Guides for Using Visual Studio Reporting Services

Howdy readers, Lafe here. About once a month, my partner in crime, Rich Seeley, has been doing technical takeovers of this blog. Here's his latest post, which looks at some resources for Visual Studio Reporting Services.

If you're beginning your Visual Studio career or perhaps even if you are a veteran user, generating sales and other business reports may seem like a challenge.

Reporting is important as most business apps are going to need to get data into a traditional Excel spreadsheet or some other format for business users, managers and executives.

It has not been easy to find information by Googling for help with Visual Studio 2017 basic reporting.

Until now.

Fortunately, this month Microsoft has offered new guidance in two blogs that will help you with reporting.

Microsoft Build Engine for Reporting Services

A Sept. 25 blog written by Brad Syputa, a software engineer on Microsoft's SQL Server BI team, announced availability of "Microsoft Build Engine (MSBuild) support for building and deploying Reporting Services projects with SQL Server Data Tools for Visual Studio 2015 or Reporting Services Projects for Visual Studio 2017."

"By invoking msbuild.exe on your project or solution file, you can orchestrate and build products in environments where Visual Studio isn’t installed," Syputa writes. "This is key for developers looking to automate deployment of Reporting Services projects outside of Visual Studio, which can streamline the process of moving between development and production environments.

Visual Studio 2015 users can download SQL Server Data Tools here.
Visual Studio 2017 users can find out about Reporting Services Projects here.

"Once you install the latest update, depending on which version of Visual Studio you're using, the new files enabling MSBuild for your projects will be installed in different folder paths," Syputa writes.

Visual Studio 2015 users need to look for a standalone folder called "MSBuild" under Program Files (x86).

For Visual Studio 2017, there is a "nested folder in your Visual Studio folder hierarchy."

Syputa has provided screenshots in the blog to help you visualize where to find the tool in your environment.

"If you see these new folders, this means you'll now see MSBuild support as an option for Build, Clean, Compile and Deploy actions in any new report project you create," Syputa writes. "For existing projects, you will be prompted to do a one-time upgrade the first time you open it after installing the latest updates. The upgrade will automatically backup your project first, then proceed. Once it's completed, you’ll have the new MSBuild functionality available to you."

Once you have that sorted out, there are walkthroughs for using MSBuild for Visual Studio 2015 here and Visual Studio 2017 here.

Keep an eye on those sites as more walkthroughs are promised in the coming weeks.

SQL Reporting Services

For everyone working with SQL, Create and manage Reporting Services, a Microsoft blog published Sept. 5, 2017, explains how to use SQL Reporting Services, Visual Studio Team Services (VSTS) and Team Foundation Services (TFS) for creating reports. It takes just four minutes to read the whole blog post according to the authors.

Following the directions in the article, including helpful screenshots, you can learn how to:

  • Allow users to update the report without granting them read access to the databases.
  • Share your reports in Team Explorer under the Reports folder.
  • Support subscriptions to reports that can be sent daily over email.
  • Manage the properties of your reports so that they return results faster and use fewer server resources.
  • Use Transact-SQL queries to retrieve the data for your reports.

There are several reporting tools covered in the Microsoft blog starting with Report Builder 2.0, which can be downloaded here. This is an "intuitive environment for authoring reports." Intuitive apparently means you shouldn't have to read a blog or any other documentation to figure out how to use it. Report Builder is designed with Microsoft Office apps, such as Excel in mind, so business users can work with the tools they already know. For the Visual Studio developer, Report Builder 2.0, you can "work with data, define a layout, preview a report, and publish a report to a report server or a SharePoint site."

There is also a wizard for creating tables or charts, in addition to query builders, and an expression editor, which provides capabilities for HTML editing and web design. That should come in handy when organizations want reports online.

If in addition to Visual Studio you have SQL Server Business Intelligence Development Studio, you can use Microsoft Report Designer GUI tool to create "full-featured Reporting Services reports" without knowing Report Definition Language (RDL).

Microsoft also offers a series of step-by-step tutorials showing you how to create Visual Studio reports with SQL that would be helpful for beginners, starting with Lesson 1: Creating a Report Server Project (Reporting Services).

Third-Party Tools

Beyond what Microsoft offers, there are also third-party tools to help with Visual Studio reporting.

This month GrapeCity Developer Solutions began providing .NET developers with a new spreadsheet server API for creating and working with Microsoft Excel-compatible spreadsheets, reports David Ramel, editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

"Called Spread.Services, the new offering simplifies the creation, conversion and sharing of spreadsheets across Windows, Android and Mono platforms, while supporting .NET Core 2.0 and targeting .NET Standard 1.4 for multi-platform support," Ramel writes in a recent Visual Studio Magazine article, GrapeCity Offers Spreadsheet Server API Across .NET Platforms.

GrapeCity, a Microsoft Visual Studio Partner, says developers can "easily implement code to process, collate, and consolidate data from large sets of spreadsheet documents, including reports, itineraries, and financial analyses."

The Spread.Services interface-based API uses Excel's document object model and with it GrapeCity says the tools can do some pretty nifty things: “Advanced calculations become lightning-fast with more than 450 built-in Excel-compatible formula functions. Rich data entry forms are easily created using data validation rules and formulas. Spread.Services also enhances security -- users can hide formulas, sheets, and other objects from the end user and set locked and protected ranges and sheets with password protection."

Old reliable Crystal Reports has also been available with Visual Studio for a long time. The latest information on downloads for Visual Studio 2010 through 2017 is available on this SAP Community wiki.

Posted by Lafe Low on 09/28/2017

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