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How Do I Make Sense of Microsoft Access? 100

Posted by Cliff
from the access-denied dept.
Anthony Boyd asks: "I have a pretty good tool-set for LAMP work, but as I get into Microsoft jobs, I've started to wonder if I'm working with the best tools. In particular, I'm exploring an 'out of control' Microsoft Access setup, which has about 200 tables in 30 .mdb files, including some duplicated/outdated tables. I'd like to print the properties of each table (with the comments for each field), print the table list for each database, get info on the field types & relationships, and so forth. What tools do you suggest for trying to grok a large Access mess?"
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How Do I Make Sense of Microsoft Access?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:34PM (#15892813)
    Look for the Database Documenter in the tools menu...it will print out basically all of the information that you say you're looking for...
  • Tools (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ricken (797341) on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:36PM (#15892817)
    "What tools do you suggest for trying to grok a large Access mess?"

    Coffee. Lots of coffee, and ignorance. It's bliss, or so I've heard.
    • Re:Tools (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg (145172) *
      Coffee. Lots of coffee. . .

      With two lumps of LSD.

      KFG
    • Re:Tools (Score:3, Funny)

      by Mistshadow2k4 (748958)
      No, no, no. You need a case of beer and a large bottle of hard liquor (bourbon, rum, etc.). Coffee makes you realize how little sense Access makes.

      •   Apparently there's not enough coffee being served to the MS developers, then.

        SB
        • Re:Tools (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Maserati (8679) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @12:51AM (#15893248) Homepage Journal
          And there never has been.

          Set the wayback machine to Access 1.0 and you'll find me working at a Software Etc. back in college. We got, and sold, 12 copies of Access 1.0. All twelve came back from customers complaining that the program was uselessly buggy.

          Wind forward a bit to Access 97. I'm a sysadmin for... well, a company using a lot of Filemaker 3 databases (my first task there was finishing the FMP 2->3 migration). We were looking to migrate off of Filemaker (it wasn't a Microsoft product; just don't ask me about that manager - I have no idea how he got out of there without being charged with embezzling for kickbacks from the consultant he was partnered with immediately prior to joining our company). One candidate to replace Filemaker for production databases with 50 users, 250,000+ records and 2 or 3 people running reports was Access 97 (the other two were CRM products, one from a company that later ran Superbowl ads and the other from a company later acquired by Nortel; and no, management didn't select the company that survived). Our lead FMP developer managed to stretch the Access97 evaluation out to a full hour before he deleted every table in his test implementation without recovery, undo, or prompt. End of evaluation.

          So I've seen two versions of Access in business situations. Microsoft usually gets things right in the third version. For Access, you have to start counting with Access 2000 - if that version was useful.

          How you handle it is to document the functionality and re-implement the application in something else.
          • Re:Tools (Score:3, Insightful)

            by cruachan (113813)
            Early access was indeed pretty crud. However Access 97 was a solid release that I still have clients running on even now. My milage varies because I never use Access as anything else put a front end to SQL Server or MSDE, and in these circumstances it's an excellent, reliable and solid system. Access should never be used as a database for all but the smallest of systems and personally I'd never trust it for anything else but single user, however to decry it because it doesn't work reliably in such circum
            • Re:Tools (Score:3, Interesting)

              by afidel (530433)
              I don't have mod points today so I'll just respond. What you have said is VERY correct. Access isn't a horrible design tool or presentation layer, it IS a horrible database. Developers who base commercial products off it should be shot and those who base internal projects off it should be educated. Anyone who's doing real development work probably already has a license to redistribute MSDE, and internal developers don't need one. I have a friend who's a programmer/DBA and probably 90% of his workload is tak
              • ...have you had it totally, irreversably trash a database file yet?

                The rest of it looks relatively simple and easy-to-use but is ever-so-prone to making exactly the kinds of spaghetti-farms which the OP is asking about.

