Build a custom app using Claris FileMaker

Learn what custom apps can do—and discover and define your own goals for a custom app.

What is a custom app?

A custom app is an app created using Claris FileMaker, designed to meet the unique business needs of a specific team. Apps can be created from scratch based on a simple idea, by modifying a built-in template, or by importing data from existing spreadsheets. Businesses use multi-platform custom apps on computers, mobile devices, and the web.

What kinds of content can be imported and accessed in your custom app?

Customer data and feedback
Media files
Custom forms

Three steps to build your custom app.


A step-by-step approach to identifying user requirements.
Planning is essential.
It's time to take a step back and evaluate the aspects that are unique to your business.

Guidance for designing and creating a custom app.
Start building your custom app using Claris FileMaker.
Discover the steps for building a custom app and then begin to make your idea a reality.

Best practices for sharing your custom app with your users.
Deploy your custom app on premise or in the cloud.
Decide which products you’ll need to successfully deploy your custom app with your team.


Write user scenarios and define requirements
Define the needs of the users

Evaluate the needs of everyone who will use the custom app: business, team and users’ goals.


  • Watch and learn
    Spend time with your users and learn their existing processes.
  • Conversations and interviews
    Discover problems, pain points, and unmet needs.
  • Focus groups and workshops
    Collect multiple viewpoints.
  • Questionnaires
    Ask specific questions across a group to better understand users’ workflow and motivations.
Write a goal statement

Define the objective of the app to build.


Design a [what type of app or feature?] for [which type of team member?] to [what should this part of the app achieve?], so [what is the impact on the business?].

Write user scenarios

User scenarios tell stories about how users get tasks done and how they use data.


By asking a specific series of questions, you can create user scenarios that summarize how different people will use your app.

  • Who will use your app?
  • What will users need the app to do?
  • Where will they use the app?
  • When will they use the app?
  • Which devices will be used to access it?
  • How will the app need to interact with current systems?
Consider integration, security, and deployment

Define how the custom app will be used and if it needs to be available on multiple operating systems.



  • What devices will be used on-site and off-site?
  • Will mobile users need both landscape and portrait layout options?
  • What type of data will they need to collect besides text?
  • Do mobile users require full access to data?
Required level of security

Every custom app needs security. Determine the level of security and how to secure sensitive information.

  • Will you display customers’ personal information?
  • Does your app contain trade secrets?
  • Will the app contain credit card numbers or other financial data
  • Do you need to comply with other regulations, like HIPAA?
Plan ahead for a smooth rollout

Deployment is an integral part of creating a custom app. Plan for it early in the process.


Think about delivery and accessibility:

  • How will it be delivered to users?
  • How many people need access?
  • Will they access it remotely?
  • Do you need a systems administrator?
Prototype and get feedback
Start with a prototype or sketch

The goal of a prototype is to check the concept of your custom app with the team before you invest too much time in development.



By showing a prototype to your users, you can test functionality and usability early in the development process. This ensures that users understand the direction you are taking and agree that it will meet their needs.

  • The prototype can be a “paper prototype,” in which you provide a rough sketch of the elements, provide a list or descriptions of the actions a user might take, and show how your custom app will respond.

  • Users provide feedback about the “paper prototype.”

  • Expect to go through several revisions to your draft prototypes to ensure that you get enough feedback from your users.

Test your prototype

Validate your design with the intended users before spending too much time in development.



Good development is iterative

  • Test frequently with users.
  • Keep revising and refining your design, while getting feedback from users about each revision.

What’s the best model for you?

Do it yourself
Start developing on your own, supplementing your knowledge with other resources, including: Claris Academy, Training tutorials, Webinars and videos, Claris Community, Third-party training classes.
Hire a consultant
Third-party consultants offer a range of services and can be brought in at any time and at any stage of the process.

Find a certified Claris Partner >


Steps for building a custom app using Claris FileMaker
Organize your data

Now that you’ve covered all the steps for planning your custom app, it’s time to figure out how to organize your data. This is called data modeling.



