Access 2016: Introduction

Screenshot of the Genre table containing data.

Microsoft Access is a Relational Database Management System (RDBMS), designed primarily for home or small business use.

Microsoft Access (or MS Access) is bundled as part of the Microsoft Office suite. It is only available on the PC version.

Access has traditionally been known as a desktop database system because its functions are intended to be run from a single computer (as opposed to a client/server system where the database application is installed on a server, then accessed from multiple client machines) across a network.

However, Access also includes a web solution (for building "custom web apps") that is integrated with SQL Server — a more powerful database product, also from Microsoft) — for a more robust solution.

This tutorial only uses the desktop solution of Microsoft Access.

Access Versus Excel

Microsoft Access stores various types of data in a way that is easy to retrieve. It includes various features in order to achieve this.

Excel, on the other hand, leans more towards numerical data and performing calculations on that data.

While you can certainly store various types of data in an Excel spreadsheet (or any other spreadsheet for that matter), a specialized database application like Access includes specific features for declaring and maintaining various types of data. Access allows you to restrict the data that users enter into each field. It also allows you to link related data across multiple tables. And it also provides other useful features such as forms, reports, query builder, and more.

Having said that, there are times where storing data in Excel might make more sense.

If you're currently storing data in Excel, and you're trying to decide whether to switch to Access, read on. This tutorial will explain the basic concepts of Access 2016, so that once you've finished, you'll have a much better idea whether to use Access or Excel.

Access File Extensions

When you save a database in Microsoft Access, it is saved with a .accdb extension. This is the file extension you will use the most when developing Access databases. Older Access databases used an .mdb extension or sometimes a .mde extension, but in 2007, Microsoft started to phase these out in favor of the .accdb extension. If you're unable to open an older database, you may need to convert to .accdb first using an older version of Access.

Download Microsoft Access

If you don't currently have Microsoft Access installed on your computer, you can download it from the Microsoft website.

Access Versions

This tutorial uses Microsoft Access 2016. If you're using a different version, the screenshots might look a little different. Generally, most of the basic functions remain consistent between different versions of Access so you should be able to follow along without any problems.

This tutorial will also work with Microsoft Access 2016. The difference between Access 2016 and Access 2013 is almost trivial (eg, a new quick-search feature, redesigned database templates).