Approach Users Mailing List faq (Rich Text Format version) Last updated: 29 Jan 2011

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Example and commercial Approach applications

See the 'Archive of Example Database Applications' at the Approach User Support web site:
This includes a few of downloadable databases, as well as links to other such sites.

Other information sources about Approach
* A good way to learn about database structure and what Approach is capable of is to study the example databases that come with Approach.
* The Approach User Support links page includes a load of Approach related web sites:
* The comp.databases newsgroup contains discussion about many different database applications including Approach. However, I haven't seem any Approach discussion on it for a long time.

* is an active German language newsgroup which contains discussion about all SmartSuite applications, including Approach. Also see the German language version of this FAQ at:
The following non-Internet resources are the above web page, but are mentioned here for the benefit of those who don't have web access:
* Lotus fax - back service: A blast from the past with was discontinued on November 6, 1998.
* Lotus Forums on Compuserve:

- GO LOTUSB for volunteer support on Approach - always good advice.

- GO PCAPP - the PC Applications forum has a general database section.

- GO BORLAND - for help and information on dBASE tips and utilities.

- Search Compuserve for forums about DATABASE and you will get a long list of helpful contacts for Paradox, Access, Foxpro, DB2, and other database formats you may be using.

* The Approach BBS: Now a mere memory in the history of online services

Other information sources about LotusScript

* A lot of the sources of information about Approach shown above will also include information about LotusScript
* Don't forget to have a good look through the examples that come with Approach in templates, saved smartmasters etc...
* See the Approach User Support Links page for some helpful web sites:
* LotusScript for Dummies (ISBN: 1-56884-638-X) I D G Books
* Chapter 8 of "Developing SmartSuite Applications Using LotusScript". This book is on the SmartSuite CD in .pdf format which you read using Adobe Acrobat which is also on the CD, or you can download it from the PSC SmartSuite Developers site in the Resources section ( or by searching for the title at
* "60 minute guide" for Notes LotusScript. This book assumes that you an understanding of programming background.
* The LotusScript Language Reference, a comprehensive summary of the LotusScript language, presented in A-Z format. The LotusScript Language Reference is available as Help in all Lotus products that support LotusScript.
* The LotusScript Programmer's Guide, a general introduction to LotusScript that describes it's basic building blocks and how to put them together to create applications. It is on the SmartSuite CD-ROM in .pdf format, and is also available for download (alone with other documents) from Lotus' SmartSuite Products pages (accessible via the Approach User Support Links page mentioned above).
* The 'LotusScript Expression Assistant' is a programming tool available by searching for the title at, which can apparently help you learn LotusScript language faster, and is useful to rethink ideas and which arguments can/must be used.

Can I Develop Stand-alone databases (Run-time) using Approach?

No, there is no way of creating fully stand-alone database applications using Approach. Any user of your application will need an appropriate version of Approach installed in order to use it.
MS Access and some other database systems have either a "compiler" to create a runnable program from your design or they have a "run time" module that replaces the need for users to install the full product it was developed with. Some charge extra for this feature and some do not. But, there are currently no run time modules or compilers for Approach and none are under development. Lotus/IBM does not see any demand for this type of capability at all from their large corporate customers.
According to Lotus, Approach was designed to be a 'desktop database' or 'front end' to data the user wants to manipulate. The idea is you can take an existing database (dBase, Access, Excel, Foxpro, DB2, Oracle, Paradox, SQL, 123 ...) and create your own little application, leaving the original database intact for others. Or you can develop your own simple database from scratch.
You can also develop a more complex application with macros and buttons that give your application the appearance of a full-blown application, and you can distribute it to other users, but everyone who uses it needs their own copy of Approach. Using the "Customizing and Automating Approach" chapter 9 in the user's manual you can secure the system such that your users can't harm the database that you build for them. Pay particular attention to the Preferences, SmartIcons, and Custom Menus sections. You can design your database using custom pull-down menus and various buttons on forms so that all the native controls in Approach can be turned off or hidden from the user. And you can further protect both the data and your application's design by using Team Computing features covered in chapter 10. Also review the procedures for defining basic field settings in the various views you give the user to help the user enter data correctly and protect fields they should not change. FYI, this manual is available in Adobe .PDF format from the Free Downloads area on Lotus is often amazed by the complex business applications that are being deployed with Approach!
If the cost of multiple user licenses for Approach users is a problem, purchasing site licenses and using IBM' volume purchasing scheme will greatly reduce the costs for businesses. And there are several discount software web sites that often discount older versions of the SmartSuite, making it very affordable.
Approach 96 and newer versions also include 'LotusScript' which gives you much the same capabilities of Access Basic. You need some programming skills to write your own scripts, but you can often copy scripts and modify them for your own use. This site and contain many examples for your education and use.

