Section 1.2. Getting Started

1.2. Getting Started

It's time to begin your journey and launch Access. You'll start at a spiffy Getting Started page (Figure 1-1).

Figure 1-1. The Getting, Started page is a bit of a cross between a Windows program and a Web page. Use the links on the left to browse through different categories of templates (ready-to-go databases that you can download and fill with your own information). Or check out the links on the bottom, which show you the latest Access news and tips.

Using Someone Else's Database

Can I use an Access database I didn't design ?

Although every database follows the same two-step process (first somebody creates it, and then people fill it with information), the same person doesn't need to perform both jobs. In fact, in the business world, different people often work separately on these two tasks .

For example, a summer student whiz kid at a beer store may build a database for tracking orders (task #1). The sales department can then use the database to enter new orders (task #2), while other employees look up orders and fill them (also task #2). Warehouse staff can make sure stock levels are OK (again, task #2), and the resident accountant can keep an eye on total sales (task #2).

If task #1 (creating the database) is done well, task #2 (using the database) can be extremely easy. In fact, if the database is well designed, people who have little under-standing of Access can still use it to enter, update, and look up information. Amazingly, they don't even need to know they're running Access at all!

You'll learn more about sharing Access with groups of people in Chapter 18.

The Getting Started page looks a little dizzying at first glance, but it really serves just three purposes:

  • It shows you recent content from Microsoft's Office Online Web site . For example, you can read helpful articles about Access, find timesaving tips, or download updates. All links open in a separate browser window.

  • It lets you open a database you used recently . Look for the Open Recent Database section on the right, which gives you a list.

  • It lets you create a new database . You can start off with an empty database (use the Blank Database button), or you can try to find a ready-made template that fits the bill.

Templates: One Size Fits Some

Templates are prebuilt databases. Templates aim to save you the work of creating your database, and let you jump straight to the fine-tuning and data-entry stage.

As you might expect, there's a price to be paid for this convenience. Even if you find a template that stores the type of information you want to track, you might find that the pre-defined structure isn't quite right. For example, if you choose to use the Home Inventory template to track all the stuff in your basement , you might find that it's missing some information you want to use (like the projected resale value of your stuff on eBay) and includes other details you don't care about (like the date you acquired each item). To make this template work, you'll need to change the design of your table, which involves the same Access know-how as creating one.

In this book, you'll learn how to build your own databases from the ground up and customize every square inch of them. Once you're an Access master, you can spend many fun hours playing with the prebuilt templates and adapting them to suit your needs.

You may think that it would be nice to customize the Getting Started page. Access does let you do so, but it's not all that easyand it's recommended only for organizations that want to standardize the Getting Started page to better suit their employees. A business could add links to a company Web site or a commonly used database template. If you're interested in this feature, you'll need another tool: the freely downloadable Access Developer's Toolkit, which you can search for at (This tool wasn't yet released at the time of this writing.)

The Getting Started page is only the front door to the features in Accessthere's lot more in store once you get rolling. You won't be able to try out other parts of the Access until you create a new database, and the next section shows you how.

1.2.1. Creating a New Database

In this chapter, you'll slap together a fairly straightforward database. The example's designed to store a list of prized bobblehead dolls. (For those not in the know, a bobblehead doll is a toy figure with an outsize head on a spring, hence the signature "bobbling" motion. Bobblehead dolls usually resemble a famous celebrity, politician, athlete, or fictional character.)

Access Goes Online

One of the Getting Started page's neatest features is the way it gets live content from the Web. This process happens so seamlessly that you don't even know it's taking place. When you start Access, it contacts Microsoft's highpowered Web servers behind the scenes, and requests the latest information for the box of links at the bottom of the Getting Started page. From time to time, you'll see the content in this box change. One day, you may see a link for an article about macro viruses, while the next day you'll find an article with timesaving tips. (When you click a link, the article loads up in the Access Help window, but don't be fooledthe content's still just a Web page that's pulled off the Office Online site.)

