Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

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The Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Reporting Services Report Builder 2.0 tool can be installed from a standalone installer available at this Microsoft site, http://download.microsoft.com/download/a/f/6/af64f194-8b7e-4118-b040-4c515a7dbc46/ReportBuilder.msi. The same file is also available from a collection of download files when you access the Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Feature Pack, October 2008 at http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyId=228DE03F-3B5A-428A-923F-58A033D316E1&displaylang=en.

Report Builder overview

In the present version of SQL Server 2008 [Enterprise Evaluation edition] there  are two Report Builders available. Report Builder 1.0, which has remained as a program that can be launched from the Report Manager, and the new Report Builder 2.0, which is a stand alone report authoring tool that needs to be independently launched.

Although Report Builder 1.0 can access Report Models built with Visual Studio 2008 and the Report Manager, it cannot be used to create reports using those models. It also does not work with Reports generated by Visual Studio 2008/BIDS/Report Builder 2.0. The errors can be summarized as follows:

  • When you try to access the Report Server 2008 from the link provided on the Report Builder 1.0 interface you get the following error message:
  • Specifying credentials in a URL is not supported

  • When you try to open a report created using VS2008/BIDS/ReportBuilder2.0 using the Open Report… and Open File… navigational items in Report Builder 1.0 you get the following error message:
  • System.IO.StreamReader: The Report element was not found

  • Report Builder 1.0 allows you to access Report Models created with VS2008/BIDS/Report Manager and even allows you create a report in design view but this report cannot be processed on the Report Server. If you try to do so, you get the following error message:
  • MemoryStream length must be non-negative and less than 2^31-1-origin. Parameter name: offset; Remote GDI stream version: ?. Expected version: 11.0.1

In this article the Report Builder 2.0 interface will be described along with the new features that are incorporated into this version. Report Builder 2.0 is admirably suited to address all items in the Report Definition Language of 2008.

One of the important features of Report Builder 2.0 is the empowerment it provides business users to create ad hoc reports using the Report Models built on the databases they use.

In this article you will be learning mostly about the Report Builder 2.0  interface details and working with it to create reports or modify them. It may be noted that Report Builder generates 2008 compliant RDL files as described in http://download.microsoft.com/download/6/5/7/6575f1c8-4607-48d2-941d-c69622e11c32/RDL_spec_08.pdf and therefore, cannot work with reports generated using 2005 technology.

Report Builder 2.0 user interface description

Report Builder is a report authoring tool and the basic procedure for authoring a report consists of the following steps:

  • Report planning
  • Connecting to a source of data
  • Extracting a dataset from source
  • Designing the report and data binding
  • Previewing the report

Although deploying the report is not included in the above, Report Builder can deploy the report as well. It is not always necessary to deploy a completed report, as any part of a report definition file can be deployed. This makes modifying a report on the server very flexible.

In the following sections, the various parts of the Report Builder interface will be described starting at the very top and going to the bottom of the interface

The menu for file operations

Report Builder 2.0 can be accessed from Start | All Programs | Microsoft SQL Server 2008 Report Builder | Report Builder 2.0.

This brings up the Report Builder Interface 2.0 as shown with the design area containing two icons: Table or Matrix and Chart. Each of these will launch a  related wizard which will step you through the various tasks. The Report Builder 2.0 interface is very similar to Office 2007. More than one instance of Report Builder can be launched.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

At the very top of the following screen shown you have the undo and redo controls as well as a save icon.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

When you click on the save icon the Save as Report window gets displayed as shown. Here you provide a name for the report. The default save extension is  *.rdl and it will be saved to the report server. It may also be persisted to a folder on your machine.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

Clicking on the Office Button (top left) opens a drop-down window shown in the following screenshot:

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

In this window, you can carry out a number of tasks such as creating a new report, opening an existing report, saving a report, and saving a report with a different name.

The Save button saves it to the default location seen earlier and Save as invokes the same window to save the report with a different name as seen earlier displying the report server instance as the Save to location.

The Recent Documents pane shows the more recent reports created with this tool. New allows you to create a new report. When you click on Open, the following Open Report window gets displayed with the default location http://Hodentek2:8080/ReportServer_SANGAM/My Reports. You will also notice the message: This folder is not available because the My Reports feature is not enabled on the computer. Also the Open Reports window allows you look for reports with the extension .rdl.

Therefore, unless the My Reports feature is enabled, this window is unusable. This is supposed to be possible from Report Manager but there are no controls in Report Manager that would do this. An alternative was suggested by one of the MSDN forum moderators (see http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/forums/en-US/sqlreportingservices/thread/6c695160-29e8-4185-be6d-5fe027a6975c/). Hands-on exercise (Part 2) will describe how you may enable My Reports. The idea of My Reports is similar to My Documents where each user can keep his reports.

