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Chapter 2. User's Reference Guide

2.3 How the SOIC System Manages Tables and Files

The SOIC System client program was written using the Microsoft Visual Basic programming language and the Microsoft Access database management system. SOIC data tables and data files are Access tables and files. As a result, SOIC data tables, which are contained in the file Userdata.mdb, can be viewed and even edited using Access. (For safety's sake, however, this is not recommended.)

A second SOIC System file is TrashCan.mdb. This file contains one table-TrashCan, the SOIC System Trash Can. Like Userdata.mdb, it is possible to open TrashCan.mdb with Access, but this is not recommended.

While Access can be used to look at all SOIC System tables, the SOIC System itself cannot be used as a generalized Access table viewer. The SOIC System can open tables that were created using Access, but its ability to manipulate these tables is limited.

The SOIC System can also open files created by dBASE, FoxPro, and other database management systems that save their files in a dBASE compatible format. The dBASE format has become an industry standard, and there are hundreds of applications that can save files in the dBASE format. The term "Xbase" has come into common use to refer to dBASE compatibility. Xbase files all share the common three character extension to their file names. The following are all Xbase (that is, dBASE compatible) files:

  • 101895DP.DBF

In addition to reading Access tables and Xbase files, the SOIC System can import text files.

The fields in Access tables and in Xbase and text files do not need to conform to a rigid set of guidelines. Fields can be placed in any order. Within limits, fields can vary in length from one table to another. All lines in a given text file must have the same length, however.

The SOIC System's ability to handle a wide variety of external files inevitably brings with it a degree of complexity. You do not need to concern yourself with this complexity if you use the SOIC System for data entry, or if you use software other than the SOIC System to prepare files and tables so that they are in exactly the right format when you open or import them into the SOIC System. If you need to use the SOIC System to reformat an external file or table, however, these features are available.

2.3.1 Userdata.mdb and Other Access Files

Access does not store each data table as a separate file. This sets Access apart from many other database management systems. FoxPro and dBASE, for example, store every data table as a separate file. When data tables are stored as text files, the tables are also normally stored one to a file. Access, on the other hand, groups related data tables together into a single file. It is possible for an Access data file to contain only a single table, but more commonly a file will contain several tables.

Because the table names do not represent files, normal DOS or Windows restrictions on file names do not apply. The only restrictions are those set by Access itself. A name can be up to 64 characters long. You can use any combination of letters, numbers, or other keyboard characters for the name, with a few restrictions. You cannot use the period (.), exclamation point (!), back quote (`), or brackets ([]). Also, you cannot use leading spaces or control characters. Table names can contain either capital or lower case letters, and are stored with the capitalization you choose. You cannot distinguish two tables from each other by capitalization, however. Once you have a table named "Mytable" you cannot create a new one named "mytable."

It is possible to print out tables from Userdata.mdb using Access. Opening your working copy of Userdata.mdb with Access, however, can be dangerous. When opened using Access, a data table is completely editable. It is possible to change the data or even the table structure in undesirable ways. Unlike word processors or spreadsheet programs, database management systems like Access immediately record changes you make to tables and files. You cannot back out of changes by not saving the file when you exit from the program. Therefore, if you want to use Access to print Userdata.mdb tables, we recommend that you first make a copy of Userdata.mdb under a new name. You can do this with the Windows Explorer. Then print from the copy.

Alternatively, if Userdata.mdb is large and you only want to print one of several tables, you can save the tables you want to print to a non SOIC Access file using the Save As option. See Section 2.4.5 "The Save As Option".

To print, use the Access Reports option. The Access Reports feature allows you complete control over the format of a print out. It is much more powerful than the Print option available from within the SOIC System. The SOIC System Print option is a simple convenience, not a full fledged print formatting program.

2.3.2 How the SOIC System Handles Its Own Tables

The SOIC System opens SOIC System data tables with the Open Table dialog box. It saves these tables with the Save As dialog box. The Open Table dialog box is the first thing you see when you invoke the Open option. To display the Access and Xbase file management dialog boxes, you must first display the SOIC System dialog box, and then choose Access or one of the Xbase file types using the Data Source drop down list.

For more information on manipulating SOIC System data tables, see the following sections:

A table can be called an SOIC System internal data table if it meets the following three criteria:

  • The table's structure conforms to the Access data file format.
  • The table contains all SOIC System internal fields, including internal system information fields that are not displayed on the Data Entry Form. (A definition of the necessary fields is given in Appendix B "SOIC System Data File Formats".) The fields must be of the correct length and type, but they can be empty.
  • The table is stored in the SOIC System file Userdata.mdb.

All three of these criteria must be met.

2.3.3 How the SOIC System Handles Access Tables

All Access format tables that do not meet all the criteria outlined in the previous section are non SOIC-or external-Access tables. This includes tables created by the SOIC System itself, and saved to files other than Userdata.mdb. External Access tables can be opened through the Open option. First invoke the Open Table box using the Open option. Then choose Access 2000 through the Data Source drop down list, and press ENTER. The Open Access file management dialog box appears. Choose an Access file, and click on Open. The tables in that file are then displayed in a table management dialog box. For details on how to finish opening a table, see Section "Opening a Non SOIC Access Table".

Your control over a non SOIC Access table is limited. You cannot move Access table records to the TrashCan-all deletions are final. You cannot sort the table. You cannot import a text file into an open Access table or export an Access table to a text file. You cannot save coded and uncoded records separately. You cannot delete an Access table using the SOIC System Delete option. In this version of the SOIC System, you can add new records. (This was not possible in earlier versions.)

You can open Userdata.mdb as if it were an external Access database file. If you do, you see the same table names that are normally displayed in the Open Table dialog box. You can then open Userdata.mdb tables using the SOIC System as if they were external Access tables. If you do so, however, your rights to manipulate the table are restricted, just as they are when you open any non SOIC Access table.

If you choose the Save As option while an external Access table is open, you have the option of either saving the table in Userdata.mdb as an SOIC table (thereby importing it) or saving it under a new name in an external Access .mdb file. If you want to create a new .mdb file to save the table, Save As lets you do this. For more information on saving Access tables, see Section 2.4.5 "The Save As Option".

2.3.4 How the SOIC System Handles Xbase Files

Xbase files are handled very much like non SOIC Access tables. One obvious difference is that Xbase tables are always stored one table to a file. There is no need to first open a database file and then a table.

The Open Xbase file management dialog boxes are reached by first invoking the Open Table dialog box. In that box, choose one of the Xbase file formats from the Data Source drop down list, press ENTER, and the appropriate file management dialog box will appear. For more information on opening Xbase files, see Section, "Opening an Xbase File".

Your control over Xbase files is limited. You cannot move Xbase records to the TrashCan-all deletions are final. You cannot sort a file. You cannot import a text file into an open Xbase file, or export an open Xbase file to a text file. You cannot save coded and uncoded records separately. You cannot delete an Xbase file using the SOIC System Delete option.

In this version of the SOIC System, you can view all the fields of an Xbase file that are mapped to SOIC System data fields. You can also add new records to an Xbase file. (These two features were not available in earlier versions.)

If you choose the Save As option while an Xbase file is open, the program opens a file management dialog box. This box allows you to save the Xbase file in a new location or under a new name. You cannot save an Xbase file as an SOIC table. For more information, see Section 2.4.5 "The Save As Option".