                AFAICT, those spaghetti-farms are a lock-in policy done with more stealth than is usual for MS. It's likely that the cheapest, most effective answer for anything beyond an instant fix is the total rewrite (in something standard and comprehensible).
          • Our lead FMP developer managed to stretch the Access97 evaluation out to a full hour before he deleted every table in his test implementation without recovery, undo, or prompt. End of evaluation.

            Access isn't the greatest thing on the planet. However, if you unreasonably expect your database to hold your hand while managing tables... I have some bad news for you!

            DELETE FROM MY_TABLE;

            DROP TABLE MY_TABLE;

            Where did my table go! Johnny your table has gone to a better place, a happier place.
    • by WgT2 (591074)

      Yes, coffee!

      And pencil and paper and very big pink eraser!

      • Re:Tools (Score:3, Funny)

        by Neoncow (802085)
        Yes, coffee!

        And pencil and paper and very big pink eraser!
        WTF? This tastes gross! Now I know why you all hate Access so much.
    • by r00t (33219)
      You also need a silver cross and some Holy Water.
    • How Do I Make Sense of Microsoft Access? That about covers it.
  • IMHO (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ManoSinistra (983539) on Friday August 11, 2006 @10:47PM (#15892849) Homepage
    I have also done extensive work with LAMP and Microsoft (Access in particular). I actually started out with ASP and Windows before I learned all the LAMP stuff. IMHO, Access databases are by no means secure and what's more, they're very clumsy animals. It might be in your clients best interests to convert to LAMP/Linux, etc.
    • It might be in your clients best interests to convert to LAMP/Linux, etc.

      The 'L' in 'LAMP' stands for Linux, (GNU/)Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP.
    • Re:IMHO (Score:3, Informative)

      by imemyself (757318)
      And if not LAMP, then atleast something based on MSSQL. Access is not meant to handle things with that many tables and presumably quite a bit of (important) data. Not to mention security and reliability.
    • Well, yes, but it does have its place.

      Just like VB, Access isn't meant to be used for 'Real' applications.

      It's a great rapid prototyping tool, and I actually use it fairly often for small databases, or when I need to hammer out a small set of code very quickly that onl needs to run properly once.

      Once you get into a large multi-user database, Access is pretty bad. But that's because it's the wrong tool for the job. If the database has grown this large, it's probably time to rewrite/modify the application
      • I dunno Access, but VB is perfectly usable for "real" applications. VB.NET is just another .NET language, so it's as capable as C#. VB6, though not great, is also usable for real applications. I admit that VB's lower learning curve means more people write crappy software with it, but plenty of people write good software with it too.
        • Fortran is just another compiled language. Does that mean it's as capable as Lisp or C?

          I mean, if one language is as usable as another for real applications simply because they run on the same platform, then why not program raw assembly -- or raw CIL if you like .NET?

          Or does it just have a bad rap because of a quick learning curve? Well, if that's the case, why hasn't Ruby gotten the same reputation? Why is it that the only complaint most people can find about Ruby is that it's a bit overhyped and dog-sl
          • Admittedly, I'd prefer not to go back to ForTran but if it was the only tool available, I'd just get to it.

            About half of my job requires programming in Java which is, IMNSHO, the worst programming language evar (except maybe COBOL). If I can deal with that, ForTran would be no problem.

            As far as the capabilities of VB, I haven't used it for a long time but it was pretty powerful and had the virtue of some pretty in-depth help files. I got started programming (professionally) with Access and VBA in the ante
            • Java which is, IMNSHO, the worst programming language evar (except maybe COBOL)

              Have you actually used COBOL in a production environment, or are you just spouting elitist CompSci blather?

              • by Joe U (443617)
                Spouting blather on Slashdot? Where have you been the past few years?
                • Spouting blather on Slashdot? Where have you been the past few years?

                  I know, I know. Still, shining the light of critical thought onto Wrong Conventional Wisdom is always a Good Thing.

