FileMaker 17: Edit Grouped Objects

How many times have I been annoyed and delayed by having to ungroup something just to make a simple edit? Too many to count.

I often group many things together to aid in layout setup and positioning. Say you have a set of fields and objects that together make up a ‘widget’ or function (e.g. a custom calendar picker, or custom labeling for a radio button set, a set of fields for an address, etc), and you want to keep them all together in a particular arrangement. But then you might have to make a change to a font, or a hide condition, or a small tweak to the position of one item within the group. Now you can do all those adjustments without having to break the group and then re-group the objects when you are done!

There is a double whammy when there is a Hide Condition applied to a group, or a button action has been applied to non-button objects, e.g. a Text object. (To make it a button FileMaker makes it into a group, first. It’s a group of 1 object, but still a group.) In FileMaker Pro Advanced 16 you could apply a hide condition to a group, but then if you needed to edit one of the objects in the group, you had to un-group those items in order to make those edits. Breaking the group apart causes you to lose the hide condition or button definition on the group – at least FM was nice enough about it and would warn you that you were going to lose something when breaking the group. These types of groups will cause you to lose your calculation definitions as well as being slower to work with the sub-objects.

Even simple groups that don’t have an additional button or hide definitions will incur delays just because you’ll have to un-group and then re-group the items. (Minor, yes, but still delays – the keyboard shortcuts here help a lot, but even then it’s a delay.) Now in FileMaker Pro Advanced 17 you don’t have to break the group in order to edit items in that group, thus you won’t lose the hide condition. To be clear, in 17 if you break the group you WILL still lose the hide condition, you just won’t have to break the group nearly as often.

The user experience for this new feature is pretty darn intuitive and straightforward. In FileMaker Pro Advanced 17 when you first click on a group, it will highlight the group in the normal blue outline with drag handles – the same as it does now in FileMaker Pro Advanced 16.

When you click a second time on an object in that same group a dashed box shows up around the group as a whole, and the individual object you clicked on will have the typical blue highlight border with the drag handles:

This combination of borders gives you clear indication that you are still working in a group, but that you are editing a single object of that group. Once you have a single object of the group as your in-focus object, you can edit any of the definitions about that object – font, padding, size, position, etc. This can be done by dragging an object handle, using arrow keys (for movements), or making changes in the Inspector.

Another nice touch is that the dynamic guides are specific to whichever level of editing you are doing. If you drag an entire group the dynamic guides will display relative to the entire group.

With this new feature when you move a single object within a group with the mouse or arrow keys, the dynamic guides will show up with respect to that single object you are editing.

Here I moved the “Country” field down to create empty space and moved “Postal Code” over into the empty space. Notice that the group-bounding box increased in size – handily, the outer/group dashed-box dynamically changes size if you happen to move an object that defines one of the outer bounds of the group (the “Country” field in this case).

It’s really just like you are normally editing the single object on the layout, with the addition of the dashed box around the group. And FileMaker has made this single-object editing very simple to access – it doesn’t get in the way of attempting to edit that single object: If you double click an item that’s part of a group, you will still immediately start editing that item – the same as if it hadn’t been a part of a group. Thus, you can double click a text object and it will insert the cursor into that text object and allow you to start editing, or if you double click a field it will display the field picker dialog. You don’t have an extra click just because it’s in the group.

So make your work more efficient and less copy/paste happy by utilizing the new edit-within-group feature of FileMaker Pro Advanced 17. It will save you time and aggravation.