Introduction to
FileMaker Pro
Web Publishing

Chong-ho (Alex) Yu, Ph.D., MCSE, CNE

Today the integration of the Web server and the database server enables online courses to present dynamic information. The combination of the above technologies enhances Web-based instruction by providing benefits to both students and instructors. From a student viewpoint, a Web-based database server facilitates virtual communities for discussion, presents linked resources in relational databases, delivers instant feedback, and provides customized instructional sequences. In addition, students can download information, upload homework, update their profile records, and take an online test/survey via a Web-enabled database server. From an instructor standpoint, this system provides centralized management of course resources, online data collection, online user access log analysis, and collaborative research.

Although many Web-based instruction packages such as CourseInfo and FirstClass have built-in databases, the course designer has limited options to customize the database. On the other hand, powerful database systems such as Oracle and SQL server are difficult to learn though it has high flexibility. To balance this trade-off, this article will introduce FileMaker Pro (FMP) as a Web-enabled database server. Besides FMP, other supporting software packages are introduced in order to provide a comprehensive database solution.

Advantages and disadvantages of FileMaker Pro

FileMaker Pro is a consumer level database with built-in Web server capability. It may look pale when it is compared with data warehousing products such as SAS and Oracle, however, the price/performance of FMP is exceptionally good. At the time of this writing, the academic price of FMP is under a thousand dollar. The cost of other UNIX-based or NT-based database systems may be as high as several thousands dollars.

More importantly, FMP is very easy to setup. Before we adopted FMP for a Web-based instruction program, we tried a data-warehouse-class product. It took an expert of that product half a year of email and phone calls back and forth with tech support to configure the system, however, the product has a length limit on the text field, which is a major hindrance to Web-based instruction that requires essay-type input from students (FMP does not have a field length limit). Next, we tried a groupware with a built-in database module for Web-based education. A MCNE and MCSE who received training from the groupware vendor helped us to install and configure the system. But after several days of hard work, neither the Windows NT version nor the UNIX version of that software worked. Pressed by a deadline, I gave FMP for Macintosh a try. Within half an hour, the Web-enabled database server was up and running!

Further, FMP has a nice feature called Container field, which can store virtually any type of data. However, this feature is not available in other popular database products such as MS Access. I use this feature to categorize images, print labels with logos, and do many other things. College of Fine Arts at Arizona State University use this for online tests i.e. Music clips and painting images are stored in containers for the testers to view on the Web.

Nonetheless, FMP has its weaknesses. One of the shortcomings of FMP is its poor manageability. If you create a new field, change a field property, or edit a layout in FMP, the Web server will not work at the time of editing. Another weakness is its relative low performance. To compensate for this, one can configure FMP server clusters to distribute the queries in a round-robin load sharing fashion.

Supporting software for FMP's Web Publishing

FMP alone can let you get started. If what you need is Web publishing, FMP contains a built-in Web server named Web Companion. You can enhance its features and improve the performance of your Web-enabled database server by adding Timbuktu, Lasso Server, WebStar, or all of the above to your system. Each of the above product will be discussed in the following.

FileMaker Pro Server

There is a common confusion between FileMaker Pro (FMP) and FileMaker Pro Server (FMPS). Originally, FMP was designed as a standalone database. Later, it became a networking database for a local area network (LAN). The file sharing function of FMP was further enhanced by FMPS, which is for file sharing in a LAN. With FMPS, you can open more databases and support more concurrent users in a LAN. When FMP and FMPS are installed in the same machine, the Web performance is affected since FMPS competes for resources with FMP.

FMPS can enhance FMP's Web performance if they are installed in separate computers. When the number of databases and users are increasing, one can distribute the databases into multiple FMP Web Servers and use FMPS as the traffic director.


Although FMP contains built-in assistance for writing FMP-specific tags, it is much more efficient to use FileMaker Pro Assistant in HomePage, which was a product of FileMaker Inc. Unfortunately, FileMaker Inc. had discontinued this product and databases created by new version of FMP can no longer be connected by HomePage. Nonethless, Homepage could be used to edit HTML files which contain CDML tags.

