Chapter 2
Introducing DAX

In this chapter, we start talking about the DAX language. Here you learn the syntax of the language, the difference between a calculated column and a measure (also called calculated field, in certain old Excel versions), and the most commonly used functions in DAX.

Because this is an introductory chapter, it does not cover many functions in depth. In later chapters, we explain them in more detail. For now, introducing the functions and starting to look at the DAX language in general are enough. When we reference features of the data model in Power BI, Power Pivot, or Analysis Services, we use the term Tabular even when the feature is not present in all the products. For example, “DirectQuery in Tabular” refers to the DirectQuery mode feature available in Power BI and Analysis Services but not in Excel.

Understanding DAX calculations

Before working on more complex formulas, you need to learn the basics of DAX. This includes DAX syntax, the different data types that DAX can handle, the basic operators, and how to refer to columns and tables. These concepts are discussed in the next few sections.

We use DAX to compute values over columns in tables. We can aggregate, calculate, and search for numbers, but in the end, all the calculations involve tables and columns. Thus, the first syntax to learn is how to reference a column in a table.

The general format is to write the table name enclosed in single quotation marks, followed by the column name enclosed in square brackets, as follows:

'Sales'[Quantity]

We can omit the single quotation marks if the table name does not start with a number, does not contain spaces, and is not a reserved word (like Date or Sum).

The table name is also optional in case we are referencing a column or a measure within the table where we define the formula. Thus, [Quantity] is a valid column reference, if written in a calculated column or in a measure defined in the Sales table. Although this option is available, we strongly discourage you from omitting the table name. At this point, we do not explain why this is so important, but the reason will become clear when you read Chapter 5, “Understanding CALCULATE and CALCULATETABLE.” Nevertheless, it is of paramount importance to be able to distinguish between measures (discussed later) and columns when you read DAX code. The de facto standard is to always use the table name in column references and always avoid it in measure references. The earlier you start adopting this standard, the easier your life with DAX will be. Therefore, you should get used to this way of referencing columns and measures:

Sales[Quantity] * 2            -- This is a column reference
[Sales Amount] * 2             -- This is a measure reference

You will learn the rationale behind this standard after learning about context transition, which comes in Chapter 5. For now, just trust us and adhere to this standard.

DAX data types

DAX can perform computations with different numeric types, of which there are seven. Over time, Microsoft introduced different names for the same data types, creating some sort of confusion. Table 2-1 provides the different names under which you might find each DAX data type.

Table 2-1 Data Types

DAX Data Type

Power BI Data Type

Power Pivot and Analysis Services Data Type

Correspondent Conventional Data Type (e.g., SQL Server)

Tabular Object Model (TOM) Data Type

Integer

Whole Number

Whole Number

Integer / INT

int64

Decimal

Decimal Number

Decimal Number

Floating point / DOUBLE

double

Currency

Fixed Decimal Number

Currency

Currency / MONEY

decimal

DateTime

DateTime, Date, Time

Date

Date / DATETIME

dateTime

Boolean

True/False

True/False

Boolean / BIT

boolean

String

Text

Text

String / NVARCHAR(MAX)

string

Variant

-

-

-

variant

Binary

Binary

Binary

Blob / VARBINARY(MAX)

binary

In this book, we use the names in the first column of Table 2-1 adhering to the de facto standards in the database and Business Intelligence community. For example, in Power BI, a column containing either TRUE or FALSE would be called TRUE/FALSE, whereas in SQL Server, it would be called a BIT. Nevertheless, the historical and most common name for this type of value is Boolean.

DAX comes with a powerful type-handling system so that we do not have to worry about data types. In a DAX expression, the resulting type is based on the type of the term used in the expression. You need to be aware of this in case the type returned from a DAX expression is not the expected type; you would then have to investigate the data type of the terms used in the expression itself.

For example, if one of the terms of a sum is a date, the result also is a date; likewise, if the same operator is used with integers, the result is an integer. This behavior is known as operator overloading, and an example is shown in Figure 2-1, where the OrderDatePlusOneWeek column is calculated by adding 7 to the value of the Order Date column.

Sales[OrderDatePlusOneWeek] = Sales[Order Date] + 7
The figure shows the Sales table with the Order Date and OrderDatePlusOneWeek columns. OrderDatePlusOneWeek always falls seven days later than Order Date.
Figure 2-1 Adding an integer to a date results in a date increased by the corresponding number of days.

The result is a date.

In addition to operator overloading, DAX automatically converts strings into numbers and numbers into strings whenever required by the operator. For example, if we use the & operator, which concatenates strings, DAX converts its arguments into strings. The following formula returns “54” as a string:

= 5 & 4

On the other hand, this formula returns an integer result with the value of 9:

= "5" + "4"

The resulting value depends on the operator and not on the source columns, which are converted following the requirements of the operator. Although this behavior looks convenient, later in this chapter you see what kinds of errors might happen during these automatic conversions. Moreover, not all the operators follow this behavior. For example, comparison operators cannot compare strings with numbers. Consequently, you can add one number with a string, but you cannot compare a number with a string. You can find a complete reference here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/desktop-data-types. Because the rules are so complex, we suggest you avoid automatic conversions altogether. If a conversion needs to happen, we recommend that you control it and make the conversion explicit. To be more explicit, the previous example should be written like this:

= VALUE ( "5" ) + VALUE ( "4" )

People accustomed to working with Excel or other languages might be familiar with DAX data types. Some details about data types depend on the engine, and they might be different for Power BI, Power Pivot, or Analysis Services. You can find more detailed information about Analysis Services DAX data types at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/gg492146.aspx, and Power BI information is available at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/power-bi/desktop-data-types. However, it is useful to share a few considerations about each of these data types.

Integer

DAX has only one Integer data type that can store a 64-bit value. All the internal calculations between integer values in DAX also use a 64-bit value.

