open database connectivity (ODBC)

Definition of open database connectivity (ODBC) in The Network Encyclopedia.

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What is open database connectivity (ODBC)?

A Microsoft database technology that provides an application programming interface (API) that Microsoft Windows–based applications can use to access structured query language (SQL) databases (such as those created and managed with Microsoft SQL Server) over a network.

How It Works

Open database connectivity (ODBC) defines a call-level interface that lets applications access data in any database through the appropriate ODBC driver. The ODBC API allows applications to be independent of the database management systems (DBMS’s) that manage their source data.

The main components of ODBC are as follows:

    A set of function calls, error codes, and SQL syntax that defines how data in a DBMS is accessed.


  • ODBC database drivers:
    Dynamic-link libraries (DLLs) that can process ODBC function calls for specific DBMS’s. ODBC drivers translate application calls to ODBC into calls that the specific DBMS can respond to.


  • ODBC Driver Manager:
    Loads the ODBC drivers that an application needs.


ODBC, which is based on SQL, provides interoperability by allowing an application to access different SQL DBMS’s by using a common set of code. Developers can thus build client/server database applications without having to pre-specify which DBMS’s will be used for the back end. ODBC uses database drivers to link applications to any ODBC-compliant DBMS. ODBC database drivers are available for more than 50 popular DBMS’s, including SQL Server, Microsoft Access, Microsoft FoxPro, Microsoft Excel, Paradox, dBase, and delimited text files.

With ODBC, applications are not tied to proprietary vendor APIs and can run independently of the underlying data communication protocols. Data can be sent and received in a format suitable for the application instead of being tailored for a vendor-specific DBMS.

You can configure ODBC by using the ODBC utility in Control Panel. This utility lets you define a data source name (DSN) for the database being accessed and drivers for accessing the database. To configure ODBC with this utility, you associate a DSN with an ODBC driver, which lets an application interact with a database that is located either on the local machine or on a network server.