The source will always be in the creation date order. If you are importing to the same file (an upgrade, for example) then you can choose 'match names'. If most of the field names match you can choose that option and then you only have to move the mis-matches. The good news is that the import order will be remembered, so you need only do it once.
thanks sorbsbuster... although it would make my life easier if filemaker gave us some options for the left pane as well (such as alphbetical or perhaps even the order that the fields are in in the "manage database" window). or even if you could drag and drop the left side because sometimes that would mean moving fewer fields.
Someone told me that one technique when a developer is planning upgrades is to create some number of empty fields depending on the anticipated need (e.g. unused1, unused2, etc) and then incorporate those as needed. but if you change the field name of "unused1" in the new file, will it still match up with "unused1" from the old file when you import, or is it by the name and not some hidden field id, for example?
My understanding is that 'Matching Names' does exactly that - no ID is used.
There is a use for the fact that the left pane is always in creation order. If you do a simple upgrade (left to right pane) then matching field names will work. And so will 'Creation order'. That would probably still be a reliable fall-back position if you later re-name your fields, so Year1 that used to align with Year1 will still align with Year01 when you re-name.
If what you are doing is covering an upgrade, why not sort the right pane by creation order (same as left pane) and start moving from that starting point?
i will definitely try that next time. i didn't think ahead enough when i started this and so it has been a fairly common occurrence that i add, delete or rename fields in the new version and it always seemed to throw everything off no matter which order i selected... but knowing now that it is in creation order (i don't think i even noticed that as one of the sort options before) will help make it a little easier. i kep thinking i was doing something wrong because when you click on the header above each pane it responds almost as if it were a button (hopefully this is a sign of things to come!) but then nothing would happen. i appreciate the help... thanks!