Blue World Communications’ Lasso began as a simple way to Web-enable FileMaker Pro databases, but the company has restructured Lasso. Lasso now supports new technologies such as XML and wireless devices, session management, and more-powerful programming techniques.
Lasso’s latest iteration, Lasso Professional 5, comes in two editions: for production servers, a Standard Edition, which handles an unlimited number of users and connections on a single machine; and a single-user Developer Edition that has the same capabilities, but is geared for programming and testing. With version 5, Lasso is getting more complicated to learn, use, and administer; but its new features compensate for its complexity. The program not only embraces OS X, but also includes a Lasso-specific version of the popular MySQL database and an updated version of Lasso Dynamic Markup Language (LDML 5), and it supports many Lasso 3 solutions.
Lasso Professional 5 operates with OS X’s built-in Apache Web server and with 4D’s WebStar V. (Version 5 doesn’t support OS 9 and earlier.) And while some expertise always helps in configuring a site and handling security, you don’t have to be an authority on either server to get Lasso up and running.
Lasso Professional 5 ships with its own database software, Lasso MySQL, a version of the popular MySQL open-source database. Lasso MySQL stores Lasso’s settings and options, and it can act as a local data source. For some sites, accessing local databases this way may be a complete solution – Lasso MySQL is fast, multi-threaded, and reliable, and it supports temporary tables, which stick around until you restart it.
You can also connect the application to separate MySQL databases, keep them on different computers, and upgrade them independently from Lasso itself; or it can connect to FileMaker Pro 4 and 5 databases using FileMaker’s Web Companion.
In addition to a built-in version of MySQL, Lasso Professional 5 introduces LDML 5, a new version of Lasso’s mark-up language. LDML 5 is generally compatible with Lasso 3, and it provides several major new features, such as inline maths and string expressions, session management, data typing, array support, and commands for managing SQL databases. These LDML enhancements offer developers creating Lasso sites more direct control of values and program logic, as well as mechanisms for maintaining and creating databases and tables on-the-fly. Version 5 also supports LassoScript, an alternative way of expressing LDML as embedded scripts within a page; this can help with both large pieces of code and LDML pages edited using visual tools such as Adobe GoLive.
Lasso Professional 5 includes a completely revamped email engine (built-in LDML, using cool new low-level TCP/IP commands). It also has a new scheduler, which you can use to backup databases or perform other maintenance tasks, send status messages, and do anything else within Lasso’s scope. Advanced programmers can define custom LDML tags and functions, spawn background processes, and create custom data types.
In addition to these improvements, Lasso now provides more-extensive documentation with detailed instructions for setting up and administering databases.
Lasso Professional 5 uses a Web-browser-based administration facility to control access privileges for users, settings, and databases. Security and administration options range from entire databases to individual fields – including useful LDML-based filters that can restrict or modify search behaviours, and the capability to enable or disable specific LDML tags.
Web-server applications such as Apache Web server or WebStar V handle logging, but you can use LDML to write to the Web-server log or maintain separate log files. You can also compile solutions into platform-independent LassoApps, high-performance stand-alone libraries that work with version 5 without revealing source code – great for distributing solutions to clients or customers.
In our testing – 48 simultaneous connections sustained over 12 hours from four machines on a local network, with each connection making one to five database queries during that half-day period – Lasso’s performance with WebStar V was essentially indistinguishable from its performance with Apache, and both servers managed the load with apparent ease. The biggest factors in a Lasso-driven site’s efficiency are the database back-end and any ancillary programs
In the majority of cases, site administrators using Lasso 3 will have an easy time converting to Professional 5. But in a few cases, it’ll be more difficult: site administrators using a 4D or ODBC database as a back-end will need to wait for connectors, and developers communicating with other programs via Apple Events will need to rebuild or replace their solutions. In addition, Lasso no longer supports FileMaker 3.
Upgrading is more complicated for developers who want to change from FileMaker Pro to MySQL or Lasso MySQL for the sake of performance, stability, and standardization; to some degree, they’ll have to redesign and reengineer Lasso solutions. However, most developers will be able to use FileMaker Pro databases in version 5 without adjustments, making possible a well-executed transition to new database platforms.
Getting started is simpler with Lasso than with competing database-middleware products, such as Apple’s WebObjects, but using Lasso requires programming skills and learning time, as well as a command of databases, security, and Internet services.
If you’re already using Web-enabled FileMaker Pro databases and need more power and performance, Lasso Professional 5 is an excellent choice and offers a manageable migration path to other database platforms. And if you’re just getting started with data-driven Web sites, the program’s power and flexibility merit serious consideration.