Decimal

A Decimal number is always stored as a double-precision floating-point value. Do not confuse this DAX data type with the decimal and numeric data type of Transact-SQL. The corresponding data type of a DAX decimal number in SQL is Float.

Currency

The Currency data type, also known as Fixed Decimal Number in Power BI, stores a fixed decimal number. It can represent four decimal points and is internally stored as a 64-bit integer value divided by 10,000. Summing or subtracting Currency data types always ignores decimals beyond the fourth decimal point, whereas multiplication and division produce a floating-point value, thus increasing the precision of the result. In general, if we need more accuracy than the four digits provided, we must use a Decimal data type.

The default format of the Currency data type includes the currency symbol. We can also apply the currency formatting to Integer and decimal numbers, and we can use a format without the currency symbol for a Currency data type.

DateTime

DAX stores dates as a DateTime data type. This format uses a floating-point number internally, wherein the integer corresponds to the number of days since December 30, 1899, and the decimal part identifies the fraction of the day. Hours, minutes, and seconds are converted to decimal fractions of a day. Thus, the following expression returns the current date plus one day (exactly 24 hours):

= TODAY () + 1

The result is tomorrow’s date at the time of the evaluation. If you need to take only the date part of a DateTime, always remember to use TRUNC to get rid of the decimal part.

Power BI offers two additional data types: Date and Time. Internally, they are a simple variation of DateTime. Indeed, Date and Time store only the integer or the decimal part of the DateTime, respectively.

Boolean

The Boolean data type is used to express logical conditions. For example, a calculated column defined by the following expression is of Boolean type:

= Sales[Unit Price] > Sales[Unit Cost]

You will also see Boolean data types as numbers where TRUE equals 1 and FALSE equals 0. This notation sometimes proves useful for sorting purposes because TRUE > FALSE.

String

Every string in DAX is stored as a Unicode string, where each character is stored in 16 bits. By default, the comparison between strings is not case sensitive, so the two strings “Power BI” and “POWER BI” are considered equal.

Variant

The Variant data type is used for expressions that might return different data types, depending on the conditions. For example, the following statement can return either an integer or a string, so it returns a variant type:

IF ( [measure] > 0, 1, "N/A" )

The Variant data type cannot be used as a data type for a column in a regular table. A DAX measure, and in general, a DAX expression can be Variant.

Binary

The Binary data type is used in the data model to store images or other nonstructured types of information. It is not available in DAX. It was mainly used by Power View, but it might not be available in other tools such as Power BI.

DAX operators

Now that you have seen the importance of operators in determining the type of an expression, see Table 2-2, which provides a list of the operators available in DAX.

Table 2-2 Operators

Operator Type

Symbol

Use

Example

Parenthesis

( )

Precedence order and grouping of arguments

(5 + 2) * 3

Arithmetic

+

*

/

Addition

Subtraction/negation

Multiplication

Division

4 + 2

5 − 3

4 * 2

4 / 2

Comparison

=

<>

>

>=

<

<=

Equal to

Not equal to

Greater than

Greater than or equal to

Less than

Less than or equal to

[CountryRegion] = “USA”

[CountryRegion] <> “USA”

[Quantity] > 0

[Quantity] >= 100

[Quantity] < 0

[Quantity] <= 100

Text concatenation

&

Concatenation of strings

“Value is” & [Amount]

Logical

&&

||

IN

NOT

AND condition between two Boolean expressions

OR condition between two Boolean expressions

Inclusion of an element in a list

Boolean negation

[CountryRegion] = “USA” && [Quantity]>0

[CountryRegion] = “USA” || [Quantity] > 0

[CountryRegion] IN {“USA”, “Canada”}

NOT [Quantity] > 0

Moreover, the logical operators are also available as DAX functions, with a syntax similar to Excel’s. For example, we can write expressions like these:

AND ( [CountryRegion] = "USA", [Quantity] > 0 )
OR ( [CountryRegion] = "USA", [Quantity] > 0 )

These examples are equivalent, respectively, to the following:

[CountryRegion] = "USA" && [Quantity] > 0
[CountryRegion] = "USA" || [Quantity] > 0

Using functions instead of operators for Boolean logic becomes helpful when writing complex conditions. In fact, when it comes to formatting large sections of code, functions are much easier to format and to read than operators are. However, a major drawback of functions is that we can pass in only two parameters at a time. Therefore, we must nest functions if we have more than two conditions to evaluate.

Table constructors

In DAX we can define anonymous tables directly in the code. If the table has a single column, the syntax requires only a list of values—one for each row—delimited by curly braces. We can delimit multiple rows by parentheses, which are optional if the table is made of a single column. The two following definitions, for example, are equivalent:

{ "Red", "Blue", "White" }
{ ( "Red" ), ( "Blue" ), ( "White" ) }

If the table has multiple columns, parentheses are mandatory. Every column should have the same data type throughout all its rows; otherwise, DAX will automatically convert the column to a data type that can accommodate all the data types provided in different rows for the same column.

{
    ( "A", 10, 1.5, DATE ( 2017, 1, 1 ), CURRENCY ( 199.99 ), TRUE ),
    ( "B", 20, 2.5, DATE ( 2017, 1, 2 ), CURRENCY ( 249.99 ), FALSE ),
    ( "C", 30, 3.5, DATE ( 2017, 1, 3 ), CURRENCY ( 299.99 ), FALSE )
}

The table constructor is commonly used with the IN operator. For example, the following are possible, valid syntaxes in a DAX predicate:

'Product'[Color] IN { "Red", "Blue", "White" }

( 'Date'[Year], 'Date'[MonthNumber] ) IN { ( 2017, 12 ), ( 2018, 1 ) }

This second example shows the syntax required to compare a set of columns (tuple) using the IN operator. Such syntax cannot be used with a comparison operator. In other words, the following syntax is not valid:

( 'Date'[Year], 'Date'[MonthNumber] ) = ( 2007, 12 )

However, we can rewrite it using the IN operator with a table constructor that has a single row, as in the following example:

( 'Date'[Year], 'Date'[MonthNumber] ) IN { ( 2007, 12 ) }

Conditional statements

In DAX we can write a conditional expression using the IF function. For example, we can write an expression returning MULTI or SINGLE depending on the quantity value being greater than one or not, respectively.

