpy ride troubleshooting WDC configurations, requires a bit more work customizing additional layouts and managing privileges, it isn’t the most performant solution. Plus if you want to extract data from more than one FileMaker table, then you may have multiple Web Data Connections to manage.

The WDC is still available these days, but soon after the FileMaker v19 launch we discovered a new way…

A New Way: Tableau Connector (TACO)

Yep, the Tableau Connector (TACO) SDK logo | © Tableau Software, LLC.

For a number of Beezwax client projects, we’ve installed and deployed a Tableau Connector (aka “TACO”), built specifically for FileMaker. The TACO was built using the Tableau Connector SDK (provided by Tableau) to connect to datasources on FileMaker Server.

The TACO method uses JDBC rather than the FileMaker Data API for the connection between FileMaker and Tableau.

We found this method to be more flexible, easier to manage, and more reliable, and in our testing the performance of data extracts was up to 10 times faster.

Installation and Comparison

It might be helpful at this point if we describe:

  1. Installation Overview for using Tableau Connector for FileMaker
  2. Comparison between Tableau Connector and legacy Web Data Connector

Installation Overview: Tableau Connector (TACO) for FileMaker

A. Install with Tableau Desktop

  1. Install the FileMaker JDBC driver and updates (part of your Claris FileMaker distribution)
  2. There is a custom TACO (.taco) file that is installed in the Connectors folder with Tableau Desktop.

B. Install with Tableau Server

  1. Install the FileMaker JDBC driver and updates (part of your Claris FileMaker distribution)
  2. There is a custom TACO (.taco) file that is installed in the /Connectors or /tableau_connectors directory with Tableau Server.

Configure FileMaker Server

Navigate to Connectors and go to ODBC/JDBC section then enable that option.

FileMaker Server admin JDBC enabled

Comparison: Tableau Connector vs Web Data Connector

With Claris FileMaker, a Tableau Connector (TACO) uses JDBC, while the Web Data Connector (WDC) uses the FileMaker Data API. This affects how each of these methods is used by a FileMaker developer to enable the integration with Tableau. Overall we have found the Tableau Connector (TACO) approach to be more flexible, easier to manage, and more reliable, especially as the schema and access privileges for extract by Tableau get larger or more complex. Plus the performance is simply much faster.

Web Data Connector with FileMaker

When connecting to a FileMaker database using Web Data Connector (WDC) you need prepare an account with the correct access to allow access to extract the data, using Layout context. The first step is to ensure that there is a privilege set with view access to a layout and the records on that layout. You also need to allow view access to the records in the target table. All of this should be familiar to a FileMaker developer.

A dedicated Privilege set is required with WDC. You’ll have to set the Table for each Table Occurrence (TO) used to be viewable and all the fields for that table to also be viewable. With WDC you have the convenience of just putting the fields on the layout. Then those fields become visible to Tableau via WDC. The other requirement is that you have to enable the fmrest Extended Privilege.

Web Data Connector privilege set configuration

Tableau Connector for FileMaker

The Tableau Connector (TACO) method uses Tables / Table Occurrences (TOs). The main two options you have to configure are:

  1. Set the fmxdbc Extended Privilege.
  2. Set view access to the Table and specific fields you want to grant access to.
TACO privilege set configuration

Set each Table’s view access to Yes for Tableau. This will enable access to all records in that Table. It is also possible to use a record-level access calculation if you want only some records that meet a certain criteria to be available to Tableau via the TACO.

TACO custom privilege set configuration

Custom Field Privileges allow you to expose only the fields needing to be used by Tableau. I suggest this be done in coordination with a FileMaker developer or other person who is familiar with the solution.

Custom privileges field configuration

Excluding fields can also be done after Tableau has connected. It can show you all the columns available, which may be a lot to sort through, so I prefer to do it here so as to reduce the noise and confusion later.

Comparing Connections: WDC vs. TACO

Both the WDC and the TACO require an account with their corresponding privilege set as mentioned above. The main difference is the WDC will get the fields (columns) from those available on a layout, then use the Data API to extract the data. The TACO method connects directly to each Table by referencing a corresponding Table Occurrence, then extracts data via JDBC.

The JDBC data transfer is much faster than using the Data API. (In our tests, up to 10x faster – see “Performance…” below). Another significant benefit with the TACO is that once it has established one connection, it has access to however many tables are made available with the associated privilege set. This can be both easier to configure and manage, as well as more flexible.

Performance and Progress

For an initial test, we used a small FileMaker solution with 33,859 records (all with local fields and no unstored calculations).

  • The Web Data Connector (WDC) took 9 seconds to establish the connection and about 25 seconds to extract 33,859 records.
  • The Tableau Connector (TACO) took 5 seconds to establish the connection and about 10 seconds to extract the same amount of data.

For a larger test, we used a FileMaker solution with 1,100,000 records, testing each method three times for Tableau to extract the data.

  • The Web Data Connector (WDC) took an average of 20.5 minutes to extract the 1.1 million records.
  • The Tableau Connector (TACO) took an average of 1.9 minutes to extract the 1.1 million records.

What does this mean? The TACO approach was 10x faster, for an extract of about 1 Million records. We’re always testing FileMaker-related performance, and we’ll try to share more results in the future about speed and optimization with Tableau integration.

FileMaker and Tableau – A Match Made in Heaven

With either method — Tableau Connector (TACO) or the legacy Web Data Connector (WDC) — once you have extracted your data (Tableau pulling from FileMaker) then you can build dashboards and publish those as you would normally with Tableau.

  • Use FileMaker for custom, data-driven applications and Tableau for data visualization and advanced analytics.
  • Build dashboards in Tableau, with data pulled from FileMaker datasources. Use Tableau in a desktop or mobile client, in a web browser, or transform and/or republish it as a Tableau data source.
  • Flexibly use Tableau OR FileMaker to combine and transform data from multiple data sources.
  • You can embed Tableau dashboards inside FileMaker, via web viewers.
  • And you can even make those embedded dashboards dynamically integrated: built with Tableau, embedded in FileMaker, with interactivity between them.

Since we first started using Tableau and FileMaker together, our goal with integrating both platforms together has been to open up new possibilities for intelligently using your data. And we’re excited to share how a Tableau Connector for FileMaker provides a faster, more reliable and more flexible option for doing this.

Need Help?

Beezwax is a Tableau® Services Partner, and a Claris® Platinum Partner.

Please get in touch with us if you’re interested in Beezwax’s help with your Tableau, FileMaker or related integration project.

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