Access Basics:
Table: Design View

Title: Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
Did you want: Working with Databases: Access 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016

Tables are the foundation of any database. A table is made up of fields, each of which has several properties. This gives you a lot of freedom in the characteristics of your table. That means you have to make a lot of choices! Happily, the default choices are frequently just what you need.

The simplest database contains one table with a few simple fields. Of course a relational database will usually have several tables.

Parts of a Table

A table is made up of records. A record is made up of fields. A field has a field name, a data type and a description. Each data type has properties; some types have more than others.

You have two views of your table: Design View and Datasheet View.

In this lesson you will create the table in Table Design view by defining the fields. In the next lesson you will add the records in the Datasheet view.

Where you are:
JegsWorks > Lessons > Databases

Before you start...

Project 1: Intro

Project 2: Access Basics Arrow: subtopic open
    InterfaceTo subtopics
    Getting StartedTo subtopics  
    Access Objects Arrow: subtopic open
    Icon: StepTable: Design View
    Icon: StepTable: Datasheet View
    Icon: StepManage a Table
    Icon: StepSort & Filter a Table
    Icon: StepQuery Wizard
    Icon: StepAutoForm
    Icon: StepAutoReport
    Icon: StepData Access Page
        About Printing
    Icon: StepPrint Objects
    RelationshipsTo subtopics
    ExercisesTo subtopics

Project 3: Tables & Queries

Project 4: Forms & Reports


Design View

The Table Design View lists all of the fields with their data types and descriptions. You do not see the actual records in this view.

When a field is selected, an arrow at the left Arrow  pointing to selected field in Table Design View points to the file name and the properties for that field are in the bottom of the window. You will see different choices for different data types.

Table Design View: fields

View: Table Design

Field Name

A field name, like other things in Access,  can have up to 64 characters. It can contain letters, numbers, and symbols except for a period (.), an exclamation point (!), an accent grave (`), brackets ([ ]), and double quote mark ("). You cannot start a field name with space(s). It will be safer to not use spaces at all.

TipAvoid using property names as field names: Access can get confused if your field has the same name as a property, such as Name, Caption, Format, or Height.

Data Types

Data TypesYou must choose a data type for each field. The data type determines what kind of data you can store in the field and how much disk space is reserved for that data. Most data types also have other properties for which you choose values, like the number of decimal places or a default value.


  • Text - Can hold plain text or text combined with numbers as in an address. Good to use for numbers that are not used in calculations like phone numbers, part numbers, and postal codes. Will sort as characters, where the order of numbers is like 1, 10, 100, 2, 20, 200...
    • Text - less than 255 characters. Default field size is 50 characters.
      You should choose a size that will hold the longest entry that you expect.
    • Memo - Can hold over 60,000 plain text characters. Cannot contain formatting.
  • Numbers - For calculations and sorting as numbers instead of text.
    • Number typesNumber - Several number field sizes are available, like Byte, Integer, and Long Integer.
    • Date/Time - Use this type in order to sort and calculate with dates and times correctly.  Dates are numbers representing the number of days since December 30, 1899. Earlier dates are negative numbers. See also Microsoft on storing date/time Icon: Offsite.
    • Currency - Use for high accuracy and for money. Avoids rounding. Can hold 15 digits to the left and 4 digits to the right of the decimal point.
    • AutoNumber - Automatically assigns a unique number to each record. Great to use for an primary key.
  • Yes/No - Use when there are only two choices - Yes/No, On/Off, True/False
  • OLE Object - OLE = Object Linking and Embedding. Objects include formatted text, complete documents, spreadsheets, images, sounds. Can be up to 1 GB in size if there is enough disk space. Access databases are limited to 2 GB altogether.  The original program handles the display in Access, so it must be installed on the computer where Access is installed.
  • Hyperlink - Up to 2048 characters for a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) or UNC (Universal Naming Convention) path
  • Lookup Wizard - Starts a wizard that will create a list of values to choose from for the field.

See also Microsoft's online list of Access data types Icon: Offsite

Things to consider when choosing a data type:

You want to choose the data type that will use the least amount of space on your hard disk without being too small for any future data. You must think carefully!

