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SharePoint 2010 Upgrade breaks Microsoft Access Client Application

I have been doing quite a few 2007-2010 upgrades lately, and suffering the appropriate slings and arrows. A recent upgrade resulted in a few issues, the strangest one was that Microsoft Access could no longer open a SharePoint list.

For quite some time now, Microsoft has been able to read and write data from SharePoint lists as if they were active Access tables. This is distinct from Access Services, which ships with the Enterprise version of SharePoint Server. Access Services lets you “convert” your entire Access application to a SharePoint site at which point the Access client is no longer required (for a user).

Our situation was much simpler. We were dealing with a Power user that was good with Access, and had leveraged the list read/write capability quite heavily with 2007. However, after the upgrade, Access 2007 couldn’t open some of the lists that it could previously. Compounding this problem was that Access 2010 didn’t have this problem on the lists in question. The browser could also open these lists just fine.

The answer to this one came from what appeared to be a different problem. Some of the other lists in the site couldn’t be opened by the browser. Instead, the user received the message “The query cannot be completed because the number of lookup columns it contains exceeds the lookup column threshold enforced by the administrator”:


SharePoint has a bad reputation for “Unknown Error” messages, but this one is really quite good. This one pointed squarely at the list throttling features available in SharePoint 2010 that of course weren’t there in 2007. Basically, 2010 allows an administrator to throttle, or prevent poorly performing functions from slowing down the system for everyone. One such expensive operation is performing lookups, and the default limit is set to 8.

Dina Ayoub has a good post here on the throttling features if you would like to learn more, but the important thing to note here is that this setting affects not just lookup fields, but Person/Group and Workflow Status fields as well, so if you have 8 or more of them, the list will simply stop working.

This setting is scoped to the application level, so if it is changed, you affect all site collections in that application. (It also means that you can’t change it at all in Office 365.) You set it through the Resource Throttling settings in Central Administration. Once in CA, click on Application Management, highlight the application to be changed, and in the General Settings dropdown, pick Resource Throttling.


Scroll down to the section titled “List View Lookup Threshold”:


Here, you can simply increase its value to where you need it.

Changing the values should be done with considerable care. These throttling features were implemented for very good reasons, and changing them risks overloading your SQL server. A much better approach would be to go back and rethink the design of your list, if that’s an option. If it isn’t then this is a decent plan B. You can always buy more hardware…….

So this fixed our post upgrade list issue in the browser, how does this relate to our Access problem? Well, it turns out that they were one and the same, just manifesting differently. It seems that Access does something when it opens a list that adds a few more lookup type items to the Query, or at least it behaves that way. It also appears that Access 2010 and Access 2007 behave differently in this regard. In the end, increasing this value sufficiently solved the Access problems.

I haven’t found anything definitive out there, but anecdotally at least, you should be aware that when you use Access to open up a SharePoint list, you pay a “”List View Lookup Threshold” penalty.

One Comment

  1. Anonymous Anonymous

    Thanks a lot for the article – there is almost no info on this issue available.

    We’ve noticed the same behavior in SharePoint 2013 and Access 2007, and since there was no such helpful error message at all, it was quite tricky to narrow it down on lookup columns. Deleting one of them would help, though, and adding it again would cause the error. So the magic threshold in our case seemed to be a maximum of four lookup columns when accessing the lists with Access 2007.

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