IF (
    Sales[Quantity] > 1,
    "MULTI",
    "SINGLE"
)

The IF function has three parameters, but only the first two are mandatory. The third is optional, and it defaults to BLANK. Consider the following code:

IF (
    Sales[Quantity] > 1,
    Sales[Quantity]
)

It corresponds to the following explicit version:

IF (
    Sales[Quantity] > 1,
    Sales[Quantity],
    BLANK ()
)

Understanding calculated columns and measures

Now that you know the basics of DAX syntax, you need to learn one of the most important concepts in DAX: the difference between calculated columns and measures. Even though calculated columns and measures might appear similar at first sight because you can make certain calculations using either, they are, in reality, different. Understanding the difference is key to unlocking the power of DAX.

Calculated columns

Depending on the tool you are using, you can create a calculated column in different ways. Indeed, the concept remains the same: a calculated column is a new column added to your model, but instead of being loaded from a data source, it is created by resorting to a DAX formula.

A calculated column is just like any other column in a table, and we can use it in rows, columns, filters, or values of a matrix or any other report. We can also use a calculated column to define a relationship, if needed. The DAX expression defined for a calculated column operates in the context of the current row of the table that the calculated column belongs to. Any reference to a column returns the value of that column for the current row. We cannot directly access the values of other rows.

If you are using the default Import Mode of Tabular and are not using DirectQuery, one important concept to remember about calculated columns is that these columns are computed during database processing and then stored in the model. This concept might seem strange if you are accustomed to SQL-computed columns (not persisted), which are evaluated at query time and do not use memory. In Tabular, however, all calculated columns occupy space in memory and are computed during table processing.

This behavior is helpful whenever we create complex calculated columns. The time required to compute complex calculated columns is always process time and not query time, resulting in a better user experience. Nevertheless, be mindful that a calculated column uses precious RAM. For example, if we have a complex formula for a calculated column, we might be tempted to separate the steps of computation into different intermediate columns. Although this technique is useful during project development, it is a bad habit in production because each intermediate calculation is stored in RAM and wastes valuable space.

If a model is based on DirectQuery instead, the behavior is hugely different. In DirectQuery mode, calculated columns are computed on the fly when the Tabular engine queries the data source. This might result in heavy queries executed by the data source, therefore producing slow models.

The figure shows three columns: Order Date, Delivery Date, and DaysToDeliver, which shows the difference in days between the previous two dates.
Figure 2-2 By subtracting two dates and converting the result to an integer, DAX computes the number of days between the two dates.

Measures

Calculated columns are useful, but you can define calculations in a DAX model in another way. Whenever you do not want to compute values for each row but rather want to aggregate values from many rows in a table, you will find these calculations useful; they are called measures.

For example, you can define a few calculated columns in the Sales table to compute the gross margin amount:

Sales[SalesAmount] = Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Net Price]
Sales[TotalCost] = Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Unit Cost]
Sales[GrossMargin] = Sales[SalesAmount] – Sales[TotalCost]

What happens if you want to show the gross margin as a percentage of the sales amount? You could create a calculated column with the following formula:

Sales[GrossMarginPct] = Sales[GrossMargin] / Sales[SalesAmount]

This formula computes the correct value at the row level—as you can see in Figure 2-3—but at the grand total level the result is clearly wrong.

The figure shows the Sales table with the GrossMargin and GrossMarginPct columns, which identify the margin, respectively, as an absolute value and as a percentage. The grand total of the margin percentage is 551.46%.
Figure 2-3 The GrossMarginPct column shows a correct value on each row, but the grand total is incorrect.

The value shown at the grand total level is the sum of the individual percentages computed row by row within the calculated column. When we compute the aggregate value of a percentage, we cannot rely on calculated columns. Instead, we need to compute the percentage based on the sum of individual columns. We must compute the aggregated value as the sum of gross margin divided by the sum of sales amount. In this case, we need to compute the ratio on the aggregates; you cannot use an aggregation of calculated columns. In other words, we compute the ratio of the sums, not the sum of the ratios.

It would be equally wrong to simply change the aggregation of the GrossMarginPct column to an average and rely on the result because doing so would provide an incorrect evaluation of the percentage, not considering the differences between amounts. The result of this averaged value is visible in Figure 2-4, and you can easily check that (330.31 / 732.23) is not equal to the value displayed, 45.96%; it should be 45.11% instead.

The figure shows the same data as Figure 2-3. This time, the grand total of gross margin percentage shows 45.96%.
Figure 2-4 Changing the aggregation method to AVERAGE does not provide the correct result.

The correct implementation for GrossMarginPct is with a measure:

GrossMarginPct := SUM ( Sales[GrossMargin] ) / SUM (Sales[SalesAmount] )

As we have already stated, the correct result cannot be achieved with a calculated column. If you need to operate on aggregated values instead of operating on a row-by-row basis, you must create measures. You might have noticed that we used := to define a measure instead of the equal sign (=). This is a standard we used throughout the book to make it easier to differentiate between measures and calculated columns in code.

After you define GrossMarginPct as a measure, the result is correct, as you can see in Figure 2-5.

The figure shows the same data as Figure 2-4. This time, the grand total of gross margin percentage shows 45.11%, which is the correct value.
Figure 2-5 GrossMarginPct defined as a measure shows the correct grand total.