            • About half of my job requires programming in Java which is, IMNSHO, the worst programming language evar (except maybe COBOL).

              I feel your pain. Then again, my job involves mostly programming in PHP. PHP 4.

          • by Joe U (443617)
            Fortran is just another compiled language. Does that mean it's as capable as Lisp or C?

            That's not a valid comparison, all .NET languages compile to the CLR. That puts VB.NET and C# pretty close together.

            It's just that BASIC is designed for the beginning programmer and C# for the more advanced.

            • Fortran is just another compiled language. Does that mean it's as capable as Lisp or C?

              That's not a valid comparison, all .NET languages compile to the CLR. That puts VB.NET and C# pretty close together.

              (1) Fortran and C and a metric shitload of other languages all compile to machine code.

              (2) All .NET languages compile to the CLR.

              Are you sure that (1) means that the languages can have different capabilities while (2) means those languages all have the same capabilities?

    • by Zerbs (898056)
      LAMP is the Access of the decade. Do you really want to suggest people to sidegrade their application? Upgrade! From Access, SQL Server will be the easiest to convert to, as other people have mentioned.
  • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:02PM (#15892880) Homepage
    If you have that many access databases, you are probably misusing it. Import all that data into SQL Server, and start from there. There is no magic way to make sense of a database schema.. the best you'll do is grabbing a GUI that visualizes it.
    • You're right. But I'll go one step further. Import it into SQL Server, the use Toad.
      • TOAD, definitely. (Score:4, Informative)

        by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot DOT kadin AT xoxy DOT net> on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:23PM (#15892939) Homepage Journal
        I second TOAD, having used it on a daily basis with an absolutely massive (hundreds of tables, many millions of lines) Oracle-based system, and it's been the best way I've found of making sense of things. The "Schema Browser" function I find particularly helpful when I know vaguely what column I'm looking for, but not what table it's in. It's replaced a lot of the old "cheat sheets" I used to have pinned to every flat vertical surface in my cube.

        I've heard it's a fairly expensive piece of software, but thankfully I don't pay for it. It might be tough to get your PHB to spring for it, if that's actually the case...but I've yet to use or even hear of a better way to work with really complex DB systems.
        • Re:Tora, not Toad. (Score:2, Informative)

          by CCW (125740)
          Try Tora. It's a great database admin tool. There's a couple things Toad will do that Tora won't, but I've found it to be a nice substitute.

          Free
          Cross Platform
          Open Source
          supports Multiple Databases

          Really quite a nice application.
  • by MikeB0Lton (962403) on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:04PM (#15892886)

    I'm going to assume you've got Access 2003, because I can't remember what they changed from 2000 anymore :-)

    The Microsoft Access Conversion Toolkit will give you some of the information you want, and can be used to query MDBs network-wide. If you just need to figure out the mess of a single chosen database, start using the built-in features of Access. Check the relationships and see if anything has been diagrammed out for you. If it has, then you have the ERD ready. If not, have fun figuring it out... Use the stuff in 'Tools->Analyze' to get more property and design information. Try right-clicking on a table/query/form/report and selecting 'Object Dependencies'. This will allow you to see what requires it to work, as well as what the object depends on. Lastly, I just start working through the code/macros (yuck). The object dependencies stuff won't check macros or VBA, so you have to check manually. Sometimes you'll find DAO/ADO code opening connections programmatically.

    Best of luck to you! This will suck badly, in case you didn't figure that out already. Access provides an upsizing wizard that can help you upload your data to an MS-SQL server, but that will require you debug (ADP as frontend) / rewrite (VB.NET) the forms and stuff.

    Despite what people say, Access does allow for security rights. However, it is not linked in any way to the machine or Active Directory. You use a modified shortcut to load the database with a security file. It works alright for most things, but there is no record-level security, and it sucks when you have 20 people signed in and you have to update the file. Also, supposedly there are cracks that break that security.