If you use other HTML editors along with HomePage, you should use a text-based editor such as PageSpinner or BBEdit. Caution: a GUI-based editor such as Adobe GoLive may alter the FMP tags and make the page dysfunctional.

Besides CDML, FMP databases can be Web-published by Java Open Database Connectivity (JBDC) and Extended Markup Language (XML). Macromedia's Dreamweaver UltraDev is capable of publishing FMP databases via JDBC. I am still searching tools for using XML with FMP.


If you install FileMaker Pro Server and set the database for multiple users, you can edit the database remotely rather than on the sever console. When you are not using FMPS, you can install Timbuktu (a networking software made by Farallon) in a workstation for remote access. If you have several database servers, this setup can save you some money because those servers no longer need monitors and all management can be performed at a sole workstation. In addition, when using Timbuktu to edit FMP databases, you are using the FMP on the server. You do not need to install a FMP client in the workstation.

More importantly, the database must be open for Web publishing. Without Timbuktu, you have to open the database at the server console if it is closed. With Timbuktu, you can open it remotely instead of driving back to the office on Sunday. However, I found that remote access through Timbuktu is slower than remote access using a FMP client in my local workstation.

Timbuktu Mac Timbuktu Windows

AutoBoot and Keep it up
You cannot restart a frozen server using Timbuktu. Imagine that the server crashes at midnight and you live 10 miles away from the office! A shareware named AutoBoot written by Karl Pottie can alleviate this headache. After the AutoBoot control panel and extension have been installed, the software can restart the server upon a system failure. However, AutoBoot can detect a system-wide failure only, but not an application error. To patch this hole, the same software writer created another program called Keep it up (KIU). KIU has more features than restarting the server upon application errors. It also enables you to remotely control your server via a Web browser. Through the Web browser, you can get the general system info such as free memory and hard disk space, shutdown and restart the server, quit and launch applications, and view logfiles. Unlike Timbuktu, KIU does not let you run a program. Nevertheless, their features and the Web interface are definitely worth the money. These software packages are for the Mac only.

It is noteworthy that if you use KIU to restart a server remotely, you should not enable multiple user login in Mac OS 9. If login is enabled, the restart process will stop at the login prompt and thus FileMaker Pro will not open up even though you put aliases of FMP databases in the StartUp folder.


Keep it up


If the platform for your FMP Web publishing is Windows NT, Internet Information Server that comes with NT provides File Transfer Protocol (FTP) service. However, a Mac does not have built-in FTP service and the only way for you to edit HTML files is remotely through file sharing. This remote access method cannot be extended to PC users. To remediate this limitation, you can install FTP server software named NetPresenz so that PC users can FTP to the Mac server.


Dragon Web (Simply Surveys) is another plug-in for FMP. It is especially useful if your primary use of FMP is online data collection. Dragon Web lets you build surveys that can be hosted from any Web server. It also has an authentication feature that allows you to send email inviting targeted users to respond to your survey. In addition, the WebMaster has an option to allow the respondent see the statistics of the survey right after he/she has submitted the form (see the following picture). The development process is template-based. You just fill in the blank and no scripting is required.

Lasso Server

The Web Companion feature of FMP is a junior version of Lasso, a product of BlueWorld. FileMaker Inc. adopted the source code of Lasso to create Web Companion. However, Lasso provides more features than Web Companion. For example, FMP cannot submit input to two databases from one form but Lasso can. While you cannot use a Web browser to administer database security in FMP, in Lasso you can.

The Lasso server can coexist with other Web servers in the same machine by using a different port number. Therefore, if you have already developed a lot of Webpages for FMP Web Companion, you can still use Lasso without affecting your existing files. For the Mac platform, Lasso supports Apache Server on Mac OS X Server. More importantly, Lasso has a version named Lasso Studio for Dreamweaver, the most popular HTML editor made by Macromedia. Lasso can be tightly integrated with Dreamweaver to create dynamic HTML pages with database capabilities.

