Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fundamentals of the Tablix in SSRS 2008

The Tablix control in SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) is the most important control in your report design arsenal. It is a data region which displays your data in 3 different ways. Like Edward Tufte says, "Above all else, display the data." This control does exactly that. I've given a presentation on the different ways a Tablix can be used from a business perspective. You can download the slide deck here: Unleash the Tablix Slide Deck.

A Tablix is not shown in the Toolbox as a single control, but as 3 different starting points: Table, Matrix, and List. Don't worry about which one you start with because a tablix is easily molded to be a Table, Matrix, List, or combination of these. What you do need to remember are the fundamental differences between each one. It helps a lot to know how to go from one to the other during development. Especially in situations where you've done a lot of work with SSRS Expressions and Formatting that you'd like to keep right where they are.

Here are the fundamentals of each "starting point" (click on the images for full-size):

List Demo

Matrix Demo

  • Table is unidirectional. Its a lookup of information. It contains a single Row Group to start, but you create Parent Groups to Group the data and start Prioritizing it for the end-user.

  • List is nothing more than a rectangle in a cell. This allows custom layouts of all other items in the Toolbox.

  • Matrix is bidirectional. You begin with one Row Group and one Column Group. Now you can display intersections of Business Entities like Direct Cost Types and Product Lines, Department and Expense Types, Sales Regions and Company Division.

In addition to the technical terms, as a Report Developer, you should also be thinking about how to visually display the data in a simple, elegant, and efficient way. I've found the following guidelines from Stephen Few's book, Show Me  The Numbers, to be extremely helpful:

  1. Group the data.

  2. Prioritize the data.

  3. Sequence the data.

Great Tablix Tips from around the web:

  • To create stepped reports and Toggle Items (or Drill-Downs as they are popularly called), my buddy Dustin Ryan made a great blog post. Check it out here.

  • Want to repeat the headers of your Tablix? has a great blog post on what works, and even more importantly, what does not work.