A similar magic takes place when you browse through the templates (by clicking one of the categories under the From Microsoft Office Online heading). Once again, Access heads back to the Webthis time, to get a list of suitable templates.

This Web-based system lets you benefit from recent developments and new content, and you don't have to upgrade your Access software. Of course, it goes without saying that you won't see any updates if your computer can't connect to the Internet. (Instead, you'll be left looking at stale content indefinitely.)

If you want to browse a much larger catalog of Access articles and resources, you can head to the Office Online site on your own (outside Access), by surfing to in your favorite browser.

Tip: You can get the Bobblehead database, and all the databases in this book, on the Web. Check out Section in the Introduction for more details.

Here's how to create a blank new database:

  1. On the Getting Started page, click the Blank Database button .

    A side panel appears on the right (see Figure 1-2).

  2. Type in a file name .

    Access stores all the information for a database in a single file with the extension. accdb (which stands for Access database). Don't stick with the name Access picks automatically (like Database1.accdb). Instead, pick something more suitable. In this example, Bobblehead.accdb does the trick.

    As with any other file, Access files can contain a combination of letters , spaces, numbers , parentheses, hyphens (-), and the underscore (_). It's generally safest to stay away from other special characters , some of which aren't allowed.

    Note: Depending on your computer settings, Windows may hide file extensions. Instead of seeing the Access database file MyScandalousWedding.accdb in file-browsing tools like Windows Explorer, you may just see the name MyScandalousWedding (without the .accdb part on the end). In this case, you can still tell the file type by looking at the icon. If you see a small Access icon next to the file name (which looks like a key), that's your signal that you're looking at an Access database. If you see something else (like a tiny paint palette), you need to make a logical guess about what type of file it is.

    Figure 1-2. The database Bobblehead.accdb will be placed in the folder C:\Documents and Settings\Matt\My Documents. You can edit the file name by clicking in the File Name box, and you can browse to a different folder by clicking the folder icon.

  3. Choose a folder .

    Like all Office programs, Access assumes you want to store every file you create in your personal My Documents folder. If this isn't the case, click the folder icon to show the File New Database dialog box, browse to the folder you want (Figure 1-3), and then click OK.

  4. Click the Create button (at the bottom-right of the Access window) .

    Access creates your database file and then pops up a datasheet where you can get to work creating your first table.

Once you create or open a database, the Access window changes quite a bit. An impressive-looking toolbar (the ribbon ) appears at the top of your screen, and a navigation pane shows up on the left. You're now in the control center where you'll perform all your database tasks (as shown in Figure 1-4).

The Introduction covers the basics of how the ribbon works. (Jump to Section 3.2 for the full details.) But first, it's time to consider how you can make use of your brand-new , empty database by adding a table.

Figure 1-3. The File New Database dialog box lets you choose where you'll store a new Access database file. It also gives you the option to create your database in the format used by previous versions of Access (.mdb). To do so, you need to choose either the 2000 or 2002-2003 format options from the "Save as type" list, as shown here. If you're running Windows Vista, you'll notice that the File New Database dialog box has a whole different look, but all the same features.

Figure 1-4. The navigation pane on the left lets you see different items (or objects) in your database. You can use the navigation pane to jump from a list of products to a list of customers and back again. The ribbon along the top groups together every Access command. This ribbon's the mission control that lets you perform various tasks with your database. The document window in the middle takes up the rest of the window. This window's where you'll do your work, such as designing tables and entering data.

Sharing Databases with Older Versions of Access

Older versions of Access don't use the .accdb format. If you try to open Bobblehead.accdb in Access 2003, you'll get nothing more than a blank stare and an error message.

