Server-based scheduler comparison (2019)

Monday 27 May 2019 @ 10:20 pm

I have just updated my comparison of server-based scheduling tools for 2019. These tools are similar to the desktop-based scheduling tools I write about every March, but these are designed to be run on server. This allows multiple people to schedule reports for automated delivery by Email, FTP or network folder.

There are 11 products on the list this year and a few feature updates and price changes. The blog page provides a brief overview of each product. It also has a link to the feature matrix that compares roughly 70 features of these tools. There is even a feature glossary that defines all the terms. So if you need a short course in automating Crystal Reports delivery, this is a pretty good place to start.





Using the ExtractString function

Friday 24 May 2019 @ 7:49 pm

I recently found a function in a Crystal Report that I hadn’t noticed before. Technically it is an additional function (UFL) but I am pretty sure it has been installed automatically with Crystal Reports for a long time. The file is dated 11/8/2000 so it might have been introduced with Crystal Reports V8.

The function is called ExtractString (). It is designed to locate two character strings within a longer string and return all the characters in between those two strings. I have done something similar using the InStr() function but it is much more complicated. A good example of a use for this is when you have XML tags in the middle of a long memo field and you want to extract the value between two specific tags. Say it looks something like this:

“blah blah blah <price>19.99</price> blah blah blah <price2>29.99</price2> blah blah blah “

To extract the value for price2 you would use the following formula:

ExtractString ( {table.xmlField}, '<price2>', '</price2>' )

You give the function three arguments:

  • The field you are searching
  • The string that marks the start
  • The string that marks the end

If it doesn’t find the start string it returns a blank (even if the end string is there).
If it finds the start string but no end string it returns everything after the start string.
if it finds both the start and the end it returns all the characters between them.
It skips over any end strings that occur before the start string.
If it finds multiple starts or ends it uses the first.

Next time I have to parse XML or do something similar I will use this function and save myself a few steps.





Impossible link in Pervasive SQL (Elliot)

Tuesday 14 May 2019 @ 3:14 pm

I have written before about databases that take selection criteria from Crystal and then use the wrong index so that valid records are missing from the results. The solution is to write the criteria so those rules don’t make it into the SQL WHERE clause. Crystal can then apply that criteria locally so it is done correctly.

But today I ran into a similar problem that didn’t have a simple solution. I was creating a report to read Elliot data. Elliot is what used to be called Macola Accounting. We were connecting to a Pervasive SQL DB using an ODBC connection. We were trying to link the Item file to a second instance of the Item file to get a list of components for manufactured items. What we found is that when we joined the component ID from instance one to the part ID in instance two, the results would not return a single match between the two tables.

Looking at the tables separately showed the matching data was there. And when I tried to filter to a single PartID the results would not find that ID. This is when I realized that we had an index problem like the one I described above.

So I looked at the index tabs in the Database Expert and noticed that this table had two red index tabs, meaning there were two fields in the primary index. The tabs were on Item Number and Sequence number. We were linking from a table where there was a component item number but there was not a component sequence number. It appears that Pervasive SQL defaults to using the primary index for ODBC joins, even if the fields you are using for the join don’t completely match the fields in the index. So the link will fail every time. I even unchecked the option “use indexes or server for speed” to see if that would help, but it didn’t have any affect.

We were lucky that the table we were using had an equivalent view. We linked this view to itself and we were finally able to find matching records. I assume this worked because this view, like most views, are not indexed.





Group sort reverses ascending and descending

Wednesday 8 May 2019 @ 5:13 pm

I solved another occasional mystery today.

Crystal allows you to put your groups in order based on the summary fields that exist for that group. This feature is in the “Report” menu under the label “Group Sort”. So if you group by customer and subtotal sales for each customer you can put the customers in order based on their sum. You can rank the customers this way in either ascending or descending order.

You are allowed to use any type of summary field for group sorting, and on occasion I have used a summary that is based on a date field. This could be the first (minimum) order date of for each customer or the last (maximum) order date for each customer. I have noticed that sometimes when I rank a group based on one of these date summaries that Ascending seems to behave like Descending or vice versa. For instance I might pick Descending and I expect the groups with the latest dates to be first. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren’t. Before today I had never taken the time to figure out what was going on.  Now I know.

If your summary is the Maximum of a date field, like the last order date for each customer, then setting the group sort to ascending or descending will behave in the expected way. Ascending will put the groups with the earliest summary dates first and descending will put the groups with the later dates first.

But if your summary is the Minimum of a date field, like the first order date for each customer, then group sorting for that field will work in reverse. Ascending will put the groups with later dates first and descending will put the groups with earliest dates first. To get the groups to go the way you want you just have to pick the opposite direction.

A couple of notes:
1) This doesn’t happen with a minimum summary of numbers or strings, just a minimum of dates.
2) You can get the same summary value as the minimum by doing the Nth smallest (with N = 1). If you use the Nth Smallest summary for group sorting it does the ascending/descending the normal way, not reversed like the minimum function.