Measures and calculated columns both use DAX expressions; the difference is the context of evaluation. A measure is evaluated in the context of a visual element or in the context of a DAX query. However, a calculated column is computed at the row level of the table it belongs to. The context of the visual element (later in the book, you will learn that this is a filter context) depends on user selections in the report or on the format of the DAX query. Therefore, when using SUM(Sales[SalesAmount]) in a measure, we mean the sum of all the rows that are aggregated under a visualization. However, when we use Sales[SalesAmount] in a calculated column, we mean the value of the SalesAmount column in the current row.

A measure needs to be defined in a table. This is one of the requirements of the DAX language. However, the measure does not really belong to the table. Indeed, we can move a measure from one table to another table without losing its functionality.

Choosing between calculated columns and measures

Now that you have seen the difference between calculated columns and measures, it is useful to discuss when to use one over the other. Sometimes either is an option, but in most situations, the computation requirements determine the choice.

As a developer, you must define a calculated column whenever you want to do the following:

  • Place the calculated results in a slicer or see results in rows or columns in a matrix or in a pivot table (as opposed to the Values area), or use the calculated column as a filter condition in a DAX query.

  • Define an expression that is strictly bound to the current row. For example, Price * Quantity cannot work on an average or on a sum of those two columns.

  • Categorize text or numbers. For example, a range of values for a measure, a range of ages of customers, such as 0–18, 18–25, and so on. These categories are often used as filters or to slice and dice values.

However, it is mandatory to define a measure whenever one wants to display calculation values that reflect user selections, and the values need to be presented as aggregates in a report, for example:

  • To calculate the profit percentage of a report selection

  • To calculate ratios of a product compared to all products but keep the filter both by year and by region

We can express many calculations both with calculated columns and with measures, although we need to use different DAX expressions for each. For example, one can define the GrossMargin as a calculated column:

Sales[GrossMargin] = Sales[SalesAmount] - Sales[TotalProductCost]

However, it can also be defined as a measure:

GrossMargin := SUM ( Sales[SalesAmount] ) - SUM ( Sales[TotalProductCost] )

We suggest you use a measure in this case because, being evaluated at query time, it does not consume memory and disk space. As a rule, whenever you can express a calculation both ways, measures are the preferred way to go. You should limit the use of calculated columns to the few cases where they are strictly needed. Users with Excel experience typically prefer calculated columns over measures because calculated columns closely resemble the way of performing calculations in Excel. Nevertheless, the best way to compute a value in DAX is through a measure.

Introducing variables

When writing a DAX expression, one can avoid repeating the same expression and greatly enhance the code readability by using variables. For example, look at the following expression:

VAR TotalSales = SUM ( Sales[SalesAmount] )
VAR TotalCosts = SUM ( Sales[TotalProductCost] )
VAR GrossMargin = TotalSales - TotalCosts
RETURN
    GrossMargin / TotalSales

Variables are defined with the VAR keyword. After you define a variable, you need to provide a RETURN section that defines the result value of the expression. One can define many variables, and the variables are local to the expression in which they are defined.

A variable defined in an expression cannot be used outside the expression itself. There is no such thing as a global variable definition. This means that you cannot define variables used through the whole DAX code of the model.

Variables are computed using lazy evaluation. This means that if one defines a variable that, for any reason, is not used in the code, the variable itself will never be evaluated. If it needs to be computed, this happens only once. Later uses of the variable will read the value computed previously. Thus, variables are also useful as an optimization technique when used in a complex expression multiple times.

Variables are an important tool in DAX. As you will learn in Chapter 4, variables are extremely useful because they use the definition evaluation context instead of the context where the variable is used. In Chapter 6, “Variables,” we will fully cover variables and how to use them. We will also use variables extensively throughout the book.

Handling errors in DAX expressions

Now that you have seen some of the basics of the syntax, it is time to learn how to handle invalid calculations gracefully. A DAX expression might contain invalid calculations because the data it references is not valid for the formula. For example, the formula might contain a division by zero or reference a column value that is not a number while being used in an arithmetic operation such as multiplication. It is good to learn how these errors are handled by default and how to intercept these conditions for special handling.

Before discussing how to handle errors, though, we describe the different kinds of errors that might appear during a DAX formula evaluation. They are

  • Conversion errors

  • Arithmetic operations errors

  • Empty or missing values

Conversion errors

The first kind of error is the conversion error. As we showed previously in this chapter, DAX automatically converts values between strings and numbers whenever the operator requires it. All these examples are valid DAX expressions:

"10" + 32 = 42
"10" & 32 = "1032"
10 & 32 = "1032"
DATE (2010,3,25) = 3/25/2010
DATE (2010,3,25) + 14 = 4/8/2010
DATE (2010,3,25) & 14 = "3/25/201014"

These formulas are always correct because they operate with constant values. However, what about the following formula if VatCode is a string?

Sales[VatCode] + 100

Because the first operand of this sum is a column that is of Text data type, you as a developer must be confident that DAX can convert all the values in that column into numbers. If DAX fails in converting some of the content to suit the operator needs, a conversion error will occur. Here are some typical situations:

"1 + 1" + 0 = Cannot convert value '1 + 1' of type Text to type Number
DATEVALUE ("25/14/2010") = Type mismatch

If you want to avoid these errors, it is important to add error detection logic in DAX expressions to intercept error conditions and return a result that makes sense. One can obtain the same result by intercepting the error after it has happened or by checking the operands for the error situation beforehand. Nevertheless, checking for the error situation proactively is better than letting the error happen and then catching it.

Arithmetic operations errors

The second category of errors is arithmetic operations, such as the division by zero or the square root of a negative number. These are not conversion-related errors: DAX raises them whenever we try to call a function or use an operator with invalid values.

The division by zero requires special handling because its behavior is not intuitive (except, maybe, for mathematicians). When one divides a number by zero, DAX returns the special value Infinity. In the special cases of 0 divided by 0 or Infinity divided by Infinity, DAX returns the special NaN (not a number) value.