Earlier versions of Access use the . mdb file format (which stands for Microsoft database). Although Access 2007 is happy using both .accdb and .mdb files, previous versions of Access recognize only .mdb. (And just to make life more interesting, the .mdb format actually has three versions: the really, really old original format, a retooled version that appeared with Access 2000, and the improved-yet-again version that Microsoft introduced with Access 2002 and reused for Access 2003.)

Here's what you need to know to choose the right format for your new databases. The standard .accdb format's the best choice if you don't need to worry about compatibility, because it has the best performance and a few extra features. But if you need to share databases with other versions of Access, skip the new kid on the block, and rely instead on the tested -and-true .mdb format.

To create an old-style .mdb database file in Access 2007, use the "Save as type" option shown in Figure 1-3. You can choose the Access 2002-2003 file format, or the even older Access 2000 format. (If you're set on going back any further, say the Access 95 format, your best bet's a time machine.)

1.2.2. Understanding Tables

Tables are information containers. Every database needs at least one tablewithout it, you can't store any data. In a simple database, like the Bobblehead database, a single table (which we'll call Dolls) is enough. But if you find yourself wanting to store several lists of related information, then you need more than one table. In the database BigBudgetWedding.accdb, you might want to keep track of the guests that you invited to your wedding , the gifts that you requested , and the loot that you actually received. In Chapter 5, you'll see plenty of examples of databases that use multiple tables.

Figure 1-5 shows a sample table.

Figure 1-5. In a table, each record occupies a separate row. Each field is represented by a separate column. In this table, it's clear that you've added six bobblehead dolls. You're storing information for each doll in five fields (ID, Character, Manufacturer, PurchasePrice, and DateAcquired).

Before you start designing this table, you need to know some very basic rules:

  • A table's nothing more than a group of records . A record's a collection of information about a single thing. In the Dolls table, for example, each record represents a single bobblehead doll. In a Family table, each record would represent a single relative. In a Products table, each record would represent an item that's for sale. You get the idea.

  • Each record's subdivided into fields . Each field stores a distinct piece of information. For example, in the Dolls table, one field stores the person on whom the doll's based, another field stores the price, another field stores the date you bought it, and so on.

  • Tables have a rigid structure . In other words, you can't bend the rules. If you create four fields, every record must have four fields (although it's acceptable to leave some fields blank if they don't apply).

Database Planning for Beginners

Many database gurus suggest that before you fire up Access, you should decide exactly what information you want to store by brainstorming. Here's how it works. First, determine the type of list you want by finishing this sentence "I need a list of ." (One example: "I need a list of all the bobblehead dolls in my basement.")

Next, jot down all your must-have pieces of information on a piece of paper. Some details are obvious. For example, for the bobblehead doll collection, you'll probably want to keep track of the doll's name, price, and date you bought it. Other details, like the year it was produced, the company that created it, and a short description of its appearance or condition may require more thought.

Once you've completed this process and identified all the important bits of data you need, you're ready to create the corresponding table in Access. The bobblehead doll example demonstrates an important theme of database design: First you plan the database, and then you create it using Access. In Chapter 5, you'll learn a lot more about planning more complex databases.

1.2.3. Creating a Simple Table

When you first create a database, it's almost empty. But in order to get you started, Access creates your first database objecta table named Table1. The problem is, this table begins life completely blank, with no defined fields (and no data).

If you followed the steps to create a new database (Section 1.2.1), you're already at the Datasheet view (Figure 1-5), which is where you enter data into a table. All you need to do is customize this table so that it meets your needs.

There are two ways to customize a table:

  • Design view lets you precisely define all aspects of a table before you start using it. Almost all database pros prefer Design view, and you'll start using it in Chapter 2.

  • Datasheet view is where you enter data into a table. Datasheet view also lets you build a table on the fly as you insert new information. You'll use this approach in this chapter.

The following steps show you how to turn a blank new table (like Table1) into the Dolls table using the Datasheet view:

  1. To define your table, you need to add your first record .

    In this case, that means mentally picking a bobblehead doll to add to the list. For this example, you'll use a nifty Homer Simpson replica.