Can Approach handle big databases?

Well, it probably depends on what you call big, the design of your database, and what hardware you have. People have reported databases of 3 or 4 million records, although at that size running summary reports and finds may take a while! Nobody has ever reported reaching a maximum number of records limit in Approach. In theory it should be able to handle the maximum number of records you can put in a dBase IV database, which is 4294967296 (4 gig = maximum 32 bit number).
In order to maintain the best ratio of speed and stability you may want to consider deleting the .adx files (indexes) on a regular basis (say every week or two). There are some possible complications with this so carefully read "Deleting and recreating index files" first.
It has been suggested that the number of joins has a far greater impact on the speed and stability of large databases rather than simply the number of records. One subscriber stated that they found a database having "80,000 records and approximately 20 tables joined" to be unusable slow, and suggested that a database of "100,000 records if there are more than 4 or 5 joins" to be a maximum usable size. Meanwhile somebody else replied saying that they had "databases exceeding an average of 400,000 records up to 2.2 million records and joins exceeding 10 databases with Approach 96 having no problems handling the data. "We have been doing multi field queries in an acceptable time frame and once the smart indexes are created, finds on fields are just as fast on a (database) with 2.2 million records as a find on a field with 400,000 records. Our standard hardware is a P5 166 with 64 meg of ram. On a P6-200 with 64MB RAM, doing a complex search on 4 fields takes 15 sec."

Moving or copying databases (.apr/.vew .dbf .dbt files)

The APR file includes the paths to the files as well as their names. Therefore unless you reproduce the directory structure exactly at the destination, the only reliable way to move or copy at database is using the FILE / SAVE AS menu item from within Approach. If you try and move them using a file manager program then the database may not be able to locate some of its components and OLE links may be lost.
However, for some strange reason, Approach returns a "Too many files open at once" error message if you try to use SAVE AS on a database with more than 25 joins. If you are using Win 3.1, this happens regardless of how many files your have specified in your config.sys.

Help for MS-Access uses moving to Approach

If you have been using Access for while, then the first thing need to understand is that good quality professional help is available, and you should make a full recovery in no time at all ;-)
Sue Sloan has written a booklet oriented toward telling an Access user how to use Approach. A link to that booklet is in the Free Downloads area on Do a search with the word "access" in the title.

Getting started with LotusScript

Getting started with LotusScript is a bit like driving a car - you do actually have to spend time learning how to do it!
The best place to start is the resources listed in article 'Other information sources about LotusScript'
The look through the example LotusScripts for ideas, especially if some of them come close to doing what you want a script to do. It is often easier to start playing with someone else's script and getting it going than starting from scratch with your own script (until you become an expert of course!).
Some good example scripts to start with are the following, because the authors have included pretty explicit instructions about how to get them going:
'A button activated script that launches URL contained in a text field'

'Passing the contents of a field to'

The latest version and upcoming developments

As of October 15, 2003, customers can find information on the lifecycle of IBM Software products, including Lotus software products, on the IBM Software Support Lifecycle Web site at the following address:
No stand-alone versions of Approach are supported currently. But these three SmartSuite versions are supported. Their policy is to "Provide support for all products for a minimum of three years, beginning at the date the product is available for purchase (general availability date)".
* Lotus SmartSuite for OS/2 Warp4 R1.7 1.7 (Released 22 Oct 2002 )

* Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition 9.7 -- Win98,NT,2000 9.7 (Released 13 Nov 2001)