When the Options button (in the previous screenshot) is clicked it opens the window Report Builder Options window with two tabbed pages Settings and Resource shown as follows:

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

Here you can view, as well as modify, Report Builder settings. The defaults are more than adequate to work with the examples in this book.

Clicking on the Resources button brings up this interesting window which enables you to interact with Microsoft regarding SSRS activities, concerns, community, and so on. If you are serious about Reporting Services, these are very valuable links. The About button when clicked can provide you with Report Builder version information.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

The ribbon

The main menu consists of Home, Insert, and View menu items which are part of the “ribbon”. The ribbon introduced by Microsoft in Office 2007 is actually a container for other toolbar items. The ribbon is the replacement for the classic menus, toolbars, and is supposed to be more efficient and discoverable by the user. In fact you see a lot more on the “ribbon” than in the classic menu.

Home

The next figure shows the Home menu with its toolbar arranged from left to right and divided into sections. The Run toolbar item with the title Views when clicked would run the report open in the design view (in fact, even without a report open in the design view, the report can be run. The result would be the current date and time getting displayed in the center of the screen of an untitled report which has just ExecutionTime as the only item in the report).

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

The Font, Paragraph, Border, and Number toolbar sections become enabled if parts of a report need editing. The formatting of textboxes in the report, the formatting of numbers in the report, and the alignment of components in the layout can all be independently managed using these toolbar items.

Insert

When you click on the Insert menu item on the “ribbon”, the tabbed page for this item is displayed as shown in the following screenshot:

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

It has four sections: Data Regions, Report Items, Subreports, and Header & Footer. These are all the normal items that are used either individually or together to make up a report. There can be more than one data region in a report.

Data Regions

In the Data Regions section you have both the Tablix (Table, Matrix, and List) and the graphic controls that can be bound to data—the Chart and the Gauge. Gauge is new in SQL Server Reporting Services 2008. Chart and gauge implementations are the off shoot of collaboration with Dundas (http://www.dundas.com/). Report Builder is built in such a way that the dataset must be defined before any of the data regions are added to the report body. For the purpose of describing the various data regions in this section, it is assumed (in order to get the screen shots shown here) that a dataset has been defined and the default wizards on the design surface have been removed.

Table

The Table is meant for displaying data retrieved from a database either all data detailed in groups or a combination (some grouped and some detailed) of both. It has a fixed number of columns which can be adjusted at design time. The table length expands to accommodate the rows.

Data can be grouped by a single field or by multiple fields. Expression designer can be used in grouping as well. The grouping is carried out by creating row groups. Static rows can be added for row headings (labels) and totals. Aggregates for groups can be added. Both detailed data as well as grouped data can be hidden initially and the user can interactively reveal the data needed by drill downs.

When you click on Insert | Table | Insert Table and then click on the design surface you can add a table to the design area. The table appears as shown with handles to adjust its dimensions. The table can be dragged to any other location on the design surface (the body of the report) as well.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

After placing the table, which by default has three columns and two rows, when you click on any other part of the design area you will see the table as shown. When you hover over the cell marked Data on the table you will see a little icon. This icon is a minimized version of the dataset fields. The grayed out feature that surrounds the table indicate the position of the rows and columns of the table. It also shows such other features as whether it is a detail, or whether it is a group. In the case of group, within a group the feature would indicate the nesting schematically as well. When you want to increase the size of a column or a row you can drag the double headed arrow that gets displayed when your cursor is placed between two columns or between two cells as shown.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

When you click on the dataset icon in the cell Data you get a drop-down list containing the fields in the dataset as shown. You can choose any of the fields to occupy the cell you clicked and the corresponding header will be added to the table. In this particular dataset there are nine fields and you can choose any of them to occupy the cell.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

When you right-click on a cell, a drop-down menu will be available. It can be used for the following:

  • Work with the highlighted textbox (each cell of the table is a textbox) including to copy, cut, delete, and paste contents.
  • Work with the properties of the Textbox.
  • Populate the textbox with an expression using the expression builder. The expression builder gets displayed when fx Expression is clicked.
  • Use Select to select the body or the Tablix.
  • Insert a new column or a new row. Columns can be added to the right or the left of the clicked cell and rows can be added above or below the clicked cell.
  • Delete columns and rows.
  • Add a group. Both row and column groups can be added.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

When you click on the properties of the textbox, the Text Box Properties window is displayed. The textbox has several properties which are arranged on the left as a list with each item having its own page as shown. The Help button on any of the pages will take you directly to the definition of the properties and is extremely useful.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

In the General page, you can make changes to the elements in the Name, Value, and Sizing options page as shown. The Value is one which you choose among the column values (from the drop-down) from the dataset. You may also add a text for the ToolTip, which will display this text when the report is generated and this cell is accessed by hovering over it in the report. Alternatively you can set the Value and Tooltip using fx—the button that brings up the Expression window.