    Note: It doesn't matter which doll you enter first. Access tables are unsorted , which means they have no underlying order. However, you can sort them any way you want when you need to retrieve information later on.
  2. In the datasheet's Add New Field column, type the first piece of information for the record (see Figure 1-6) .

    Based on the simple analysis you performed earlier (Section 1.2.3), you know that you need to enter four fields of information for every doll. For the Homer Simpson doll, this information is: "Homer Simpson" (the name), "Fictional Industries" (the manufacturer), $7.99 (the price), and today's date (the purchase date). Although you could start with any field, it makes sense to begin with the name, which is clearly an identifying detail.

    Figure 1-6. To fill in your first record, start by entering something in the first field of information (like the doll name "Homer Simpson"). Then, hit Tab to jump to the second column, and then enter the second piece of information. Ignore the ID column for nowAccess adds that to every table to identify your rows.

  3. Press Tab to move to the next field, and return to step 2 .

    Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you've added every field you need, being careful to put each separate piece of information into a different column.

    Putting Big Values in Narrow Columns

    A column can hold entire paragraphs of information, so you may find yourself running out of space once you start typing. This phenomenon isn't a problem (after all, you can just scroll through your field itself while you're editing it), but it is annoying. Most people prefer to see the entire contants of a column at once.

    Fortunately, you don't need suffer in silence with cramped columns. To expand a column, just position your mouse at the right edge of the column header. (To expand a column named Field1, move your mouse to the right edge of the Field1 box.) Then, drag the column to the right to resize it as big as you want.

    If you're just a bit impatient, there's a shortcut. Double-click the right edge of the column to resize it to fit the largest piece of information that's in the column (provided this doesn't stretch the column beyond the edge of the Access window). That way, you automatically get all the room you need.

    If you want to get a little fancier, include the currency symbol ($) when you enter the price, and make sure you put the data in a recognized date format (like January 1, 2008 or 01-01-2008 ). These clues tell Access what type of information you're putting in the column. (In Chapter 2, you'll learn how to take complete control of the type of data in each column and avoid possible misunderstandings.) Figure 1-7 shows the finalized record.

    Note: If you hit Tab without entering any information, you'll move to the next row and start inserting a new record. If you make a mistake, you can backtrack using the arrow keys.

    Figure 1-7. The only problem with the example so far is that as you enter a new record, Access creates spectacularly useless field names. You'll see its choices at the top of each column (they'll have names like Field1, Field2, Field3, and so on). The problem with using these meaningless names is that they might lead you to enter a piece of information in the wrong place. You could all too easily put the purchase price in the date column. To prevent these slip-ups, you need to set better field names .

  4. It's time to fix your column names. Double-click the first column title (like Field1) .

    The field name switches into Edit mode.

  5. Type in a new name, and then press Enter. Return to step 4 .

    Repeat this process until you've cleaned up all the field names. The proper field names for this example are Character, Manufacturer, PurchasePrice, and Date-Acquired. Figure 1-8 shows how it works.

    Figure 1-8. To choose better field names, double-click the column title. Next, type in the real field name, and then press Enter. Section 2.5.1 has more about field naming, but for now just stick to short, text-only titles that don't include any spaces, as shown here.

    Tip: Don't be too timid about tweaking your table. You can always rename fields later, or even add entirely new fields. (It's also possible to delete existing fields, but that has the drawback of also clearing out all the data that's stored in that field.)
  6. Choose Office button Save (or use the Ctrl+S shortcut) to save your table .

    Access asks you to supply a table name (see Figure 1-9).

  7. Type a suitable table name, and then click OK .

    Congratulations! The table's now a part of your database.

Figure 1-9. A good table name's a short text title that doesn't have any spaces (like Dolls here).

Note: Technically, you don't need to save your table right away. Access prompts you to save it when you close the datasheet (by clicking the X at the document window's top-right corner), or when you close Access.