    This all leads me to my next point for all who read: DO NOT USE ACCESS AS AN ENTERPRISE-LEVEL / MISSION CRITICAL DATABASE SUITE. Pay for a decent tool/programmer/dba/whatever if you really like your data. This application is just for personal / small-group data storage. There is a reason it comes with Office, and not SQL Server. Thank you.

    • Hell, don't use Access if it's going to be used by more than five users simultaneously. It's designed for occasional, personal, direct usage. Using it as a backend to a single-user application would be OK, as long as that application isn't used over the network, though there are probably some bettter solutions [sqlite.org] out there.

      NEVER, EVER, EVER use an Access database as a backend to a server. It's just asking for trouble.

      Unfortunately I get the feeling that a lot of these Access overusage problems stem from man
      • I think the other reason why managers stick with Access stems from the licensing aspect. It's a hell of a lot cheaper to run a database off Access than it is to run SQL Server. The express edition is free, and is still an upgrade from Access, although I highly doubt that when you call your MS rep to ask about SQL server, I doubt they really push the Express Edition. I'm also unsure of how many users you're allowed to have accessing it at a single time. I know it has a 4GB limit, which should be a nice up
        • also, if you buy the visual studio tools for office, you can make a freely distributable runtime version of Access, so now you don't need to buy Office Pro for every machine that needs Access.
        • See, this makes me think that there would be a good spot for a scaleable, open source, free (as in beer and speech) replacement for Access. SQLite is good for application backend, and MySQL is good as a server backend, but AFAIK nothing quite fits into the spot where Access is right now: A tool to quickly stamp out both a database AND a UI without a whole lot of effort.

          Maybe even if there were some more prominent free tools to convert Access databases to other RDBMSes it would help.
          • Well, idealy, you'd just need a program, (or a person) to do the inital installation, But I imagine a solution with OO.org Base and a MySQL/PostGres/SQLite backend. Plus if your database application grew up a little and was no longer personal, you could already be using a capable database engine. I don't imagine running small databases would be any more resource intensive in Postgres than in Access.
    • I don't know if you are familiar with SQL Server, but Access uses meta-data tables to describe everything just like SQL Server. Learn how to query them, write the reports that you need to analyze the data that you want, export the reports into all the databases, and you should be able to get something reasonable.

      Or export the meta-table data into a meta-meta-table and have all your information in one place. I think that's the route that I'd pursue.

      Working with system tables is fun! (he says, after trying
  • by THC1972 (989636) * <tania.clucasNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:08PM (#15892903)
    but it does the job.

    On the menu, pull up Tools, Analyzer, Documenter, and pick your criteria. Access is clumsy and not secure, but it's also what most organizations have. That doesn't keep the rest of us from attempting to subvert from within...

    To consolidate the duplicate tables, build a query that replicates grep and/or another that replicates diff, and have fun from there. Somehow I'm sure that you know how to do this.

    Even though I prefer to work with other platforms and venues, my Access skills have managed to keep me employed and the cats fed while I decide what to do next with my life.
  • I suggest alcohol, lots of alcohol.
  • "What tools do you suggest for trying to grok a large Access mess?"

    A bottle of whiskey and a bottle of wine. Good luck.

  • Learn Visual Basic (Score:3, Informative)

    by cyranoVR (518628) * <cyranoVR@gmail . c om> on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:35PM (#15892989) Homepage Journal
    There are a ton of commercial utilities and add-ons for MS Access (check out Access Advisor at your local bookstore), but most of those are just VB apps or ActiveX controls that just do what you could do yourself with a little Visual Basic. Once you have got the basics down from some online tutorials, Access Cookbook [oreilly.com] by Kurt Getz is a great investment.

    MS Access has a large community online, especially comp.databases.ms-access [oreilly.com]. Google is your friend - just about everything you'll ever want to do has already been done and has VB code examples online.

