Here’s how you can connect Microsoft Access to SQL server

If you have a legacy MS Access database or like its GUI, then there are ways to boost its abilities by teaming it up with SQL.
Christopher McFadden
Logos of Microsoft Access and SQL on a blue background.
Logos of Microsoft Access and SQL on a blue background.

Interesting Engineering 

  • MS Access is a popular desktop database application that allows users to store and manage large amounts of data.
  • However, as data grows, users may find Access slowing down or becoming unwieldy.
  • To address this issue, many users migrate their Access data to a Microsoft SQL Server database designed to handle much larger volumes of data.

Microsoft (MS) Access and SQL are different database applications with pros and cons. But, instead of choosing between them, you can, as it turns out, make them work together.

By connecting Access and SQL Server, users can keep using Access as a front-end interface while using SQL Server as a back-end database for its scalability and performance.

This way, Access can quickly and easily create forms, reports, and queries. At the same time, SQL Server gives you a platform for storing and processing strong, reliable, and scalable data. But how do you do that?

Let's find out.

What is the difference between MS Access and SQL databases?

Microsoft Access and SQL databases are database management systems, but they differ.

Microsoft Access is a relational database management system and part of the Microsoft Office suite. It is a desktop database for small projects like managing contacts, inventory, or simple applications. It is easy to set up and use, and you don't need to know a lot about programming to do so.

On the other hand, SQL (Structured Query Language) is used to manage relational databases. SQL databases can be used for both small and large-scale projects and are designed to handle complex applications. SQL databases store and gather data for web apps, enterprise software, and other large-scale data processing needs.

Here are some of the key differences between Microsoft Access and SQL databases:

  • Scalability: Access databases can handle small to medium-sized projects, while SQL databases are better suited for larger, more complex projects.
  • Performance: SQL databases are generally faster and more efficient than Access databases, especially when handling large amounts of data or complex queries.
  • Security: SQL databases offer robust security features, including user access controls, encryption, and auditing capabilities, which are essential for protecting sensitive data.
  • Integration: SQL databases are better integrated with other technologies and easily integrated with web applications and other software programs.
  • Cost: Access is often included with the Microsoft Office suite and is generally more affordable than SQL databases, which require specialized software and expertise to set up and maintain.
Here’s how you can connect Microsoft Access to SQL server
MS Access and SQL can be linked together.

The choice between Access and SQL databases depends on the project's specific needs. Access may be a good choice for small-scale projects, but SQL databases are usually better for larger or more complex projects.

Is MS Access easier than SQL for a beginner?

Microsoft Access may be easier for a beginner to learn than SQL because it has an easy-to-use interface that lets you build databases using a graphical interface without knowing much about programming. It also provides wizards and templates to help you create tables, forms, and reports.

Microsoft Access has some advantages over SQL in certain use cases: -

  • Ease of use: Access has a user-friendly graphical interface that allows non-technical users to create and manage databases without requiring extensive programming knowledge. For smaller organizations who want to build complex queries or forms, this is a bonus.
  • Integration with Microsoft Office: Access is part of the Microsoft Office suite, so it integrates well with other Microsoft Office applications such as Excel, Word, and Outlook. This can make it easier to use Access to manage data used in other Office applications. If your database is primarily used internally in a company, this can provide some handy data handling and automation functionality.
  • Cost: Access is generally less expensive than SQL, as it is often included with the Microsoft Office suite and does not require additional licenses or software.
  • Rapid application development: Access can be a good choice for quickly building small to medium-sized databases and applications. It provides wizards and templates that help users create tables, forms, and reports without requiring extensive coding.

That being said, SQL databases are often better suited for larger and more complex databases and applications. They have more features, ways to manage data, better performance, and the ability to grow. So, while Access has its advantages, it may not be the best choice for all database management needs.

Regarding learning curves, MS Access may be easier to learn at first, but it can be hard to use for more complicated programs. This is especially true if you've "cut your teeth" in Microsoft Office programs like Excel and its underlying Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). If you are a dab hand at making your macros, etc., then MS Access is a natural progression.

On the other hand, you need to know how to program to use SQL, but it has more powerful features and gives you more freedom to handle complex database management tasks.

In general, if you are looking to build a simple database or if you are new to database management, Access may be an excellent place to start.

