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New LAMP Layer: FileMaker API for PHP?

A three-way collaboration among FileMaker customers well-versed in PHP, engineers and commercial PHP vendor Zend Technologies has enabled FileMaker to roll out the first public beta preview of a new Application Programming Interface (API) for the popular PHP open-source scripting language.

FileMaker's senior product manager Kevin Nathanson says that FileMaker is addressing two audiences with the API beta: existing users of the company's database software, and PHP developers looking for simpler database software than DBMSs such as MySQL. The open-source MySQL is the "M" in the LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl/Python/PHP), which are commonly assembled today to run dynamic Web pages. Santa Clara, Calif-based FileMaker has been working on the API for about year.

"We want to engage our developer community early in the development lifecycle of this API," says Nathanson. "That's why we're putting the beta out there. We want to get their feedback on what we've done and anything that's missing. Doing it this way gives us an opportunity to respond and make changes."

Andi Gutmans, co-founder of Zend, sees the FileMaker-PHP connection as an example of a trend in this space. "Right now, we're seeing these pinpoint communities coming to PHP," Gutmans says. "We saw that working with FileMaker on the API, and it really came to us that this is a big trend that these communities will want to leverage PHP. We also see this as another example of how the community is maturing."

In fact, developers have been interested in connecting this everyman database software with the popular embedded scripting language for some time, and FileMaker's PHP API has a predecessor: FX.php, an independently developed, open-source PHP class designed to pull data from FileMaker Pro using the XML output by Server Advanced for FileMaker 7 or the Web Companion for FileMaker 5 and 6.

FileMaker approached the development of its own PHP API with due respect for the earlier adopters. "One of the things that we saw as a must-have in our API was FX.php compatibility," says Nathanson. "We wanted to make absolutely sure that the FX.php API and our API could coexist peacefully, even on the same page. If, for example, you have a search page that asks for a name and address, you can use the FX.php class to ask for the name and the FileMaker API for PHP to ask for the address. And they will behave correctly together. We don't want anyone to have to make any either-or decision."

Developers should keep in mind that the FileMaker API for PHP is a beta release, Nathanson emphasizes. "We'd hate to see anyone build a super-large-scale, critical-use site that would have to be revised if we made a change to the API. This is definitely a work in progress."

Web integration and PHP are likely to be a hot topic at the 11th annual FileMaker Developer Conference, scheduled to run from August 13-17 in Orlando. "A lot of the sessions are going to be about working with FileMaker and PHP," Nathanson says, "both with our new API and the open-source FX."

The company also released an upgrade to its FileMaker Pro product in July that is likely to appeal to Web developers. Among the new features in the 8.5 version is a layout control called a Web Viewer Control that is designed to allow developers to view a Web page from within their FileMaker layouts. The company is providing lots of support to get its customers thinking about Web integration. It is publishing examples on a new Web View Gallery page. The new release package comes with a Web Viewer Sample Database. And the company is setting up the FileMaker Learning Center, which will include video tutorials, how-to guides, and other resources.

The new FileMaker PHP API is available now as a free download.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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