Note : This article is written for an Access 2013 web app using Access Hosting’s Sharepoint 2013 Enterprise plan, you will need Access 2013+ and this subscription configured for Access services.
Access 2013 introduced a new way to make a database available in the browser, called the Access Web App. This first article focuses the general features and points for consideration when developing your Access database.
With the release of Access 2013, you can create now create two different types of database applications, the first is the traditional desktop database. This has traditionally been called an Access database and consists of one or more files stored on your computer, network, or remote server with Access or the Access runtime installed so that you can open and operate these databases.
The second type of database application you can create is called a 2013 web app (not to be confused with the Sharepoint 2010 Web Database). These Web Apps can only reside within Sharepoint 2013 Enterprise or newer. They are not created and do not reside on your local computer.
No need to publish design changes!
A web app is cleverly designed so that everything is hosted on Access Hosting’s private cloud, so while you are using a desktop copy of Access to work on changing your design, all the changes you make once saved are automatically saved up to our Sharepoint solution. This means that there is no publishing process, but it also means that you can’t easily undo your changes (or mistakes). Keeping a backup of your own work is very important, but Access Hosting also backs up your entire site collection (not just the web app) every night so we can restore your entire site from a major blunder.
Your web app can be placed in your personal folder in Office 365, or created in a Team Site/Subsite. Team Site/Subsites allow for you to both collaborate with other licensed users and what are known as external users. An external user is someone with a FREE Microsoft Online account (easily obtained), and you are allowed between 500/10,000 external users depending on your subscription.
Access Web Apps run in your Browser
Access Web Apps run in your browser. This is where most of your users will interact with your application. Web Apps do not have the same robust design features as traditional desktop based applications. When designing a web app you will find yourself switching between your installed copy of Access on your desktop computer and the runtime browser window. You’ll have to have Access installed on your computer to make changes and design the Sharepoint Web App, but will often want to reload your browser to see your changes take effect and to visualize the end user experience.
Simplified Design Tools
The MS Access interface used to design web apps is very different than the traditional design tool so you will need to spend some time getting used to the new interface. It is relatively simple and offers standard form views and formats to get an Access web app up and running quickly in Sharepoint.
Tables and Lookups
When designing an Access Web App, it helps to forget everything you already know about designing a traditional ms access desktop database application.
Web Apps do not have the customization options and power of a traditional access application (if you have a powerful Access application developed for the desktop, you can look at our Remote Desktop hosting which lets you leave your robust database application or custom software as-is while you move it to our private cloud). Don’t worry though, your ms access database still stores data in tables. In an Access web app, you can easily jump from table to table using the navigation included on the left pane of the browser. Tables can be re-ordered, hidden, have the captions changed and a graphical icon changed. This acts as the primary method of navigating between parts of your application.
You relate your tables together using a lookup. For those familiar with desktop databases then think of a web app lookup as a combination of desktop lookups and table relationships. There is no place in the web app to view all the lookups together, these are managed individually as part of the table design process.
Once tables are linked by lookups, Access will automatically create views of the data which link the data together using the lookups. For example in an order processing system, an order will have a lookup to a list of products in that order. Access will then automatically create a view including a list of related orders for each product.
If you don’t use lookups, then you will miss out Access saving you time by the process creating views of your data automatically. Once you have these different views of your data, you will find that some of them are exceptionally useful for viewing data from a different perspective. If you find something that you don’t like, you can remove it that view from the web app.
Views for displaying your data
When you select a table, then on the top right of the main screen area next to the table selector is the View Selector for the chosen table. Microsoft Access will automatically create a List (Details) View and Datasheet View (Big Excel Sheet). You can then add to, remove, re-order, re-title and change the views.
Easy Data Search
The default List View comes with a built in search bar feature. By default, your web app will search every field for whatever you type in. Once again, Access does all the hard work for you.
Restrictions on Primary Keys
A web app only supports one kind of primary key which is an auto-incrementing number (this is similar to the Autonumber data type found in a traditional desktop database and the Access Web Services 2010 primary key restrictions). The key field will automatically be named ID, but you can rename it.
Working with Existing Data
Access has great features for importing data, but you should note that upgrading a database to a Web App is very much starting from scratch; You can import your data into your web app, but you will have to design all your views, reports, forms, and other functionality from scratch (mainly because web apps can’t do everything that a desktop database can). Before you try an import an existing desktop database, make sure that you change your desktop database so that every table has an autonumber primary key, and every foreign key is a long integer. If you don’t do this then you will run into problems.
Certain legacy data types are not supported, and those fields will not be imported. OLE Objects and Attachments are not supported. Instead there is a new Image data type which supports .gif, .jfif, .jpe, .jpeg, .jpg, or .png formats (notice that the bmp format is not supported).
If you have data in Attachments or OLE Objects, then these will need to be extracted and held outside the database in separate files, the exception is for supported image formats in
Data stored in SQL
The web app data is held in a SQL database on Access Hosting’s servers, these are automatically managed as part of your Subscription and hosting plan. You can create as many web apps as you like with our plan and are only restricted by storage (which can be upgraded at any time).
To program a web app you use macros (VBA is not supported!). There are two different kinds of macros. User Interface macros manage how a user interacts with you application interface. Data macros are used to perform operations on your data.
Connecting your Web App to a Desktop Database
While Access Web Apps DO NOT support VBA programming or provide a browser based reporting capability, you can use the Access Desktop application to link to your data online to perform more complicated actions. You can quickly and easily connect to your Access Hosting Web App to create reports and more. Check out this tutorial and video on how to use this feature.