As you can see, creating a simple table in Access is almost as easy as laying out information in Excel or Word. If you're itching to try again, you can create another table in your database by choosing Create Table from the ribbon. But before you get to that stage, it makes sense to take a closer look at how you edit your table.

1.2.4. Editing a Table

You now have a fully functioning (albeit simple) database, complete with one table, which in turn contains one record. Your next step's filling your table with useful information. This often- tedious process is data entry .

To fill the Dolls table, you use the same datasheet you used to define the table. You can perform three basic tasks:

  • Editing a record . Move to the appropriate spot in the datasheet (using the arrow keys or the mouse), and then type in a replacement. You may also want to use Edit mode, which is described in the next section.

  • Inserting a new record . Move down to the bottom of the table, to the row that has an asterisk (*) on the left. This row doesn't actually exist until you start typing in some information. At that point, Access creates the row and moves the asterisk down to the next row underneath. You can repeat this process endlessly to add as many rows as you want (Access can handle millions).

  • Deleting a record . You have several ways to remove a record, but the easiest is to right-click the margin immediately to the left of the record, and then choose Delete Record. Access asks you to confirm that you really want to remove the selected record, because you can't reverse the change later on.

When in Doubt, Don't Delete

Most seasoned database designers rarely delete records from their databases. Every ounce of information is important.

For example, imagine you have a database that lists the products that a mail-order origami company has for sale. You might think it makes sense to delete products once they've been discontinued and can't be ordered anymore. But it turns out that it makes sense to keep these old product records around. For example, you might want to find out what product categories were the best sellers over the previous year. Or maybe a manufacturer issues a recall of asbestos-laced paper, and you need to track down everyone who ordered it. To perform either of these tasks, you need to keep your product records.

This hang-onto-everything rule applies to any kind of database. For example, imagine you're tracking student enrollment at a top-flight culinary academy. When a class is finished, you can't just delete the class record. You might need it to find out if a student has the right prerequisites for another course, what teachers she's had in the past, and so on.

The same is true for employees who retire, promotions that end, items that you used to own but you've sold, and so on. You need them all (and you probably need to keep them indefinitely).

In many cases, you'll add extra fields to your table to help you separate old data from the new. For example, you can create a Discontinued field in the Products table that identifies products that aren't available anymore. You can then ignore those products when you build an order-placement form. Edit mode

You'll probably spend a lot of time working with the datasheet. So settle in. To make your life easier, it helps to understand a few details.

As you already know, you can use the arrow keys to move from field to field or row to row. However, you might have a bit of trouble editing a value. When you start typing, Access erases any existing content. To change this behavior, you need to switch into Edit mode by pressing the F2 key; in Edit mode, your typing doesn't delete the stuff that's already in that field. Instead, you get to change or add to it. To switch out of Edit mode, you press F2 again. Figure 1-10 shows a closeup look at the difference.

Tip: You can also switch in and out of Edit mode by double-clicking a cell .

Figure 1-10. Top: Normal mode. If you start typing now, you'll immediately erase the existing text ("Hobergarten"). The fact that all the text in the field's selected is a big clue that you're about to wipe it out.
Bottom: Edit mode. The cursor shows where you're currently positioned in the current field. If you start typing now, you'll insert text in between "Hober" and "garten".

Edit mode also affects how the arrow keys work. In Edit mode, the arrow keys move through the current field. For example, to move to the next cell, you need to move all the way to the end of the current text, and then press the right arrow ( ) key again. But in Normal mode, the arrow keys always move you from cell to cell. Shortcut keys

Power users know the fastest way to get work done is to use tricky keyboard combinations like Ctrl+Alt+Shift+*. Although you can't always easily remember these combinations, a couple of tables can help you out. Table 1-1 lists some useful keys that can help you whiz around the datasheet.

