Arbitrary Thoughts

Working with Access Databases (.MDB files) on MAC OSX

Having switched to MAC and still trying to be a friendly person to people of other beliefs (and operating systems), I have been looking for the ideal solution to work with Access Databases on the MAC.

Searching Google mostly yielded advice to run Windows on a Virtual Machine or simply to also have a Windows Machine with Office installed and then just use Access to work with it… for so many reasons its not funny, I off course thought that would be equivalent to failing to have to resort one of these solutions.

Instead of making this a lengthy post about why and how, I will simply leave it as a recipe as I have come up with a simple, quick and easy solution that also happens to entirely free… and it doesn’t require you to open any command prompts, restart you machine or even call you computer saavy cousin, this is a 3 mins job you can do yourself… in a quick 4 easy steps !

1) Download and Install OpenOffice

2) Download and Install Actual ODBC Driver for Access

3) Configure the connection to your Database

  1. Run “ODBC Manager” (found in Applications/Utilities/)
  2. Navigate to “System DSN”
  3. Select “Add”
  4. Select “Continue”
  5. Enter “Name” and “Description” (Can be anything you wish, these values are only used for your convenience in the management of the connections)
  6. “Choose…” the MDB file from your local disc system
  7. Select “Continue”
  8. Select “Advanced  Language…”
  9. Remove the selection in the “Auto-detect language…” checkbox (VERY IMPORTANT, if you leave it selected you might not be able to read the data in the database)
  10. Select “Continue”
  11. Select “Test”
  12. Confirm that it reads “Test Completed Successfully” in the last line
  13. Select “Done”

4) Connect to your Database

  1. Start the OpenOffice from Applications.
  2. Select “Database” from the Welcome Screen.
  3. Select “Connect to an existing database” and select ODBC in the drop-down.
  4. Select “Browse” and select the database connection you created in previous step.
  5. Select “Next” and enter optional Username and Password (its possible you can skip this step).
  6. In the next screen you can either accept default or change the settings, this step is purely a convenience matter, so decide for yourself.

…and voila !!
You should now be able to both access and manage your data in your Access Database on your MAC OSX… and you managed to do it in less than 5 minutes and it cost you zero deniros !

Happy hacking…

PS. If you know of better or alternative ways to achieve the same result, please post it here and share with others… I know many people are facing this issue from time to time, and as you can see in this post, suffering needlessly since the solution is readily available and very simple.

** UPDATE – 3. Oct 2014 **

Since publishing this post in 2011, lots have changed, however seeing how many people actually come to this article, I want to point a better solution out than the one mentioned above.
It’s called MDExplorer and can be licensed for only 5USD, there is a free trial available.

** UPDATE – 29. Sep 2017  **
Lot’s have changed since the o.p. which was nearly a lifetime ago, please find plenty of great alternatives that are more up-to-date in the comments…  Cheers !

45 thoughts on “Working with Access Databases (.MDB files) on MAC OSX

  1. Hi Peter,
    I’m desperately trying to open an .mdb file on my mac. In following your instructions after opening up the odbc manager, then clicking on “System DSN” and clicking “add”, the window asks me to choose from the following drivers: Actual Access, Actual Open Source Databases, Actual Oracle, Actual SQL Server.

    Please advise.

    Thank you!

      1. such conflicts between accdb and mdb format of databases files.such to think–
        request and checked.

      2. Dear mister,
        OpenOffice seems to be working to open MDB-files, 1 thing and most important of all.
        Modules! Since most of the code is documented in. Is there any possibility to import them?
        Let me know if there is any solution for it. Thanks in advance.

  2. Hi Megan, first thanks so much for the tip as I was one of many to really struggle to find a solution for it. I am trying to work on a non-English database (Mexican) and Open office 3 database doesn’t read it properly at all…only very partial records are shown and without any column heading?? would you have any suggestion? Thanks!

  3. You could also try ‘MDB Tool’ (, which is a Mac application that allows you to open an MDB and view the contents. It also allows you to export the data to a CSV or to SQL (depending on what your needs are of course).

  4. Seems the free version of the odbc driver is no longer available… The demo version will return only the first three queries of the database. Am I missing something?

  5. I’ve got everything set up per your directions, and openoffice is recognizing all of the criteria from the mdb file … only problem is it seems only the first three entries in the original mdb database are importing. Any thoughts / suggestions? When I run a report, only 3 entries are being returned. Thanks

  6. Dear Peter,
    Thank you for this post. It helped me almost completely. I still have a problem.
    I did follow your HowTo by the letter.
    But when I open my database with Libre Office or with FileMaker Pro via the ODBC link I only see the first three entries (instead of 100s).
    Do you have an idea how to solve this problem?

    Hope you can help.

  7. Sadly Actual ODBC Driver for Access is not free and only shows the first 3 records in each table without a licence. It also doesn’t seem to let you edit the original .mdb file, only view its contents. Still a useful post though, thanks.

  8. Hi, I got a problem, when i do the first process than i click on “Test” i get this message:
    “Attempting to connect to database /users/……..
    [Actual][Access] Unexpected error. Please contact

    Test failed. ”

    What should I do??

  9. Some of the comments above have referred to the fact you can only see the first 3 lines of the MDB when opened using the route described by Peter – this is because you have to buy a full license! Read the authorisation notice when installing instead of just clicking the continue button – it’s clear enough. The cost of a full licence will set you back $34.95! However if you only need 3 lines this is a great FREE way to do what you need. some of the other links are fine but be careful the apps will do what you need them to do, not all let you edit and save back as an MDB file!

  10. Fantastic!! I lost one day looking for a solution to my problem and … there it was!!
    Good work and thank you very much!!

  11. Does the Actual ODBC Driver for Access also work for an older OpenOffice Version (3.3.0 / OOO330m20 / Build:9567) from 2010? Or have I to install the actual OpenOffice? Thank’s for any information/experience?

  12. Thanks for your tips. It’s a good solution. You may try ACCDB MDB Explorer too. A simple tool to browse ACCDB and MDB database without an Access license. It sounds good and convenience .

  13. I know it’s been a long time, but I’m trying to use an old mdb file, and also it’s stored in a local network. In step 6 you said “Choose…” the MDB file from your local disc system”. Is it possible to connect within a local network?

  14. Worked like a charm! I feel like a full on hacker. And by the way, your instructions were great! Thank you!!!

    1. Thank you for your comment, your absolutely right, this article is completely legacy ! So great you leave this type of comments, hoping it can benefit others. Cheers !

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