How can we use vCards in our FileMaker Database?
vCard is a standard file format for distributing contact information from applications such as Mac’s Address Book and Microsoft Outlook. These applications have the ability to export contact records into a vCard file, or import an existing vCard. We see them all the time attached to emails.
Naturally, as FileMaker developers we may consider how we can leverage this data sharing tool in our FileMaker applications. If you want to create your own vCard export, then you can head over to Wikipedia and check out the vCard 3.0 specification and use that to build your calculations and scripts to format your contact data into the required format. Store that in a field and export the field contents and you are done. You can even use FileMaker to pop it in a new email. Easy.
Now, any self-respecting experienced developer is also lazy, and in the process of solving this problem I first searched to see what else had been done. Gotta get it done fast, right? So a quick search found a simple vCard export solution, by Chris Pye of MacTec. There is a sample file there as well.
You would think I was just about done now, with the only steps remaining being to integrate Chris’ scripts into my customer solution. (Thanks for sharing, Chris!) Unfortunately there is one ginormous caveat, and that is the resulting vCard, when generated from a Mac, is not compatible with Windows. And my customer works entirely on Macs but requires that vCards are cross-platform. What happens when you try to import a Mac generated vCard into Windows Outlook is… nothing. Blank fields.
It so happens you can actually open the vCard file (it is just text) in WordPad, then re-save it, and it will then open in Outlook, however I can’t really ask my customer to do that. That WordPad trick did provide me a clue however….
File Encoding Format Is Crucial
Turns out that FileMaker’s Export Field Contents script step defaults to UTF-8 character encoding (hey – someone fact check that for me). That format is not really relevant, other than I thought this might be why it was not working in Windows. Next I thought I would check out the free Base Elements plugin (thanks, Nick!) to see if it had a function that would do what I needed. Luck was on my side, as there are two functions that will help, BE_SetTextEncoding and BE_WriteTextToFile.
After the Export vCard script deals with constructing the vCard data in the variable $vCardData, here is what the script steps look like:
# Set the FilePath Set Variable [$FilePath; Value:Get ( DesktopPath ) & "vCard.vcf"] # Set text encoding to ANSI Set Variable [$var; Value:BE_SetTextEncoding ( "ANSI_X3.4-1986") # Create a file using the data stored in the local variable. # This step replaces the usual Export Field Contents script step. Set Variable [$var; Value;BE_WriteTextToFile ( $FilePath ; $vCardData )]
Just When You Think IT Is Fone
But we are not. The file generated will not open in Microsoft Outlook. Bummer. Not one to give up, I tried opening the vCard in Windows NotePad and found that there were no carriage returns, just a string of data mashed together. Clearly, Windows did not like the FileMaker “¶” character that was used to build the vCard data.
Not all paragraph returns are the same – check out the table of Unicode characters documented in FileMakers Code() function. Code(10) is a LineFeed. Code(13) is a Carriage Return (remember typewriters?!? A carriage return is a linguistic artifact from this ancient invention). Next step, and the one that finally solved the issue, was to substitute all of the FileMaker “¶” characters with LineFeed characters using the Char() function. Something like this:
Set Variable [$vCardData; Value:Substitute( $vCardData; "¶"; Char (10) )]
And now the vCard, generated from a Mac resident FileMaker database, is automagically cross-platform. Maybe next time we will work on vCard importing. See you then!