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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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
I was recently having a very good chat with a potential customer that had some very good questions regarding Access and Office 365. This person already had an Access app and was looking to share it online in the browser and was thinking that SharePoint was the best solution but was confused about what they needed exactly since they had an Office 365 plan with a few users with just email and a few more with Sharepoint and more. It was such a good conversation that I thought it would be good to clarify some of the differences between Office 365 and our SharePoint 2013 Enterprise hosting plan for Access Web Databases and Web apps.
Cost Savings over Office 365
The most confusing part of the comparison is that the varying plans for Office 365 are quite confusing in and of themselves. Office 365 is a sort of all encompassing term used to describe a lot of different products from Microsoft. It can be as simple as a subscription to Microsoft Office software or a complicated enterprise plan with access to Exchange, Sharepoint, Yammer, and more. If you’re interested in Access Web Databases or 2013 Web Apps, the first thing to determine is whether your Office 365 plan even includes SharePoint Enterprise. You need to have either an Office 365 Business Premium plan ($12.50-$15 per user per month) or an Office 365 Enterprise Plan ($20 per user per month) to have access to the correct version of SharePoint with Access Services. Obviously if you have a small business where you have 10 users or less and need email, exchange and everything in between, Office 365 is the better deal, but for a lot of people they need something more flexible.
Let’s say you have Office 365 and are paying $15-$20 per user and have an Access database that you want to host in SharePoint as a web app and share with some of your clients outside of your organization. How do you do that if they don’t have their own Microsoft account/Office 365 account? Our $99 SharePoint hosting plan has been tailor made for Access Services 2013 and 2010 and offers substantial cost savings over Office 365. Right off the bat our $99 plan includes 10 users ($50 – $100 less than Office 365), and each additional user is only $3 per user per month vs. the $15-$20 per user Office 365 plans. Best of all, you don’t need to pay for all the extra features of Office 365 that you don’t need for you and your clients.
Access Services 2013 and 2010 running Side by Side
Another cool feature about our $99 Sharepoint plan is that you can run 2013 Access Web Apps right alongside Access 2010 Web Databases since our 2013 SharePoint environment is running both versions of Access services. We’ve already written about the differences of this technology in a previous post: picking between Access 2013 Web Apps and Access 2010 Web Databases.
Comparing Access Hosting to Office 365
Here’s a few more points about our implementation of SharePoint over Microsoft Office 365. An On Premise or 3rd Party Hosted Access Services 2013 implementation helps provide focused, reliable solutions for the following common customer needs:
Creating an online MS Access Web App is simple with our Sharepoint 2013 Enterprise Plan. If you’ve just signed up for a free trial or if you’re wondering how to get started creating Access Databases online, you’re at the right tutorial!
The first step is to login to your Access Hosting Sharepoint 2013 Website (typically this looks like yourname.accessontheweb.com). So type your web address in a web browser (we highly recommend Internet Explorer or Firefox for the best sharepoint compatibility) and login with the credentials that you received from Access Hosting. Once you login, you should see the standard Sharepoint 2013 homepage.
The next step is to create an Access Web App. Click the gear in the top right and select “Add an app” from the dropdown menu. This will take you to a listing of all the Sharepoint 2013 apps that you can create. Access Web Apps are actually on one of the last pages, so it’s easiest to just search for “access”.
Click on the Access App button and create a name for you new web database.
Click create to start building your web app on Sharepoint.
Once your app has been created it should appear in your Lists, Libraries and other Apps on your Sharepoint Intranet Site. The MS Access web app that you created should be marked as new! Click on your newly created app.
You will be prompted to login to your MS Access Web Database. Enter your login credentials that you received from Access Hosting.
There you have it! You have successfully created an MS Access Application on Sharepoint 2013. The next step is to actually open the App and start building tables and web forms that work in the browser!
Here’s a video demonstrating how to add new created Active Directory users (that paid hosting plan customers can request via our helpdesk) to your SharePoint 2013 and Access Services 2013 database.
We are happy to announce the availability of low-cost SharePoint foundation hosting plans. These plans start at only $99 a year and while they do not have the publishing features of Access Web Services, these SharePoint 2013 plans are still great for Access Developers. You can use SharePoint Lists as you backend and easily have anonymous website users add information and input data using SharePoint’s list functionaliy without having to pay per user enterpise license fees. Watch the video below to see the type of Access development and features that we’re talking about:
One of the most important changes with Access 2013 and their new web apps is in the architecture itself.
In SharePoint 2010, Access Web Services was storing everything in SharePoint (and then SharePoint’s content was backed up by SQL). Access 2013 apps are hosted by SharePoint 2013 while the data is stored in SQL Server 2012. SharePoint 2013 provides authentication, authorization, and security for Access 2013 apps. The back-end tables, views, macros, and queries are stored in an SQL Server 2012 database. This change in architecture reflects a substantial change in the way Access Services works.
You will notice that SQL stores tables, views, macros and queries but there’s no mention about reporting. That is because Access 2013 Web Apps do not allow you to create traditional Access reports. The only way to do reporting is by connecting the local Access software program to the SQL tables directly or using some other compatible reporting software tool.
There are a lot of advantages of using Access 2013 with SharePoint 2013, but it is important for Access Developer to note the following:
Access Hosting is committed to supporting the Access Developer community and will continue to offer SharePoint 2010 Access Web Services hosting for as long as developers are interested. SharePoint 2013 Access Web apps do have a ton of advantages, and we have launched our brand new Access 2013 SharePoint 2013 hosting packages. If you are interested in a free trial, please sign-up here.
We don’t just offer SharePoint hosting either. We have great ways for every Access Developer and Access application to be hosted in the cloud whether it’s through SharePoint, SQL Server or our RDP solution which lets you host any Access 2007, 2010 or 2013 application without ANY modifications. It supports VBA code too.