A local data network without internet

In remote locations without internet, one may still want to work with multiple mobile devices to collect data in the field and be able to synchronize or upload and manage that data on a laptop.

FileMaker Pro, offers a solution. When it is installed on a computer it can function as a small server for a maximum of 5 connections from other computers or iPad or iPhone. The computers would need a FileMaker Pro v. 19 license, but the iOS devices need to run FileMaker Go 19, which is available for free in Apple’s App store.

The only other requirement, is a wifi network to connect the machines.

Do notice that FileMaker Pro is not the same as Claris Pro, and that the latter does NOT offer what is described here. For more about the differences, see the bottom of this post.

How it works

There are two ways to make the connection. In both cases, FileMaker’s network sharing needs to be switched on on the host computer. This is done through its Network Settings dialogue, depicted below.

In the image, sharing is switched on for the SODA database ( a project that I am working on ) and the network address shown. One can choose either to give all access to all users or only users that have certain access privileges ( which can be set at will elsewhere in FileMaker ). For example, a field worker can have different access rights compared to a project manager.

Many different users can connect, but only a maximum of five devices/computers can do so at the same time.

Option 1, direct connection

On the iOS device with FileMaker Go installed, there are two ways to connect to the host computer. One is to open the database manually and directly work on it. If the local wifi network extends into the field where one collects their data, that would be a good option.

The image to the right shows the dialogue screen to open a file on the host. If sharing is on and the wifi network operational, the FileMaker Go will find the available hosts, and one can select the one needed. In the image, my laptop is Harry the 3rd, and the SODA database is visible. Tabbing it will open it.

Notice, the red open padlock icon, with the warning that the connection is not encrypted. That is because there is no SSL certificate installed on the host, and I am not sure that is possible. On a FileMaker Pro Server, that would be possible. However, this post is not about full server deployment but about a much simpler and much cheaper solution.

The warning refers to the FileMaker network connection, not to the wifi connection, which could be encrypted without FileMaker Go noticing that.

Option 2, syncing, up or down loading

The second option is to work with a separate database application running on the iPhone or iPad and collecting data in the field on that device. Back in the field office, or at least in range of the wifi network, the app can be programmed to upload the data to the host, to download new data from the host, or to do a full sync.

Depending on the situation such programming can be simple or complicated. In particular, problems arise when the data collected in the field is an update of existing data. This data would have to be downloaded before the field trip, updated during the field trip on the mobile device and then synced back to the host. What needs to happen when during the field trip , the same record has received another update directly on the host or from another device? There are solutions for this problem, but it requires some work.

Concluding remarks

Rubber Boots Data is interested in developing solutions involving FileMaker 19 for nature conservation or sustainability projects and research.

FileMaker Pro is not the cheapest software, but perhaps the best available when it comes to ease of use ( low-code ) and the range of possibilities that it offers out-of-the-box without plugins.

Non-profit and educational organizations may be eligible for a discount.

FileMaker Pro ≠ Claris Pro !!

Please note that Claris, the company that develops FileMaker Pro, currently also has Claris Pro on offer. It is more or less the same, but one difference is that Claris Pro does NOT offer the same possibility of setting it up for limited local hosting. It has a possibility but requires the host computer and the connecting device to use the same so-called ‘Claris ID’. Not only does this limit the number of users, but also, Claris IDs can only be used with an internet connection. For a summary of the differences, see https://www.claris.com/platform/compare-platform-features.html

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: