Data is the lifeblood of the enterprise and almost every application you develop will tap data in some manner. With all that data, users eventually want to view it in a report.
Many novice developers foolishly tackle reporting by creating custom forms—but this legwork is not necessary, as there are plenty of options with .NET for creating reports by dragging and dropping or a custom object model. In addition, reporting solutions offer additional functionality like PDF generation and charting that is hard to duplicate with custom code. .NET’s choices include readily available options, third-party products, and open source solutions. Let’s take a closer look at the reporting options available with .NET by category.
Readily available reporting options
I was very excited when I first encountered .NET with Visual Studio .NET. My enthusiasm stemmed from the inclusion of Crystal Reports within the environment. That’s right, no more purchasing and installing the product (although a standalone version is still available). My excitement was quickly extinguished as I tackled my first product utilizing Crystal Reports functionality. Its documentation is arcane and getting everything working properly is a bit mind-numbing. As time as passed, a few books have appeared on the subject and there are numerous Web resources as well. One in particular that I would recommend is Crystal Reports .NET Programming by Brian Bischof.
While Crystal Reports is readily available, the Microsoft Office Suite is seemingly everywhere as well. You may utilise Excel or Word functionality in a Windows client application or use the Office Web Components for browser clients. The different applications are readily accessible via your .NET code. Or, your enterprise may opt for another suite such as StarOffice or OpenOffice. Whatever the product, you can take advantage of it in your application. If these products are not a viable option, there are plenty of third-party products available.
Here is a sampling of third-party .NET reporting solutions. Free trial versions are available for most products, so you can give it a test run before making a commitment. Of course, there are open source options available as well.
- ActiveReports for .NET: A managed implementation of the popular ActiveReports engine and report viewer. It provides complete code integration with the Visual Studio .NET environment. It supports both Web and Windows clients and allows exporting to PDF, Excel, RTF, HTML text, and TIFF images. The documentation is thorough and the drag-and-drop interface is straightforward.
- ComponentOne Studio for .NET: It includes two tools: the report component, which generates Access-style database reports, and its companion Report Designer for report layout. It also includes tools for migrating Crystal Reports to their environment.
- OOReport.NET: This product provides reports for Web-based clients. It also includes controls for assembling repots.
- Visual Reports: This may be used with pre-.NET Visual Studio projects. It also includes an interactive report designer for proper layout. Report properties and such are accessed via COM interface.
- Windward Reports: This product facilitates report design and creation via Microsoft Word. Open source reporting options
In the past, the term open source would never be uttered when discussing Microsoft-based development, but the .NET Framework’s acceptance and use of (some) standards has fueled several great open source solutions for .NET. And, reporting has a number of options.
Charting capabilities are provided by NPlot. One of the great features of .NET is the lack of adherence to one particular language, so you can use other products that are not .NET-based. While this may be beyond many .NET developers, open source solutions like the Java-based JasperReports can provide clean and simple reports.
Don’t overlook SQL Server
I would be remiss not to mention SQL Server’s Reporting Services. Microsoft describes it as “a comprehensive, server-based reporting solution designed to help you author, manage, and deliver both paper-based and interactive Web-based reports.” It is an excellent solution where SQL Server is readily available. It was first introduced as an add-on for SQL Server 2000, but it is also included with SQL Server 2005. It includes a report builder for simplifying report creation. SQL Server 2005 Reporting Services does not require Visual Studio .NET like its predecessor, but it may be utilised.
Make the data presentable
Where there is data there is a need to make sense of it, and reporting is one tool to aid users in this chore. Luckily, the .NET Framework includes various options ranging from the inherent Crystal Reports to open source alternatives. Your choices may depend on cost, but each product offers plenty of features to enhance your application.