Should I create an Access app or an Access desktop database?

The choice depends on which tools you have available, and on your specific goals. Here are the major differences, followed by the detailed differences between the two options.

How to identify the two types of Access templates

Access web app template

Access desktop database template

Asset tracking app template

Desktop Asset tracking template

  • Picture includes the globe icon.

  • Title doesn’t contain “desktop.” For example, “Asset tracking” or “Custom web app.”

  • No globe icon in the picture.

  • Title of app contains “desktop.” For example, “Desktop asset tracking,” or “Blank desktop database.”

Compare Access web apps and Access desktop databases

Use an Access web app if …

Use an Access desktop database if …

Your organization is using either:

  • Office 365 with SharePoint Online

  • On-premises SharePoint Server 2013 or SharePoint Server 2016 with Access Services and SQL Server 2012 (or higher).

Your organization is not using SharePoint or your Office 365 plan does not include SharePoint Online.

You like the simple, intuitive look and feel of the user interface for Access web apps.

You want complete control over the look and feel of the database user experience.

You want the reliability, security, and manageability of storing your data in a Microsoft Azure SQL database or in SQL Server.

You require a local database to store the data or you need to consolidate data from different on-premises data sources.

Anyone who has permission can view and edit data, even if they don’t have Access.

You're willing to make sure each database user either has Access or has installed the Access runtime.

People inside and outside your organization need to access data from any location and from many different devices.

Everyone can connect to the computer on which the Access database is stored, and will most likely use the database from a networked desktop or laptop computer.

You want your design changes to be available immediately.

You’re willing to redistribute the database front end every time you make a design change.

You want the latest features of Access Services as soon as they’re available.

You don’t mind waiting for the next release of Access to use the latest features.

Anyone who needs to create or modify an Access web app has Access 2013 or Access 2016.

You have people creating and modifying databases who are using different versions of Access.

The problem you’re trying to solve doesn’t require advanced database features.

You need advanced features, such as:

  • Visual Basic for Applications (VBA)

  • Linking to external data, not just read-only SharePoint lists

  • Using update or crosstab queries

  • Importing data from XML, Data Services, HTML documents, or Outlook folders

Your reporting needs are straightforward, or you’re okay with using a desktop database to link to the data in the Access web app for more complex reports.

You have complex reporting needs, beyond the simple summary reports provided in Access apps; for example, you need to integrate other databases into a report, or format the report.

Detailed differences between Access web apps and Access desktop databases

The following tables highlight many differences between Access web apps and Access desktop databases.

Getting started

Feature

Access web app

Access desktop database

Templates

Web app templates are available through the Office store and in Access when you create an Access web app.

Table templates are available as you create your tables.

Database templates are available on Office.com and in Access 2013 and Access 2016 when you create a desktop database.

Application parts, templates that contain several database objects, are available in the Application Parts gallery.

Data Type parts are available for fields.

Specify permissions

Not directly in the web app – permissions are inherited from the SharePoint site where the web app is created.

Can set permissions for individuals based on system file permissions.

Can also encrypt the database with a password.

Required tools for entering data, viewing data, and modifying database structure

To enter and view data, no client software other than a web browser is required

To create or modify an Access web app, Access 2013 or Access 2016 is required.

To enter and view data, Access or the Access runtime (available as part of Access or as a free download) is required.

To create or modify a database, Access is required.

Data storage

Area

Access web app

Access desktop database

Where data is stored

If you use Office 365 with SharePoint Online, data is stored in a Microsoft Azure SQL database.

If you use your own on-premises SharePoint Server 2013 or SharePoint Server 2016 deployment, data is stored on-premises in SQL Server.

Local Access database

SQL Server required

No, if you use Office 365 with SharePoint Online, Microsoft hosts the SQL databases for you in Microsoft Azure.

Yes, if you use your own deployment of SharePoint Server 2013 or SharePoint Server 2016 and SQL Server 2012 (or higher).

No

Database size

If you use SharePoint Online, the limit is 1 gigabyte (GB).

If you use SharePoint Server 2013 or SharePoint Server 2016 and SQL Server 2012 (or higher) on-premises, database size is controlled through SQL Server.

In either case, if you plan to back up your data by saving an app package, the compressed data must be less than 100 MB.

2 gigabytes (GB) for data and objects

Data entry

Task

Access web app

Access desktop database

Copy and paste from Excel, Word, or other sources

Yes

Yes

Import data from:

Excel

Access ODBC databases, such as SQL Server

Text or comma-separated value (CSV) files

SharePoint list

Excel

Access ODBC databases, such as SQL Server

Text or comma-separated value (CSV) files

SharePoint list

XML

Data Services

HTML document

Outlook folder

Append data to a table using the import wizard

No

Yes

Link to data in:

SharePoint list (read-only)

Excel

Access ODBC databases, such as SQL Server

Text or comma-separated value (CSV) files

SharePoint list

HTML document

Outlook folder

Database structure

Area

Access web app

Access desktop database

Tables

Table templates available.

Can hide tables.

Application part templates are available.

Relationships between tables

Creating the Lookup data type establishes a relationship. Information about relationship is viewed by selecting the Lookup field and clicking the Modify Lookups icon.

Can view in relationships window

Queries

No action queries.

Data macros are used to perform updates, appends, and deletes.

Action queries

Crosstab queries

Forms, Views

Called "views" in Access web apps

Interactive view designer

Can show thumbnails

Types:

  • List Details

  • Datasheet

  • Blank (for custom switchboards, popups containing a single record, and so on)

  • Summary (group based on a field, calculate sum, average, popups let you drill down)

Form Wizard 

Types:

  • Multiple items

  • Datasheet

  • Split forms

  • Modal dialogs

Form layout

  • Snap to grid

  • Controls can be re-arranged and modified to some extent

  • Customizable action bar

Pixel by pixel control, split forms, sub-forms, tab controls, modal dialogs

Data entry controls

All the basic controls, including:

  • Cascading controls (Office 365 only)

  • Related items

  • Autocomplete

Additional web, navigation, and chart controls

Find data

Popup views

Filter lists

Sort or filter datasheet views

Options available through the UI and custom design

Reports

Simple summary and grouping views are included.

For traditional Access reports, use a separate Access desktop database, and connect it to the Microsoft Azure SQL database that stores the data from your Access web app.

Can create Access reports as needed.

Macros

Use provided macros to automate user interface and data operations.

Can use macros or VBA to automate user interface and data operations.

ActiveX Controls and data objects

No

Yes

Email notifications

Yes, by using data macros if using Office 365.

Yes, by using macros

Tools

Tool

Access web app

Access desktop database

Table analyzer wizard to identify redundant data

No

Yes

Compact and repair

No

Yes

Database documenter

No

Yes

Analyze performance

No

Yes

Backup and restore processes for data and structure

Though the database is stored in Microsoft Azure, regular local backups are recommended.

Back up, move, or deploy an Access web app by saving it as an app package.

Package just the structure of the web app, or web app structure plus data.

Back up data or data and structure by saving the database file.

Now what?

Explore the differences for yourself by creating an Access web app and an Access desktop database. Start from a template so that you can easily explore the differences:

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