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Using barcodes in FileMaker is a very easy and useful way to extend your database. Whether you are selling tickets, managing assets, creating name tags, or any number of other use cases, barcodes can easily be used to provide an instant way to locate a record in your database system and much more. Barcodes can be generated and scanned for iPads, iPhones, Windows, and Macs.
There are many different methods that can be used to generate barcodes in FileMaker and there are many different types of barcodes that you can create. The 2 main types are QR codes and regular barcodes like you would see on millions of products. A QR code is basically a barcode with another dimension allowing it to store more information than what a 1D barcode can store before becoming unreadable by the scanner. This is why URL's are often shared using QR codes instead of standard barcodes. Do note that QR codes cannot be scanned by USB or BlueTooth scanners, but work great with camera-based scanners like a mobile device. The 3 ways we'll be talking about are through using web services like Google's Chart API, using 3rd party plugins and products like FileMaker Barcode Creator, or using barcode fonts. Below we'll go over the pros and cons for each method.
There are plenty of great web services out there like barcode-generator.org and Google's chart API for generating QR Codes. This is the method we chose to use in our demo file as it is very flexible and free. To generate a QR code using Google's API, all you have to do is create a simple URL in FileMaker and then use the Insert from URL script step to download the image to a container field. Below is how we accomplished this in our demo file.
One thing to be aware of when using this method is that the container must be on the layout and be editable when you use the Insert from URL script step. This might not be the best method to use if you have hundreds of thousands of barcodes that need to be generated, as most free web services will block you from making too many calls, and depending on internet speeds, this method could be slow.
We're big fans of Geist Interactive's FileMaker Barcode Creator. It's easy to integrate with, has 19 different barcode types including QR Codes, is native FileMaker that works with Pro, Go, WebDirect, and server side scripts. To integrate with Barcode Creator you need to copy a modules script folder to your solution, and then you just need to call one script, passing the serial number as a parameter. The script returns a Base64 encoded string which can then be converted to an image using FileMakers Base64Decode function. FileMaker Barcode Creator is a paid product, but in our opinion is well worth the money, and is what we use in our solutions.
Barcode fonts is another way you can create barcodes in FileMaker. This method has been around for a long time and used to be the only way to create barcodes without the use of plugins. The only reason I mention it in this article is to tell you NOT to use this method! This method has many limitations like only being able to generate and view barcodes on the desktop, with no support for FileMaker Go, or WebDirect. It also requires that all computers have the correct barcode font installed, which depending on how many users you have, can be a challenge by itself.
As of FileMaker 19.1, you now have another simple way to create barcodes with the Barcode Generator FileMaker Add-On. The Barcode Add-On provides you up to 18 different barcodes to choose from, including Code128 and Code39, and generates a barcode image from field data. Easily add the Barcode Generator Add-On in layout mode by dragging and dropping directly onto a layout. You also have the option to generate the barcode automatically by typing in the barcode text.
There are 2 ways to scan a barcode/QR code using FileMaker. The easiest way is to leverage FileMaker Go's ability to integrate with the iPad or iPhone's camera and allow for easy and instant barcode scanning using the Insert From Device script step. This works great as long as you have an iOS device. If you don't have an apple device you can always buy a USB or Bluetooth laser scanner. These scanning devices are interpreted as virtual keyboards when connected, so in order to scan and capture the scanner's input, you must have the cursor in a field or Show Custom Dialog input field. They work especially well with the Show Custom Dialog script step as they will trigger the OK button after scanning.
Using a Bluetooth or USB scanner also allows for the ability to scan multiple barcodes one after another using a field with an On Exit script trigger, that goes back into the field after running so you are ready to scan again. Laser scanners are definitely quicker and preferred for scanning multiple items quickly, but they do have limitations like only being able to scan traditional barcodes (No QR codes) and they can't scan a screen. Below are a few Bluetooth scanners we have tested with FileMaker and recommend:
Creating and scanning barcodes in FileMaker is straightforward and makes a great extension of FileMaker's already great toolset. Contact us if you'd like to discuss barcoding and how you can add to your solution and improve your workflow.
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Mason is an experienced and Certified FileMaker developer motivated by creating innovative solutions for his clients. His interest and talent in the realm of art combine to form the foundation for his exceptional design skills, which helped him win the FileMaker Developer Cup at DevCon.