Access 101: Front-End vs. Back-End

"Front-end" and "back-end" are the terms we use to distinguish between the user interface and the data storage, respectively.

Access 101: Front-End vs. Back-End

This article is part of my Quick Start Guide to Microsoft Access series, Access 101.


The front-end of a Microsoft Access application is the user interface and all the application logic that the end-user interacts with directly.

This includes the forms, reports, queries, and any VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) code that's designed to manipulate data, handle user interactions, or perform other tasks. The front end is typically designed to provide a user-friendly experience and abstract away the complexities of the underlying database structure.

The front-end is an Access database file, such as an .accdb.


The "back-end" of a Microsoft Access application is the actual database where data is stored. This includes the tables and relationships between tables.

The back end is typically a separate Access database file (.accdb), or it could be a SQL Server database or another type of database system, like MySQL. The back end is responsible for data storage, data retrieval, and data management tasks, and it's designed to ensure the integrity, security, and consistency of the data.

The Only Difference Between Front-End and Back-End Access Files

It's important to note that there is no functional difference between a front-end and back-end Access file.

For example, there is no "Save As Front-End" or "Save As Back-End" option in the File menu.  You can add tables to the front-end file.  You can add forms and reports to the back-end file.

The only difference between the two types of files is their purpose.

Microsoft Access is Special

You never hear other relational database systems talked about in terms of a front-end or back-end.  Why is that?  It's because no other database system comes with the tools to build a full-featured user interface.  Access is unique in this regard.

You might say that Microsoft Access suffers from multiple personality disorder.

No, wait, never mind, that was me:

Microsoft Access’s Multiple Personality Disorder
The dual nature of Access–and the ignorance of this reality–is a major source of the shade that “real programmers” throw its way.

Microsoft Access: Great as a Front-End; Acceptable as a Back-End

As a back-end method for storing data, Access is less capable than other available options, including SQL Server or PostgreSQL. (NOTE: We use SQL Server almost exclusively as the back-end for all of our new Access development work.)

As a rapid application development (RAD) tool for building a front-end user interface, though, Access is top notch.

Unfortunately, Access's shortcomings as a back-end storage option unfairly malign its reputation as a front-end UI framework.

  • Portions of this article's body generated with the help of ChatGPT

All original code samples by Mike Wolfe are licensed under CC BY 4.0