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Multilingual SSRS reports – Scenario 3: Report Definition Customization Extension

This is the third post in my series about multilingual SSRS reports. If you missed the introduction, you can find it here.

I am looking for feedback! Please let me know what you think!

The full code of the solution I describe here is available on Github.

What we will be doing in this post is developing something which called a Report Definition Customization Extension (RDCE), which is available since SQL Server 2008. The MSDN page is here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/dn296363.aspx

Let’s first start with the basics: what is a RDCE and what can it be used for?
Simply put a RDCE transforms an existing report definition (RDL) and modifies it just before the SSRS rendering engine renders the report. In other words building an RDCE allows you to interfere with the report rendering process and make some last minute changes just before rendering starts. In a schema it looks like this:

As this post is about making reports multilingual you might already have guessed that one of the uses of an RDCE is doing translations. However, you can also change the report’s look by hiding elements and even change the data set returned. This is useful if you not only need to translate labels in your report but also want to actually return text strings from your dataset in a different language. Another option would be for example to deal with right-to-left languages by changing your report’s layout.

Developing a RDCE
An RDCE is a .NET class library, where you will have to select .NET framework 3.5 as the target framework. This class library will need a reference to Microsoft.ReportingServices.Interfaces.dll. This contains the interface you will need to implement (see below). So let’s get started.

First off, start Visual Studio and create a new class library project (targeting .NET framework 3.5).

Include a reference to the aforementioned Microsoft.ReportingServices.Interfaces.dll file by right clicking ‘References’ in your Solution Explorer and choosing ‘Add Reference…’

The file is located under your SSRS installation directory. In my case the file was in C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSRS11.MSSQLSERVER\Reporting Services\ReportServer\bin.

Now open your class file (I renamed it to MyRDCE.cs) and add the following line:

Then, implement IReportDefinitionCustomizationExtension by changing your class declaration to:

You can explicitly implement this interface to get an idea of the methods you will need to implement by right-clicking the interface name and choosing ‘Implement Interface Explicitly’.

Your code should now look like this:


Let’s start with the easiest method: IExtension.LocalizedName, which just returns the name for your RDCE. I replaced the line in this method with:

Yes, I know I should not have hardcoded the name here, but for demonstration purposes this will do.

As developing an RDCE is as hard as it is (never mind the debugging, testing, logging and deployment challenges you will have to deal with) I suggest adopting the framework Holger Schmeling introduced in his blog on RDCE’s. This framework allows you to componentize your transformations into smaller transformations instead of one lengthy bit of code. By doing so the RDCE can be more easily managed and understood. Notice that in this blog I will not deal with logging and error handling; however, in production that should be included. To use this framework we add an interface called ITransformation with one method named Transform. Just add a new Interface file to your solution, name it ITransform and copy paste the following code in (adapted from Holger’s blog):

The Transform() method takes a report definition in XML format and returns the modified version. The other two parameters provide the report and user context as returned from SSRS. This is handy to dynamically apply transforms based on these contexts.

Now it is time to add a list to hold all the transformations (Again thanks to Holger’s blog). Add the following code directly under the class statement in your RDCE class:

 

Also implement the ProcessReportDefinition() method that will be called by reporting services. This is the mother-transformation process. What we will do here is load the report and one-by-one call the registered transformations on the report. Find your ProcessReportDefinition() method and replace it with the following (you will need extra using statements).

This method first retrieves the report definition. Then all transformations are applied, after which the resulting report definition is returned and SSRS is informed about what we changed.

Following Holger’s framework we use the SSRS config file to define transformations. This might not be the ideal solution for your scenario since it involves editing the SSRS config file. However, on the plus side this allows you to register new transformations as required without having to redeploy or change the RDCE. Basically we need to change the rsreportserver.config (mine was in C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSRS11.MSSQLSERVER\Reporting Services\ReportServer) file and add something along these lines (do not forget to make a backup first!) as last entry in the <Extensions> node:

You can specify multiple Transformations by repeating the Transformation node as necessary. Note that Name and Type specify the name of the class and the namespace. Also, each Transformation can have custom properties set (name, value pairs).

Now, we can use the SSRS SetConfiguration() methods to get to the configuration settings in the rsreportserver.config file. This enables us to read the list of transformations registered and fill the list created earlier. We will do this by implementing our final function of the IReportDefinitionCustomizationExtension: SetConfiguration() (you will need another using statement at the top of your class).

