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Flat file FileMaker database design is still very popular to this day. The users are likely using a copy of FileMaker that does have relational capabilities, the users simply designed it in a flat file method. There are times and places where it has an advantage over the relational model. In fact, a flat file database resembles how a spreadsheet works and most folks learn spreadsheet design before they learn database design.
Relational databases are different in that they can use data that is not stored within the table. It uses a key field in both files to setup a common link or relationship. When the data in the key fields on both sides match, the first file can see the data in the other file … just like if it was stored internally. A relational database relationship has a number of advantages over flat file relationships and I’ll list a few of these below.
– In relational design, when data is changed in the remote table, the parent table immediately sees it. In a flat file, the information would need to be copied over to the parent table again ( normally called a relookup). So a lookup / copy action needs to be performed before data in another table can be accessed.
– Remember that the lookup that a flat file database use copied data when the lookup is last triggered. Relational database can saves space on the hard drive because the data is not redundant in both tables.
– You can make the relationship dynamic. That is to say that if the user changes information in a field, the whole relationship could be changed and different data displayed in a totally different format.
– You can organize your FileMaker solution better by creating an individual table for each major business unit or event.