FileMaker and Web Services the easy way

I’ve worked on many FileMaker implementations that require integration with external systems, whether it is importing, exporting, posting or syncing data, usually with XML involved in there somewhere. I’ve had many discussions with FileMaker engineering staff at FileMaker DevCons over the years as well about where I would like to see FileMaker Pro expand in these areas.

FileMaker can do a good job and exporting and importing XML data, and with the importing of XML data you can also specify an HTTP address and with the use of variables you can by quite dynamic with setting up your XML imports. Unfortunately things are much more limited on the XML export side of the equation – you can only export XML data to a file location (although you can reference an XSLT stylesheet during the export to transform your XML which can be stored on a web server). To get that XML onto the web you need to look at other technologies available for FileMaker Pro, Windows or the Macintosh and hook into these.

I’ve previously used the Troi URL plugin to assist with doing an HTTP POST of xml data generated via an XML export with a stylesheet then read back into a FileMaker field, but a recent project required the use of Web Services to submit data via XML, which is something that hasn’t been easy to do until now. The new Web Services plugin from FM Nexus makes working with Web Services incredibly simple. As long as you can locate a WSDL file for the web service you do everything else within a FileMaker calculation. This blew me away the first time I got this working – working with web services has never been this easy before.

The plugin does require some additional overhead and maintenance, as you need to create a wsdl folder in the FileMaker extensions folder (where you would normally store the plugin) and put your wsdl’s inside there. There’s no automated way to easily distribute these that I know off, though I ended up creating a simple installer to install the plugin and the wsdl folder. All the XML is taken care of by the plugin and you typically just need to replace any placeholders with the appropriate field from your FileMaker table which couldn’t be any easier. I encountered a number of issues with empty/NULL values that required some additional logic in the FileMaker calculation and each wsdl/web service will probably have it’s own unique requirements, but generally you can work around these with existing FileMaker Pro calculation functions.

You can get all the info and download a demo of the plugin at the FM Nexus website. FileMaker Advisor magazine also did a review of the plugin (note the pricing of the plugin appears to have changed from the review – it’s gone up unfortunately).