Good Free Alternative To MS Access


Consider the need to develop a lightweight desktop DB application on the Microsoft platforms.

It could be done fairly easily with MS Access but I'd like to be able to distribute it to others and I don't want to pay for a runtime license.


  • easy distribution to others
  • no runtime licensing issues

Considerations and Candidates:

  • Base from the OpenOffice suite. My concerns were around its stability.
  • MySQL + writing custom DB code in C++ or Python or whatever seems like a rather heavy-handed solution.

Question: What are the low cost or free database alternatives to MS Access?

See Also: Open Source Reporting Engines


Bruceatk kind of hit on what I'm thinking of; it's not so much the DB engine as I want the other niceties that Access brings to the party. The nice form designer, the nice reporting engine etc. But you do raise a very good point about the installation footprint. I had considered that but I've not made any firm decisions about which way I'm going with this yet anyway. It'll probably be something fairly lightweight anyway and a small installation footprint would definitely be a plus.


No I was unaware that the MS Access 2007 runtime is free; thanks for pointing that out. The last time I'd bothered to investigate it (I don't remember when it was) I think it was a fairly expensive license for the runtime because I think they were trying to sell it to Corporate IT departments.

And thanks to everyone else who responded as well; I was completely unaware of those other options you all pointed out.

This question is tagged with database ms-access desktop

~ Asked on 2008-08-26 21:57:21

28 Answers


One thing to keep in mind here is the MS Access product is much more than just the raw database engine. It provides a full application development platform, including form and menu designer, client application language and environment (VBA), and report designer. When you take all those things together, MS Access really has no peer.

But for the scope of this question, we're concerned with the raw database engine. With that in mind:

VistaDB (not free),
SQL Server Compact Edition (not Express)
and now SQL Server LocalDB
all come to mind.

Another thought: while the original question does ask about desktop databases, its likely some people will land here looking for a database to use with a web site. It's important to remember that these are all in-process databases, and as such are rarely if ever appropriate for use on the web. If you want to build a web site, where it's common to need to support significant concurrent access, you generally want a database server engine, like MS SQL, Postgresql, MySQL, Oracle, or their brethren. At the same time, those server engines are rarely if ever appropriate for a single-user desktop application.

~ Answered on 2008-08-26 21:59:10


When people ask about a replacement for Access, a lot of them only think about the database, but what they are really asking about are all of the other features in Access. They usually don't care what database Access is using.

Some of the functionality provided by Access are: Forms, Query Building, Reports, Macros, Database Management, and some kind of language when you need to go beyond what the wizards provide.

SQLite, MySQL, and FireBird are free database back ends. They do not have those additional Access functions built into them. Any free alternatives to Access require you combining something like SQLite and a development language.

Probably the best free option would be SQLite and Visual Basic 2008 or C# 2008 Express Edition. This would have a heavy runtime dependency, so installing on a bare client could take quite the installer.

There really isn't a non-Access option for free with minimum runtime requirements. I wish there was.

I'll be interested in hearing if anybody knows any good alternatives.

~ Answered on 2008-08-26 23:39:51


Are you aware that the Access 2007 runtime can be downloaded for free?

Links for newer versions:

~ Answered on 2008-08-26 22:02:20


Schnapple asks:

Are you referring to the concept of a free database to distribute with an application, or an Access-like "single file, no installation" database?

Er, nobody who has any competence with Access application development would ever distribute a single MDB/ACCDB as application/data store. Any non-trivial Access application needs to be split into a front end with the forms/queries/reports (i.e., UI objects) and a back end (data tables only).

It's clear that what is needed here is a database application development tool like Access. None of the database-only answers are in any way responsive to that.

Please learn about Access before answering Access questions:

  • Access is a database application development tool that ships with a default database engine called Jet.

  • But an Access application can be built to work with data in almost any back end database, as long as there's an ISAM, or an ODBC or OLEDB driver for that database engine.

Microsoft itself has done a good job of obfuscating the difference between Access (development tool) and Jet (database engine), so it's not surprising that many people don't recognize the difference. But developers ought to use precise language, and when you mean the database engine, use "Jet", and when you mean the front-end development platform, use "Access".