    Here is a thread that has code demonstrating how to dump the contents of an Access database as DDL into text files:

    comp.databases.ms-access: Exporting jet table metadata as text? [google.com]

    PS - If you are impatient with the limitations of VBA (aka "VB Classic"), there are Microsoft Office interop libraries that will let you automate Access Databases in .NET.
  • Visio (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hbo (62590) * on Friday August 11, 2006 @11:37PM (#15892999) Homepage
    If someone else is paying for your tools. Visio will analyze any database that has an ODBC driver. (That includes MySQL and PostgreSQL.) Of course, then you end up struggling with two bloated Microsoft tools. But Visio at least can be used to draw pretty pictures. 8)

    Access is frequently abused in the way you describe. Companies that have Office licenses often restrict distribution of the Access component, even if they are otherwise entitled to it, because of such abuse. Access is a very handy tool for a quick-and-dirty database design, so people use it for that - a lot. Pretty soon, you have little information islands all over the place, designed by amatuer DBAs, and containing gobs of misplaced but critical business data. I believe it is all another Nefarious Microsoft Plot (NGP) because when you switch to the solution for cleaning it all up - SQL server - your need for the software is so severe that you won't kick about the price, and expectations for performance are so low that SQL server easily passes muster. Of course, that's just the snide opinion of Yet Another Microsoft Detractor. 8)

    • See, the thing is, Microsoft has provided a MUCH better alternative for a number of years, for free no less. So I wouldn't really consider it a mad plot to make more money.

      It used to be called MSDE (Microsoft Data Engine), and it has since been renamed SQL Express. Yes, it is not a full fledged version of SQL; however, the features that are missing are not features that would have been used by anyone considering Access in the first place. The main detractor was that MSDE never had any of the management tool
      • by hbo (62590) *
        I'll admit I haven't looked at this closely for a couple of years. But every time I have in the past, I concluded that SQL server only made sense where Windows was not optional. I know Microstuff has put a lot of effort into SQL server over the years, and no doubt it has improved from the bloated pig I once so cordially loathed, but then Oracle and IBM and the others haven't stood still in the interim either. And those folks can at least dispense with the GUI, and can employ TCP stacks that don't tune for t
    • But Visio at least can be used to draw pretty pictures. 8)

      So can Access! Create a table (rows 1,000 columns 1,000) and map 1 for black 0 for grey and no value for white... it's an ideal way to store your pictures in the database!

      Try this in one of ym databases and I *will* shoot you.
    • We have a tool that's used for code review logging. It's written in Access (don't ask), by a developer who did it in his spare time.

      The guy who wrote it didn't have a clue -- he ties fields directly to the DB (using the DB controls), so there's no transactions, you can't undo, you can't say, "No I didn't mean that... cancel".

      On top of that, the guy couldn't design a UI to save his life, so users are continually corrupting the database, overwriting records when they mean to create new ones, etc.. And no, w
    • I don't know that I would wholeheartedly recommend going for the MySQL solution.

      The MySQL database driver (MyODBC) has had problems with development for a LONG time. It seems to be moving along slowly again now, but keep in mind that it has basically been on the same version forever.

      Additionally, there are other problems. For example, if there is even a small error, everything falls over. The Access process has to be killed using Task Manager... hardly an optimal solution for a workplace filled with
  • by Travoltus (110240) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @12:49AM (#15893242) Journal
    Take the time NOW and convert everything to ANSI compliant SQL and then rely on front ends to do ALL non ANSI stuff.

    Do it NOW.

    When your employer wakes up and decides not to remain with that closed proprietary bug ridden M$ stuff, they'll thank you profusely. Or they'll fire you and you'll come to my employer for a job and get hired right in. :)
  • ADO OpenSchema? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dtfinch (661405) * on Saturday August 12, 2006 @12:50AM (#15893243) Journal
    I've used ADO's OpenSchema method in the past to get raw lists of table schemas and relationships, including field descriptions.
  • What tools? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Discopete (316823) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @01:13AM (#15893304) Homepage
    Fdisk, Format and reinstall. Next time try the SQL desktop engine or Oracle.
    • I actually think this is an insightful coment. The mess suggests poor judgement which in turn suggest poor judgment in the rest of the application. In that very likely case, a rebuild from requirements are probably the most efficient way to get a defect free system.