Because this is unusual behavior, it is summarized in Table 2-3.

Table 2-3 Special Result Values for Division by Zero

Expression

Result

10 / 0

Infinity

7 / 0

Infinity

0 / 0

NaN

(10 / 0) / (7 / 0)

NaN

It is important to note that Infinity and NaN are not errors but special values in DAX. In fact, if one divides a number by Infinity, the expression does not generate an error. Instead, it returns 0:

9954 / ( 7 / 0 ) = 0

Apart from this special situation, DAX can return arithmetic errors when calling a function with an incorrect parameter, such as the square root of a negative number:

SQRT ( -1 ) = An argument of function 'SQRT' has the wrong data type or the result is too
large or too small

If DAX detects errors like this, it blocks any further computation of the expression and raises an error. One can use the ISERROR function to check if an expression leads to an error. We show this scenario later in this chapter.

Keep in mind that special values like NaN are displayed in the user interface of several tools such as Power BI as regular values. They can, however, be treated as errors when shown by other client tools such as an Excel pivot table. Finally, these special values are detected as errors by the error detection functions.

Empty or missing values

The third category that we examine is not a specific error condition but rather the presence of empty values. Empty values might result in unexpected results or calculation errors when combined with other elements in a calculation.

DAX handles missing values, blank values, or empty cells in the same way, using the value BLANK. BLANK is not a real value but instead is a special way to identify these conditions. We can obtain the value BLANK in a DAX expression by calling the BLANK function, which is different from an empty string. For example, the following expression always returns a blank value, which can be displayed as either an empty string or as “(blank)” in different client tools:

= BLANK ()

On its own, this expression is useless, but the BLANK function itself becomes useful every time there is the need to return an empty value. For example, one might want to display an empty result instead of 0. The following expression calculates the total discount for a sale transaction, leaving the blank value if the discount is 0:

=IF (
    Sales[DiscountPerc] = 0,              -- Check if there is a discount
    BLANK (),                             -- Return a blank if no discount is present
    Sales[DiscountPerc] * Sales[Amount]   -- Compute the discount otherwise
)

BLANK, by itself, is not an error; it is just an empty value. Therefore, an expression containing a BLANK might return a value or a blank, depending on the calculation required. For example, the following expression returns BLANK whenever Sales[Amount] is BLANK:

= 10 * Sales[Amount]

In other words, the result of an arithmetic product is BLANK whenever one or both terms are BLANK. This creates a challenge when it is necessary to check for a blank value. Because of the implicit conversions, it is impossible to distinguish whether an expression is 0 (or empty string) or BLANK using an equal operator. Indeed, the following logical conditions are always true:

BLANK () = 0     -- Always returns TRUE
BLANK () = ""    -- Always returns TRUE

Therefore, if the columns Sales[DiscountPerc] or Sales[Clerk] are blank, the following conditions return TRUE even if the test is against 0 and empty string, respectively:

Sales[DiscountPerc] = 0  -- Returns TRUE if DiscountPerc is either BLANK or 0
Sales[Clerk] = ""        -- Returns TRUE if Clerk is either BLANK or ""

In such cases, one can use the ISBLANK function to check whether a value is BLANK or not:

ISBLANK ( Sales[DiscountPerc] )  -- Returns TRUE only if DiscountPerc is BLANK
ISBLANK ( Sales[Clerk] )         -- Returns TRUE only if Clerk is BLANK

The propagation of BLANK in a DAX expression happens in several other arithmetic and logical operations, as shown in the following examples:

BLANK () + BLANK () = BLANK ()
10 * BLANK () = BLANK ()
BLANK () / 3 = BLANK ()
BLANK () / BLANK () = BLANK ()

However, the propagation of BLANK in the result of an expression does not happen for all formulas. Some calculations do not propagate BLANK. Instead, they return a value depending on the other terms of the formula. Examples of these are addition, subtraction, division by BLANK, and a logical operation including a BLANK. The following expressions show some of these conditions along with their results:

BLANK () − 10 = −10
18 + BLANK () = 18
4 / BLANK () = Infinity
0 / BLANK () = NaN
BLANK () || BLANK () = FALSE
BLANK () && BLANK () = FALSE
( BLANK () = BLANK () ) = TRUE
( BLANK () = TRUE ) = FALSE
( BLANK () = FALSE ) = TRUE
( BLANK () = 0 ) = TRUE
( BLANK () = "" ) = TRUE
ISBLANK ( BLANK() ) = TRUE
FALSE || BLANK () = FALSE
FALSE && BLANK () = FALSE
TRUE || BLANK () = TRUE
TRUE && BLANK () = FALSE

Understanding the behavior of empty or missing values in a DAX expression and using BLANK to return an empty cell in a calculation are important skills to control the results of a DAX expression. One can often use BLANK as a result when detecting incorrect values or other errors, as we demonstrate in the next section.

Intercepting errors

Now that we have detailed the various kinds of errors that can occur, we still need to show you the techniques to intercept errors and correct them or, at least, produce an error message containing meaningful information. The presence of errors in a DAX expression frequently depends on the value of columns used in the expression itself. Therefore, one might want to control the presence of these error conditions and return an error message. The standard technique is to check whether an expression returns an error and, if so, replace the error with a specific message or a default value. There are a few DAX functions for this task.

The first of them is the IFERROR function, which is similar to the IF function, but instead of evaluating a Boolean condition, it checks whether an expression returns an error. Two typical uses of the IFERROR function are as follows:

= IFERROR ( Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Price], BLANK () )
= IFERROR ( SQRT ( Test[Omega] ), BLANK () )

In the first expression, if either Sales[Quantity] or Sales[Price] is a string that cannot be converted into a number, the returned expression is an empty value. Otherwise, the product of Quantity and Price is returned.

