Get To Know SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) In An Easy Way


September 11, 2020

What you see is what you believe! That holds true for the bulk of data that organizations accumulate, over the period. Showing information in an arranged manner, with proper visual representation is the call of the day. Data visualization is what our human eyes understand, in terms of well-arranged data. And that gets fulfilled to the best by Microsoft’s SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS).

As one of the three most important arms of the Microsoft SQL Server family, SSRS has been apt as a reporting tool for organizations of all sizes and segments. The other two being SSAS and SSIS. Originally released in 2004, it is a server-based tool, looking at all the data lying on the centralized database. It does have its own set of features that are self-serviced but most of it lies on the server.


What Is SSRS?

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) provides a set of on-premises tools and services that create, deploy, and manage mobile and paginated reports. – Microsoft

Good Read: What Is SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services)? Understand In 200 Words

Certain Important Characteristics That Define SSRS:
  • Showcases data-driven information in the form of formatted reports with a variety of maps, tabular reports, matrix reports, graphs, images, charts
  • It comes as a free version with SQL Server
  • Data appears from the relational database, XML files, Excel, and other multidimensional data sources
  • Needs a business procedure, a layout, and a query/view to show the data as desired
  • Requires BIDS, SQL Server data tools, Visual Studio, and SSRS report builder
  • Display of reports with the help of HTML5 rendering engine
  • Reports can be exported to different file formats like PDF, CSV, Excel, Word, etc.
  • Empowers users to create reports and save them as needed – on the server, as different file formats
  • Provides a pluggable architecture with SOAP application
  • Integration with external content with SharePoint
  • Display of KPI information with Chart and Gauge control feature

This is what you need to create an SSRS report:

  • SQL Server reporting service (SSRS)
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2014 database engine
  • SSDT
  • Data Sources

SSRS Mobile Reports – An Important Arm Of SSRS

Apparently, SSRS Mobile reports are a part of SSRS but as the name suggests, they serve a different purpose. Initially, SSRS Mobile Reports worked under a different name until it was taken over by Microsoft.

SSRS 2016 came up with Mobile Report Publisher, for the development of reports to work on mobile devices. It has enriched mobile dashboards, various layouts, simulators, integration with Power BI. Mobile SQL Server Mobile Report Publisher is apt at the creation of mobile reports and publishing it to SSRS.

Image Source: microsoft.com

These reports are specially designed to fit the mobile device, with the layout and data being intact. It is a tough task and the application is robust enough to provide it at its best, especially when the reports are format driven and document-oriented. These reports showcase data as a grid with different charts of various sizes.

SSRS Mobile Reports follows two basic ways of designing reports – Designing first, data later Or Data first, designing later.

How Does SSRS Work?

As you start designing your SSRS reports, first is the creation of data sources that relate to the database. Then, comes the creation of queries to get the relevant data from the sources. And then comes visualizing the data from the SSRS data sources by putting in relevant charts/graphs etc.

The architecture of SSRS is a little complicated. It is inclusive of admin tools, development tools, and report viewers.

SSRS Key Components

  • Report Builder

It is a simplistic tool, with a drag & drop interface, that publishes reports to be executed on a client’s computer.

  • Report Designer

These tools assist in designing and development of a variety of report styles, based on existing information. It is hosed in either BIDS or Visual Studio as a publishing tool.

  • Report Manager

It matches the report output with the mentioned requirements and based on that, offers appropriate decisions.

  • Report Server

The main server which utilizes the SQL Server database engine to keep the metadata.

  • Report Server Database

The database stores metadata, delivery data, security backgrounds, report descriptions, etc.

  • Data Sources

Various data sources such as RDBMS or multidimensional data sources are used to retrieve data for leveraging different reporting services.

SSRS In Report Development Life Cycle

Authoring Stage:
  • Layout definition
  • Data syntax
  • SQL Server Development Studio and SSRS
Managing Stage:
  • Management of the published report
  • Access control over report execution
Delivery Stage:
  • Time of delivering reports
  • On-demand or pre-determined
  • Automatic subscription

Report Definition Language

The syntax in which the report definition is done by the authors is the Report Definition Language (RDL). This can happen through tools like Report Builder etc. It mentions all related components of a report with the help of XML grammar, supported by an XML schema. It also possesses the main instructions to render the report design at run time.

