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Converting Microsoft® Access Databases

How to convert Access databases of the .mdb file format to the 2013, 2016, 2019 and Access for Microsoft 365 .accdb format.

Last updated on 2021-10-10 by David Wallis.


Conversion of an out-of-date database to the latest version of Microsoft Access very rarely is a straightforward, error-free process.

I can assess your Access databases for what it will take to convert them; can perform the conversion for you; and will be pleased to work with you if you want to include improvements as part of the process.

For my observations on the conversions of specific databases, please follow these links:

Conversion of Microsoft® Access Databases

Microsoft’s support for versions of Access earlier than 2010 is running out, if it didn't do so years ago.

This means no more security patches and therefore the possibility that without appropriate conversions databases will come to jeopardise a business’s accreditation or certification.

Microsoft recommend conversions to the latest version of Office, now Microsoft 365. There’s also the choice between 32 bit and 64 bit versions that needs to be taken.

If you’re not in the UK, it doesn’t matter where in the world you are because DMW can use secure remote access to assist you with conversions, or to perform them for you.

Background to the Versions of Access

Microsoft is encouraging you to migrate all Office applications to Microsoft 365. Rumours about the demise of Access have been about for years, but it’s still there in Microsoft 365.

Illustration of all Microsoft Access versions

Mainstream support for Access 2016 ends in October 2020. Extended support will continue until 2025.

Mainstream support for Access 2013 ended in 2018. Extended support will end in 2023.

Mainstream support for Access 2010 ended in 2015, with extended support ending in October 2020. Hence, after 2020 there will be no support from Microsoft and no security updates or fixes.

2017 marked the very end of support for Access 2007.

2014 marked the very end to Microsoft’s support for Access 2003.

Support for Access 2002 finally ended years ago.

For Access 2000, years ago.

Access 97 support ended years ago, but I’m still receiving requests from all over the world to bring Access 97 databases up-to-date.

Support for Access 95 ended in about 1995, but like requests for Access 97 conversions, I’m still receiving them for Access 95.

Potential Security and Confidentiality Issues

Any database that has not been created using Access 2010 or later, or has not been converted accordingly, has become a potential security risk.

Such a risk represents a failure to meet the requirements of certain auditing bodies — anything that relates to the Data Protection Act, for example (with the possible consequence of withdrawal or suspension of certification).

Microsoft recommends migration to the current version of Access before the end of their support period.

Converting Databases to Access 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 or Access for Microsoft 365

Access 2010 will recognise Access 2007 databases and provide for their conversion. Access 2013, 2016 and 2019 may not; but they’ll recognise Access 2010 conversions. So, if you need them there are stepping stones to bringing pre-Access 2010 databases up to Access 2013, 2016, 2019 or Access for Microsoft 365.

If Access 2013, 2016, 2019 or Access for Microsoft 365 won’t recognise your .mdb, a first possible conversion route from .mdb-type to .accdb-type database is this:

.mdb MSA 2007 .accdb MSA 2010 MSA 2013 … 365.

Clients of DMW, who attempted conversions themselves, reported that the process did not complete without errors. In a number of cases Access froze during the conversion and refused to budge.

Even if you complete the process, not all conversion errors get logged as part of the process. So you’re left not knowing exactly what might have gone wrong with the conversion. Some clients report errors emerging after a converted databases had been in full use for a time.

Based on experience gained through numerous conversions, I’ve put together routines for trapping errors and dealing with them as part of the conversion process.

Menus, Toolbars and Ribbons

Access 97, 2000, 2002(XP) and 2003 had menus and toolbars.

Access 2007 replaced menus and toolbars with the user interface ribbon.

Access 2007 interface ribbon

The ribbon features across Access 2010, 2013, 2016, 2019 and Access for Microsoft 365.

If the database you’re intending to convert has custom menus and toolbars, then be prepared to do some reading up on how to accommodate these.

Unless your converted database is for very short-term use only, I recommend going for a ribbon-only conversion, dispensing with menus and toolbars altogether.

User-Level Security — the MDW File

User-level security provided for permissions to be allocated to users of a database, determining what rights they have to work with or change the Access objects that comprise the database and the data it contains.

For old databases, using the .mdb file format, user-level secuiry could be provided by an accompanying file of the .mdw format.

MDW user-level security was removed as a feature from Access 2007 and its new file format.

Access 2007 introduced new file formats — including .accdb — none of which would accommodate user-level security and would not recognise any MDW file.

If the database you want to convert has security applied to it by means of an MDW file, you will need to know the user name and password of the person who has full administrative rights to the database. If you don’t know these, you’ll need to ascertain them from someone who does.

Improving Your Database and What You Get From It

If now you’re upgrading to Access 2013, 2016, 2019 or Access for Microsoft 365, or short-term to Access 2010, then you may have many ideas about improving it for its users and for gaining more out it in pursuit of improved business performance.

As part of your conversion process you might consider adding beefed up analysis and reporting in order to increase returns from your investment.

Perhaps, therefore, this is the best time to review the database with an upgrade in mind.

Please email if you want someone with ideas from the outside to join in brainstorming the possibilities.

Help Converting Access Macros and VBA Code

There are changes in macro functionality, and in the Access Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) programming language, as you move up through the versions. Some of these changes are quite major ones. Some offer increased functionality that you may wish to exploit as part of a conversion upgrade.

Access’s convert-database feature takes a stab at converting your macros and VBA code. In my experience, conversions are very far from perfect. In many instances conversion errors result from poor implementation in the original database, something with which a push-button conversion is not going to cope.

You might want to talk to me before you press the button or if you want help with programming in general.

Converting Access MDE Files

Check the extension to the name of your database file. Does it take the form DatabaseFileName.mde? If it does, then converting it is difficult.

Ideally, if you can obtain a copy from the developer of the original DatabaseFileName.mdb, then things get easier.

If you’re stuck with a database in the form of an MDE file, there are utilities advertised that claim to unlock MDEs. Once unlocked, so the claim goes, you can make changes to your MDE.

I’ve tried one unlocker program that gets mentioned a lot on the web. In those Access 97 and 2003 MDEs that I’ve “unlocked” using it, the conversion did not go perfectly and none of the VBA code residing in modules became accessible.

There is at least one company on the web advertising specialist MDE to MDB conversion services, including the full recovery of VBA code. If your database is of significant value, then the cost of having an MDE reverse engineered may be worth considering, balancing it against the cost of a re-write.

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“Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves.”

Tim Berners-Lee