 

Now that we have a functioning RDCE framework it is time to put it to work. In this sample I will build a simple translator transformation which will translate some texts in a report by looking them up in a database table. I added a new class to my solution, named it MyTranslator and put it in the SSRSMultilingualRDCE.Transformations namespace as configured in the reportserver.config file above. The code pretty much speaks for itself. It implements the Transform method from the ITransformation interface, retrieves the user language preference setting and retrieves the translation from the database:

 

 

Deploying a RDCE

Now that we have successfully built a translator we’re done with development and are ready for deployment. To deploy your RDCE to the SSRS server follow these steps:

First, copy you RDCE assembly (.dll file, in my case SSRSMultilingualRDCE.dll) into the Reporting Services bin directory (which in my case was C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSRS11.MSSQLSERVER\Reporting Services\ReportServer\bin). If you have referenced any assemblies not in the Global Assembly Cache (maybe you implemented some logging framework) do not forget to copy them here as well.

Next we need to modify the SSRS configuration, starting with the rsreportserver.config file. It is located in C:\Program Files\Microsoft SQL Server\MSRS11.MSSQLSERVER\Reporting Services\ReportServer. Open it and lookup the <Service> element and add the following to that element (I added it to the bottom):

 

 

 

 

Next configuration change will be done in the rssrvpolicy.config file in the same directory as before. Open the file and add a CodeGroup in the PolicyLevel element for your RDCE assembly, like so:

You will need to specify the correct Name for the CodeGroup (just let it match the nam of your RDCE) and the correct location and name of the DLL you copied.

You may have to set up the permissions in the web.config file as Holger reports in his blog, although I have not had to do that.

To make your reports work with the RDCE there is a little thing we need to do; we need to link our reports with the RDCE deployed. The official way of doing this is using the Reporting Services Management Service. However, to use it you either need to have a deployment tool or be willing to write one. The unsupported way however is directly updating the report properties in the SSRS catalog. Please note that this is unsupported and I give no guarantees whatsoever regarding damage afflicted or the working of this on future versions. If you want to follow along take the following steps:

Open SQL Server Management Studio and execute the following query on your SSRS Service Database (not the TempDB) (you will have to adapt the where clause to match the name of your report):

 

 

This returns among others the ItemID, which you will need for the next statement. What we need to do is add <RDCE>Name_Of_Your_RDCE</RDCE> to the properties of the reports that need to use the RDCE.

Your will need to execute a query that looks like mine:

I have simply copied and pasted the ItemID in the where clause and also copied and pasted the value of property from the previous query into this query. I have appended the <RDCE> element just before the closing of the properties element. My report will now use the RDCE.

Debugging

When rendering a report that uses a RDCE SSRS will display any errors thrown by your code. This helps in debugging. Also note that if you make any changes to the code you will have to recopy your assembly and restart the SSRS service for SSRS to pick up the new version.

 

Putting it all together

All that remains now is showing that this works. I have created a very simple report for this:

This report contains two textboxes with labels in them. These labels were defined in the database and the database contains a translation for it. As a result my RDCE will translate these labels, depending on the user’s preferred language.

So, when a user with preference for English logs in this will be displayed:

And when a user with preference setting for Dutch opens the report it displays as follows:

My solution works with a configuration database setting for the user’s preference. However, just as easily one could adapt the code to read the setting from the SharePoint profile (if using SSRS in SharePoint integrated mode) or for example from Active Directory.

That concludes my lengthy blog on RDCEs. You can download my solution on Github. It includes a database project that will create the simple database I used and enter some sample data. Also, it includes all code discussed and the sample report I used. The configuration changes are for security reasons not included.

I am looking for feedback! Please let me know what you think!

Multilingual SSRS reports – Scenario 2: Change RDL

This is the third post in my series about multilingual SSRS reports. If you missed the introduction, you can find it here.

In this post we will talk about the second implementation scenario, which changes the RDL after creating it. The diagram below helps to understand this:

This means that developing the report is independent of making it available in multiple languages.
This means there is no impact on the process of creating a report, where with the first scenario (custom assembly) there was an impact (and a rather big one!).

The downside of this solution however is that there will be a separate process manipulating the RDL after it has been developed. This has a downside however: if the RDL language schema changes (and it does just about every new release of SQL) you will have to check if your code still works.

Now, the process that changes the RDL could do two things: 1) change the original RDL and add localization that will actually localize the report at run time or 2) change the original RDL and make a copy of it for every language (essentially you get the same report multiple times).

