How to auto fill fields in access (2010) based on combo box selection

How to auto fill fields in access (2010) based on combo box selection

by Shane Zentz

Access is a great program for small level databases. The kind of databases and programs that almost every small business today needs. And of course Microsoft makes it very easy for almost anyone to create a complete database driven solution. Simple order entry database programs are very common in todays business, and Microsoft Access makes it possible to create a viable solution reasonably quickly, efficiently, and economically. Access contains a number of features that make it the database application of choice for small businesses today. One of those features is the combo box. This tool allows the end-user to simply select an item from a drop down menu, instead of having to type it in manually. A real time saver. But from the programming and database designer point of view, they can sometimes be a little difficult and frustrating to work with. So this article is about what I have learned in working with these combo boxes, and how to succeed in your next Access project by using these handy tools.

For this article I will start with a simple and very basic table that looks like the following:
ID (autonumber primary key), Customer (text), Address (text), City (text), State (text), Zip Code (text). This is obviously a simple customer database which will hold typical customer data. The kind of data that a lot of small businesses would have and would need to store in an efficient and easy way. I am not going to go over how to create the tables in access as that is a little below the level of this article. But check out google for many articles on how to create basic tables and basic databases in any version of Access. So we assume that we have our customer table in place. And we can also assume that we have some arbitrary amount of (valid) data inserted into the table.

This data will be useful for many purposes to most small businesses. However in an effort to increase efficiency and also accuracy, it would be nice for the end-user of this database to be able to just search for the customers name and then all of the data related to that particular customer would then be displayed in the correct fields. This is possible with access and combo boxes. In fact there are at least two ways of doing this. The harder way and the easier way. The harder way involves adding some simple code to the combo boxes ‘after update’ property. Usually something like TextBox151=ComboBox9.Column(2). This method certainly works, but there is an even easier (and cleaner) method of accomplishing this with no code at all. So now we know what we want, we want to auto fill fields of a form or report based on the value chosen by the end user in a combo box. Read on to learn the easy way to achieve this.

Recall that we have our simple ‘Customer’ table and that it is filled with some kind of data (even test data is fine). So what we want is a form that will display that data. This is very easy in Access, but we want more. We want a combo box that will only display the customers name, and when the end user selects a certain customers name the rest of the data for that customer (address, city, state, etc.) will automatically fill the fields of the form. So here is the easy way to do this. The tricky way. First open the customer table (in this case, your table will probably be named differently) in datasheet view. With this table open, go to the ‘Create’ tab. Now on the ‘Create’ tab, you have three choices for creating a form (or possibly even more). But the first choice simply says ‘form’. This is the one that we want.

So select this choice and you will see Access will create a neat looking form that has every field of the table (Customer, in this case) that was used to create it. Now you can close out the customer table. Go to the form that Access created when you clicked on the ‘form’ button. Switch to design view. Try to make some room somewhere on the form to add the combo box. Then select the combo box tool on the ‘Design’ tab and place the combo box somewhere on this form.


A wizard will open. If you have added combo boxes in other places you will notice that if you use this method of adding a combo box, now you have a third option of where to get the data for the combo box from. And this new option (the bottom one) which says something like “Find a record on my form based on the value I selected from combo box”, is exactly the one that we want.

So select that and choose something logical to fill the combo box, in this case I would choose Customer (the name of the customer, to make it easy for the end user to find who they are looking for). Now save the form and switch back to form view. Test it out. You should see that when you select a customers name, then their corresponding data is automatically filled in to the other fields of the form. Like magic.

If this has not worked for you, then you have probably missed a step listed above. The most important things are to make sure that Access makes a form for you based on the table that you want to pull the data from, and that you choose the third option in the combo box wizard (the one that says something like “Find a record on my form based on the value I selected from combo box”. If these steps are followed then your form should be autofillingout itself based on the end users choice in the combo box. Now what you do with this data and this form are up to you. And remember that this is only one method of accomplishing this little bit of magic. If this does not work for you or does not suit your needs, then I would recomend trying the method which involves adding a bit of code to the ‘after update’ event on the combo box. A little more difficult, but still pretty easy. Anyway thanks for reading this Access tutorial and article.

Shane Zentz

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