Support » Plugin: Airpress » Efficient, evolving interface with Airtable

  • After a few weeks with Airpress, I’m pretty well pleased. It does more than just simplify the process of integrating Airtable and WordPress: It enables one to use WordPress to build a customized front-end to an Airtable database.

    Airtable is one of a number of web-based, SAS database systems to appear in recent years, along the lines of RestDB or [now Google] Firebase (although not at the same scale as the latter). If I had to grossly misrepresent it in a short, pithy slogan, I’d probably say “FileMaker for the Web.” Like FileMaker, it’s easy to learn and easy to program, but it still manages to be powerful enough one can actually build something useful. (Actually, what it most reminded me of, in spirit more than substance, was Infocom Cornerstone. 😉 )

    When I say “FileMaker,” though, I mean FileMaker 3 — or maybe 4. While the Airtable folks have been good about maintaining a steady stream of incremental enhancements and additional functionality, they are also serious about combating mission creep. As a result, there are still a number of capabilities missing from the base product. To address this issue, Airtable supports a full-featured and well-documented API.

    …which, unfortunately, kind of takes it out of the “FileMaker” realm as a lightweight tool for rapid prototyping and deployment. Sure, it’s nice to know what’s out there, in case a client should ask, but for my own purposes the benefit I’ll gain from the app I hoped to create doesn’t justify the effort it would take to program it at that level. If I can’t build it in the solution natively, I’ll either wait until I can, or I’l do without.

    Airpress gives me a third option.

    Now I can continue to use Airtable’s standard UI to build and administer the database, but provide general user access through a custom front-end that can tailor user views, automate input, validate data, and support user authentication and privilege management far more flexibly than Airtable alone. As I’m building it using WordPress, I enjoy all the usual benefits of that platform; as much Airpress functionality is accessible via shortcodes, minimal PHP coding is required. And even though I’m drawing screens using data retrieved from a third-party database server, Airpress’s efficient management of memory and API calls allows me to do so with minimal lag.

    To date, I’ve not encountered any conflicts between Airpress and other plugins. (At present, I’m using Elegant Themes’ omnibus ‘Divi’ theme, so this is no small matter.) While there *is* a slight delay when refreshing an Airpress-fed screen, I’m doing so while logged into WordPress admin, typically with several page edit windows — all using the Divi page builder — open, and with Airpress debugging enabled. I can’t claim to have tested thoroughly in a more production-like environment, but in the little I have, I’ve not seen a noticeable difference in response time between WordPress pages that use Airpress and ones that don’t.

    Caveats: So far I’ve focused entirely on retrieval and presentation of existing data. As best I recall, my current implementation is handled entirely using shortcodes. That may no longer be possible as I move on to data editing and record creation and deletion. (Airpress provides a full-featured PHP API that supports creation, retrieval, update, and deletion of Airtable records; it also provides a group of shortcodes that supports a subset of its API functionality.) Documentation is scant and often lags the product; however, the plugin’s author typically responds to support questions quickly and clearly.

    In fact, my satisfaction with Airpress in part reflects my satisfaction with its author. Admittedly, this is a nascent plugin, and Chester has done an excellent job of working with its early adopters, letting their — our — issues and needs help direct ongoing development. I’m not sure how well this will work once the number of installations increases ten- or a hundred-fold; by then, though, there should be fewer issues and, with luck, a fledgling user community.

    Again, I give it 4 stars — and I see no reason to believe, with a little more functionality, it won’t soon merit 5.

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