Easier PDF Creation using PHP with FileMaker Server 16

If you’ve been doing Custom Web Publishing with the FileMaker PHP API and needed to generate a PDF report you haven’t had many simple options. You can use one of the available PHP PDF classes such as TCPDF or FPDF which require specifying x and y coordinates, fonts and text to output in certain positions on the page, or setup a “robot” FileMaker Pro client that runs in a loop looking for new jobs to process.

Developers have been requesting the ability to generate PDF files server-side for many years, and from my conversations with FileMaker, Inc. engineers it was the number one feature request. FileMaker, Inc. were finally able to deliver on this with the release of the FileMaker 16 platform earlier this year, which included the following new features related to PDF and printing from FileMaker Server:

  • the Print script step now allows you to create PDFs in web browsers with FileMaker WebDirect
  • the Print Setup script step now allows you to specify PDF options for the Print script step and Save Records As PDF script step on FileMaker Server and FileMaker WebDirect
  • the Save Records as PDF script step now allows you to save PDFs with FileMaker Server and FileMaker WebDirect

If you look at the documentation for the Save Records as PDF script step you will see that is only compatible with FileMaker Server and FileMaker WebDirect  and not compatible with Custom Web Publishing (CWP), which is used by the PHP API when running FileMaker scripts. At this point you might be inclined to assume that there is nothing helpful in these changes for CWP/PHP developers, but there is a way to leverage the Save Records as PDF support under FileMaker Server from a PHP page.

The solution to this requires the Perform Script On Server script step (PSoS) which is CWP compatible. At this point it’s important to mention that PSoS does require the fmapp extended privilege to be enabled for your PHP/CWP users and their associated Privilege Sets. If your PHP users don’t normally access the database using a FileMaker Pro client then you may need to make some changes to your OnFirstWindowOpen script to limit their access (e.g. lock and hide the toolbar, navigate to a blank layout etc).

With some planning you can implement a solution that works like this:

  1. you have a PHP script – e.g. printReport.php – which includes a Print PDF Report button
  2. when a user clicks this button it performs a FileMaker script using the PHP API newPerformScriptCommand method. Let’s call this script Create PDF Report on Server
  3. the Create PDF Report on Server script is run as a CWP script (remember this script cannot create a PDF on its own). It includes a Perform Script On Server step which performs another script running under FileMaker Server which handles the Print Setup/Save Records as PDF steps and generates the PDF file and stores it in a container field (or passes the PDF back as Base64 encoded text using the Base64Encode function). Let’s call this script Save PDF
  4. the Create PDF Report on Server receives the script result from the Save PDF script – if you’re passing the PDF as Base64 encoded data you can set a container field using the Base64Decode function. Now that you have the PDF in a regular container field you can exit the FileMaker script and your printReport.php can use the getContainerData method to retrieve the PDF and either display this in the browser or download it

This might look complicated but I was able to implement this in a couple of hours for a client that needed to generate PDFs for a PHP/CWP solution. Before implementing this I would recommend you first become familiar with the server side printing/PDF changes in FileMaker Server 16 – a great place to start is the found in the App Innovations space of the FileMaker Community. Download the 05_Server side PDF support.fmp12.zip file which is part of DemoKit16 – a collection of tools aimed at helping demonstrate and explore new features of the FileMaker 16 Platform (brought to you by the World Wide Solutions Consulting team at FileMaker, Inc.). Upload this file to your FileMaker v16 Server and run through the examples and see how the Print Setup and Save Records as PDF script steps work under FileMaker Server 16. I ended up using these scripts:

  • [btn] How – Inventory Report – request report from server
  • [sbr] How – Inventory Report – get report as PDF (PSoS)

as the basis for my CWP scripts with only a few minor modifications, such as setting and retrieving various script parameters related to the records I was creating a PDF for.

The PHP code for this looks like this:

$scriptName = 'Request Invoice PDF'; 
$scriptParams = $orderID;  
$scriptObject = $fm->newPerformScriptCommand('WebOrders', $scriptName, $scriptParams); 
$scriptResult = $scriptObject->execute(); 
if(FileMaker::isError($scriptResult)) { $scriptError = 'Perform Script Error: '. $scriptResult->getMessage() . ' (' . $scriptResult->code . ')'; 
} else { 
$scriptError = ''; $record = $fm->getRecordById('WebOrders', $recid); 
$url = urlencode($record->getField('zv_Container_gr')); 
$fileName =  $orderID. ' Order Invoice.pdf'; 
$downloadLink = 'downloadFile.php?fileName='.$fileName.'&path='.$url; 
}

The downloadFile.php script simply retrieves the container data (PDF in this example) and does a force download of the PDF file to the user’s downloads folder. You could also change this to display the PDF in either the current tab or in a new tab as required.

Here’s a screenshot of the Request Invoice PDF script (have simplified this to show just the relevant steps for this technique):

and here’s the screenshot of the (simplified once again) Create Invoice PDF script that runs as the PSoS script:

I’m setting the generated PDF into a global container field in the Create Invoice PDF script as I don’t need to store the PDF file permanently in the database as this can be generated at any time, however you could also store the PDF in a regular container field in a new record etc as required and avoid having to Base64Decode/Encode the PDF data. It’s also worth remembering that you can’t use the PSoS script to set the PDF into a global field, as global fields are unique to each clients “session” so the CWP script and the PSoS script are each running in their own session, which is why you need to use the Base64Decode/Encode functions.

I’m looking forward to implementing this in existing CWP solutions which required complex FileMaker layouts to generate the PDF that weren’t easily created using the available PHP PDF classes. If you have any questions please leave a comment below.

2 replies
  1. Andrew Duncan
    Andrew Duncan says:

    Hi David,

    Thanks for pointing that out. I had planned to mention this in the article as it’s an important security consideration but completely forgot. I’ve updated the article to include this.

    cheers,
    Andrew

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