* Lotus SmartSuite Millennium Edition 9.8 -- Win95,98,ME,NT,2000,XP (Released 22 Oct 2002)
Not listed there yet is the 2003 new SmartSuite version 9.8.1 which is available only through the IBM Passport Advantage program. Released in October 2003, it will be supported for a minimum of 3 years through October 2006.
For "fix list" and support information about the last versions of Approach for Windows and OS/2 check the product information at IBM's Approach support website:
Beta versions of versions underdevelopment are no longer available for SmartSuite. Lotus stopped doing beta tests with the 97 version.
After an outbreak of insecurity on the list back in 2002 about whether IBM was going to keep supporting and developing Approach, Sue Sloan wrote:
Lotus/IBM is committed to the SmartSuite and Approach and they provide full support for it -- the same as any other IBM product. They have tech support staff and a full development team for Approach. I expect to see the 9.8 release this Fall and further updates about every 12-14 months.
I have mentioned many times before on the various Approach forums that IBM/Lotus makes a lot of money from the SmartSuite product, but they do not sell it 'retail'. 99% of their customers are larger companies that buy many licenses when they decide on a 'suite', so it is sold thru the IBM sales force directly, and very successfully. At one time recently, Lotus mentioned in a speech that there are 20 million licenses for the SS out there!
Finally, IBM and Lotus are not at all likely to kill the SmartSuite and buy 300,000 copies of MS Office or StarOfice for their own employees to use. As long as there is a need for the types of programs in SS within IBM, there will be an SS product. It may not get enhancements that we all want, like a run-time version of Approach, but it will be enhanced and supported.
As of the Fall of 2003, Lotus management has reconfirmed their committment to the SmartSuite to Sue Sloan. Noting that their focus is not on adding new features but rather on product stability and compatibility with new versions of Windows and various updated file formats.

Versions of Approach for MS-Windows / NT

The versions recommended are:
* Windows 3.* - v3.02

* Windows 95/98 - v97 (NOT 97a) with the latest apfixpak applied, though you won't go wrong with v9.7

* Windows ME - "ME is a Dog! Avoid at all costs", so just buy a new operating system. It is a bad version of Windows 98, so if you are stuck with it, go with the W98 recommendation.

* Windows 2000/NT - v9.7 or V9.8.x ***See below for details

* Windows XP Home - Similar to the "ME" version, avoid it for business use.

* Windows XP - V9.8.x ***See below for details

All versions can simultaneously access the same database files (.dbt/.dbf or paradox or other formats), but do not share an index file between v3.02 and any other version because the "SmartIndex" format is not compatible. SmartIndexes are only built for dBase files, which is the default type when creating a new database with Approach.
Do not convert a V2.* ".vew" or v3.02 ".apr" file to any newer version than v97 directly. This is discussed further in the article "Upgrading ...". elsewhere in the FAQ. Once converted to v97 and saved in that format, you will no longer be able to use the ".apr" file in v3.02.
Once in v97 format, your ".apr" file can be opened and used with all newer versions of Approach and it will remain useable in v97 unless you use a new feature, like the "dialog editor" that was introduced in v9.5. You will get a warning about the conversion so you can avoid this problem. The version of LotusScript was updated also in the v9.5, so your scripts may not run correctly in earlier versions unless you "recompile" them.
New ".apr" applications created in v9.5 and newer versions are saved in the new format automatically which makes them no longer work in earlier versions.
Version history:

v1.* = the first version released by Approach Software of Mountain View. (circa 1992)

v2.0 = the last version before it was bought by Lotus. (circa 1993)

v2.1 = the first version released by Lotus. View files have .vew file extensions. Developed for MS-Windows 3.1 (16 bit). Despite the new version number it was basically unchanged from v2.0 but contained many fixes for problems in the original release.
v3.00 = a substantial new version released in 1994. Completely new macros. View files have .apr file extension. Developed for MS-Windows 3.1 (16 bit). Problems are encountered (even with v3.01 and v3.02) if it is run on Windows NT v4 (see 'Approach and Windows NT')

v3.01 = a free bug fix of version 3.00. If you are having any problems with v3.00 or 3.01 then get 3.02 before you bother to post. Everybody is going to tell you to get it anyway!

v3.02 = a free bug fix of version 3.01. If you are having any problems with v3.00 or 3.01 then get 3.02 before you bother to post. Everybody is going to tell you to get it anyway! This version will work on all newer versions of Windows except XP.
v96 = Sometimes erroneously referred to as v4. A substantial update developed for MS-Windows 95 (32 bit). Introduction of LotusScript, the Find Assistant, etc. It was a terribly buggy release -- avoid it!

v97 = Developed for MS-Windows 95 and NT 4.0 but apparently runs fine on NT 3.51 (32 bit) Included in Lotus SmartSuite 97 or stand-alone. This version was given to owners of v96 for free due to the bugs in v96. The first version with bug fix updates available on the web -- the "C" patch (apfixpak.exe) is essential! Features include stored finds (very handy) and "Find/Replace" facility. This runs fine on Windows 95 but slows down considerably in design mode on Windows 98 and later.

v97a = v97 with the first apfixpak "A" applied. Apply the latest apfixpak and the version will revert to v97
vME = "Millennium Edition". Release Mid 1998. Mainly a compatibility update for Windows 2000 and a bug fix update with new 'Internet-FastSite' features. It runs faster on Windows 98 compared to Windows 95.