In the Number page you can set the number and date data type formatting options for the cell that contains a number or a date. This is what you normally would find in most Microsoft products such as Excel and Access.

In the Alignment page you can choose the vertical and horizontal alignments as well as the padding of the textbox content from the edges of the cell.

Similarly the Font and Border properties are the same ones you find in most Microsoft products.

The Fill property lets you add or change background color to the report as well as add a graphic element. The graphic element can be embedded, external, or originate from a database (being one of the fields accessed). Expressions can be developed to set a desired color for the Fill.

The Visibility of the textbox can be any of Show, Hide, Show or Hide based on an expression. In each of these cases the visibility can be toggled when another table cell is clicked (which can be chosen). This page also gives access to the Expression window which is similar to the MS Access expression builder.

The Interactive Sorting page allows you to define interactive sorting options on  the textbox.

Matrix

Matrix provides a similar functionality (roughly speaking rows against columns) to cross-tab reports in MS Access (http://aspalliance.com/1041_Creating_a_Crosstab_Report_in_Visual_Studio_2005_Using_Crystal_Reports.all) and Pivot Table dynamic views (http://www.aspfree.com/c/a/MS-SQL-Server/On-Accessing-Data-From-An-OLAP-Server-Using-MS-Excel/3/). The matrix should have at least one row group and one column group. The matrix can expand both ways to accommodate the data, horizontally for column groups and vertically for row groups. The matrix cells (intersection of rows and columns) display summary information (aggregates).

When you click on Insert Matrix in the Insert menu and drop it on the design area of Report Builder 2.0, it gets displayed as shown in the following figure:

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

Now if you click inside the boundary of the (2×2) empty matrix you will see more features of the matrix as shown in the following screenshot. The basic elements are the ColumnGroup (Column Groups), the RowGroup (Row Groups), and the Data. The group information is also displayed as shown by overlaid lines pointing to them. There needs to be a minimum of one group and one column for the matrix and there could be a hierarchy of column and row groups.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

The row and column group cells have their own properties which can be displayed when you right-click on them as shown in the next screenshot for the row group. When you right-click on the cell marked Rows, the following drop-down menu  pops up.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

In addition to the properties that you can set for the textbox in that cell, you have additional submenu items that work with the grouping and totaling. These are part of representing data in a matrix.

Each of the Tablix for the Rows and Columns has the additional submenu items which are shown here for the Rows. Similar ones apply for the Columns as well. These are useful when you want to create nested groups. With the Matrix design interface in SQL Server 2005 this would not have been possible.

Add Group

  • Row Group
    • Parent Group…
    • Child Group…
    • ——————–
    • Adjacent Above
    • Adjacent Below

Row Group

  • Delete Group
  • Group Properties

Add Total

  • Before
  • After

In addition to the above, each of the items Rows and Columns cells has the following items as well. These specify how new columns and rows are inserted with reference to the current cell as shown. The differences are due to the geometrical positions that are allowed for the new columns or rows as shown.

For the “Columns” cell:

Insert Column

  • Inside Group-Left
  • Inside Group-Right
  • ——————
  • Outside Group-Left
  • Outside Group-Right

Insert Row

  • Inside Group-Above
  • Inside Group-Below
  • ——————
  • Outside Group_Above

For the “Rows” cell:

Insert Column

  • Inside Group-Left
  • Inside Group-Right
  • ——————
  • Outside Group-Left

Insert Row

  • Inside Group-Above
  • Inside Group-Below
  • ——————
  • Outside Group_Above
  • Outside Group_Below

Besides using a cell as a starting point, one could also use the rows as a whole or column as a whole to add further structure as shown in the next figure. Of course you need to use the proper submenu option to arrive at a particular matrix structure. Clicking at the indicated points would let you choose the structure you want for your matrix. If you click at the location shown for the Tablix you could choose to the delete the whole matrix. The Tablix graphical arrangement gives you the maximum flexibility in extending the matrix in 2-dimensions.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

List

The list data region repeats for each row of data. List element provides a single container for the data which can be used to generate what are called Free Form Reports. In this kind of report there is no rigid structure such as a table for the data. You can also place a list inside another list or even a chart inside a list. You can drag a column from a dataset and drop it into the list. You can work with the list using the properties of the Rectangle it contains as well as its Tablix properties.

As described earlier, the design interface is very flexible and you can leverage all features provided by the Tablix structure like displaying details and adding groups either independent, or nested. The properties pages described earlier allow you to sort and filter grouped data.

When you drop a List on the design surface you will see just a single cell as shown. You can change its dimensions to suit your needs.

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

When you click on the List you can access its handles as shown:

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

When you add a List, there is one column and one row (just one cell). This can be extended in both directions by choosing the appropriate submenu items. These can be displayed by right-clicking on the handles as shown:

Working with the Report Builder in Microsoft SQL Server 2008: Part 1

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