Thursday, February 18, 2016


The anchoring feature has been available since Access 2007, but I noticed from several questions posted in the forums that some users are still not aware of it, or that they are not sure when to use it. It's always been considered best practice to design Access forms to the least common screen resolution for your users. But in today's proliferation of large screen monitors with really high screen resolutions, how do you accommodate usability with good design. Essentially, the dilemma is how to design a form for a small screen and yet look good on a large one.

Before Access 2007 and the anchoring feature, most developers resort to some API routines to re-size the form and its controls automatically based on screen resolution. This technique worked very well but not without its drawbacks, such as the additional dependency to the OS API code and the additional burden of maintaining extra code to accommodate varying user environments.
Anchoring can help alleviate some of the problems with designing Access forms for different screen resolutions. One caveat, however, is that it's not the answer to all the problems with re-sizing form controls. To illustrate how to use the anchoring feature, we will use the simple table structure shown in Figure 1.

As you can see in Figure 1, it's a table for storing information about a business or personal contacts. Figure 2 shows a typical Access form designed for this Contacts table using as little screen real estate as possible.

Please note that the Address and Notes fields were intentionally left small to illustrate anchoring features later on in this article.
If we view that form in Form View, we might see something like what is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3 displays the form in a Tabbed Document setting, which is the default settings in Access. Notice that there are plenty of "white" space on the form when the form is maximized to cover the whole screen. Figure 4 shows some design changes we can do to this form with the anchoring feature.

As shown in Figure 4, the "Exit" button would look better all the way to the right of the form. Also, we are going to move the photo to the right edge of the form as well to make room for expanding the Address and Notes fields. In addition, we will make the Notes field expand towards the bottom of the form as well.

To access the Anchoring feature, we must go back to the form's Design View and select the control that we want the anchor applied. Once the control is selected, we then click on the Arrange tab on the Ribbon and then click on the Anchoring dropdown to select the anchor we want. Figure 5 shows the Exit button on the form was selected and then the "Top Right" anchor was then applied to it.

To finish applying anchors to our form, we would then select the attachment control and also apply the Top Right anchor to it. We would then apply the Stretch Across Top anchor to the Address field and the Stretch Down and Across anchor to the Notes field. Figure 6 shows the final product after these changes.

As you can see from Figure 6, some of the white-spaces were removed but not completely eliminated. You will have to play with the design of your forms and test the other anchor settings to find the best form design for your database application.

The anchoring feature is a simple way to accommodate various screen resolutions due to varying user environments, and it eliminates the need to maintain additional code for re-sizing form controls. However, you must be aware of its limitations because it does not cover all the possible scenarios that you may encounter within your users' environments.

Original post date: November 30, 2014

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