~ Answered on 2008-09-15 21:08:00


To be honest - there aren't any free alternatives to MS Access. At least if you mean database development tool (forms, reports, queries, VBA support etc.). If you think about MS Access as a database engine (you mean MS Jet or ACE in fact) then yes - you have a lot of possibilities. There are a lot of free database engines - the most popular are MySQL and PostgreSQL. I can recommend both - it depends what you want to do.

For writing database frontends C++ is one of the worst choices. You should consider MS Visual C#, MS Visual Basic .NET or... Even Java/Swing (if we are talking about desktop application). If you think about the web-enabled frontend - consider PHP (with MySQL or PostgreSQL on the backend) or ASP.NET (with MSSQL Server at the backend).

I strongly recommend you not to use C++ for such job. This language is very efficient and flexible, but advanced database frontend development with C++ is not the best idea. C++ is great in system programming, games development, maths and physics simulations, everywhere where efficiency is the key - like real-time applications etc. Frontends don't have to be daemons of speed - they should look nice and have advanced end-user features (like sorting, coloring etc.). If you are looking for free tools - maybe C# Express or Visual Basic.NET Express 2008 would be the proper choice? Or maybe Java/Swing (check the NetBeans IDE)? Maybe SharpDevelop? But not C++... Leave C++ for the things it suits the best.

~ Answered on 2010-01-04 23:38:34


Check out suneido.

I made a fairly complicated GIS app as an experiment with it some years ago (database, complex gui, reports, client/server). It was a pleasant experience (apart from some documentation issues...) and I became productive with it very fast.

I don't use it anymore mainly because:

  • it's not really general purpose
  • it's not cross platform (windows only)
  • I decided to stop exploring exotic technologies and specialize in something more mainstream.

~ Answered on 2008-09-15 21:26:27


Of the Free Software alternatives these haven't been mentioned yet:

I'd also keep an eye on what DB RAD tools the Flex/Air community is coming up with, since with those tools it's possible to get unified desktop and web interfaces.

~ Answered on 2008-10-18 12:21:56


Oracle XE With Application Express.

  • Has a nice web based gui,
  • Is a "Real" database
  • Will scale beyond a single desktop
  • Offers a clear scale path beyond a small team
  • Applications as web based, easily accessible.
  • Can convert Excel spread sheets into Applications

~ Answered on 2008-09-21 01:10:35


NuBuilder ( might be right.

NuBuilder is a GPLv3-licensed PHP web application that requires MySQL as backend database. Users and programmers both use the web interface.

They promote it as a free, web based MS Access alternative. I'm creating my second NuBuilder application these days. The NuBuilder seems to be very actively developed, and I found it stable and well documented (provided you can stand video tutorials.)

~ Answered on 2012-10-23 11:06:59


The issue is finding an alternative to MS Access that includes a visual, drag and drop development environment with a "reasonable" database where the whole kit and caboodle can be deployed free of charge.

My first suggestion would be to look at this very complete list of MS Access alternatives (many of which are free), followed by a gander at this list of open source database development tools on

My second suggestion would be to check out WaveMaker, which is sort of an open source PowerBuilder for the cloud (disclaimer: I work there so should not be considered to be an unbiased source of information ;-)

WaveMaker combines a drag and drop IDE with an open source Java back end. It is licensed under the Apache license and boasts a 15,000-strong developer community.

~ Answered on 2010-04-21 18:44:48


The Access runtime license has never been all that expensive -- the cost for the developer tools/extensions has been around $300 as long as I can remember (which would be as far back to the Access 2 Developers Toolkit, or ADT), but that gives you the ability to distribute your app with the runtime to an unlimited number of users. As long as your runtime app was used by three or more users, you'd have been saving money (assuming a cost of $100/user to install a full copy of Access).

The runtime for Access 2007 is completely free, but really, the cost before that was not all that great.

Marc Gravell added (in what should have been a comment, in my opinion):
Being free, though, is certainly an encouragement for people to try it out which the $300 price really would have discouraged.

~ Answered on 2008-09-16 17:53:48


You may want to look into SQLite ( All depends on your usage though. Concurrency for example is not its greatest virtue. But for example Firefox uses it to store settings etc..

~ Answered on 2008-08-26 21:59:46


In the context of a programming forum, we don't usually think of the programmer also needing the application portion of the database. Normally a programmer wants to use their own development environment for the business logic and front end, and just use the store, query, retrieval, and data processing capabilities of the database.

