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How to Customize FileMaker WebDirect

There are many ways to customize WebDirect, a part of the FileMaker Platform that enables access to custom applications authored in FileMaker Pro via a compatible web browser. This is appealing for several reasons, including a zero-configuration client allowing for the commoditization of client computing requirements of your workforce.

While this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of the options to customize WebDirect, I would like to share just a few techniques that I have worked on recently.

Custom Login

A common request for developers is the ability to customize the WebDirect login page appearance. There is, in fact, some support for this functionality where you can use completely custom HTML that submits using an HTTP POST request. It works fine; however, there are some limitations to this approach. Namely, if authentication fails, you may see the default WebDirect UI for re-entering authentication. Also, as a FileMaker developer, building custom HTML may be well outside your wheelhouse.

It would be nice if there were a way to keep this within the purview of FileMaker development, allowing you to use all the power and ease of custom application development that you know and love. The following demonstrates how to do just that.

By creating a security privilege set that is restricted to only WebDirect and carefully allowing only access to assets required for logging into a FileMaker application, we can craft an HTML form that will automatically submit as a POST using preset credentials. Essentially, these act as Public credentials. Normally you would not want to do this with a FileMaker Pro application, but since this is specific to web-accessible custom applications, the risks associated with being able to interrupt the sequence go away.

Learn more from the FileMaker WebDirect 18 Guide.

Generating the HTML Form

To make it easier to generate the HTML form, use the provided PHP script, which sets the needed parameters as an array of variables. The resulting HTML will build and automatically submit the form. This a page on which end-users will not view any content. Instead, the user will be sent directly, with authentication, to a WebDirect session. Note that this is not supported in FileMaker Cloud, as it does not support signing in with an HTTP POST request.

Once in a WebDirect session, you have complete control over the look and feel of the login form. This is where you can take advantage of the tools available in FileMaker, including error trapping.

Using Built-In Functionality

The referenced sample shown here demonstrates several techniques. Both are invoked by testing to see if we are in a WebDirect session and running an appropriate script. The first technique utilizes the built-in FileMaker functionality for logging in by invoking the “Re-Login” script step. The advantage is that you retain all the functionality that includes; resetting FileMaker account passwords on first login, OAuth authentication via Azure, Google and Amazon accounts, etc. You lose the ability to completely customize the built-in chrome that FileMaker provides to build the UI widget. However, you can completely customize the underlying layout and any additional scripting needed.

Using a Custom Authentication Dialog

A second option is to build your own authentication dialog using FileMaker fields and handle everything in a script. This puts the look and feel completely in your control as a FileMaker developer. You can also easily modify and update the form, all while only knowing FileMaker.

See the following video for a brief demo.

Get the Sample Files

Download a copy of the sample files.

Redirect on Logging Out

Developers also often seek ways to change where the user is directed to when logging out of a WebDirect session. The default is to return the WebDirect Launch Center, which shows available WebDirect enabled FileMaker files. You can do this by specifying a query parameter named “homeurl” in the query string of a url when accessing a WebDirect custom application.

Read more about using a custom homepage.

This usage is part of the fmp url, which is also partially documented here in addition to the above link.

Retaining the homeurl Parameter

You may want an easier or shorter url for users accessing your solution. The easiest way to retain the homeurl parameter is to redirect users IN to a session with the parameter already specified. A user can log out in a couple of ways with WebDirect, including having their session time out on the server. This will end their session and send them to any referenced homeurl parameter.

Dynamically Setting the homeurl

You can dynamically set the homeurl with a few PHP scripts. Since you install PHP with FileMaker Server, you only need to enable it to use these scripts. You are not required to use PHP on the same machine on which FileMaker Server is installed. It is just easier to enable since it is there. Note that a separate web server with working SSL would be required with FileMaker Cloud, as no custom web publishing is included with FileMaker Cloud.

John Howell demonstrated this in his 2019 DevCon session. View his presentation.

Download the files used in John Howell’s presentation.

Included Landing Page

The files include a landing page, called “in.php” which sets a session variable in PHP. In PHP, you can recall a session variable in subsequent PHP pages by storing the values on the server and referencing a session ID by a cookie in the user’s web browser.

We set the homeurl parameter to another PHP script, called “out.php.” Here, we check to see if we have a session variable stored that we want to redirect to and use PHP to redirect to it.

Setting a Default Location for the homeurl

If we want to set a default location for the homeurl, we can set it in Filemaker by using a Web Viewer object to reference another PHP script, which we call “session.php.” This page simply writes the same session variable in PHP. The PHP involved is quite minimal.

When exiting the WebDirect session, we move to the “out.php” page, destroy the existing session variable in PHP, and finally redirect the user’s web browser as needed.

Ending a WebDirect Session

Finally, if you do not want to set a PHP session variable and then end your WebDirect session, you can functionally do the same by using javascript in a Web Viewer to redirect immediately.

This will also effectively end their WebDirect session. We have made a PHP helper script to make this easier. You can set the Web Viewer similarly as with the above scripts and specify the location as a query parameter. Something like the following:

https://your_server/redirect.php?location=your_location_here

You, therefore, can set the homeurl dynamically, so whenever their session ends, you can redirect them as needed. Or you can redirect them immediately if needed. You can pick and choose as needed.

Conclusions

These are just a few ideas for customizing and extending a FileMaker WebDirect deployment. With expected changes in direction from the Claris product roadmap, these types of options will be of growing importance. Showing what developers can do with these tools is empowering and should lead to new opportunities and growth potential at a significant value in the total cost of ownership.

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