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Conversion of Access Database Systems to Visual Basic Dot NET and SQL Server
Microsoft Access is showing its age. Most of the technologies (file server, VBA, DAO, Jet database engine, etc.) go back 20 or so years. Microsoft will continue to support VBA for many years, but programming emphasis is rapidly changing in favor of Visual Basic.Net and SQL Server.
For company administration systems, the combination of VB.Net FrontEnd with SQL Server BackEnd database is ideal. Visual Basic is business rule oriented and SQL Server efficient and easy to maintain.
VB.Net Upgrade Conversion Reasons
The reasons for upgrading from Microsoft Access to Visual Basic.Net and SQL Server databases are:
- A strategic corporate decision
- Concerns about the future of Visual Basic for Applications (VBA).
- Difficulty and cost to support obsolete and error ridden code
- Difficulty and cost in supporting code written by amateurs regardless of standards
- An inefficient administrative system that has “grown like a topsy-turvy” needs to be replaced.
- Need to replace clunky access forms with more efficient alternatives
- The need for transaction logging and recovery to ensure system data integrity
- Many quirks of accessibility bound forms
- Performance issues and constant tuning
- High network traffic
- Limited number of simultaneous users
- Limited table record storage capacity
- Greater security requirements
For these reasons, conversion of existing access administration systems to VB.Net and SQL Server databases may be mandatory.
Most new administrative applications these days will be designed by a professional developer using a VB.Net Front-End and a SQL Server Back-End database.
Suggested conversion strategy
Converting existing VBA code, Access forms and reports to VB.NET is almost impossible. It is much more cost-effective to try to extract only the existing business rule logic, and start from scratch to create new FrontEnd forms and use a SQL database as the backend.
This note details strategies needed to mitigate some of the obstacles encountered with the conversion process and reduce programming effort.
Identify business rules
Most of the VBA code logic in forms is used to support the user interface – it makes no sense in a VB.Net environment. Attempting to convert the form’s associated code will yield little or nothing. A VBA to VB.Net conversion effort should focus on identifying and converting business rules contained in VBA code modules.
Conversion strategy decisions
- Project – There is an option to use an MDI form or a multi-tabbed form.
- Menu – A TreeView control should be sufficient to select MDI forms
- Forms – There is an option to use bound or unbound forms.
- Reports – Crystal Reports or SQL Server Reporting Services (Business Intelligence Development Studio – no longer supported) will produce reports similar to old Access Reports.
- It is still possible to call access databases and access reports from VB.Net. This can speed up the transition process.
- Tables – These may need to be redesigned due to lack of normalization or incorrect indexing. The ‘dbo_’ default schema prefix used by SQL Server may need to be added to each table name.
Applying VBA standards
The conversion effort depends on the coding standards used by many previous Access programmers – and in general, depending on the experience of the programmers and the age when the system was first created, the standards will leave much to be desired.
Module coding standards that facilitate conversion must first be implemented in the access system. There are several modifications that can be made to facilitate subsequent code conversions:
- Continuous indentation
- Declare all variables with a type
- Use the prefix “m_” or “g_” for module or global variables
- Make sure the global variable is required globally
- Set the option clear in each code module
- Add used but undeclared variables
- Add a data type to all variables, whether dimensions or parameters
- Add a return data type to all functions
- Use functions like DateAdd for date arithmetic instead of ‘+’ or ‘-‘
- Remove all Eval functions
- Avoid, where possible, ‘bang’ constructions – ie forms! Customers! Customer ID
It would be useful if the control fields could be renamed with descriptive names, instead of Text1, Text2 or Command1, Command2. Unfortunately renaming a field can cause problems, as the field can be referenced in other forms, macros, reports, modules or queries. After any such change, the access system is usually a nightmare to debug.
Converting DAO to ADO or ADO.Net
DAO functions such as Recordsets and Querydefs need to be converted to ADO or ADO.Net. ADO.Net has replaced ADO, but ADO is still supported. If you’re familiar with ADO, stick with it – it’s simpler and more powerful than ADO.Net.
For more adventure, try the LINQ option for ADO or ADO.Net. But for the final production system, wait for a more efficient implementation of LINQ in Visual Studio 2012.
After the initial conversion to VB.Net
- Constants require a data type.
- All variables in functions or subroutines will, by default, be declared with the ByVal keyword. Wherever a value is required to be returned, the keyword should be changed to ByRef.
- Optional parameters in functions and subroutines must have default values.
- Constants require explicit data types.
- Use the option strict to ensure efficiency and avoid data type errors.
- Set the option Infer to Off.
Welcome to the joys of object-oriented Visual Basic!
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