If you’ve used SQL Server Reporting Services to any great extent, you’ve likely encountered the need to generate reports automatically. This requirement may be for for delivery purposes, archival purposes, or simply to reduce report rendering wait times for the end users. SSRS supports this requirement out of the box – a report administrator can set up a subscription, enter the required parameters, and the report will be generated and delivered on that schedule.
This approach is highly declarative, and puts the onus of subscription creation on the report administrator. To this end SSRS also supports data driven subscriptions, which allow the subscriptions to be looked up from a SQL table. How that table is maintained is up to the individual organization, but it does allow a measure of dynamism. With SQL Server Reporting Services 2012, this feature is made much more user friendly through the use of User Driven Subscriptions.
The down side to any of this dynamic behaviour is that in every case, it requires the Enterprise version of SQL Server (with SQL Server 2012, the BI SKU also has this capability). In addition, with SQL Server versions prior to 2012, the capability is somewhat less than user friendly.
In this post, I will outline a methodology that will allow you to provide SharePoint list based report subscriptions that will allow users to subscribe to published reports, and have them published to a SharePoint document library. The approach is not restricted to SharePoint – indeed it could be used with native mode to read through a list of possible parameter values, and email the resulting reports, or store them in a file system, but the SharePoint example is the one that I will be using below.
I should also point out that although the examples below use SQL Server 2012, the approach should work with versions back to SQL Server 2005.
The primary components of this solution are a SharePoint list that will be read to determine what reports to render (the subscription list), a SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) package that will read through the subscription list and use the values therein to render the report, and finally, a SharePoint document library that will house the reports. Of course, we also need a report to be rendered, and in our case, this report is also stored in a SharePoint document library, as Reporting Services is running in SharePoint Integrated mode.
The good news, is that all of the constituent portions of this solution are either downloadable for free, or come with SQL server in any other edition besides Express. Therefore, the chances are that if you have SharePoint, then you already have all of the tools that you need.
Step 1 – Obtain the SharePoint List Source and Destination Project
Out of the box, SSIS doesn’t know how to talk to SharePoint data. Fortunately, there’s an excellent Codeplex project that adds the required capability. If you haven’t already done so, download the SharePoint List Source and Destination project from Codeplex. You will find a good blog post on working with this tool here. Once installed, you will be ready to build the solution. Of course, this step is only necessary if you want to use a SharePoint list as a subscription source.
Step 2 – Create your subscription and report library
In this solution, we will allow a user to enter a subscription request in our subscription list. The user can specify the URL of the report to be run, the parameters for the report, the file type that is to be produced, and the library where the report is to be stored. In order to support this, we’ll need at least one document library where the produced reports will be stored, and one custom list.
Create your document library, and note its URL. In our case below, our report library will be at http://home.nautilusinc.local/sites/nmarine/IT/Sandbox/ExpenseReportOutput. This URL will be used below. In this library, we don’t need to add any custom metadata properties, but you certainly may, should you wish to do so.
Next, create a custom list. In our case, the list will be named “Subscriptions” and will be created in the “http://home.nautilusinc.local/sites/nmarine/IT/Sandbox” site. Where you create this list is not important, but what is important is the display name of the list, and the URL of its parent site.
For our use case, we want the user to be able to specify the Report to be rendered, the destination to place the rendered reports, the parameters to use for the rendered report, and the file type of the rendered report. To that end, we will add 4 additional columns to the list, as shown below.
You will also note that the “Title:” field has been renamed to “Subscription” on this list. This is purely for cosmetic purposes. Three of the new fields are simply single line text fields, while the Format field is choice. In our example, the options available for the choice field are WORDOPENXML, PDF, EXCELOPENXML, IMAGE, and NULL. You can allow any of the possible output types that Reporting services supports. I have outlined these types previously in another post here.
While it is outside the scope of this article, you will likely want to modify the form to display more user friendly names for the options than “WORDOPENXML”, etc, and automatically calculate the value for the subscription field. InfoPath would be an excellent tool to do this with, and there are other alternatives as well. For our purposes, we will work with the form as is.
