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Figure 2.3 The Report Designer s tabbed window allows you to switch easily from one mode to another.
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Working with BI projects You may wonder how business intelligence (BI) projects differ from other types of projects supported by VS .NET. When you open a BI project, the VS IDE changes to accommodate the new project type, as follows: Two new menu items (Report and Format) are added to the main menu. When the report is in layout mode (the Layout tab is selected), several new toolbars appear to facilitate report formatting, such as Layout, Report Borders, Report Formatting, and Standard. A new Datasets toolbox lets you display the report dataset fields. Don t worry if its purpose is not immediately clear we discuss working with data in chapter 3. The Report Items section is added to the toolbox (not shown in figure 2.3). You learn how to work with report items in chapter 4. As with any other VS .NET solution, you can add more than one project as a part of a single solution. One scenario where this could be useful is when you need to step through custom code executed by a given report, as you see in chapter 6. You manage the BI project items using the VS .NET Solution Explorer. Each project has two folders: Shared Data Sources and Reports. As its name suggests, the Shared Data Sources folder holds the definitions of the data sources in other words, the connections, which are shared among all reports and projects. The shared AUTHORING REPORTS IN VS .NET 47
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data sources are saved in XML files with the extension .rds. Again, don t worry if the concept of shared data sources is not immediately clear. It will all make sense in chapter 3. As we explained in chapter 1, the report definition file describes the report in an XML-based format called Report Definition Language (RDL). The Reports folder holds the report definition (*.rdl) files. It is important to note that when you make changes to the report, you are actually changing the report definition file. To view the underlying report definition, right-click on the report item and choose View Code. If you have a brave heart, you can modify the report definition file directly. This could be useful to quickly propagate changes. For instance, if you change the name of a dataset column, it is much faster to open the RDL file and perform search and replace, as opposed to locating all affected fields and making the changes in the layout mode by trial and error. If you make errors in the report schema, the Report Designer tells you about the problem promptly, with an informative message such as this one:
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Microsoft Development Environment is unable to load this document. Deserialization failed: This is an unexpected token. The expected token is 'NAME'. Line 7, position 9.
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Besides the report definition files, you can add other external resources to the BI project, such as image files and Extensible Stylesheet Language Transformations (XSLT) transformation files. We talk more about images and exporting reports to XML in chapters 4 and 5, respectively. Although we call them external, note that when you upload the report to the report catalog, its associated resources get uploaded to the Catalog table in the Report Configuration Database. Strangely, VS .NET doesn t allow you to create new folders below the Reports folder, although the Report Manager does not prevent you from creating nested folders within a project folder. We don t consider this to be a disadvantage because you want to keep the folder structure as flat as possible. We recommend that you either stick with one folder per project or organize the folder structure logically and physically per application. For example, an HR and Payroll application can have separate report folders to hold application-specific reports. We discuss folder management in chapter 8. Previewing reports As we mentioned earlier, you can unit-test a report on your development machine by previewing the report. The Report Designer provides two ways to preview a report: the Preview tab and Preview window. Both modes render the report locally. By locally, we mean outside the Report Server. In fact, you don t even need the Report Server to preview a report. Being able to work in an offline, disconnected mode is useful for several reasons. The report administrator may enforce secured access to the Report Server. All new reports may have to go through a verification and approval process 48
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