      What i mean is that the database is probably non-normalized, so any change might make the db inconsist. There are probably lots of functions on the leaf level with duplicated code, which ofcourse have slight differences to fix bugs due to prev

  • The company I work for runs all of it's POS systems off of MS Access and it's given us nothing but problems. I would suggest switching to anything but Access. If you knew the number of corrupt databases and table property dropping we deal with over a months period (and that's only 72 stores worth, or 72 instances of Access) you'd think twice or think about switching immediately. We are constantly compacting and repairing the databases and it just generates a lot of extra work and takes up time that would be
    • UGH. I feel your pain, man. POS is right. No chance of migrating to MSSQL? You could rebuild the front end to access a local SQL server express DB then replicate changes to a central database for ease of reporting.. I know, easier said than done, but it would be well worth it to ditch access.
    • Until you get that POS replaced or moved to a real database, you can automate repair with a tool called jetcomp. It can repair many databases that Access's Compact and Repair and DAO's CompactDatabase method can't, and can be automated from the command line.

      I went so far as to write a script to detect when the database has been corrupted by attempting to open it and checking the error message if it can't, and automatically backup and repair it using jetcomp. Our corruption problem finally went away when I f
      • Yeah, you're very right. We actually use Jetcomp as well and it works much better than the other tools we have available to us. Network problems do always seem to be the culprit as storms and such hit even with surge protection they still get knocked out sometimes. Cutting the power in the middle of using the database and its processes can damage it no matter what. Not to mention the store employees aren't exactly computer savvy. When anything bad happens they hit everything and anything available to them(a
    • It's a common compromise in your situation.

      You have too much code in the MDB to just dump it. But the Jet database just blows for anything but single user with a rock solid connection to storage.

      You already own the MDBE (or SQL express or whatever it's called now). Use the upsizing wizard to move the data out of the MDB to an instance of MDBE, touch the login code (think about roles, don't give the access client code admin on the database), debug the things that break. Most things should work (poorly)

      • I understand what you mean, the only problem being that there are more "politics" (aka bullshit) involved with the switch. We deal with a third party vendor here in town for our POS system development (this was done way before I started there) so there's a lot of problems with getting the number of hours to jive with the money we are putting out, etc etc. Currently I develop all other new applications going forward so that we can slowly ease their grip [off our balls]. To answer your questions, we use acces
  • ... I was forced to learn access.

    The course was taught by "the new guy" who was a *NIX person (of course he got to teach the M$ classes and not the *NIX classes which would have made sense).

    Anyway, one class he was showing us how to use objects, etc with what he had made prior to class... it didn't work. He made some comment like, "This worked 10 mins ago in my office." and tried to figure out what was wrong. A few french curses later and we got, "THAT IT! Class is over." And he walked out.

    After working
  • But NOT 200 tables in 30 mdb files. Way too much weirdness. Obviously, this ...thing...needs a complete redesign from the ground up. Whoever allowed this clusterfuck to happen needs to be shot.

    Whatever tool you decide on for the back end, (Oracle, SQLServer, Postgres, whatever), I've had great success using Access as a front end. No data stored in it, but just the GUI and some queries/procedures/functions.
  • You could try using mdbtools ...
  • by cruachan (113813) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @05:30AM (#15893682)
    Access has it's place. Ignore the OS zealots here, in the real world Access is a viable solution in many business contexts and there is no direct OS equivalent that comes anywhere close, besides if you try to convert it all to LAMP you'll most probably go out of business in the time it will take you :-).