  1. How many text characters are needed?
    Example - Phone Numbers:
    If you know that all phone numbers are from the USA, you could set the size to 10 and have the user type in the numbers without any punctuation, like 5555551234. But, if a phone number might be from another country, you cannot use size 10! How long is the longest phone number in the world??? I don't know. But it is longer than 10.
    Example - Names: It is harder to know how many characters you will need for names of people, cities, products, or companies. The default size of 50 may not be enough! Do not choose a size less than 50 unless you are VERY sure that you won't need more later. Be sure to count the spaces, too.
    Company names, in particular, can get long sometimes. My local phone book has some long corporate entries:
     Cumberland Country Medical Center Regional Cancer Center = 56 characters
     Cumberland Country Playhouse Production Shops & Rehearsal Hall = 62 characters
     Highland Federal Savings & Loan Assoc Fairfield Glade Branch =  60 characters!
     Even with some abbreviations, some names can be long!
    Having separate fields for parts of a name helps, like FirstName, MiddleName, and LastName for people. For companies you might use fields like CompanyName, Department, Branch, and Region.
  2. What kind of numbers: Some number data types are for whole numbers only, like -123 or 1067. Others are for decimal numbers like 123456.987 or 0.00375. All data types for numbers have a maximum and minimum number that can be held in the field. You will need to know what size numbers you can expect in order to choose wisely.
    Example - Number of People: These will always be a whole number so you have 3 choices.
      Data type Byte requires that values be between 0 and 255 and uses 1 byte of storage.
      Data type Integer can hold whole numbers between 32,768 and 32,767 in 2 bytes of storage.
      Data type Long Integer can hold whole numbers between -2,147,483,648 and 2,147,483,647  (over 2 trillion!) in 4 bytes of storage.
    Example - Gross National Product: This will be a very large number. Possibly larger than the Long Integer type can hold.
    Example - Scientific measurements: These might be very small decimal numbers.
      Data type Single can hold a 7 digit decimal number in 4 bytes.
      Data type Double can hold a 15 digit decimal number in 8 bytes.
      Data type Decimal can hold a 28 digit decimal number in 12 bytes.

TipIf a number has data type Text, you won't be able to use it in calculations.

TipDisplay Format vs. Data Type: The formatting of the data is not the same as the data type. For example, you can type numbers in a field that has Text data type and then align them to the right. Those numbers will look just like they were Number type, but you won't be able to add with them. Another example is Date/Time data type. You can format a date as 19-Jun-06 or 6/19/06 or Monday, June 19, 2006. All of these formats represent the same date value. If you want another format, like 06-19-2006, you must change the data type to Text. Then you will not be able to calculate using the date.

WarningChanging data type later: You may have difficulty changing a data type later. If there is a relationship set up between your table and another one, you may have to delete the relationship first, change the data type, and then recreate the relationship. If you already have data in the field, any data that is too large for the new field type will be cut short. Any data that is not appropriate for the new data type will be tossed out.


The Description appears in the Status bar when the cursor is in the field in Datasheet View or in Form View.  Its purpose is to help the user enter the right data and enter it in the correct format.

  • Format for entering: Should a phone number be entered as 123-555-1234 or as 1235551234 or as (123) 555-1234?
  • Kind of entry: Should money be rounded to whole amounts ($525) or must you include the decimal part ($525.33)?
  • Choices or explanation of what to enter: What codes can be entered in the field and what do they stand for? A drop list or scrolling list box is often used to restrict the choices to the ones that work! The Description message can add warnings or explanations about the choices.

Primary Key Icon: Primary key

Each table needs to have a field called a primary key that will be unique for each record. Usually this is an AutoNumber field, which automatically assigns a number when a record is created. An AutoNumber will be of type Number: Long Integer.

Sometimes you can use existing data for your primary key, like a serial number or identification number, or even a combination of fields, like first, middle, and last names. Of course you must be VERY sure that what you have selected will ALWAYS be different for EVERY record!

Design Issues

How will you use your table?
The order of the fields will be important if you will be working directly in the table. If you plan to use a form instead, the order of fields in the original table does not matter.

What type of data?
Think about the size of the field and the data type that you need. For fields that will be shared with other tables, the data types should usually be the same.

Undo Changes: Design View

In Design View, MS Access keeps a list of the last 20 actions. You can use the Buttons: Undo and Redo Undo  and Redo buttons on the toolbar to back up through the list of actions, or use the commands at the top of the Edit menu.

WarningWhen you change views or objects, the list is wiped out. There is no Undo list in Datasheet view!