  • Entities
    You’ll group your data based on what the data represents.
    Entities describe generic groups or classes of things that are distinct from one another.
  • Attributes
    Each entity is described by using attributes, which provide specific information about an entity.

Relationships connect data stored in different tables, so that when you are looking at a record in one table, you can have access to relevant data in another table.


For example:

  • A company can have multiple addresses, connected by a unique company ID.
  • A vehicle can have multiple oil changes over time, connected by a unique car ID.
  • A patient can have multiple doctor visits, connected by a unique patient ID.

For example:


Layouts are the foundation of the user interface, allowing the user to view and interact with the data.


  • Form View and List View provide you with a lot of flexibility on what the layout can look like. These are the two most common views used for your users to interact with the data in your app.
  • Table View displays data similarly to a spreadsheet, but limits the amount of formatting you can do the layout.



Gain valuable insights into your data by visually representing it in dashboard and reports.


  • Dashboards use the charting tool and global fields to summarize the data.
  • Reports display data in categories, Use summary fields and present data At different levels of a hierarchy



Get started

Choose a way to start building your app.


  • Prebuilt apps: FileMaker comes with prebuilt apps that you can customize (Contacts, Assets, Content Management, Inventory, Tasks Meetings).
  • Import your data: Importing is as easy as dragging and dropping (import data from a Microsoft Excel file, CSV, Merge, and other supported file types or an external source like ODBC or MySQL).
  • Start from scratch: Create a database from the ground up, starting with no data or layouts
Business automation

When building your custom app, it’s likely that you’ll need to automate some aspect of your workflow.


FileMaker provides an intuitive scripting language to help with this. This language is easy to read and write, while also providing considerable power and allowing you to model complex scenarios.

In addition to the scripting language, FileMaker includes calculation formulas, functions, and other useful tools for streamlining processes.


Scripting allows you to automate processes, from simple navigation tasks to complex reporting and workflows.


Automation is accomplished by creating and using scripts. A script consists of a series of instructions. Scripts can be invoked by performing an action in the app.


A calculation uses a formula to generate a result.


The use of calculations in FileMaker software is similar to the use of formulas in spreadsheets. Calculations can be used to populate fields, provide tooltip messages, set up dynamic emails, and much more.

FileMaker can present this information in the form of reports or charts for easy visualization.

Role-based security

Define the level of security based on who will use the app.


  • Identity
    Authentication verifies the identity of the user. The user creates an account which includes a username and password, so that only defined users can access the app.
  • Access Control
    FileMaker allows you to set access for each user by creating privilege sets and associating them with specific user accounts. Privilege sets control what a user can do. For example, they determine what data the user can view, create, edit, and delete. It also provides controls over layouts, scripts, and other settings.



Test your app

After building your app, test your design with the intended users.


Testing is an iterative process and a critical step in building your app. The results of testing will determine whether you need to repeat another cycle of the design process before moving on to the ‘Deploy’ step.



Best practices for sharing your custom app with your users
Deployment strategy

Developing your deployment strategy is an integral part of designing an app and should be done early in the design process.


The term “deployment” refers to the various technologies, infrastructure, and techniques developers use to make apps available to users.

It also refers to the standard practices and procedures by which a hosted (shared) FileMaker app is maintained and kept running, including a backup strategy for disaster recovery purposes.

Hosted files

Hosted files allow many people to see and share the same data. When a file is hosted on FileMaker Cloud or FileMaker Server, you can securely share information among FileMaker users.


With a hosted file you can:

  • Monitor and administer custom apps.
  • Automate backups for disaster recovery.
  • Secure your data via SSL encryption. Provide robust scalability and network resilience.
  • Deploy interactive apps to the desktop, iOS, and the web.
  • View system and custom app performance with an Admin Console.
  • Troubleshoot using log files to review statistics.
  • Integrate with popular web services using REST APIs.



With Claris FileMaker, you can host your custom apps on a dedicated in-house server machine using FileMaker Server. Or you can host your custom apps in the cloud using FileMaker Cloud. Let’s look at a comparison between the two hosting options.