Lasso Sever can provide remote security to FileMaker Pro


To get the best performance on a Mac Web server, you may consider running WebFM, Tango, or Lasso CGI with WebStar. WebStar is built around a plug-in model that allows you enable CGI, WebObjects components, and many other options. It proves to be a robust Web server with functions which are comparable to its UNIX counterparts.

As mentioned before, Web Companion is a self-contained Web Server. Therefore, you do not need separate Web Server software for FMP Web publishing. However, there is a major drawback of using Web Companion only. In such a setup you can access your HTML files through file sharing, but not FTP. Having a full-blown Web server like WebStar allows you to do file sharing as well as FTP.

Another reason to install WebStar is to utilize its Web access log. It is useful to study the usage of your Web server so that you can tailor your Website according to the user demand and pattern. However, the Web log of FMP Web Server is not recognized by many Web statistic tools such as Summary and Analog. On the other hand, those Web traffic tracking packages can read WebStar log seamlessly.


If you do not use WebStar but you want to track the traffic by reading the Web log of FMP Web Campanion, consider using JMP IN by the SAS Institute. JMP IN is not a Web traffic tracker, but a statistical analysis software application with a rich graphical interface and exploratory features. JMP IN is a junior version of JMP especially made for students. Because your interest is Web traffic analysis rather than statistical analysis, JMP IN is sufficient for the task. JMP IN can read the FileMaker Pro Web log flawlessly with no clean up work on the log. For more info. please read my write-up on JMP IN.

JMP IN can read FMP Web log flawlessly


If you run Web Companion or third-party Web publishing software, you may need additional security features. A Windows NT station can be locked by pressing Control-Alt-Del. However, a Mac does not have this built-in protection. No matter how secure your Web server is, a malicious hacker can read data directly from an unprotected server console if he is physically present in front of your server. In other words, your server needs both local and remote security.

There are two types of hard disk security utilities: Screen-saver-based and non-screen-saver-based. In the former, the computer will be locked by a screen saver if the server is idle for a certain period of time. In the latter, the administrator can lock certain folders so that unauthorized people cannot delete or move them. Norton DiskLock is an example of the former whereas FoolProof is an example of the latter. It is NOT advisable to use a screen-saver-based security utility because when the screen saver is up, the server's performance is affected.

The shareware Keys Off is another example of non-screen-saver-based security utility. Keys Off locks up the keyboard and the mouse only and thus it does not affect the server performance. Also, it can be configured to disable the extension bypass so that an intruder cannot disable Keys Off by holding the shift key while rebooting the server. However, unlike FoolProof that can provide different levels of access privileges, Keys Off allows either full access or no access. Caution: Keys off is realy secure. Never forget your password!

FileMaker Magazine and Everything CD

FileMaker Magazine and Everything CD, published by ISO Production, carry resources for both LAN-based databases and Web publishing. Everything CD contains the following helpful resources:

  • Royalty free and unlocked templates for instant implementation
  • Over 1 gigabyte of FileMaker Pro templates to spark creativity
  • Freeware, Shareware & Commercial demos provide solutions
  • Hundreds of tips, tricks and techniques to improve your skills
  • Recent issues of ISO FileMaker Magazine will take you to the next level
  • Searchable archives of major mailing lists
  • Complete FileMaker Plug-in collection


This article is a brief introduction to Web-enabled database server using a combination of software packages. Readers are encouraged to check out the following products and Web sites for further information:





FileMaker Pro

FileMaker Inc.

Database and Web publishing via Web Companion

Dreamweaver UltraDev

Macromedia Inc.

GUI-based and text-based HTML editor for Web-publishing FMP via JDBC



Remote administration access to databases

Keep it up

Karl Pottie

Remote administration access to the server


Stairways Shareware

FTP server


Waves in Motion

Create survey forms on the Web and automate email invitations to potential respondents


BlueWorld Communications

Provide internet-database connection between FMP and the Web



Web server with rich features and high performance


SAS Institute

Statistical analysis software for analyzing Web traffic


Smart Stuff Software

Hard disk security

Keys off

Blue Globe Software's

Hard disk security

Everything CD

ISO Production

Plugs-ins, templates, and tips

Everything CD for FileMaker Pro


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Other computer tips

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