Difference Between Microsoft Access & Excel

By Lauren Miller

Microsoft’s suite of tightly integrated productivity software, Office, offers two applications for managing data: Excel and Access. Excel is a spreadsheet application while Access is a database management program. Although they are different types of programs, they have some common features.

Features and Compatibility

Excel enables you to add, import and export data. In addition, you can analyze and manipulate data using built-in or custom functions, including charts and graphs. When you create a database in Access, you can paste data from Excel into an Access spreadsheet or import an entire table. However, you cannot export an Access spreadsheet to Excel. In addition, you can create a link from within Access to an Excel spreadsheet. Excel also has more functions to manipulate spreadsheet data than Access. Both programs enable you to import table data from other database file formats such as TXT or CSV and display data in read-only format on Web pages.

Major Differences

An Excel table contains rows and columns of cells in a flat file. Each line in the table contains one record. In Access you can store data in more than one table and create relationships between table data in order to perform complex queries. With Access you also can link to data in larger, external SQL (structured query language) databases.


Excel is much simpler to learn than Access. It is ideal for maintaining lists, performing quick number crunching and sharing data. Access is more complex and powerful than Excel, allowing you to manage larger amounts of data. Multiple users can work in an Access database at the same time. It is ideal for tracking customer orders, managing business contacts, maintaining inventories and organizing staff tasks.