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Database syncing refers to keeping two or more separate databases up to date with each other's data changes.

Whether your database solution is simple or complex, there are five key issues to consider:

  1. How similar are the structures of the databases to be kept in synch? If they are identical, you are a step ahead in the game. As they become more dissimilar, syncing becomes more difficult and more abstract.
  2. How often do the databases need to be synced?
  3. How will you resolve situations in which the same data has been modified in both (or more) of your databases since the last sync session? There are a number of approaches from fairly simple to quite complex.
  4. How much effort and/or money are you willing to invest in developing your sync system?
  5. How much effort are you willing to put up with at each sync session?

Before we begin to explore the various common approaches to syncing, let us look at two examples of common scenarios:

  1. Jeff is the only person who uses his database. Jeff usually works with his FileMaker database at his desktop, but he occasionally puts the database on his laptop when he travels.
  2. Carol manages a team of Sales people who travel with their copy of the customer database on their iPads using FileMaker Go. They usually do not have Internet access on the road. They individually make changes to data in their databases, and they often update data that is common among them (like decreasing inventory levels from sales).

These are polar opposite scenarios, but they are both common in one form or another, and require very different approaches.

This article provides information on five different approaches to syncing data in FileMaker Pro, including:

Using a hosted system (see below)
Do not make changes to more than one copy of your database (see below)
Use FileMaker's ability to update data in existing records during imports (see below)
Use a third party tool dedicated to database syncing  (see below)
Create your own sync system (see below)

COMMON APPROACHES

APPROACH 1:  Use a hosted system

This is not really data syncing - it is something much better!  If all the parties needing to use the database are on the same network, or can access the database server via the Internet, then you can use FileMaker's data sharing features (FileMaker network sharing, or web publishing via FileMaker WebDirect, Instant Web Publishing or Custom Web Publishing).

 Advantages

 Disadvantages

  • Real time data updates
  • Complex or costly sync mechanisms are not needed at all since everyone is using the same database.
  • This only works when your client computers have direct access to the database server.

APPROACH 2:  Do not make changes to more than one copy of your database

Like the approach above, this is not really syncing. Unlike the approach above, this is the most limiting method. It implies that one of your database copies will always be the 'master' copy, and that all other copies should only be used in read-only mode. While this approach is the most limiting, you may find that if you have only occasional need for off-line databases, this approach will be less costly and inconvenient than the creation of a sync system.

 Advantages

 Disadvantages

  • This is the simplest approach of all
  • Offline database cannot be used for data entry or updates

APPROACH 3:  Use FileMaker's ability to update data in existing records during imports

This one is not true data syncing either, but it is a first step along that path. When you update existing data during an import, you are replacing data in the importing table from the exporting table for identical records. This approach is useful when you can be certain that data from the same records has not been modified in both tables since the last time they were synced.  Learn more >

 Advantages

 Disadvantages

  • This is as simple as doing an import
  • This method lacks any concept of a "winner" when a given record has been modified in both copies of your database. The imported record data will always "win" over the data in the existing record that is being imported into.

APPROACH 4:  Use a third party tool dedicated to database syncing

Using a tool can greatly simplify implementing a full-function sync system.

 Advantages

 Disadvantages

  • True data sync across multiple files / tables / copies of your FileMaker solution
  • Much of the complex work has been done in advance
  • There is the additional cost of purchasing / licensing a third party sync tool
  • Depending on the tool, implementation of the system may still require developer level technical skills.

For more information on third-party tools, visit our Made for FileMaker page.

APPROACH 5:  Create your own sync system

FileMaker Pro has all the tools needed to create a robust sync system. By combining scripts, script triggers, imports and calculations, you can automate syncing across multiple copies of your files in a way optimized for your database solution. That said, creating your own sync system is both technically and (often) semantically complex. It is a very advanced FileMaker development task that requires an in-depth understanding of scripting, calculations, and data-structure concepts. Non-expert developers should seek the assistance of a professional FileMaker consultant for all but the very simplest of database solutions.

 Advantages

 Disadvantages

  • A custom system can be completely optimized for your database solution and work environment.
  • This approach is likely to be the most complex one to implement. It requires professional developer-level technical skills
  • This approach can also be the most costly. Depending on the complexity of your database solution, considerable time (if you do the development) or expense (if you hire a developer to do the work) can be involved.

Announcement published 4 April 2013: As of 30th September 2013, FileMaker Go 11 for iPad and FileMaker Go 11 for iPhone will no longer be available for purchase. Learn more: http://help.filemaker.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/11625

Created: Jun 10, 2010 08:54 AM PDT
Last Updated: Apr 25, 2016 09:04 AM PDT


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