    OK, firstly you need to convert the data from Access to SQL Server. This is essential: Access is really an excellent front-end system, but it's data handling sucks big time in a mult-user situation. The upsizing wizards included with it do a pretty good job, although you'll undoutably want to tweak manually. Upsizing then reviewing the database and adding relational integrity and other database rules is an essential first step. If you can't afford SQL Server, which is probably on of MS's best products, the MSDE will do if you don't have too many users. It's also a little known fact that Access will run as a front end to Postgres - although I've never tried this myself if you Google for it there's quite a few resources out there.

    Having upsized the database you then have two choices. Review and modify the upsized MDB front-end, or create a new ADP project and convert. ADP's have some advantages, but you have to convert manually and rewrite the data access code. This does take time (although a suprising amount can be cut and pasted from between MDB and ADP). The choice here is heavily influence by how the old database has been written - I've seen some Access applications which are practically VBA applications and need to be rewritten susbtantially to use SQL Server even if left as MDBs, whereas others hardly need any changes at all. If you are picking up the application to support yourself and can afford the time the ADP approach is probably prefable as you'll get to know the code and iron out any junk.

    You should indeed consider what use you can make of LAMP (or more accuratly WISP). Access's strengths lie in it's ability to support detailed responsive Forms for data entry and most particularly it's Reports where complex output can be generated remarkably quickly - generally it's RAD abilities blow LAMP and similar away for anything but a simpler application (and Ruby on Rails, that includes you :-). Both of these are time-consuming to replace by a browser interface: the Forms will need extensive use of AJAX to reproduce the immediate responsive feel of an Access application, and Reports can take a lot of coding and even then reproducing pagenation and so forth can be problematic.

    However in a business context it's quite usual for there to be a core group of users who are responsible for data entry and 'expert' use of the system, and a wider group of users who need just read-only access or some very simple data entry, generally for a limited number of screens. If this is the case it's a viable strategy to replace Access by a browser interface for these users. PHP runs happily on a windows server so all your LAMP skills can be applied quite readily. THE major advantage of replacing Access for the casual users is that you then no longer need to deploy Access, which will save you both licence money and support time.

    If at a later date you have the time and motivation to convert more of the core user functionality from Access to browser then you can do that. A viable strategy is to convert the Forms but leave the complex reports in a Access as a 'reporting suite'. In many business setups it's quite common to find an 'expert user' who is capable of creating bespoke reports in Access. Handled correctly these people can be a valuable asset - generally I create an 'Adhoc' or 'Scratch' Access application for them (mdb is strongly preferred in this case so that objects are not created on the server) which they can use to generate bespoke reports. The core functionality is placed in a separate Access application which they do not modify.

    Take-home message is to recognise that all these technologies have strengths and weaknesses and play
    • Mod parent up, he knows whereof he speaks.
    • Where are the mod points when you need them?!
    • THE major advantage of replacing Access for the casual users is that you then no longer need to deploy Access, which will save you both licence money and support time.

      Although I disagree with most of your post (having developed applications in Access at the start of my career 10 years ago and, reluctantly, quite recently) the above is the point I'd like to take to task.

      If you are deploying to a large number of people you'll likely deploy the royalty-free Access Runtime which allows you to run an access

      • The problem with deploying Access for widespread use on a casual basis, even with the runtime, is that the various dependencies cause issues. Different versions of libraries etc can rapidly end you up in a support quagmire. True if you've limited yourself to vanilla Access and not made use of anything non-standard it may not be too bad, expecially in a standardised environment, but in my experience it's rare for a business application not to make use of other Office products and environments in all but th
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I love how you say "Access isn't that bad" and then your first step is "Convert everything to SQL Server".
    • I'll agree with most of what Cruchan has to say, but want to add in a perspective that I've found important. Almost any business case that is capable of making good use of Access's capabilities is also capable of outgrowing Access's utility. Let me be more specific.

