Data entry made easy

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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:

  1. Automatically generating two views based on your data.
  2. 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.

 The default List view.

This is the Datasheet view. It looks and works like an Excel spreadsheet.

 The default datasheet view.

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…

 Add a birthday field to the Customers table.

…and your View will be updated with the field you added when you click “Refresh” in the browser!

A birthday field is automatically added to the List view.

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.

 Create a lookup from Tasks to Customers.

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:

  1. The related items control
  2. 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.

 The related items control displays the Tasks assigned to an Employee.

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.

 Click on a related Task to see and edit its details.

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.

 Click on the hyperlink to drill-down into the details of the Employee who owns the Task.

When you click the link, a popup launches with all the details for that item.

 A popup displays the Task owner's details.

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 will help you search the Employees table to find the right owner for the task.

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.

  1. kelvin kariithi

    How does one calculate no. of days after a given duration. eg to calculate overdue days after 3 days between a date of issue and a bate of return,,,,,,,

    • Erik Kennedy

      You can write an expression for a field called like "[DueDate]+3" and that will give you the day you’re looking for.

  2. Dick Watson

    Perhaps I’m missing something again. None of this has anything to do with Access as desktop database, correct?

    • Andrew Stegmaier User">

      @Dick – That’s correct. The new user interface is for 2013 web databases. Desktop databases will continue to be supported as before, though.

      • Dick Watson

        So, bottom line time: is there any reason an Acc2010 desktop database user would want to upgrade to Acc2013? Was any development invested in making the product better or more usable (not just the new UI) for that user?

      • Dick Watson

        (My fear is that Microsoft has decided they are no longer really intersted in developing/selling Access as an end in and of itself and has decided the only reason to sell Access is to promote and enable sales of the more profitable back-end products like SQL Server and SharePoint. As a longtime MS Money user, I’ve seen this movie before: the minute Microsoft decides that the whole reason one product exists is to sell another one, it’s the beginning of the end.)

        • Andrew Stegmaier

          Dick – Access has been a part of a larger value proposition (office) for a long time. Now that the world is shifting to the cloud, this hasn’t changed–but our partnership has expanded to SharePoint and Office365 as well.

          There has been a massive investment in Access this release, and we’ve made huge strides to advance our web-based platform. By aligning our apps with SharePoint apps, we’re exposing Access to a whole new audience that wouldn’t be able to discover it otherwise. The new web apps work great together with the already mature desktop platform (which we continue to support). Far from heralding the death of Access, these changes are preparing the platform for a web- and mobile-enabled future.

  3. Alan Cossey

    As Erik says, this is pretty "nifty".
    In the video at 1:13 we can see the list of tables down the left hand side. Two, Audio Cables and Projector, have "Team Storage" just below them in that list. Similarly in your Related Items Control screen shot above, there is "Microsoft" below the names of each person in the list. What’s that all about, please?

  4. Alan Cossey

    Ah, got it. It’s the Secondary data source for the list.

  5. SherylCorgan

    Is it possible to print and also email from the action bar?

Comments are closed.