Using barcodes with FileMaker Go

FileMaker Go 13′s new built-in barcode scanning feature makes it easier than ever to incorporate barcodes into your users’ workflows. Barcodes are a fantastic way to make data entry and retrieval both faster and more accurate. In the past, we’ve written articles about barcode scanning with FileMaker Go 11 and 12 using external apps. In this article, we’ll take a look at some details of various barcode formats and provide an overview of ways to generate barcodes from within FileMaker.

Insert from Device dialog

Barcode types

The Insert from Device script step supports 16 different barcode types that can be scanned with the front or back camera on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. You can use any type of field as the target of the Insert from Device script step. If you use a container field, both an image and the text value of the barcode are stored in the field. Use the GetAsText function to get the text value. You can also get the barcode type or value from a container field with the following function calls:

  • GetContainerAttribute(myContainerField;”barcodeText”)
  • GetContainerAttribute(myContainerField;”barcodeType”)

Here’s a list of the 16 barcode types supported by FileMaker Go along with examples. All of these examples can be scanned directly from your computer screen using FileMaker Go 13. The Assets.fmp12 example file that comes with FileMaker 13 has a button for scanning barcodes next to the Serial Number field on the Asset Detail layout.

Code 39 barcode_code39
Code 93 barcode_code93
Code 128 barcode_code128
EAN-8 barcode_ean8
EAN-13 barcode_ean13
EAN/UPC Composite
GS1 2-Digit Add-On barcode_2digit
GS1 5-Digit Add-On barcode_5digit
GS1 DataBar Expanded  barcode_gs1databarexpanded
GS1 DataBar (RSS) barcode_gs1databar
ITF-14 barcode_itf14
ISBN-10 (from EAN-13)
ISBN-13 (from EAN-13)
QR Code barcode_qrcode
UPC-A barcode_upca
UPC-E barcode_upce

In general, the EAN, GS1, ISBN, and UPC types are various standards used for retail products and published works. They each contain numeric values only and vary in length up to 14 digits. An exception to this is GS1 DataBar Expanded, which can contain up to 74 digits or 41 alphanumeric characters.

If you are creating your own barcode workflow, consider one of the following types:

  • Code 39 supports numbers, uppercase letters, spaces, and a few symbols (-.$/+%). It is easy to generate and is readable by most barcode scanners. Code 39 is variable length, so it can contain many characters. However, more characters create a longer barcode, which takes more space and can be more difficult to scan.
  • Code 93 supports the same characters as Code 39. It has a higher density than Code 39 and it also includes additional features to reduce the risk of incorrect scans.
  • Code 128 supports all 128 7-bit ASCII characters, which includes numbers, upper and lowercase letters, basic punctuation, and some control codes. It has a relatively high density and includes a check digit to improve accuracy of scans.
  • QR Code is the only 2D format supported by FileMaker Go. 2D barcodes can only be read by camera-based scanners, but have the advantage of being able to contain a greater quantity and variety of data. QR Codes can contain up to 7,089 numeric digits, 4,296 alphanumeric characters, or 2,953 binary bytes. As the amount of data contained in a QR Code increases, it becomes more difficult to scan. It may be necessary to use higher-quality printing, a larger size, and/or suffer with more tedious scanning. The QR Code format has many format versions and four different levels of error correction, which trade storage capacity for better readability.

Generating barcodes

Barcodes can be generated from within FileMaker in a variety of ways including fonts, plug-ins, web services, HTML5/JavaScript, and even FileMaker calculation and layout techniques. Here are a handful of techniques that are worth exploring:

  • Barcodes can be generated with a variety of free and commercial fonts. Code 39 barcodes are the simplest to generate with a font. Here’s a free Code 39 font.
  • CNS has a FileMaker plug-in as well as an iOS app for generating and scanning a wide variety of barcode formats from within FileMaker.
  • There are many different web services that can be used to generate barcodes. Google has a free QR Code generator API (note: it has been deprecated, so it may not be available in the future). The QR Code at the top of this article is generated live from the Google API.
  • Several JavaScript libraries are available for generating barcodes. These can either be hosted on your web server or, with a bit of effort, used locally within a web viewer on FileMaker Go or FileMaker Pro. One of my favorite libraries is Barcode Writer in Pure JavaScript (bwip-js). It will generate all of the formats that are supported by FileMaker Go (and more).
  • Doug West at Excelisys released a demo file that shows how to generate Code 39 barcodes using a repeating field technique.

Conclusion

In this article we’ve explored some of the details of the barcode types supported by FileMaker Go’s new Insert from Device script step. We’ve also identified a few options for generating barcodes from within FileMaker. In a future article, we’ll explore some specific scripting techniques to create user-friendly, barcode-driven workflows.

Greg Lane is VP of Application Development at Skeleton Key and a FileMaker Certified Developer.

About Skeleton Key

Skeleton Key helps turn complex, complicated, and outdated systems into true information platforms. Our team of consultants and developers do this by developing custom-fit software tools and reporting dashboards that help businesses find, use, and understand their data, freeing them to focus on and grow their core business.

In addition to custom databases and applications, we also provide training and coaching for getting the most out of your existing systems and understanding your unruly data. Skeleton Key is an open-book management company and active player of the Great Game of Business.

 

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