Compatibility with FileMaker Pro features

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4 - Data Explorer
4 - Data Explorer

I constructed a database in FileMaker Pro many years ago to hold information about the many recordings my band has made over the years. I’m looking for an alternative to this platform, and only just now learned of Airtable.

There are two features of FileMaker Pro that are used in this database, and I need to know whether Airtable has equivalent features.

The first is repeating fields. The record for each song we’ve recorded has a repeating field which lists “who plays what” on the song for all six members of our band.

The second feature in question is container fields. In this database, each record has a container field that links to a .wav recording of the song in question. Note that this uses FileMaker’s “store a reference to” feature. That is, the .wav file is not contained within the database; rather, this field links to the recording, which is stored on the hard drive, outside of the database.

Does Airtable have the capability of replicating these two features? Thanks in advance for all help!

3 Replies 3


Welcome to the Airtable Community! I can answer your questions about FileMaker and Airtable.


Repeating fields

Airtable does not have repeating fields. Repeating fields are pretty much an idiosyncracy of FileMaker that goes way, way back to the days before it was possible to have multiple linked (related) tables.

For Airtable users who might read this and have no idea, a “repeating field” in FileMaker is a single field that has multiple, um, pigeonholes. It’s often used for storing multiple phone numbers and stuff like that. Instead of creating Phone1 and Phone2 and Phone 3, you create one field called Phones and configure it to have three repetitions. When you search for a phone number, you can search in that field and the number will be found regardless of which rep it’s in, where if you searched in Phone1 for a number that was actually stored in Phone2, you wouldn’t find it.

Anyway, Airtable does not have them and doesn’t much need them. If you’re storing phone numbers (say) you can either

  • Create multiple phone number fields (Phone1, Phone2, Phone3)
  • Create a single long-text field called Phones and put one phone per line (how I’d do it)
  • If you anticipate needing to create reports based on phone data, you could create a separate table called PHONES and link your contact records to it.

I’ve been developing in FileMaker almost 30 years (sigh) and am fully aware that repeating fields have other uses. I’m just using phones as an example.

If you’re planning to export your data from your FileMaker database into a new Airtable base, you’ll need to restructure it in FileMaker before you export the data. Feel free to contact me through a private message if you have a question about how to do that.


Container fields

Airtable has something called “Attachment” fields. An attachment field is kinda sorta like a FileMaker container field, in that you can use it to store files like photos, word processing or spreadsheet documents, even movies or music clips.

I haven’t made a detailed comparison of the ways in which Airtable attachment fields differ from FileMaker container fields, but a couple things come to mind.

  1. Airtable doesn’t let you store files by reference, and it doesn’t make much sense that it would. If you want to store an item in an attachment field, you are basically handing it over to Airtable so it can be stored on their servers. That said, you could of course put your files in a third-party storage service such as Dropbox, and then in Airtable stored a link to each file. (You could do the same thing in FileMaker without needing to use a container field.)
  2. FileMaker’s container fields can store only one binary object per field. You can’t drop multiple items into a container field. But Airtable’s attachment field can store numerous files, even files of different types.
  3. Finally, FileMaker’s container fields are not just storage tools. A container field is a kind of multimedia performance feature–you can play video or music files right inside the container field, you can open and view a PDF right in a container field, etc. With Airtable on the other hand the attachment field is a mainly a storage structure. You can view (say) JPEG thumbnails inside an attachment field, but if you want to view the photo files full size, you’d double-click them and they’d open in a viewing window. This is in keeping with the nature of Airtable, which is that it’s mainly a tool for storing and managing data, and not as much a user-interface or user-experience tool as FileMaker.

Make sense? Hope that helps.


4 - Data Explorer
4 - Data Explorer

Hi William –

Thank you very much for your reply! It’s my good fortune that there is someone here with deep FileMaker experience. Me, I’m just a self-taught duffer in the program, though I go back all the way to the time when I first got FileMaker Pro 2 in a bundle with WriteNow ( Heart ) and a couple of other long-forgotten Mac programs.

If you don’t mind a couple of follow-up questions:

  • As I indicated, the repeating field in my database has six “slots,” one for each of the members of the band and the instrument(s) he plays on a given song. If I understand correctly, you were saying that I could create a single “who plays what” text field in Airtable, but that it could contain multiple lines (I assume delineated with a Return). Correct?

  • If this is the case, I have a feeling that Exporting the data in my Repeating Field in a way that’s usable by Airtable might be problematical. I’m guessing this is where a PM to you would be warranted.

  • For an Airtable replacement for the container field that now allows me to store a reference to a .wav file so that it can play when clicked, you’re saying I would need an attachment field that would store the .wav file directly. Would I run into any storage limit issues in Airtable if I did it this way? Right now, there are nearly 330 distinct records in our database, each with an associated .wav file (they average probably 6-7MB each). And more will be added.

  • But I could also put a link in this field, as long as it leads to some kind of online source (e.g. Dropbox). I probably couldn’t link to a local storage device (e.g. hard drive or thumb drive), correct?

If we need to discuss this further, we probably should go the PM route rather than boring everyone else here! But I will appreciate any help you can give. Thanks again.


I sent you a private message with a couple of suggestions. Good luck!