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Taking Your Database Live with Instant Web Publishing

Posting your data to the web with FileMaker is easy - but requires some caution.

By Jonathan Stars

FileMaker 4.0 introduced the amazing Instant Web Publishing (IWP) and with each release, its feature set has improved. IWP allows users to check a few boxes and let other people connect to their databases remotely over a network using a browser. As its name implies, a "network" can also include the Internet. Other databases can do something similar, but not without third-party software. FileMaker gives you everything you need. But I would advise a little caution.

As you might imagine, there are risks in putting your data out the on the Internet. Hackers with bad intent can harvest private information, and that can expose you to lawsuits.

A few years ago a client emailed me the following: "We are still using FileMaker 5.5 and 6.0, but have come up with a way to routinely export records which then drive our website. It's not exactly real time, but it is an improvement over our old site."

This export method is pretty good, but it's not quite as powerful or dynamic as using a database. If you want to share some of your data via FileMaker's IWP in searchable and safe database form, you should build a special file that is only for web sharing. You can automatically update that file as often as you need to throughout the day. If you want clients to enter data on the web that you can import back into your regular working files, there are ways to implement that, too. You should have an employee assigned to make sure the entries aren't spurious. You don't want to overwrite real data with some hacker's obscene messages.

If you think this sounds limiting, keep in mind that many financial institutions post a notice at the end of online transactions stating that the amounts may not be in (or out of) customer accounts for up to 24 hours. That's because their online databases are separate from their other office databases. A lot of thought has gone into this system over many years. If it's good enough for the banking industry, it should be good enough for your office.

Of course, if you have a network that is completely disconnected from the Internet, you may be in a better position to make less critical decisions about the use of IWP across your limited group of users.

I recently had a school district tell me they wanted to have up to 250 teachers log into their database from home and update student records and grades. I strongly recommended against working this way. They insisted that their teachers would be required to log in with an account and password. I asked if they'd ever seen a sticky note with a password on it attached to a computer monitor. And in the group of 250 teachers, how many might have teenage children who were computer wizards? When they pushed further I said I would be willing to set up the system, but they would have to sign a document saying I had warned them about the security risks. They decided to give it more thought.

Providing advice about setting up a "buffer" file has nothing to do with any weakness in FileMaker. All databases are subject to hacking. If the makers of any other database system tell you otherwise, they are at best being overzealous with their sales materials. At worst it's a deceitful sales pitch. FileMaker's IWP is powerful, mature and it is being used by some Fortune 500 companies. Publishing to a network and/or the web is simply a matter of using proven methods regarding how your data should be shared.

You can contact me about how to set up Instant Web Publishing the "right" way.

J **


© 2009 Jonathan Stars


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