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SQL Server Reporting Services Best Practices for Performance and Maintenance


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Problem

You are new to SQL Server Reporting Services and want to create SSRS reports which perform well and should have minimal maintenance, what best practices should you follow when developing SSRS reports?

Solution

In this tip I will discuss 20 important best practices a developer should follow while working on a SSRS project.

1: Use a common SSRS template

When possible, create a common report template and save it to the file system with the read only property, so that no one can modify the common template. Use this common report template to generate all your new reports; it will promote a uniform reporting experience. This common template may include an organization logo, address, report execution time and page number in the Report Header, confidential message in the Report Footer, etc.

If a common template is not used for reporting then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - Nothing
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - High

2: Use a shared SSRS data source connection

You can create embedded data source connections inside your report; there is not a problem doing that, but what if your database is moved to a new server; in this case you have to modify the data source connection inside each report. Suppose you have 20 reports in one project that were pointing to the same database; then you have to modify the data source connection in all 20 reports. Changing the data source connection in all 20 reports will not be a good idea because you have to deploy all 20 reports after the changes and it will take a lot of time and effort. It's possible to create a project level Shared Data Source and use it inside each report. If any changes occur in the data source connection, one change can fix all 20 reports at once.

If shared data source connection is not used for reporting then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - Nothing
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - High

3: Don't create unnecessary datasets in SSRS

When possible, avoid creating extra datasets for your report; every dataset will be executed even if it is not used in the report. You can use one dataset for multiple report parts (i.e. Tablix, Matrix and Chart); so look to see if you can combine two or more datasets into one dataset. If a parameter has fixed values then try to specify those parameter values and avoid the dataset to get parameter values (i.e. month numbers are fixed if your report has a month parameter), and don't fetch month number from the database. If a parameter has a fixed default value then specify the default value, avoid using a dataset for a parameter default value.

If unnecessary datasets are created in reports then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - High
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - High

4: Don't retrieve more SQL Server data than is needed

Check the number of records returned by all datasets to make sure it is not too big. Ask yourself if all data is needed for the report. Data which is not needed should not be retrieved. It is advised not to use SELECT * statements in the dataset query, always specify column names in the query and pull only those columns which are required for the report.

If query retrieves more data than required then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - High
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - Medium

5: Analyze and tune the SSRS dataset query for better performance

It is always good to follow best practices for your dataset query and try to use the most optimized query. You can use SQL Profiler and query plans to analyze your dataset query and see where you can improve the query.

6: Avoid data filtering at the report level in SSRS

When possible, filter the data at the query level using a WHERE clause because the database is better suited to filter data. There is no gain in pulling all of the data from the database and later filtering it at the report level. When you don't have any other option and you can't modify the dataset query then you could use dataset filtering at the report level (i.e. you have a report containing more than one matrix/list/tablix/chart and they share the same general dataset), but the outputs must be filtered differently (i.e. one Tablix is filtered on the customers and the other Tablix is filtered on the products).

If data filtering is done in report then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - High
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - Medium

7: Avoid calculated fields at the SSRS report level

If there are calculated fields in the report then it is better to create them at the query level and not at the report level, because the database can better handle the calculations. This approach will also promote less report processing load on the report server and ease of maintenance.

If new fields created in report then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - Medium
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - Medium

8: Convert complex queries in SSRS into a View

Consider converting complex queries into Views and select from the View to produce the results for the report. This will help with report maintenance.

9: Avoid data conversion at the SSRS report level

When possible perform data conversion at the query level; it will improve report performance and reduce maintenance time.

Suppose a string data type is being stored as a date value. If you need to perform date operations to create three different values for your report, you will have to convert the value three times. If you performed the data conversion at the query level then you could directly perform the date operation to get the three new values. This would reduce the burden on the report server and would make it easier to maintain.

If data conversion is done in the report then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - Medium
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - Medium

10: Sort data at the T-SQL query level

It is more efficient to sort large amounts of data at the data source than during report processing. Using an ORDER BY clause in the query can presort the data at the query level. Presorted data improves report processing time because of the way it is stored in memory. Data within child groups is automatically sorted, if you don't need sorting you can remove the sorting expression in the data region of the tablix/matrix.

If data sorted in the report then:

  • Impact on Report Performance - Medium
  • Impact on Report Maintenance - Medium

11: Set the SSRS Report Width

Before starting the report, set the report width property to one of the standard paper sizes. This will give you an idea of the maximum size you can display.

12: Limit number of parameters in SSRS

Use only necessary parameters, as more parameters will give a poor user experience. If you want to filter data by date, it is recommended to use a calendar date picker over having three different parameters for Year, Month and Day. For reports that require a large number of parameters, you may want to look at populating the report cache with those parameters ahead of time.

13: Set Parameter Default Values in Reporting Services

It is advised to set default values for each parameter; it is also better if the default values are values for which the report will be executed most of the time. If all the parameters have a default value set, then the report will be executed when previewed.

14: Use correct data types for each parameter

For parameterized queries; the parameter data type must match the underlying database column otherwise an implicit conversion may be needed, which can have a negative performance impact. If there is a parameter data type mismatch then your parameter query will run slow and impact the overall report. It is recommended to use the DateTime data type for date parameters instead of using strings, because it allows the user to pick the date value from a calendar date picker.

If correct parameter data type is not used then:

  • Impact on Report Performance- High
  • Impact on Report Maintenance- Nothing

15: Avoid TotalPages function in SSRS reports

A reference to the global field TotalPages can affect report processing performance when the report is rendered by a layout rendering the extension that paginates for physical pages, for example, PDF or image.

16: Avoid displaying all data in a single page

Displaying all data on a single page will typically result in a performance issue. The report will not display any data until it completes the report processing and rendering. Instead, use page breaks to display the data.

17: Avoid using Interactive sorting in Reporting Services

Avoid interactive sort buttons unless users require the ability to change the sort order of data in the report.

18: Avoid blank pages

Make sure your report doesn't contain blank pages; if your report has them then figure out the reason and solve it, otherwise blank pages will increase report rendering time.

19: Avoid sub reports in Reporting Services

Sub reports are convenient for reuse, but don't perform well when there are many sub report instances during the runtime especially inside a Tablix. Try to avoid the use of sub reports if possible. If drill down reports are needed, consider linked reports to fulfill your requirement.

20: Use page breaks for large SSRS reports

If a report has a large amount of data and doesn't have page breaks, the report can run for long time and the data will be displayed once rendering is complete. It is advised to use break for large reports.

Next Steps
  • Stay tuned for more SQL Server Reporting Service Best Practices.
  • Re-evaluate your reports to see if they would benefit from any of these best practices.
  • As you build your new reports, start to incorporate these items to raise the bar for all future development.
  • Check out report performance article for detailed information.
  • Check out SSIS best practices here.


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About the author
MSSQLTips author Ghanesh Prasad Ghanesh Prasad leads a team in Microsoft Business Intelligence and has over 5 years of experience working with SQL Server.

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