Microsoft introduces the ability to create and deploy web applications using Microsoft Access 2013. What are web apps and what can you do with them? In this series I’ll cover what web applications are, what you need to create them and how to start the design process.
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Who builds so-called “thick’ client applications anymore? Thick applications are applications that you install locally on a client – usually through some sort of installation wizard. Until Microsoft Access 2013, Access applications were always ‘thick’. Sometimes you’d split the front end and database between a client and server, but something was always installed on the client’s machine to provide an interface.
As more and more applications are developed as web applications that can be run using any browser, Microsoft knew it had to spend some time re-working Access to allow you to easily build and deploy web based applications. Thick applications can still be built in Access 2013, but the big focus is on web applications (Figure 1).
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Let’s Do This!
It may be very tempting to jump in and start creating a web app but try to resist the urge. There are a few things you need to know before you get started. So what do you need?
Microsoft Access 2013 – obviously you’ll need Access 2013. Previous versions don’t allow you to create web-based applications. Make sure you’ve installed the lasted updates as well.
SharePoint 2013 – previously anyone running your application would either need a full-blown copy of Access or they would need the free Access reader. For web apps you will be hosting your applications on a web server so anyone with a browser can access it. However, Microsoft requires you to deploy your application to a SharePoint 2013 server. If you don’t have a SharePoint instance running on-premise, you can also deploy to a Microsoft Hosted instance.
If you are just dabbling and want to see how Access web apps would work, you may consider signing up for a free Office 365 trial that includes SharePoint. This way you don’t need to go through the work of setting up an on-premise server. Additional details for setting up a SharePoint trial can be found in my second article on Access 2013 Web Apps.
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Creating a Design
Next, you’ll want to come up with a design. What are you trying to do within your application? What data is being tracked, how will data be entered into the application and how will data be viewed? You’ll need to answer each of these questions to fully develop your design (Figure 2).
What data are you going to track? Let’s say you want to track a list of contacts. What fields will be necessary? Start writing down the names of fields you will want to track such as “First Name", “Last Name" and “Email Address".
Next, for each of your fields, you will need to determine how the data will be stored. Are you going to use simple free-form text entry boxes, will you use lookup fields, date fields or other types of controls? So, for your list of fields, add a list of control types. This will make creating your table much easier in the next article.
Once you have your field names and types laid out you will want to consider how end users will input this data. What will the form look like? Do you want a simple tabular layout where each contact is stored, or do you want to show one contact at a time. It’s best to take a piece of paper and actually draw out what you want the form to look like.
Finally, how do you want users to be able to view the data? Reports are typically the answers but Microsoft wasn’t able to add in reporting functionality into Access 2013. Instead, you can create different forms that will let you view the data in differing ways. You can also connect Excel to your application’s database in order to create reports and charts.
After you’ve come up with your design you should be ready to start creating your web application. Continue on to the next article to get started!