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Introducing a new user experience feature in Access web apps: Cascading Controls

You asked, we listened! It’s just the nature of shipping software in a “services world” with Office 365: When we hear your feedback, we can respond with new features that fill your needs. In the case of Access 2013, we heard loud and clear from our first Access 2013 web app users that we needed to implement Cascading Controls as a part of our custom web app feature set.

It used to be a 3-year wait for new features in Office. However, because we are increasing the speed of our ship cycles, we are proud to announce that as of now, Cascading Controls are available to all of our Access 2013 Office 365 customers! The changes are on the server side which means you do not need to update your Access client program at all. This update is available immediately for customers using Office 365 with Access Services so look for this feature within your web apps and try it out.

How do Cascading Controls work?

It’s a common scenario. The app developer wants to make the options in a control, such as a dropdown, relevant to the option chosen from a different control. For example, you might want to associate company names with people names in a business contact database, or maybe you’d like to connect the make, model, and trim level for cars in a product database. These scenarios are now possible in Access 2013 custom web apps for SharePoint for Office 365 users.

Consider the following scenario of an app tracking a consultant’s projects. When entering a new project, you want to choose a company for whom the project will be completed and the contact for that project at that company. If you have lots of contacts at different companies in the app, you might want to see only a list of the contacts at that specific company. To enable this scenario, use a List Details or Blank view that has more than one combo box or autocomplete control. In the following screenshot, you can see a sample List Details view of a Projects table. 

Screenshot of a List Details view in Access client designer

In this case, the Company autocomplete control will be the parent control and the child control will be the Contacts combo box. Note that the parent control can be an autocomplete or a combo box control, but the child control must be a combo box. For the child control, click the Data callout to see the list of properties available for the control. When you specify a Row Source (can be either a table or a saved query) for the control, additional properties appear, including a property called Parent Control. In the following screenshot, you can see the new Parent Control property at the bottom of the property list.

Screenshot of the Data property options for a combo box control. Parent Control is shown highlighted.

The dropdown list for the Parent Control property will display only the names of autocomplete and combo box controls defined on the current view. Select the control you want to be the parent from the dropdown list. In the example screenshot below, we selected CompanyAutoComplete. After you select the appropriate control for the Parent Control property, Access displays an additional property called Related Field. Select the field from the dropdown list on this property that serves as the “linking” element between the parent and child controls and Access will take care of the rest.

Screenshot of the Data property options for a combo box control. Parent Control and Related Field are shown highlighted.

When you view your web app within your browser at runtime, Access Services disables the child control until you select a value from the parent control. In the following screenshot, you can see that the Contact combo box initially is not an active control.

A screenshot of a List Details view open in a web browser.

After you select a value from the Company autocomplete control, Access Services activates the Contact combo box, filters the list to only display those contacts associated with the Company in the parent control, and then allows you to select an appropriate contact. If you select a different value from the Company autocomplete control, Access filters the Contact combo box again to only display those contacts associated with the new value in the Company autocomplete parent control.

We hope you enjoy this new Cascading Controls feature within Access web apps for SharePoint that opens up more scenarios for your custom web apps built on top of Office 365. Give it a try and let us know what you think! 

Join the conversation

22 comments
  1. Very cool!

    "When you view your web app within your browser at runtime, Access Services disables the child control until you select a value from the parent control. In the following screenshot, you can see that the Contact combo box initially is not an active control."

    Extra very cool :-)

    • DatabaseMX,
      Glad you like the feature Joe. The active/inactive state of the control was an added bonus we decided to throw in.

  2. Excellent. Glad we didn’t have to wait until 2016 for this.

    • Alan,
      We’re pleased to hear your positive feedback. We’re also just as excited to release this new feature on a much faster schedule.

  3. My name is Yoshiki-Tojo .
    Thank you for your message . However I can’t understand the detail . I’ll try to test this new function , and report to you
    .
    From Tokyo , Japan .

  4. It’s actually easier to use than to explain :)

  5. This is very good news. Thanks.

  6. Nice feature. When will this be released for the self hosted SharePoint sites?

    • Jim,
      I would imagine this feature would be available at some point for on-prem self hosted SharePoint installations, but I do not know what the timetable would be for when that happens. Currently, this new feature is only available for Office 365 subscribers.

  7. I tried to test tis function . But I coulkn’t succss to implement . I might have misunderstood . Please let me know how to attach some screen shots under PowerPoint .
    Thank you .

    • Ktojo,
      What issues are you having?

  8. This is a welcome addition, but it does not work in datasheet views, which is my primary use case for this capability.

    • Vladbath,
      You’re correct this feature is not available in Datasheet views. A datasheet view displays the same controls over and over so it is more work to light up this feature in this scenario.

  9. Referring to the above example, does the underlying table, then, have to have both a Contact and Company field? Or can the table only have a Contact field, and the Company field is only on the form for filtering purposes? I’ve not been able to figure out how to get it to work with only the Contact field in the table, so maybe that’s my answer. Can anyone confirm? Thanks.

    • Jbhansen,
      I believe in this example they had both fields in the table but I don’t think it is a requirement.

  10. "In the following screenshot, you can see a sample List Details view of a Projects table."
    What exactly is a List Details view? Googling(or Binging) it doesn’t bring up any relevant info.

    • Grovelli,
      Access 2013 web apps support four types of views: List Details, Datasheet, Blank, and Summary. (The List Details view is also sometimes referred to as a List view.)
      A List Details view, as you can see in the blog screenshots, contains a list control along the left side displaying one or two fields from the source table. You select a record and then the details of that record (other fields in the source) are displayed in the details portion of the view on the right.

  11. Can this be used in the datasheets view?

    • @ OnClick
      No, the cascading controls feature can only be used on List Details and Blank views within Access 2013 web apps built on top of Office 365.

      • Oh gotchya, thanks so much for the reply!!

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