Table 1-1. Keys for Moving Around the Datasheet



Tab (or Enter)

Moves the cursor one field to the right, or down when you reach the edge of the table. This key also turns off Edit mode if it's currently switched on.


Moves the cursor one field to the left, or up when you reach the edge of the table. This key also turns off Edit mode.

Moves the cursor one field to the right (in Normal mode), or down when you reach the edge of the table. In Edit mode, this key moves the cursor through the text in the current field.

Moves the cursor one field to the left (in Normal mode), or up when you reach the edge of the table. In Edit mode, this key moves the cursor through the text in the current field.

Moves the cursor up one row (unless you're already at the top of the table). This key also turns off Edit mode.

Moves the cursor down one row (or it moves you to the "new row" position if you're at the bottom of the table). This key also turns off Edit mode.


Moves the cursor to the first field in the current row. This key brings you to beginning of the current field if you're in Edit mode.


Moves the cursor to the last field in the current row. This key brings you to end of the current field if you're in Edit mode.

Page Down

Moves the cursor down one screenful ( assuming you have a large table of information that doesn't all fit in the Access window at once). This key also turns off Edit mode.

Page Up

Moves the cursor up one screenful. This key also turns off Edit mode.


Moves the cursor to the first field in the first row. This key doesn't do anything if you're in Edit mode.


Moves the cursor to the last field in the last row. This key doesn't do anything if you're in Edit mode.

Table 1-2. lists some convenient keys for editing records.

Table 1-2. Keys for Editing Records




Cancels any changes you've made in the current field. This key works only if you use it in Edit mode. Once you move to the next cell, change is applied. (For additional cancellation control, try the Undo feature, described next.)


Reverses the last edit. Unfortunately, the Undo feature in Access isn't nearly as powerful as it is in other Office programs. For example, Access allows you to reverse only one change, and if you close the datasheet, you can't even do that. You can use Undo right after you insert a new record to remove it, but you can't use the Undo feature to reverse a delete operation.


Copies a value from the field that's immediately above the current field. This trick's handy when you need to enter a batch of records with similar information. Figure 1-11 shows this often-overlooked trick in action.


Inserts today's date into the current field. The date format's based on computer settings, but expect to see something like 24-12-2007. You'll learn more about how Access works with dates in Section 2.3.5.


Inserts the default value for the field. You'll learn how to designate a default value in Section 4.1.2.

Figure 1-11. An Access user has been on an eBay buying binge and needs to add several dolls at once. With a quick Ctrl+" keystroke, the acquire date from the previous record's pasted into the current field. Cut, copy, and paste

Access, like virtually every Windows program, lets you cut and paste bits of information from one spot to another. This trick's easy using just three shortcut keys: Ctrl+C to copy, Ctrl+X to cut (similar to copy, but the original content's deleted), and Ctrl+V to paste. When you're in Edit mode, you can use these keys to copy whatever you've selected. If you're not in Edit mode, the copying or cutting operation grabs all the content in the field.

Copying an Entire Record in One Step

Usually, you'll use copy and paste with little bits and pieces of data. However, Access has a little-known ability that lets you copy an entire record . To pull it off, follow these steps:

  1. Click the margin to the left of the record you want to copy.

  2. This selects the record. (If you want to copy more than one adjacent record, hold down Shift, and then drag your mouse up or down until they're all selected.)

  3. Right-click the selection, and then choose Copy.

  4. This copies the content to the clipboard.

  5. Scroll to the bottom of the table until you see the new-row marker (the asterisk).

  6. Right-click the margin just to the left of the new-row marker, and then choose Paste.

Prestoan exact duplicate. (Truth be told, one piece of data doesn't match exactly. Access updates the ID column for your pasted record, giving it a new number. That's because every record needs to have a unique ID. You'll learn why in Section 2.4.1.)

Access 2007[c] The Missing Manual
Access 2007[c] The Missing Manual
ISBN: 596527608
Year: 2007
Pages: 153 © 2008-2017.
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