The first option here is just an automated version of scenario number 1 (the custom assembly) which we discussed earlier. It however eliminates the biggest issue with scenario 1: the fact that it is a manual process and has to be repeated for every label. However, what this option doesn’t do is allow you to translate parameter prompts, which option 2 does. Downside of option 2 however is that multiple copies of the report get created (one for each language). Creating multiple copies of the report (one for each language) would have no impact on rendering the report and may be a good choice if you want to manage each language separately. You will need to decide for yourself what you want to do, the basic architecture of this scenario stay the same.

In this post we will deal with the latter option (option 2).

I envision the process that changes the RDL as just a process that gets executed periodically. The process reads the RDL and translates any text it finds again using the translation table, resource file or whatever solution you picked for storing translations.

Implementing the process is out of scope for this blog because it is a matter of reading an XML file (RDL is XML structured) changing some items and writing it to disk. Any .NET developer could do it, for example using XPath.

The trick of course is knowing what to find in the RDL and what to change.

The simplified structure of RDL (SQL 2012) is the following (I stripped away all that is not related to localization):

 

As you can see, there a just a couple of items we need to look for when scanning the RDL:

  • Report.DataSets.DataSet
    DataSets define the queries to the source systems. If we want to localize result sets we need to manipulate the query here.
  • Report.ReportSections.ReportSection.Body.ReportItems / Report. ReportSections.ReportSection.Page.PageHeader.ReportItems / Report. ReportSections.ReportSection.Page.PageFooter.ReportItems
    ReportItems can be TextBox, Chart, Tablix, which will be discussed in more detail later.
  • Report.ReportParameters.ReportParameter
    Parameter prompts can be localized here.

Localizing a DataSet
A dataset defines the <CommandText> which essentially is the query to the source system. When changing the RDL one can easily add a where-clause to the query indicating the language to render: 

What you will be looking for is Report.DataSets.DataSet.CommandText to do this.

Localizing ReportItems
ReportItems can be TextBoxes, Charts, and Tablixes each of which carry one or more labels that need localization.
The structure of a TextBox looks like this:

You will be wanting to localize what is inside <Value></Value> tag.

For Tablixes you will also be looking for the <Value></Value> tags inside TextRuns on Cells, which are just TextBoxes. Here is the basic structure of a Tablix:

You will want to change what is inside the <Value></Value> tag of each TextBox. The TextBox here has the same structure as above.

Finally, Charts are a bit different, their basic structure is like this:

You can localize the following items on charts:

  • Series name: Chart.Chartdata.ChartSeriesCollection.ChartSeries.Name
  • Axis Title: Chart.ChartAreas.ChartArea.ChartCategoryAxes.ChartAxis.ChartAxisTitle.Caption and ChartAreas.ChartArea.ChartValueAxes.ChartAxis.ChartAxisTitle.Caption
  • Chart legend title: Chart.ChartLegens.ChartLegend.ChartLegendTitle.Caption
  • No data message: Chart.ChartNodataMessage.Caption

Localizing Report Parameters
ReportParameters define data types, default values, valid values and also the prompts. The last one you will be wanting to localize.

The basic structure of the ReportParameter definition is:

You will be looking for the ReportParameter.Prompt tag.

That concludes our overview of changing the RDL to implement localization. I agree it is not the most elegant solution as it increases dependency and complexity in your environment, however it is fairly simple to implement and provides a complete localization opportunity, from datasets to report items and even parameter prompts.

Stay tuned for the next implementation scenario!

Keep macros under control

I have been getting some feedback during the past three weeks (during which I was on vacation) on my post about macros, where I claim that macros are dead. Apart from the odd hateful mail from a hardcore macro lover, the main feedback was: I get what you say but right now I am stuck with all these Excel files with macros. I do not know where to begin, can you help?

To those of you I say: do not despair. If you have a lot of Excel sheets with macros (and lets face it, Excel files are where most macros are found!) and you have Office 2013 the solution is just around the corner.

Open Excel, click File, Options, Add-ins. Then at the bottom where it says ‘Manage’, select COM add-ins and click ‘Go’. Then enable ‘Inquire’ and click OK.

This add-in enables you to investigate an Excel sheets for lots of things, such as hidden sheets, very hidden sheets (I did not even know that was possible), formula’s and macros. Also, you can check out dependencies between sheets and sources and compare two sheets. When comparing two sheets you can even spot the difference between macros down to a single line of code!

This solution is also available as server solution for some more automatic scanning of your Excel workbooks. It is called Audit and Management Control Server 2013.

More info here:

Inquire add-in for Excel: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/excel-help/what-you-can-do-with-spreadsheet-inquire-HA102835926.aspx

Audit and Control management server 2013: http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj631654.aspx

Get those spreadsheets under control!

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