Using the function DrillDownGroupLevel

Tuesday 30 April 2019 @ 4:42 pm

Crystal has a function that calculates the drill-down level of the current window. This allows you to have objects and sections format differently at specific levels of drill-down. The function is called DrilllDownGroupLevel and it gives you a numeric value that tells you the current drill-down level for any preview tab.  The normal preview is level 0, the first drill-down is level 1, etc. So if you want a section with column headings to appear at the second level of drill-down and ONLY at the second level of drill-down you can use the following as a suppression formula for that section:

DrilllDownGroupLevel <> 2

That section will be suppressed in normal preview (drill-down level 0) and also at the first drill-down level, but will appear if you drill down again from level 1. If you are ever unsure which level of drill-down you are on you can write a formula that says simply:

DrillDownGroupLevel

Place this formula in the section in question. When you see that section the number shown will tell you the current drill-down level.

DrillDownGroupLevel also helps you solve one of the dilemmas of report design.  One of the lessons in my advanced class is how to have a report be either a detailed report or a summary report, based on a parameter prompt. You accomplish this with a parameter that has two choices (Summary/Detail) and you use that parameter in the detail section’s suppress formula. It has to be the suppress property because the “hide” property doesn’t have a condition formula button. And, because you are using the suppress property you can no longer drill-down from the summary version of the report to see the details for a group.

But by using the following as your suppress formula you can have the parameter to choose summary or detail, and still have drill-down available on the summary version:

{?Parameter} = "Summary" and
DrillDownGroupLevel <> 1

This will suppress the section when you choose “Summary”, but only as long as you are in the main preview tab.  As soon as you drill down the suppress condition will no longer be met and the details will be visible.





CurrentDate vs DataDate

Tuesday 23 April 2019 @ 11:20 pm

There are two ways to use today’s date in a Crystal formula. These are useful when you want the report to automatically determine a date range, like the last three days. You can calculate the date for three days ago by using one of the following calculations:

CurrentDate - 3

or

DataDate - 3

These expressions will generate the same value at the time the report is refreshed. But if you interact with reports after refreshing them, or if you open reports with saved data, it is important to know how these functions differ.

CurrentDate is identical to the functions PrintDate and Today. PrintDate is also a special field. These date function will all update whenever one of three things happens. When the report is:

1) opened
2) previewed after a modification.
3) printed

Interestingly, exporting a report to a PDF does NOT update these dates.

DataDate is a function and is also a special field. These are updated when the the report is refreshed.

So lets say I ran a report yesterday, saved it with data yesterday and then reopened it today without refreshing it. The CurrentDate function will show today’s date while the DataDate function will show Yesterday’s date.

You can see how these functions could affect record selection. If I calculate criteria to include the last 3 days using the CurrentDate function, and then reopen the report later with saved data, the CurrentDate will change and so will the criteria. The saved data will be reduced or eliminated. However, if I wrote the same criteria using DataDate there is no change because I have not refreshed the report.  So when deciding to use one of these functions you should think about how the formula should respond when you reopen the report with saved data. If it should use date when the report is opened then use CurrentDate.  If it should use the date when it was refreshed then use DataDate.

Also note that there are corresponding time functions (CurrentTime, PrintTime) and special fields that have the same names.   The time functions follow the same pattern as the date functions.





Hiding part of your criteria from the database

Tuesday 16 April 2019 @ 5:21 pm

I first wrote about this issue a decade ago when it showed up in databases like Paradox, Btrieve and Visual Dbase. But I recently saw it twice in PostGreSQL environments so I am going to write about it again.

The problem occurs when you add a new rule to the selection formula. The main symptom is that the criteria works fine when you click “use saved data” but then when you refresh you lose some valid records. Some people think they have a bad join which can also cause you to lose records, but a bad join will lose records even if you click “use saved data”.

In my experience, the issue is usually connected with an index in the database.  When Crystal Reports sends your new rule to the database, the database tries to use an index to speed things up. But some indexes don’t work correctly for filtering and will cause the report to miss some or all valid records. The solution is to prevent that rule from being sent to the database by forcing the rule to be applied locally. There are three approaches I have used:

1) Starting with CR 2008 (v12) you can put this rule into the “Saved Data” selection formula. This selection formula is always applied locally so the database usually doesn’t see it. Crystal will apply this selection formula to the records that are sent back by the database.

2) The first option may not work in call cases, and of course it won’t work if you use an older version of Crystal that doesn’t have that feature.  In that case you have to use the method I wrote about in 2007. You write the selection formula in a way that forces Crystal to apply that rule locally.  If the report is SQL based you want to prevent Crystal’s SQL generator from converting that rule into the SQL WHERE clause.  The most reliable way I have found is by putting the database field inside a Crystal function. For instance if your problem rule uses  a numeric field in the selection formula like this:

{table.Amount} > 50

I would write it as

Round({table.Amount},2) > 50

Or if your selection formula is:

{Transaction.Code} = “ABC”

I would write it as

Left({Transaction.Code},3) = “ABC”

Applying a function to a database field in the selection formula will usually prevent that rule from being converted into the SQL.  In some cases I write the rule as a separate formula field called {@Criteria} and then reference {@Criteria} in the selection formula by adding a line to the selection formula like:

…. and {@Criteria}

Note that this is the exact opposite of what you normally want to do. Normally we want ALL of the record selection formula to be sent to the database or convert into the SQL WHERE clause.  It makes your query more efficient.  When I have a slow report one of the first things I check is for functions in the selection formula.  But it doesn’t help to be efficient if the database can’t handle the rule correctly.