In the second expression, the result is an empty cell every time the Test[Omega] column contains a negative number.

Using IFERROR this way corresponds to a more general pattern that requires using ISERROR and IF:

= IF (
    ISERROR ( Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Price] ),
    BLANK (),
    Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Price]
)

= IF (
    ISERROR ( SQRT ( Test[Omega] ) ),
    BLANK (),
    SQRT ( Test[Omega] )
)

In these cases, IFERROR is a better option. One can use IFERROR whenever the result is the same expression tested for an error; there is no need to duplicate the expression in two places, and the code is safer and more readable. However, a developer should use IF when they want to return the result of a different expression.

Besides, one can avoid raising the error altogether by testing parameters before using them. For example, one can detect whether the argument for SQRT is positive, returning BLANK for negative values:

= IF (
    Test[Omega] >= 0,
    SQRT ( Test[Omega] ),
    BLANK ()
)

Considering that the third argument of an IF statement defaults to BLANK, one can also write the same expression more concisely:

= IF (
    Test[Omega] >= 0,
    SQRT ( Test[Omega] )
)

A frequent scenario is to test against empty values. ISBLANK detects empty values, returning TRUE if its argument is BLANK. This capability is important especially when a value being unavailable does not imply that it is 0. The following example calculates the cost of shipping for a sale transaction, using a default shipping cost for the product if the transaction itself does not specify a weight:

= IF (
   ISBLANK ( Sales[Weight] ),             -- If the weight is missing
   Sales[DefaultShippingCost],            -- then return the default cost
   Sales[Weight] * Sales[ShippingPrice]   -- otherwise multiply weight by shipping price
)

If we simply multiply product weight by shipping price, we get an empty cost for all the sales transactions without weight data because of the propagation of BLANK in multiplications.

When using variables, errors must be checked at the time of variable definition rather than where we use them. In fact, the first formula in the following code returns zero, the second formula always throws an error, and the last one produces different results depending on the version of the product using DAX (the latest version throws an error also):

IFERROR ( SQRT ( -1 ), 0 )                -- This returns 0

VAR WrongValue = SQRT ( -1 )              -- Error happens here, so the result is
RETURN                                    -- always an error
    IFERROR ( WrongValue, 0 )             -- This line is never executed

IFERROR (                                 -- Different results depending on versions
    VAR WrongValue = SQRT ( -1 )          -- IFERROR throws an error in 2017 versions
    RETURN                                -- IFERROR returns 0 in versions until 2016
        WrongValue,
    0
)

The error happens when WrongValue is evaluated. Thus, the engine will never execute the IFERROR function in the second example, whereas the outcome of the third example depends on product versions. If you need to check for errors, take some extra precautions when using variables.

Generating errors

Sometimes, an error is just an error, and the formula should not return a default value in case of an error. Indeed, returning a default value would end up producing an actual result that would be incorrect. For example, a configuration table that contains inconsistent data should produce an invalid report rather than numbers that are unreliable, and yet it might be considered correct.

Moreover, instead of a generic error, one might want to produce an error message that is more meaningful to the users. Such a message would help users find where the problem is.

Consider a scenario that requires the computation of the square root of the absolute temperature measured in Kelvin, to approximately adjust the speed of sound in a complex scientific calculation. Obviously, we do not expect that temperature to be a negative number. If that happens due to a problem in the measurement, we need to raise an error and stop the calculation.

In that case, this code is dangerous because it hides the problem:

= IFERROR (
    SQRT ( Test[Temperature] ),
    0
)

Instead, to protect the calculations, one should write the formula like this:

= IF (
    Test[Temperature] >= 0,
    SQRT ( Test[Temperature] ),
    ERROR ( "The temperature cannot be a negative number. Calculation aborted." )
)

Formatting DAX code

Before we continue explaining the DAX language, we would like to cover an important aspect of DAX—that is, formatting the code. DAX is a functional language, meaning that no matter how complex it is, a DAX expression is like a single function call. The complexity of the code translates into the complexity of the expressions that one uses as parameters for the outermost function.

For this reason, it is normal to see expressions that span over 10 lines or more. Seeing a 20-line DAX expression is common, so you will become acquainted with it. Nevertheless, as formulas start to grow in length and complexity, it is extremely important to format the code to make it human-readable.

There is no “official” standard to format DAX code, yet we believe it is important to describe the standard that we use in our code. It is likely not the perfect standard, and you might prefer something different. We have no problem with that: find your optimal standard and use it. The only thing you need to remember is: format your code and never write everything on a single line; otherwise, you will be in trouble sooner than you expect.

To understand why formatting is important, look at a formula that computes a time intelligence calculation. This somewhat complex formula is still not the most complex you will write. Here is how the expression looks if you do not format it in some way:

IF(CALCULATE(NOT ISEMPTY(Balances), ALLEXCEPT (Balances, BalanceDate)),SUMX (ALL(Balances
[Account]), CALCULATE(SUM (Balances[Balance]),LASTNONBLANK(DATESBETWEEN(BalanceDate[Date],
BLANK(),MAX(BalanceDate[Date])),CALCULATE(COUNTROWS(Balances))))),BLANK())

Trying to understand what this formula computes in its present form is nearly impossible. There is no clue which is the outermost function and how DAX evaluates the different parameters to create the complete flow of execution. We have seen too many examples of formulas written this way by students who, at some point, ask for help in understanding why the formula returns incorrect results. Guess what? The first thing we do is format the expression; only later do we start working on it.