Release 9 or 9.0 = refers to vME. Release 9 was buggy and was very slow in design mode due to putting too many things into the Windows registry (a Microsoft recommendation!).

Release 9.1 = a free bug fix release of vME in December 1998 which was a service release primarily for corporate customers and was not generally available. It relieved the registry problem found in the 9.0 release.
Release 9.5 = July 1999. A major update version released both as a stand-alone product and then as part of SmartSuite Release 9.5 around July, 1999. This version finally overcame the slow down in design mode problem mention since v97 on Windows 98 and later. It had enhanced 'Web functionality and Notes/Domino/DB2 interoperability'. Approach received a true "dialog editor", and the normalize feature of Notes Reporter let you use Approach to do reports on Notes databases better. It uses the v97 .apr file format by default, but if you use the Notes Normazlier or Dialog Editor or create a new .apr file it will convert the file to the newer v9.5 .apr format. Lots of bugs lead to the release of 'A', 'B' and 'C' bug fix patches for the SmartSuite version. Only one patch for the stand-alone product was made available. (Approach v9.5 was the latest stand-alone version)

Release 9.6 = November 2000. Certified for Windows 2000. Included a few bug fixes. Only available as part of Smartsuite 9.6.

Release 9.6.1 = June 2001 bug fix for v9.6.

Release 9.7 = Nov 2001. Certified for Windows XP. Finally fixed printing of crosstabs. Only available as part of Smartsuite 9.7. This release finally fixed the crashing of APR files created in W95 running now in W2000.

Release 9.8 = October 2002. In addition to Windows XP compatibility updates and new filters for Microsoft Office file formats, many bugs were fixed including the problems with "expanding" fields in reports -- new reports will work correctly even if you run them in an older version, but old reports remain unfixed. Certified for Windows XP. Only available as part of Smartsuite 9.8.

Release 9.8.1 = October 2003. Released only to IBM Passport Advantage customers who purchased SmartSuite v9.8 or a maintenance agreement for SmartSuite v9.8 under this program. Falsely listed as a "fixpack" on the Lotus support web site, it is a full release but contains only compatibility updates and a few bug fixes.

Release 9.8.2 = October 2004. Another update labeled a "release".

Release 9.8.3 = October 2005. Another update labeled a "release", but with major bugs in the Approach component making it non-functional. A "fixpack" for these problems was posted in December 2005.

Release 9.8.4 = October 2006. Another update labeled a "release".
Along with the SmartSuite 9.8.1 release, it was announced by Lotus/IBM that future releases will be available only through the IBM Passport Advantage program. While "retail" versions will be announced and they will be for sale on the IBM web site, they are purchased without any support and will not receive fixpacks. This announcement was not well received on the online forums where owners of SmartSuite 9.8 that were obtained outside of the Passport Advantage program felt betrayed by this change in policy. Note that small companies and individuals do not need to apply to join the Passport Advantage program -- there is an "Express" option that lets you buy the product thru the program directly and get support for only that one product.
The announcements and "fix lists" for the SmartSuite 9.8.x releases are available on at where you will need to log in or register on the site to view it.

Versions of Approach for OS/2

"Approach for OS/2 Warp 4" was launched in 1998 as part of SmartSuite for OS/2 for Warp 4. It didn't have a version number. It was presumably equivalent to Approach for MS-Windows vME. Approach for OS/2 files are fully compatible with Approach 97 for Windows files (also used by Approach for MS-Windows vME and releases 9.*) and are not converted. Older files will be converted in the same way that v97 would convert them.
Later versions:

* v1.1 released December 1998. A minor update including some 'Euro Support', Y2K enhancements such as sliding windows, and bug fixes (of course!)

* v1.1.1 released July, 1999. A free bug fix update for v1.1. You can download it from

* v1.5 released December 1999. A minor release update containing more up to date import filters and updated LotusScript(v4.0)

* v1.6 released early 2001. It is an upgrade not a bug fix.

* v1.7 released Jan 2002. Another costly upgrade.

* v 1.7.1 released late 2002. An unannounced bug fix mentioned in some technotes, but only available to those with a Smartsuite support

contract. This includes those that have purchased Smartsuite maintenance

from Passport Advantage or those that have purchased eCS Upgrade


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