3) I recently had one case where neither of the above options solved the problem. No matter how I wrote the criteria formula, as soon as it was part of the selection formula I would lose records.  So we gave up on selection and used suppression instead.  This is a last resort.  You don’t use the {@Criteria} formula in the selection formula at all.  Without the rule the report will include some records that you don’t want. You then suppress the unwanted records with a suppression formula like this:

not {@Criteria}

When you use this method you also have to make sure these records aren’t included in any totals. This means writing a formula that only includes the records that you want and then doing all totals on these formulas. For instance I could write a formula like this:

if  {@Criteria}
then {table.Amount}
else 0

If I total this formula it won’t matter that I have suppressed records in the report. I don’t see them and they aren’t in the totals.





Solving problems when reporting on CSV files

Monday 8 April 2019 @ 6:39 pm

You can create Crystal Reports that directly read CSV files using the Access/Excel(DAO) connection.  Just keep in mind that CSV files don’t always make an ideal data source. Like spreadsheets, CSV files don’t have set data types for each column. This can cause data type ambiguity which might cause you to lose some data. And in some cases the report will read the first record of the CSV file as the column headings, removing the first record of data from the dataset.

But here CSV files have one advantage over XLS files. CSV files allow you to introduce a Schema.ini file to define the data type for each column in the CSV. This is something you can’t do with spreadsheets. The schema.ini file is a simple text file that sits in the same folder as your CSV. There are many attributes available in schema.ini, but you only need to use the attributes that you need.  The other attributes will be set based on defaults stored in the registry.  Here are the most common problems I find that can be solved with a schema.ini file.

  1. The CSV is reading the first row of data as column headings
  2. Columns read as the wrong data type
  3. Character column is read as numeric and shows only the numeric values
  4. The columns are parsed using the wrong character

Here is an example of a schema.ini that defines two different CSV files in the same folder:

[sample1.csv]
Format=CSVDelimited
ColNameHeader=False

[sample2.csv]
Format=CSVDelimited
ColNameHeader=False
Col1=OrderDate date
Col2=Amount long
Col3=CustID text
Col4=CustName text
Col5=CustCategory text

As you can see, a single INI file can define multiple CSV files when they are in the same folder. Each file gets it’s own section of the INI file. Both files are set to be read as comma delimited.  Both files are set to NOT treat the first row as column headings. In the first file we allow the driver to name the fields (usually A, B, C, etc) and determine the data type automatically. In the second file we name each column and assign each a data type.

So if you are reporting on a CSV file and running into issues, using a Schema.ini file may help solve the problem.





Comparison of desktop-based schedulers (2019 update)

Tuesday 26 March 2019 @ 11:15 am

How would you like your reports to be automatically run, exported to a PDF and delivered to your Email InBox every Monday morning at 6am? The Crystal Reports designer doesn’t provide a way to do this (unless you upgrade to CR Server or BO Enterprise). But if you look at third party products like those on my LINKS page you will find several reasonably priced or free tools that do this. Some do even more. So every March I go through the list and publish a feature comparison on my blog.

There are 11 active products in the list this year. The page linked above provides a brief description of each product and lists the features that set it apart. Then there is a detailed feature matrix that shows the key specifics for comparison, including prices. To clarify the matrix terminology I have written a feature glossary to explain what each feature means. Finally there are links to the vendor websites so that you can get more information on each product. In May I will be updating a separate article that compares server based scheduling tools. If you think one person can manage all of your scheduling you are probably fine with one of the desktop tools, regardless of the number of people receiving the scheduled output. But if you plan to have multiple people scheduling reports then you may want to consider a server based tool.





Another option for selecting ALL in a parameter

Saturday 23 March 2019 @ 11:04 am

I wrote last fall about selecting “ALL” with a string parameter field. My comments at the end list options for making the technique work for numbers and dates. Recently I received a note from one of my colleagues on a better approach, using optional parameters.

Starting with CR 2008 (v14) Crystal has allowed us to define a parameter as “optional”. This allows the user to not enter a value at all in a parameter. However, when you use an optional parameter in a formula you always have to test for the existence of a value in the parameter field before you use. The test often looks like this:

if HasValue ( {?Tax Rate} )
then {Orders.Order Amount}*{?Tax Rate}
else 0

This way the report knows what to do when the parameter is skipped.

Another way of creating an ALL option is to tell the report that any time there is no value entered in the parameter, the user wants ALL values. The formula would look something like this:
(not HasValue ( {?State} ) or {Customer.State} = {?State})

Note that the HasValue() test has to come before any other test that uses that parameter. If you reverse the two tests in this formula it will generate an error whenever you don’t fill in the parameter.

And thanks to Luc Rascar, a Crystal Reports/Business Objects consultant in France, for pointing this out.





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