The same expression, properly formatted, looks like this:

IF (
    CALCULATE (
        NOT ISEMPTY ( Balances ),
        ALLEXCEPT (
            Balances,
            BalanceDate
        )
    ),
    SUMX (
        ALL ( Balances[Account] ),
        CALCULATE (
            SUM ( Balances[Balance] ),
            LASTNONBLANK (
                DATESBETWEEN (
                    BalanceDate[Date],
                    BLANK (),
                    MAX ( BalanceDate[Date] )
                ),
                CALCULATE (
                    COUNTROWS ( Balances )
                )
            )
        )
    ),
    BLANK ()
)

The code is the same, but this time it is much easier to see the three parameters of IF. Most important, it is easier to follow the blocks that arise naturally from indenting lines and how they compose the complete flow of execution. The code is still hard to read, but now the problem is DAX, not poor formatting. A more verbose syntax using variables can help you read the code, but even in this case, the formatting is important in providing a correct understanding of the scope of each variable:

IF (
    CALCULATE (
        NOT ISEMPTY ( Balances ),
        ALLEXCEPT (
            Balances,
            BalanceDate
        )
    ),
    SUMX (
        ALL ( Balances[Account] ),
        VAR PreviousDates =
            DATESBETWEEN (
                BalanceDate[Date],
                BLANK (),
                MAX ( BalanceDate[Date] )
            )
        VAR LastDateWithBalance =
            LASTNONBLANK (
                PreviousDates,
                CALCULATE (
                    COUNTROWS ( Balances )
                )
            )
        RETURN
            CALCULATE (
                SUM ( Balances[Balance] ),
                LastDateWithBalance
            )
    ),
    BLANK ()
)

You can find the website at www.daxformatter.com. The user interface is simple: just copy your DAX code, click FORMAT, and the page refreshes showing a nicely formatted version of your code, which you can then copy and paste in the original window.

This is the set of rules that we use to format DAX:

  • Always separate function names such as IF, SUMX, and CALCULATE from any other term using a space and always write them in uppercase.

  • Write all column references in the form TableName[ColumnName], with no space between the table name and the opening square bracket. Always include the table name.

  • Write all measure references in the form [MeasureName], without any table name.

  • Always use a space following commas and never precede them with a space.

  • If the formula fits one single line, do not apply any other rule.

  • If the formula does not fit a single line, then

    • Place the function name on a line by itself, with the opening parenthesis.

    • Keep all parameters on separate lines, indented with four spaces and with the comma at the end of the expression except for the last parameter.

    • Align the closing parenthesis with the function call so that the closing parenthesis stands on its own line.

These are the basic rules we use. A more detailed list of these rules is available at http://sql.bi/daxrules.

If you find a way to express formulas that best fits your reading method, use it. The goal of formatting is to make the formula easier to read, so use the technique that works best for you. The most important point to remember when defining your personal set of formatting rules is that you always need to be able to see errors as soon as possible. If, in the unformatted code shown previously, DAX complained about a missing closing parenthesis, it would be hard to spot where the error is. In the formatted formula, it is much easier to see how each closing parenthesis matches the opening function call.

Introducing aggregators and iterators

Almost every data model needs to operate on aggregated data. DAX offers a set of functions that aggregate the values of a column in a table and return a single value. We call this group of functions aggregation functions. For example, the following measure calculates the sum of all the numbers in the SalesAmount column of the Sales table:

Sales := SUM ( Sales[SalesAmount] )

SUM aggregates all the rows of the table if it is used in a calculated column. Whenever it is used in a measure, it considers only the rows that are being filtered by slicers, rows, columns, and filter conditions in the report.

There are many aggregation functions (SUM, AVERAGE, MIN, MAX, and STDEV), and their behavior changes only in the way they aggregate values: SUM adds values, whereas MIN returns the minimum value. Nearly all these functions operate only on numeric values or on dates. Only MIN and MAX can operate on text values also. Moreover, DAX never considers empty cells when it performs the aggregation, and this behavior is different from their counterpart in Excel (more on this later in this chapter).

Image Note

MIN and MAX offer another behavior: if used with two parameters, they return the minimum or maximum of the two parameters. Thus, MIN (1, 2) returns 1 and MAX (1, 2) returns 2. This functionality is useful when one needs to compute the minimum or maximum of complex expressions because it saves having to write the same expression multiple times in IF statements.

All the aggregation functions we have described so far work on columns. Therefore, they aggregate values from a single column only. Some aggregation functions can aggregate an expression instead of a single column. Because of the way they work, they are known as iterators. This set of functions is useful, especially when you need to make calculations using columns of different related tables, or when you need to reduce the number of calculated columns.

Iterators always accept at least two parameters: the first is a table that they scan; the second is typically an expression that is evaluated for each row of the table. After they have completed scanning the table and evaluating the expression row by row, iterators aggregate the partial results according to their semantics.

For example, if we compute the number of days needed to deliver an order in a calculated column called DaysToDeliver and build a report on top of that, we obtain the report shown in Figure 2-6. Note that the grand total shows the sum of all the days, which is not useful for this metric:

Sales[DaysToDeliver] = INT ( Sales[Delivery Date] - Sales[Order Date] )
The figure shows a table with order date, delivery date, and days to deliver. The grand total of the days to deliver shows the sum of days, which is not useful.
Figure 2-6 The grand total is shown as a sum, when you might want an average instead.

A grand total that we can actually use requires a measure called AvgDelivery showing the delivery time for each order and the average of all the durations at the grand total level:

AvgDelivery := AVERAGE ( Sales[DaysToDeliver] )

The result of this new measure is visible in the report shown in Figure 2-7.

The figure shows the same report as in Figure 2-6 with an additional column, AvgDelivery. AvgDelivery shows the average delivery days at the grand total level.
Figure 2-7 The measure aggregating by average shows the average delivery days at the grand total level.