If you want to work with bigger or more complicated databases or make a career out of managing databases, you will likely need to learn SQL at some point. It isn't that hard and is primarily used internally in a company; this can provide some handy data handling and automation functionality that pays dividends in the long run.

Can SQL Connect to an Access database?

So, is there a way to benefit from the user interface of MS Access while also benefiting from SQL's far superior scalability? Or, perhaps, you have a legacy MS Access database and want to switch it over to SQL?

Here’s how you can connect Microsoft Access to SQL server
Connecting SQL and MS Access is a good way to benefit from both.

Yes, there is; you can make them join forces!

It is possible to connect to an Access database using SQL. Access databases use the Microsoft Jet Database Engine, which supports SQL queries, so you can use SQL to read and write data to an Access database.

  • To connect to an Access database using SQL, you first need to create an ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) data source that points to the Access database. This will allow you to connect to the database using SQL. Here are the general steps:
  • Create an ODBC data source: Go to Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Data Sources (ODBC) in Windows and create a new data source pointing to your Access database.
  • Connect to the database using SQL: Once you have created the data source, you can connect using SQL. For example, you can use a SQL client like Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio or MySQL Workbench to connect to the database and run SQL queries.
  • Write SQL queries: Once you are connected to the Access database using SQL, you can write and execute SQL queries to read or manipulate the data in the database.

It's worth noting that while it is possible to use SQL with Access, it is generally not recommended for large or complex databases. SQL databases like MySQL or Microsoft SQL Server work better for these applications.

However, one great application of this connection is using the SQL database as the "back end" and MS Access to flesh out the "front end" of some application you have in mind.

This way, you can use the visual interface of MS Access to make forms and queries while also taking advantage of SQL's much better data storage and handling.

But that only really helps you with local applications. What if you want to submit your applications online?

How do I connect to an Access database online?

There are various "fancy" ways of doing this via ODBCs, but another option, if it is beneficial to you, is to use PHP. It is a little "tricky," but it is more than possible if you know how.

To use PHP to transfer data from an Access database to an online SQL database, you'll need to follow some basic steps: -

  • Connect to the Access database: Use PHP's PDO or mysqli extension to connect to the Access database and retrieve the data you want to transfer.
  • Connect to the SQL database: Use PHP's PDO or mysqli extension to connect to the online SQL database where you want to transfer the data.
  • Transfer the data: Once connected to both databases, you can use PHP to loop through the data retrieved from the Access database and insert or update it in the SQL database. Or, you can build custom SQL queries like "INSERT," "UPDATE," "DELETE," etc.

Here is some sample code that demonstrates how to transfer data from an Access database to a MySQL database using PHP:


// Connect to the Access database

$access_db = new PDO("odbc:Driver={Microsoft Access Driver (*.mdb)};Dbq=C:/path/to/access/database.mdb");

$access_data = $access_db->query("SELECT * FROM access_table");

// Connect to the MySQL database

$mysql_db = new PDO("mysql:host=hostname;dbname=database", "username", "password");

// Transfer the data

foreach ($access_data as $row) {

$sql = "INSERT INTO mysql_table (col1, col2, col3) VALUES (:col1, :col2, :col3)";

$stmt = $mysql_db->prepare($sql);

$stmt->bindParam(':col1', $row['col1']);

$stmt->bindParam(':col2', $row['col2']);

$stmt->bindParam(':col3', $row['col3']);




The code above retrieves all the rows from an Access table and then inserts them into a MySQL table. You can change it to fit your needs by choosing only specific columns or updating existing records instead of adding new ones.

It's important to note that you can move data from an Access database to an online SQL database using PHP. However, this is not usually a good idea for large or complicated databases.

Using specialized tools and techniques for large-scale data migrations, such as ETL (extract, transform, load) processes or dedicated migration software.

And that is your lot for today.

When you connect Microsoft Access and SQL Server, your database solution can be more effective and scalable. Using the best parts of both applications, you can create a strong, reliable, and scalable database environment that can grow with your organization.

With Access as the front-end and SQL Server as the back-end, you can continue to use the familiar Access interface while taking advantage of the advanced capabilities of SQL Server to manage and process your data.

By following the appropriate steps to connect Access and SQL Server, you can create a seamless and efficient data management system to help your organization stay productive and successful.

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