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FileMaker 13: The Field Picker – FileMaker Today

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Taking Advantage of the Improved Field Picker

In the recently released FileMaker 13, one of the features I have mostly overlooked is the Field Picker. I have been developing with FileMaker for a long time and so I am accustomed to adding fields one by one to a layout, duplicating an existing field to build my various forms and user interfaces. The new Field Picker will change that.

What is it?

If you do not know what I am talking about, launch FileMaker 13 and create a new database to test with. By default, FileMaker 13 will create a new file and drop you into Layout Mode and show the Field Picker. If you don’t see it, you can bring it up by clicking the “Field Picker” button on the Status bar, or using the keyboard shortcut: Command/Ctrl + K.

The Field Picker is a floating, with a drop down menu at the top to select the Table you are working from, and a list of fields from the selected table occurrence. While the Field Picker is similar to the dialog presented when defining fields via Manage Database, it is a different animal indeed, with it’s own advantages not otherwise available to us developers.

FileMaker 13: The Field Picker

What a Drag!

The most obvious advantage that the Field Picker presents is the ability to select one or more fields, and drop them onto a layout at once. This is potentially an enormous time saver for creating forms quickly. This allows for placing lots of fields on a layout, evenly spaced, all in one movement.

The Drag Options in the Field Picker give you intuitive control over placement of fields and labels.

In “Field Placement” you can select to line up fields vertically or horizontally. The “Labels” drag options allows you to automatically place field labels to the left of their respective fields, or above them as you drop them on a layout. This is especially useful for creating List Views quickly, where before it was rather arduous.

Keep in mind, the fields you drop on a the layout will inherit the default style you have defined for the layout. For more on Themes, click here.

One thing to note, dropping fields that have their labels in a header area, as shown above, had their appearance automatically modified to show. This was in the default Theme of “Enlightened” and seems to be dependent on which Theme you have selected for the layout.

When the background in the header was black, as it is in “Enlightened,” then the field labels dropped there were colored white, even though they had the default style applied. Interestingly, changing the Theme to “Tranquil” (where the header is a lighter color by default) changed the field labels in the header to a darker color automatically.

Database Management from the Field Picker!

For the “not so obvious” features that the Field Picker gives us, we now have the option of defining fields without opening the Manage Database dialog. Sure, we can click the icon in the upper left of the Field Picker to fully manage our database, but less obvious is the ability to define new fields and make adjustments to the fields shown in the Field Picker.

Add a new field to your database by clicking the plus sign at the bottom of the field list. When you add a field, you will be able to name it and change it’s type. You can also change the type of field for existing fields as well.

FileMaker 13: The Field Picker

Right clicking on the field in the Field Picker will also give you the ability to manage the field options or delete the field. This has the potential of reducing the amount of times you need to enter the Manage Database dialog for quick changes to a field or options.

Fun Fact for Team Developers

If you work as part of a team with other developers, you know that only one person can be in the Manage Database dialog at one time. Of course, this means a file hosted with FileMaker Server, so multiple users can have a database open at the same time. Essentially what happens is the database schema is locked until the user exits the Manage Database dialog and all changes are committed.

Now, with the Field Picker, a second developer can still make changes to the database schema even if another developer has the Manage Database dialog open. For example, Joe is setting up some relationships and Mark wants to add an extra field to store phone extensions. Previously, Mark would have had to wait until Joe was done and then jump in to add the field he needed. But with the Field Picker, he can add a field, define it as needed, say, with auto enter options enabled, without having to wait in line. Behind the scenes, what happens is the first user (Joe) will lock the schema until he is done, just as before. The new field that our second user (Mark) added is put in a queue and will be saved as soon as the database schema becomes available. Very cool!

If you have overlooked this new feature in FileMaker 13, definitely give is another look!

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