The 3-tier architecture of a reporting service model

Image Source: microsoft.com

Types OF SSRS Reports

Ideally, SSRS reports look at paginated reports, meant for fixed-format documents that can be converted into PDF/Word formats. There are different variety of reports that can be generated with the help of SSRS.

Here are they:

  • Mobile Reports

With the help of the Mobile Report Publisher, you can create mobile reports in SSRS, especially for mobile devices. These reports are not fixed format and hence showcase with the appropriate layout in mobile devices. Data can be accessed seamlessly through the cloud, Power BI, or SSRS. Based on sample data, different visualizations are created, based on which the final layout is decided.

  • Drill Down Reports

Such formats assist in showing information in a layered manner. It facilitates users in seeing the information in a stepwise manner, as and when they want it. It also shows the relationship between different levels which gets disclosed as the user keeps looking for further drill-down details. Data can be displayed in your chosen layout – be it tables, charts, graphs, etc.

  • Sub Reports

It is a report within a report. A subreport is displayed within the body of the primary report. As an embedded version, sub reports can either depend upon the main report or work as an individual entity.

  • Linked Reports

These reports point to a current report and get the data from that, retaining the basic layout and definition.

  • Snapshot Reports

It consists of output and visual layout that can be recovered at a point of time.

  • Cached Reports

These reports are apt in lessening the time to get large format reports with lesser processing time. It creates a copy of the administered reports.

  • Parameterized Reports

These reports rely on a different set of parameters to be fed in while processing the report

  • Tablix Report

The report layout is in the form of a table with rows and columns. Generally, it represents a unified data source.

  • Matrix Report

It represents data in table formats but with more than one value. There is a grouping of information with different rows and columns, based on which the report changes its layout. There is a cope with formatting the layout as you wish to.

  • Charts

As the name suggests, charts depict visual representations through various forms such as pie charts, bar charts, line charts, etc. Based on the data to be shown, the type of chart can be selected.

Why Use SSRS?

Amongst the many, here are the major reasons why SSRS is the right choice when it comes to reporting competencies:

  • Creation of application and reports in a unified environment
  • Accurate and pixel perfect report output along with finetuned formatting
  • SSRS is an enhanced version as compared to its peers
  • Swifter, cost-effective, and effective decision making with RDBMS, cube, and multidimensional data
  • Self-service, real-time nature, facilitating users to independently extract reports
  • Centralized access to information, making it safe and most updated for users
  • Access to reports over the web
  • Facility to export/extract reports in various formats and delivery through email
  • Tight role-based security control and permissions over access rights to users
  • Offers a robust development environment with SSDT

Good Read: Understanding SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) In A Simple Way

Few Limitations Of SSRS

  • No individual print button, hence, dependency on exporting to file formats to print any document
  • No provision to add page numbers in the report
  • Cannot pass values from subreports to the main one
  • Limited options for slice and dice of data
  • Learning beyond basics can become tough

When To Use SSRS?

SSRS is best leveraged when you need to print documents of various formats and needs total formatting control. Since SSRS offers complete support for advanced printing features, it becomes easy to print watermarks, headers/footers, etc. and achieve the layout you are looking for.

SSRS is apt for showcasing heavy texts and numbers. It is meant especially for printing invoices, PO, bills, etc. It is also considered ideal for users who are well versed with SQL Server. There is strong community support and documentation to help with.

Now that SSRS supports mobile reports, that limitation is now over. SSRS is now able to support showcasing of reports on mobile devices, with equal ease and effectiveness.

SSRS Best Practices

Follow these guidelines to ensure you get the best of SSRS, at your fingertips:

  • Protect your sensitive information using a proper encryption logic
  • Take regular backups of the report server and databases
  • There must be regular management and monitoring of the varied database sources and reports server systems since that affects the performance directly
  • Categorize reports based on different parameters so that you can utilize report caching
  • Ensure your queries execute in a timely manner and do not use up all resources
  • Have a good source control software to manage all reports

Good Read: All About SQL Server Analysis Services (SSAS) In An Easy Manner

SSRS Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  • What is SSRS and how it works?