      Access's primary strength is that it allows a novice but intelligent user to store data in a database and create views with which they can examine, alter, and add to that data. This makes it very attractive for many small business owners to cr
  • Visual Studio (Score:2, Informative)

    by exKingZog (847868)
    If your bosses will shell out for it, then Visual Studio 2005's Integration Services can take data from any number of MDBs, Excel files, text files, databases, etc and transform them into whatever you want. We recently used it to move a creaking Access DB (1 table, 165 columns!!!) into a (temporary, and slightly more normalised) SQL Server schema - we had cursors running to generate keys, data cleansing procedures plugged in, and best of all it ran at the click of a button, so we could test it very easily
  • how... (Score:2, Funny)

    by syrinx (106469)
    Evolution of unanswerable questions:

    Middle ages: How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

    1960's: How many roads must a man walk down?

    2006: How do I make sense of Microsoft Access?
  • Take all the access .mdb files and dump them into an MS SQL 2003 database. Take that and scan it with Visio 2003 and create all the ERDs. Use Visio, or your favorite ERD editor to make a real database design (one that conforms to at least 3rd normal form).

    Once you have a real database design (implemented in an modern RDBMS) and all the data in MS SQL than you can transform the data to fit the new ERD.

    Neal
    • Third normal form (absolutely no duplicate data) means you can't keep total on invoice. You must query and total line item. Line item in turn must query the pricing history table to return the correct sales price for the invoice date.

      Putting a total on invoice and a price on line item both violate the third normal form but are still usually good ideas (there are exceptions where line items are added/removed constantly).

      Immediatly fire anybody who speaks of normal forms higher then the third UNLESS they

      • I totaly agree with you Third normal form (absolutely no duplicate data) means you can't keep total on invoice and that makes account statements a nightmare of coding and testing, and in the end you still can never quite trust them. Accounting wise an invoice should be a done deal, if the deal has to change it's better to issues a credit voucher and a new invoice; so their is no real reason to not have a total on the invoice record I think of it as a cross-check, technically a checksum is reduntant data t
  • by wrfelts (950027) on Saturday August 12, 2006 @06:38PM (#15895927)
    There are some tools available. I always wrote my own. Get one of the tools listed by other commenters, though. It will be much quicker.

    If the former programmers were "macro happy" it is very difficult to decode, but with time, a lot of paper to map it out, and even more patients, you can get it done.
    1. The main thing is to get into the head of the previous programmers and find out why every table, macro, or other object was there. Don't make assumptions, it could bite you bad.
    2. Also, make backups before and after major changes and keep dated historical copies. A large Access database can become very unweildy and overwrite code, tables, etc. as it grows. I have had the code to one form cross link to another with weird errors, as an example of some of Access craziness. (BTW, this has been the case through v.2003)
    3. If management is open to the idea, a gradual shift to SQL Express (or the older MSDE) is worth the pain. You can use the existing Access front end with a somewhat gradual migration. If this is an option, keep reading:
    4. Remember that Access will try to pull the entire dataset into memory from SQL Server if you build an Access query on SQL tables. So, work on creating SQL Server View, Stored Procedures, or User Defined Functions instead.
    5. Learn efficient SQL Server SP methodologies. It will help speed things up and use less memory.
    6. Once you have ALL the tables (that are needed) and as much of the logic as possible shifted to SQL Server. Start looking at a better user interface than Access. C# (or even VB.Net) is really good for building a solid business oriented front-end and works well with SQL server once you've got the hang of the interface. I recommend it highly. I also recommend using a .Net 2.0 flavor, as the 1.1 stuff is way too slow.

    Good luck with your project. If you need any help, reply to this message and we can talk.

    Randy
  • This product, Total Access Analyzer,
    http://www.fmsinc.com/products/analyzer/index.html [fmsinc.com]
    has helped me get my head into new db's on several occasions.

    Also by FMS, their Detective product
    http://www.fmsinc.com/products/detective/index.htm l [fmsinc.com]
    is great for figuring out where tables/code have diverged.
  • If you have Visio Professional 2000 or higher you can Reverse Engineer the Access database into a printable ERD that will help you start finding your way around.

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