Common Mistakes in Table Design

  • Putting into one field data that should be in separate fields
    Example: Using one field for the City, State, and Zip Code is convenient to type. BUT, you cannot sort on State or filter to see records for a certain zip code.
  • Using the wrong data type.
    Example: Zip codes - Zip codes start with 0 in some areas. That leading 0 will be dropped by Access if a number data type is used. 02234 is not the same as 2234 to the Postal Service! You don't do arithmetic with those numbers anyway!
  • Leaving field sizes at the default size
    Example: The default size for a text field is 50. That is far too large for the State field when you are using the 2 character abbreviations for states. It may be too small for some company names or other kinds of data. A text field can be up to 255 characters. A memo field is needed when the entry may be longer than 255 characters. Memo fields cannot be as easily sorted or filtered as Text fields, however. Choose carefully!
  • Trying to get all the data into a single table
    Example: An invoice has information about the customer, the ordered items, the information about each item ordered (how many, color, size...), shipping information. The customer information has to be repeated for each order. Shipping info might be the same for some orders and different for others. Wasted space!  All this information is too much and too complex for a single table! It takes 3 - customers, orders, orderdetails.

 Icon Step-by-Step 

Step-by-Step: Create a Table

 Icon Step-by-Step

What you will learn:

to create a blank database
to create a table in Design View
to add fields and choose data types
to set a primary key
to save a new table

The Story So Far:
Our fictional travel agency, World Travel Inc., wants to offer their regular customers an Access database that they can use to record the information about their trips.

Start with: blank database

Create Blank Database

  1. If necessary, open Access
    Start menu | Programs  or   All Programs | MS Access
  2. Task Pane: New: Blank database (2003)Task Pane: New: Blank database (2002)Open the File menu and select  New...
    The New File task pane opens.
  3. Click the link for a new Blank Database.
    The Save As dialog opens.
    Did you remember this from the earlier lesson? The first thing you have to do is save the blank database.
  4. Icon: Class diskSave as mytrips.mdb to your Class disk in the folder databases project1.

Design Table

It is a good idea to figure out the basic fields that you will need before you ever start creating the table.

What fields do you need to record the details of a trip?

Who went, where you went, what you did, what it cost, how you traveled, where you stayed, what special happened....?

You need fields for the following information:

  • Trip name
  • Beginning and ending dates
  • Description of the trip
  • Cost
  • Travel Agent
  • Memo of special events or favorite activities

Create Table

The blank database opens with Tables selected in the list of objects, ready for you to get started creating your first table.

  1. Database Window: Create table in Design viewDouble-click the link in the right pane of the Database Window: Create table in Design view.

     Table Design View: blankThe Design view opens with no fields yet added.
  2. Field Name: In the first line, type TripID.
  3. Table Design View: Data Type list - AutoNumberClick in the column Data Type, in the first cell. An arrow appears.
  4. Click the down arrow to open the list of types.
  5. Data Type: Choose AutoNumber.

Primary Key

  1. Table Design view: TripID as primary keyWith the cursor still in the first row somewhere, click the Primary key button Button: Primary key on the toolbar to make this field the primary key for the table.

    An icon of a key appears to the left of the field name.

Add Fields

  1. Enter the remaining fields, their data types, and descriptions, as shown in the illustration. Accept the default values for the properties for the data types.

    Table: Trips - field names and data types

  2. Click on each field name in turn and look at the various properties of each data type at the bottom of the dialog. Isn't it nice that the default values will usually work?!

Save Table

  1. Icon: Class diskClick on Button: Save the Save button on the toolbar.
    Dialog: Save As (object) - TripsA Save As dialog appears. This one looks different from the one you usually see when you save a document. It is for  saving an object in the database.
    Notice that the dialog tells you what kind of object you are saving. This can be helpful!
  2. Type the name Trips and click the OK button to save your new table.
    Title Bar: TripsNow the Table Design view's title bar shows the table's new name.

    Dialog: Save As - list of objectsTipSave As (later): Once you have saved your new table the first time, if you choose Save As from the File menu later in Table Design view, the dialog will be a bit different. You can choose to save your table as another kind of object or as a table with a different name. Choose a name for your new object carefully so you won't confuse the original with the new.
    Oddly, if you are in Table Datasheet view when you choose Save As, your choices will not include "Table".

  3. Database Window: Close button on Title barClose the database without closing Access by clicking Button: Close the Close button on the Title bar of the Database Window.

Your table is now ready to receive some records, which you will do in the next lesson.

LessonsWorking with Databases Previous Page Next Page

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Last updated: 30 Apr 2012