This post was written by Erik Kennedy, a Program Manager on the Access team.
In Access 2013, there are lots of improvements to help you quickly make a great user interface for your web databases. With this interface, the people who use your app will have easy time entering data.
There’s two ways we’ve gone about doing this:
- Automatically generating two views based on your data.
- Generating special controls for entering related data—the related items control and the autocomplete control.
Automatically Created Views
The basic unit of an Access app is a table. When you describe an app by what it tracks—”I want to track appointments” or “I want to track payments and invoices”—you’re talking about tables. In this case, a table for Appointments, Payments, or Invoices.
Access 2013 does something really handy with all of your tables. Whenever you create a new table (or make certain updates to an existing one), it will automatically create (or update) two views for you. A view is the screen in the browser that you see when you navigate to the app—it’s through views that you interact with your data. Access 2013 gives you the power to create entirely customized views, but to get you started quickly, it will automatically generate a List view and a Datasheet view.
This is a List view. It functions a lot like a fill-out form you may see on any other website.
This is the Datasheet view. It looks and works like an Excel spreadsheet.
Both the List view and the Datasheet view allow you to edit the data of your app. Whether you want to add new data, or edit or delete existing data, there’s a way to do it in the view.
You can create different types of views besides these two, and you can even create duplicates of the same view, but with different data sources. For instance, you could have a List called “All Employees” and a list of “Current Employees”.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is that these views are automatically generated for you whenever you create a new table. And if you update the table in the Table Designer, as long as you haven’t edited the view in the View Designer, your view will be updated automatically.
For instance, if you want to add a Birthday field to your Customers table to track the birthday of each customer, you can make the change in the Table Designer…
…and your View will be updated with the field you added when you click “Refresh” in the browser!
Hotkeys and the Action Bar
You’ll notice at the top of the List view is a row of buttons. This is called the Action Bar, and it includes a number of commonly used commands that are useful in interacting with the data in your app.
For the List View, these actions are provided automatically:
- Add item
- Delete item
- Edit item
- Save item
- Cancel item
These few functions help get an app off the ground quickly, so you can start using it right away. If your scenario requires advanced customization or business logic, you can focus your time designing for what’s unique about your situation.
Because these functions are so common, we’ve also assigned some hotkeys. This way you can quickly move around the app without switching back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse. Here are the hotkeys for each of the actions:
- Add: N
- Delete: <Delete> key
- Edit: E
- Save: Ctrl + S
- Cancel: Esc
You’ll also notice that you can tab between links and controls in your app. Keyboard shortcuts will help make it easy and fast to interact with the data in your Access 2013 app!
Automatically Generated Controls for Related Data
Access is particularly powerful in tracking relational data—i.e. where two tables are connected. For instance, if you track Employees and Tasks, you’ll likely want to connect those two tables so that each Task has an Employee assigned to it, and each Employee can have multiple tasks.
To relate two tables like that, you create a lookup from one table to another. A lookup is a kind of field in one table that can display data from another, related, table. So for the Tasks/Employees example, you would create a lookup field called “Owner” field in Tasks that displays the appropriate employee’s name or alias.
Below, we’re using the Table Designer to look at our Tasks table. You can see there’s a lookup here to Employees, and that lookup is what makes the two tables related.
Whenever you create a lookup between two tables, Access 2013 will automatically create some special controls for you so that it’s easy to enter and view data for those tables.
The two special controls for related tables are:
- The related items control
- The autocomplete control
The Related Items Control
In the Tasks/Employees example, we said that each Employee could have multiple tasks assigned to him or her. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could see all of an employee’s tasks just by looking at a view for that employee? That’s what the related items control does.
If you navigate to a record in one table—in this case, Employees—you’ll see data from a related table—in this case, all his related Tasks—thanks to the related items control.
Any time you create a relationship between two tables, Access 2013 will try to generate a related items control so you can see the related data easily.
This isn’t all, though—if you click any of the items in the related items control, you will see a popup which presents all the details for that item. Want details on a specific task? Simply click on it.
The Autocomplete Control
The autocomplete control is generated in similar cases as the related items control, but it appears on the table in the relationship that doesn’t have a related items control.
For the Tasks/Employees example, that means we’ll see an autocomplete control on the Tasks table. If you navigate to a Task and look under owner, you’ll notice it looks like a link.
When you click the link, a popup launches with all the details for that item.
If you want to change the ownership of a task, the autocomplete control helps you find the right record in the related table. I simply start typing the name of another person into the autocomplete control, and I’m presented with a dropdown of the search results. When I’ve found the person I was looking for, I just hit enter.
The autocomplete control and the related items control make it easy to deal with related data. Combined with the List view and Datasheet view, Access 2013 makes it easy to view and edit data. Perhaps most importantly, all of this functionality is available automatically as soon as you create the tables that represent the things you want to track. When you’re creating an app, you can focus on designing what’s specific and unique about your scenario instead of rebuilding basic functionality every time.
Access 2013 is the most powerful tool around for quickly making a web app for your department, organization, or business—in part because it’s easy and quick to enter and edit data.