The report takes a single parameter, employee name, and renders the report filtered by that parameter. The subscription list item that we’ll create will look something like below:
The value for ReportURL is the full URL path to the report definition, in our case it is http://home.nautilusinc.local/sites/nmarine/finance/ReportsMarch22/ExpenseReports.rdl (you should be able to enter the URL into a browser and see the report), and the destination library is the full URL path to the destination library, in our case http://home.nautilusinc.local/sites/nmarine/IT/Sandbox/ExpenseReportOutput.
After adding two subscriptions, our subscription list appears as follows:
When our job runs (defined below) it will iterate through this list and create a corresponding PDF file and Word file in the destination library. Next, we create the SSIS package that will actually do the work.
Step 3 – Create a Reporting Services Web Service Proxy Class
In order to render the Reporting Services reports, we will need to call the Reporting Services web service from a SSIS Script task. In order to do that, we’ll need to use a proxy class. Luckily, we can just generate one using the WSDL.EXE generation tool available from the .Net 3.5 SDK. You run the tool with the following options:
wsdl.exe /language:[language choice] /out:ReportService.[language choice] http://[SPSiteURL]/_vti_bin/ReportServer/ReportService.asmx?WSDL
- [language choice] = VB or CS
- [SPSiteURL] = URL of the SharePoint Site Collection
In our case, the precise command is:
wsdl.exe /language:VB /out:ReportService.vb http://home.nautilusinc.local/sites/nmarine/_vti_bin/ReportServer/ReportExecution2005.asmx?WSDL
If you don’t want to build your own, you can download the one that I created for this project (it’s Visual Basic). It was built using SSRS 2012, but should be backward compatible. Also, don’t forget to change the embedded server URLs.
Once you have the output file, make note of its location – we’ll use it below when creating the script task in SSIS.
Step 4 – Build the SSIS Package
I’m going to assume that most people reading this have little or no exposure to SSIS, so I’ll try to be as detailed as possible. You’ll need to start SQL Server Data Tools (if you’re using SQL Server 2012) or Business Intelligence Development Studio (for SQL versions prior to 2012).
You may notice that is has a striking resemblance to Visual Studio 2010. That’s because it is VS2010. Select “New Project” then in the “Business Intelligence” section, select “integration Services Project”. Give the new project a name and location and click OK.
Once created, we’ll need to create a SharePoint List connection manager. From the Solution explorer, right click on “Connection Managers” and select “New Connection Manager”. Scroll down on the window, select “SPCRED” and click Add.
You will only see SPCRED if you completed Step 1 above. The Connection Manager will then prompt for a name and a set of credentials. Provide the name, and also provide it with an account that has access to the subscription list. If the SSIS service account has access, you can select “Use Credentials of Executing Process”, otherwise provide a service account with access.
We’ll be working within a Data flow task, so drag a Data Flow Task onto the design canvas.
Next, double click on the data flow task, or click on the Data Flow tab to bring up the Data Flow Task Editor. From there, drag a “SharePoint List Source” action onto the canvas. (Note: if the SharePoint List Source does not appear, there may have been a problem installing it. Consult the documentation for the SharePoint List Source and Destination project for troubleshooting steps.) Double Click on the List Source action to configure it. The first item to configure is the Connection Manager. Simply select it from the (hidden!!! ) drop down list. Click on the area beside “SharePoint Credential Conn…” to reveal the dropdown.
Next, click on the “ Component Properties” tab. Here, you perform the bulk of the action configuration. There are many options to choose from, but the ones that we’re concerned with here are SiteUrl and SiteListName. SiteURL is the absolute URL of the site that will contain our list, and SiteListName is the display name of the list. I stress display name as this is different than working with most other APIs for SharePoint, which tend to use the internal name. Also – it’s relatively easy for users to change the display name of the list. Doing so will break the package until it is reconfigured.
Next, drag a Script Component onto the canvas, below the data source. If prompted, choose “Transformation” for the script type. Next, connect the two actions by dragging the arrow from the SharePoint List Source to the Script Component.
Next, double click on the script component to bring up the script component editor. From the left, select Input Columns and select all of the columns to use in this script. In our case, we’ll be working with the columns shown below:
Next, click on the Script section, choose the language that you want to work with, then click the “Edit Script” button.