SSRS stands for SQL Server Reporting Services, which looks at representing the bulk of data into different visual formats through a variety of report layouts. These reports can be extracted by offering different parameters based on requirements.

  • What is the difference between SSIS and SSRS?

SSIS looks at integrating various data sources through extraction, transformation, and loading of data whereas SSRS looks at data visualization through reporting services. Hence, the fundamentals behind both are quite different.

  • How do I connect to SSRS?

SSRS starts through SQL Server Data Tools by clicking the following: File -> New -> Project. Choose BI Projects from the ‘Project Types’ and choose the template from the Report Server project. Write the name, select the location, and go ahead.

  • Is SSRS free with SQL Server?

Yes, it is free with Microsoft SQL Server.

  • Is SSRS an ETL tool?

No, it is not an ETL tool. SSIS is the ETL tool with which SSRS associates to extract desired reports and display them in needed formats.

  • What is the use of SSRS?

SSRS is basically used as a visual interface between the huge volume of data and the business requirements. Depending upon the data transformation, users can choose their desired layout and extract a variety of dashboards/reports through Report Builder.

  • What are the different types of reports in SSRS?

The various types of reports in SSRS are Mobile, Linked, Drill down, Sub, Snapshot, Cache, Parameterized, Tablix, Matrix, and Charts.

  • Where are SSRS Reports stored?

SSRS reports are stored in the ReportServer database that contains all report details.

  • How do you make the SSRS report run faster?

To make the SSRS reports run faster, the user can get the data directly from the server instead of using a linked server. Also, the user can load the data from the remote server to a local table before running the report, fastening its speed of execution.

  • What is the data source in SSRS?

Data Source (DS) is a connection setting to connect with the data warehouses. This data source combines the provider name, database name, server instance name, and database credentials.

  • How do I deploy an SSRS Report?

To deploy an SSRS Report, you should choose the Deploy option in the Build menu or right-click the report project in solutions explorer and click Deploy.

  • Is the SSRS part of SSMS?

SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) provides Object Explorer, which allows you to connect to any server in the SQL Server family and graphically browse its contents, including SSRS.

  • How do I view SSRS Reports?

Through Report Manager, select the folder to view and then the report to be viewed. The report Manager shows the report. Once done, click the back button to return to the main screen.

  • How is SSRS licensed?

Any machine that is executing SQL Server is automatically licensed for all Microsoft BI products, SSRS being one of them.

  • Can you install SSRS without SQL Server?

To have Reporting Services on your application server, you would have to use a SQL-Server license.

  • What is the SSRS Report Manager?

SSRS Report Manager is the web-based application included with Reporting Services that handles all aspects of managing reports.

  • How do I create a simple SSRS report?

Select Project from File from Visual Studio. Then choose Reporting Services and set location and project name. Right-click on Share Data Source and add a new data source. Start creating a report using the desired data source.

  • What is the SSRS subscription?

An SSRS subscription is a configuration service that offers a report at a specified time and in the desired file format. These can be leveraged to schedule and automate report delivery with fixed report parameters.

  • What is the Report model in SSRS?

Report models in SSRS are templates that have data sets and sources. It has attributes that are to be shown in various reports.

  • What is a linked report in SSRS?

A linked report in SSRS is a report server item that offers an access point to an already existing report. It is obtained from an existing report and has the original’s definition.

As We Leverage the Advantages of SSRS

SSRS is the key to visualizing your business information, in your own way, in your desired format. Easy to access, robust and popular, SSRS has been one of the popular trilogy in the Microsoft SQL Server family.

Yes, there are peer technologies like Power BI Services or Excel, but to each its own. SSRS does have its own share of positivity that puts it a step ahead of the rest. Together, the trio – SSAS, SSIS, and SSRS work out wonders and we, the users are to benefit the most!

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