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Adobe FrameMaker: Variables

by Barb Binder, Adobe Certified Instructor on FrameMaker

FrameMaker offers two types of variables: System variables and user variables. Variables are used to add content to our documentation that we know is going to change. Once you add variables to a document, you can edit the variable definition and it will be FrameMaker’s job —not your job—to locate every occurrence of that variable and update it to the new definition.

System variables

System variables are variables that are built into FrameMaker. That means that they are part of every single FrameMaker document. You can use them, you can ignore them, you can redefine their behavior, but you cannot remove them. Examples of system variables include the page number variable, the date variables and the Running H/F1–18 variables.

System variables are often—but not always—added to a master page so they will repeat in the same location on every single body page. You will see a longer list of available system variables when you are on a master page than when you are on a body page.

For example, to put the Modification Date in the footer of every single file:

  1. Navigate to the master pages.
  2. Click an insertion point in the footer frame.
  3. Choose Insert > Variables to open the Variables panel. Note: Prior to FrameMaker 2017, this was Special > Variables.
  4. Locate one of the two Modification Date variables. Modification Date (Long) name uses words to display the date, Modification Date (Short) uses numbers, i.e., 05/23/20 vs May 23, 2020. Both can be modified to match your requirements, and both will update automatically when the FrameMaker file is modified.
  5. Return to the body pages to see the result.

User variables

User variables are those that are not built into FrameMaker. The user perceives the need for a variable and then adds it to a file. Frequently, user variables are used for company names, product names, product numbers, revision numbers and revision dates, but they can be used any place where you know the text is going to change down the road.

For example, to add a revision number in the footer of every single page:

  1. Navigate to the master pages.
  2. Click an insertion point in the footer frame.
  3. Choose Insert > Variables to open the Variables panel. Note: Prior to FrameMaker 2017, this was Special > Variables.
  4. Click the Create New User Variable button at the left of the Variables panel toolbar to open the Add/Edit System Variables panel.
  5. Enter in the name and definition. Click the Edit button to add the variable to the document.
  6. Return to the Variables panel. The new user variable will be in the list. User variables have a blue gear icon at the beginning of the line to differentiate them from the red system variable gear icons.
  7. Click the Insert button on the Variables panel toolbar.
  8. Return to the body pages to see the result.

Editing a variable

The reason that we use variables in our documentation is because we know that the definition is going to change at some point. To edit the definition of any variable:

  1. Open the Variables panel.
  2. Click the Edit button on the Variables toolbar to open the Add/Edit System Variables panel.
  3. Change the definition.
  4. Click the Edit button in the Add/Edit System Variables panel to indicate that your edit is complete.

FrameMaker will locate every occurrence of that variable in this document and update it to reflect the new definition. If you’re working in a book, you can update the definition in one file and then use File > Import > Formats to import the new definition to all of the other files in the book.

Note: If you are reading this post specifically because you’re trying to figure out how to set up a list of effective pages (LEP), remember that you need to put revision numbers and dates in template frames and not in background frames as described above. See Adobe FrameMaker: Master Page Basics for information on background frames and template frames.

Related posts

Master page basics: background frames vs template frames

Adobe FrameMaker: Master Page Basics

More on system variables

Adobe FrameMaker: Adding a Trademark symbol to a variable

Adobe FrameMaker: The Table Continuation variable

Adobe FrameMaker: Keeping Track of Table Sheets

Adobe FrameMaker: The Page Count Variable for Chapters (Part I of II)

Adobe FrameMaker: The Page Count Variable for Books—Part II of II

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