Without getting into too much detail of how the script action works, what we are going to do is to add code that will run for each row of data that flows through the transformation. In our case, that will be for each configuration item. We’re going to use the values of the columns of each configuration item to render the reports. Therefore, the code that we will write will go into the “Input0_ProcessInputRow” sub.
Before we can do that however, we need to add some supporting items. Firstly, since we’ll be working with web services, we’ll need to reference the .Net System.Web.Services library. Right click on the project name in solution explorer, and select Add Reference. From the .Net tab, select System.Web.Services, and click OK.
Next, expand the “Imports” section and import the System.IO and the System.Net namespace.
We now need to add our Reporting Services proxy class. The best way to do this is to first create a new class. Right click on the project in solution explorer, and select Add – Class.
Next, give the class a name. I like to match the name to the main class embedded, so the new name is ReportExecutionService.vb. Next, using Notepad, open the file that you created or downloaded in Step 3 above. Select all text, copy it into the clipboard, and then paste it into the newly created class, overwriting anything already there. Once done, save and close the class.
Next, I add a helper function to the script that helps to deal with URLs missing an ending slash. You can add it immediately above the “Input0_ProcessInputRow” sub. The code is below:
Private Function CheckSlash(ByVal input As String) As String If input.EndsWith(Path.DirectorySeparatorChar) Then Return input Else Return input & Path.DirectorySeparatorChar End If End Function
As we saw below, the output format parameters aren’t the friendliest, and we will need to specify the extension for the output file. To allow this, I also wrote a small helper function to turn output format values into file extensions, and include it below. This also needs to be added to the script.
Finally, we’re ready to add code to the “Input0_ProcessInputRow” sub. The complete code listing is below:
Again, without getting into too much detail, some explanation of the above code is in order.
Lines 3-5 initialize the web service, assign it a URL (Don’t forget to change this for your environment!!) and assign it the credentials to use when calling the web service.
When this sub is called by SSIS, it is passed a row object. The row object contains column objects for each column that is used by the script (this was configured above). Therefore, to get the value for any given column, you simply need to refer to it as row.ColumnName. In our case, to get the value of the Parameters column, you use row.Parameters. Lines 9 through 17 get the value of the parameters column, split the value into an array of string objects using a semicolon as a value delimiter, then for each of these objects, separates them into name/value pairs using the equals sign as a delimiter, and them finally assigns them to a Reporting Services parameter collection.
Using this approach, we can use a single field to store all of the parameters for a report, and any report can have any number of parameters.
Lines 19-32 are primarily used for initialization. Line 33 loads the report specified in the subscription (by calling row.ReportURL). Line 34, sets the parameters, and lines 35-36 set the destination variables.
Finally, Line 40 calls the web service to actually render the report into a byte stream, and line 43 uses the .Net WebClient object to upload the file directly into SharePoint. In this example, we don’t actually add any metadata to the SharePoint library, but if this was required, you could use the techniques outlined in this post. We are now ready to test the process.
Step 5 – Run the Package
Close the Script editor window and click the OK button. If all is well, your Script Component action should show no errors. When ready, click the run button to test your package. If all is well, after a short compilation period, you should see that 2 records were successfully read from the subscription list, an both steps should show green. If things don’t go well, the error messages are pretty good….
Navigating to the destination library, we see the two requested reports.
Obviously, every time that this package runs, the reports will be overwritten with the new report. This may be desired behaviour, but if not, you may want to turn on version control (each version will be stored as a version) or modify the script to change the file name on each run (date stamping is a common technique).
In addition, you will want the package to be run automatically without human intervention. To do this, you’ll want to deploy it to a SQL Server running SSIS , and to schedule it to run as an agent job. There is a wealth of information online for how to do that.
The example provided above covers a single use case, but with minor adjustment could be used to automate all sorts of reporting tasks. A common one would be to use the NULL renderer to refresh report caches on a server. If you find any unique uses of this approach, I would love to hear about it. Please post a comment!
In preparing this post, I found the following articles to be useful: