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Importing Records in FileMaker 18

That said, what I do like about the new popover is that it describes the three actions in greater detail and with helpful illustrations. If you are still learning the differences among them, you’ll likely find this information useful.

Data Mapping Visualization

Now that you’ve chosen your import action, you’re ready to start the process of data mapping, where you pair incoming fields from your source table with the existing fields that they will populate in your target table. This often-straightforward process becomes more challenging when you have many fields to pair or aren’t sure how to pair up your fields. To make things easier, FileMaker Pro provides a drag and drop interface that helps you to visualize the process.

Data Mapping Visualization in FileMaker 17

The FileMaker 17 version of the data mapping interface shows all the source fields on the left (with names, when available) and all the target fields on the right, as in Figure 6:

Data mapping UI in FileMaker 17

Figure 6 – Data mapping interface in FileMaker 17

On principle, the task is simple, since you see every matching possibility right there in front of you. A handle appears to the left of each of the target fields. You simply use your mouse to grab that handle and drag each target field until it lines up with the appropriate source field. You continue pairing fields together until the data map meets your requirements.

A little arrow connects each source field to its target counterpart, indicating the flow of data. If you don’t want to import a given source field, you click this arrow to make it disappear. If you change your mind, you can click it again to restore it.

As it turns out, in practice the process can be challenging. As you drag each target field to a new position, it takes the place of the field that was already in that position. When there are many fields, this starts to feel like those puzzles where you slide tiles around to create a picture. The order of the fields becomes quite haphazard to the extent that it can become very difficult to locate a given field that you wish to map. If you don’t know which field you want to map, the interface makes it very difficult to assess your options. Finally, the actual task of dragging and dropping doesn’t work well on large tables: it’s hard to scroll long distances to the location where you want to drop the field in question, and you end up needing to drop it several times along the way just to get there.

Another challenge involves source fields that you’ve chosen not to import. This interface still requires you to make a match for every source field, even if you don’t choose to import it (you can see an example of this in the screenshot where Title is matched to Modified By, but there is no arrow between them). These non-matches have the same visual weight as the matches, causing them to compete for your attention.

Finally, there is minimal visual feedback associated with the action of sliding the fields, which makes it hard for the eye to track whether you dragged the field to the right place. This, combined with the fact that it’s difficult to drag them precisely, means that creating a data map for many fields can require a great deal of patience.

Data Mapping Visualization in FileMaker 18

The new data mapping interface doesn’t involve sliding at all. On the left-hand side of the interface, you still see a comprehensive list of all columns coming from the data source. If the data source contains many fields, this list will still be quite long.

The word “Import” clearly indicates which source fields are being imported. The green color gives further emphasis to the pairings that are being imported, and the black color of the target field name extends the emphasis further. All of this makes the map much easier to read.

New data mapping UI in FileMaker 18

Figure 7 – New data mapping interface in FileMaker 18

Furthermore, the entire list of target table fields no longer appears on the right, occupying the user’s attention. Instead, only actual matches to each source field are shown. The target fields are selected from pop-up menus as shown in Figure 8.

Popup menu is used to select target fields

Figure 8 – Popup menu to select target fields

If there are many target fields to choose among, the list is scrollable, or you can search progressively on the field names.

Those fields that haven’t yet been mapped are grouped at the top of the list, then sorted alphabetically, while those that have been mapped are grouped at the bottom, also sorted alphabetically. These changes make it much more convenient to locate a specific field by name.

Matching Options

If you have chosen to update records based on matching criteria, your data map gets a little more sophisticated, as you need a way to designate those matches.

In FileMaker Pro 17, matching criteria are indicated by a two-way arrow, which looks almost the same as the one-way arrow (and both of those are similar to the no-arrow option as well). There is no other designation (color, weight, etc.) to help you see the difference between the three possibilities.

The action to select the matching criteria is simple enough. Instead of a toggle between the right-arrow and the no-arrow, each click cycles you through the three options (right-arrow, two-way-arrow, no arrow). However, it’s awfully easy to make an extra click and get a different arrow than you intended.

In this example, the import process would update (that is, overwrite) records where data in the First and Last fields of a source record match the data in the NameFirst and NameLast fields of a target record:

Records updated where source and target field match

Figure 9 – Records updated where source and target field match

FileMaker Pro 18 distinguishes things much more clearly using both words and colors:

Color and text show the source and target fields that match

Figure 10 – Color and text show the source and target fields that match

You can see at a glance which pairings are used for matching, which will cause data updates, and which will be ignored.

Display of Incoming Data

It’s important to see examples of incoming data as you make choices about your data map, especially when your source data doesn’t include field names.

In FileMaker 17, you view the incoming data in the same place where the field names appear. In the screenshots below, you see the field names first, then the source data:

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