If you really want all those other things, then you're talking about a much larger and more complicated run time environment. You're not going to find anything that's 'lightweight' any more. Even MS Access itself no longer qualifies, because it's hardly light weight. It's just lucky in that a lot of users might already have it, making it appear to be light weight.

This doesn't mean you won't find anything. Just that it's not likely to have the same level of maturity or distribution as Access, especially since the underlying access engine is already baked into Windows.

~ Answered on 2008-08-27 13:30:43


You mentioned Python, have you considered Dabo?

That would avoid much of the grunt work in a custom app.

~ Answered on 2009-07-24 11:44:02


VistaDB has an express version which is free to use and is syntax and driver compatible with SQL Server. VistaDB is a single file and only requires their driver .dll to work in your or winforms project.

Since it is syntax and datasource compatible you can upgrade to SQL Server if needed.

from their site:

VistaDB is a fully managed and typesafe ASP.NET and WinForms applications using C#, VB.NET and other CLR-compliant languages.

~ Answered on 2008-09-05 18:26:00


Are you referring to the concept of a free database to distribute with an application, or an Access-like "single file, no installation" database?

As in, things like SQL Server Express Edition require things like runtimes to be installed, databases to be created and mounted, entries on people's Start menus that they won't recognize (my wife asked why SQL Server was on her laptop the other day) whereas an Access database can be run in a single file.

I guess what I'm asking is do you want to think of the database as a document you write to or as an instance of something on someone else's machine?

~ Answered on 2008-09-05 18:30:46


What about r:Base? Way back in the day r:Base was a very robust DOS (then Windows) RDMBS and this is pre-Access / pre-Paradox days. Its closest competitor was dBase but that wasnt fully relational, at the time. I developed some very nice r:Base applications AND, like Access today, had a built in report generator, forms facility, queries and table manipulation.. To my surprise, its still alive! Its got all that access offers, it seems. Might be something for you to consider.

~ Answered on 2008-09-21 01:06:16


Kexi 2007.1.1 may be what you are looking for.

Its express version is free but DB size limited. Full version cost $72.

The description from its home page: Kexi is an easy to use application for visual database design for Linux and MS Windows. Kexi competes with MS Access, FoxPro, Oracle Forms and FileMaker.

Visit for details.

~ Answered on 2008-10-13 09:33:09


Much in line with Aurelio's answer, I now work in Ruby on Rails on some applications that I might formerly have done in MS Access. The back end database for a Rails App. is usually, MySql (works well enough and is available on most shared Web hosting) or PostgreSQL (the better choice when possible).

~ Answered on 2011-02-15 08:52:15


Apache Derby is a nice db alternative.

~ Answered on 2008-10-18 12:59:38


~ Answered on 2009-07-11 15:20:49


What about Microsoft's Visual Studio Express? SQL Server Express is also at that link...

~ Answered on 2008-08-26 22:02:26


I'd the same problem of you. I had a MS access application but I wanted to go to a web application accessible to everybody and without paying money to MS. So I decided to use MySql and Wavemaker (open source) to get the scope..I'm very happy of this decision. and that's the result

~ Answered on 2010-10-01 08:17:51


Also check out for great installation scripts for Ms Access. Also if you need to integrate images into your application check out DBPix at

~ Answered on 2011-01-05 17:40:55


What you appear to be looking for is not just a database program, but a database with forms, reports, etc (basically an IDE of sorts). I would recommend trying Base, which comes with the office suite. It's free and open source. It's nowhere near as polished as access, but it does pretty much the same things.

Plus, if you know access, it will be at least somewhat familiar.

EDIT: Sorry, failed to read that you are considering With regard to stability, I've had it crash and do some "odd" things when I played with it, but Access has done the same thing. The best way to find out is to play with it a bit and see if it suits you.

~ Answered on 2011-12-04 01:57:49


I think the database included with has the form designer in it. I've never tried writing code for it though. A forum post I saw had a link to a tutorial they said had some code in it.

I started to set up a database for my wife and the interface was coming out pretty good as far as I could tell. tutorial

~ Answered on 2008-09-05 19:36:33


for sqlite, check out the firefox extension. It offers a serviceable GUI.

~ Answered on 2008-08-26 22:51:03


VistaDB is the only alternative if you going to run your website at shared hosting (almost all of them won't let you run your websites under Full Trust mode) and also if you need simple x-copy deployment enabled website.

~ Answered on 2009-03-25 18:39:37

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