Building an Access Database in Microsoft 365

Access databases use tables, queries, reports, and forms as building blocks

Microsoft Access — a part of the Microsoft 365 office suite — offers a robust desktop-class relational database that doesn't need a server to run. Access databases work from a fixed file on your hard drive or a network share and offers sophisticated tools for creating tables, queries, forms, and reports.

Getting Started and Important Terms in Access

Launch Microsoft Access. From the Create menu item, select Table. A table is the basic unit of storage in a database. Within an object like a table, information stores in attribute/value combinations.

Here are some important terms you should know while using Access:

  • Fields: Data elements in a table corresponding to columns.
  • Database: A database is a series of well-defined objects you connect with relationships.
  • Form: A graphical front-end into which you enter information into a table.
  • Queries: A query distills some subset of one or more tables to arrive at a unique on-the-fly set of information.
  • Records: Data elements in a table corresponding to rows.
  • Reports:The contents of a table or the results of a query. Reports are printable summaries of information.
  • Tables: Structured, well-defined collections of attributes. A table's organization comes from fields (columns) and records (rows).
The Create menu

Relationships of Objects in Access

All tables relate to one another through a series of relationships. Microsoft Access is a relational database management system, which means that it enforces rules that govern how data in one table relates to data in another table.

access relationships

How to Use Forms in Access

Use a form to facilitate the orderly inputting of records into the database. Forms are graphical tools optimized to support data entry. Instead of adding information to the table directly, users will enter it into a form, which is easier to navigate and read.

Screenshot of using the Search field in an Access form

Queries in Access

The results of a query don't perfectly match the results of a table. Instead, a query draws from one or more tables using advanced filtering and sorting rules to return a table-like result that feeds a report or a structured export file.

Reports in Access

Use a report to take the results of a query or the contents of a table and create a readable version that you can easily print or share on a screen. Reports summarize all or part of a table's contents.

Special Data Sources in Access

Microsoft Access is a front-end reporting tool that draws data from test files, Excel spreadsheets, SQL or Azure databases, Microsoft Outlook, or dozens of other sources of information. By importing linked tables or imported data sources, you're free to use Access as a querying tool and reporting agent. Access also supports publishing reports and data to other databases and the Microsoft SharePoint platform.

Output Formats in Access

For the most part, information within an Access database stays within it. However, queries and reports export cleanly out of the database in Excel, plain text, XML, PDF, or XPS formats. In addition, Access feeds Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Word distribution lists.