The measure computes the average value by averaging a calculated column. One could remove the calculated column, thus saving space in the model, by leveraging an iterator. Indeed, although it is true that AVERAGE cannot average an expression, its counterpart AVERAGEX can iterate the Sales table and compute the delivery days row by row, averaging the results at the end. This code accomplishes the same result as the previous definition:

AvgDelivery :=
AVERAGEX (
    Sales,
    INT ( Sales[Delivery Date] - Sales[Order Date] )
)

The biggest advantage of this last expression is that it does not rely on the presence of a calculated column. Thus, we can build the entire report without creating expensive calculated columns.

Most iterators have the same name as their noniterative counterpart. For example, SUM has a corresponding SUMX, and MIN has a corresponding MINX. Nevertheless, keep in mind that some iterators do not correspond to any aggregator. Later in this book, you will learn about FILTER, ADDCOLUMNS, GENERATE, and other functions that are iterators even if they do not aggregate their results.

When you first learn DAX, you might think that iterators are inherently slow. The concept of performing calculations row by row looks like a CPU-intensive operation. Actually, iterators are fast, and no performance penalty is caused by using iterators instead of standard aggregators. Aggregators are just a syntax-sugared version of iterators.

Indeed, the basic aggregation functions are a shortened version of the corresponding X-suffixed function. For example, consider the following expression:

SUM ( Sales[Quantity] )

It is internally translated into this corresponding version of the same code:

SUMX ( Sales, Sales[Quantity] )

The only advantage in using SUM is a shorter syntax. However, there are no differences in performance between SUM and SUMX aggregating a single column. They are in all respects the same function.

We will cover more details about this behavior in Chapter 4. There we introduce the concept of evaluation contexts to describe properly how iterators work.

Using common DAX functions

Now that you have seen the fundamentals of DAX and how to handle error conditions, what follows is a brief tour through the most commonly used functions and expressions of DAX.

Aggregation functions

In the previous sections, we described the basic aggregators like SUM, AVERAGE, MIN, and MAX. You learned that SUM and AVERAGE, for example, work only on numeric columns.

DAX also offers an alternative syntax for aggregation functions inherited from Excel, which adds the suffix A to the name of the function, just to get the same name and behavior as Excel. However, these functions are useful only for columns containing Boolean values because TRUE is evaluated as 1 and FALSE as 0. Text columns are always considered 0. Therefore, no matter what is in the content of a column, if one uses MAXA on a text column, the result will always be a 0. Moreover, DAX never considers empty cells when it performs the aggregation. Although these functions can be used on nonnumeric columns without retuning an error, their results are not useful because there is no automatic conversion to numbers for text columns. These functions are named AVERAGEA, COUNTA, MINA, and MAXA. We suggest that you do not use these functions, whose behavior will be kept unchanged in the future because of compatibility with existing code that might rely on current behavior.

Image Note

Despite the names being identical to statistical functions, they are used differently in DAX and Excel because in DAX a column has a data type, and its data type determines the behavior of aggregation functions. Excel handles a different data type for each cell, whereas DAX handles a single data type for the entire column. DAX deals with data in tabular form with well-defined types for each column, whereas Excel formulas work on heterogeneous cell values without well-defined types. If a column in Power BI has a numeric data type, all the values can be only numbers or empty cells. If a column is of a text type, it is always 0 for these functions (except for COUNTA), even if the text can be converted into a number, whereas in Excel the value is considered a number on a cell-by-cell basis. For these reasons, these functions are not very useful for Text columns. Only MIN and MAX also support text values in DAX.

The functions you learned earlier are useful to perform the aggregation of values. Sometimes, you might not be interested in aggregating values but only in counting them. DAX offers a set of functions that are useful to count rows or values:

  • COUNT operates on any data type, apart from Boolean.

  • COUNTA operates on any type of column.

  • COUNTBLANK returns the number of empty cells (blanks or empty strings) in a column.

  • COUNTROWS returns the number of rows in a table.

  • DISTINCTCOUNT returns the number of distinct values of a column, blank value included if present.

  • DISTINCTCOUNTNOBLANK returns the number of distinct values of a column, no blank value included.

COUNT and COUNTA are nearly identical functions in DAX. They return the number of values of the column that are not empty, regardless of their data type. They are inherited from Excel, where COUNTA accepts any data type including strings, whereas COUNT accepts only numeric columns. If we want to count all the values in a column that contain an empty value, you can use the COUNTBLANK function. Both blanks and empty values are considered empty values by COUNTBLANK. Finally, if we want to count the number of rows of a table, you can use the COUNTROWS function. Beware that COUNTROWS requires a table as a parameter, not a column.

The last two functions, DISTINCTCOUNT and DISTINCTCOUNTNOBLANK, are useful because they do exactly what their names suggest: count the distinct values of a column, which it takes as its only parameter. DISTINCTCOUNT counts the BLANK value as one of the possible values, whereas DISTINCTCOUNTNOBLANK ignores the BLANK value.

Image Note

DISTINCTCOUNT is a function introduced in the 2012 version of DAX. The earlier versions of DAX did not include DISTINCTCOUNT; to compute the number of distinct values of a column, we had to use COUNTROWS (DISTINCT (table[column])). The two patterns return the same result although DISTINCTCOUNT is easier to read, requiring only a single function call. DISTINCTCOUNTNOBLANK is a function introduced in 2019 and it provides the same semantic of a COUNT DISTINCT operation in SQL without having to write a longer expression in DAX.

Logical functions

Sometimes we want to build a logical condition in an expression—for example, to implement different calculations depending on the value of a column or to intercept an error condition. In these cases, we can use one of the logical functions in DAX. The earlier section titled “Handling errors in DAX expressions” described the two most important functions of this group: IF and IFERROR. We described the IF function in the “Conditional statements” section, earlier in this chapter.

Logical functions are very simple and do what their names suggest. They are AND, FALSE, IF, IFERROR, NOT, TRUE, and OR. For example, if we want to compute the amount as quantity multiplied by price only when the Price column contains a numeric value, we can use the following pattern:

Sales[Amount] = IFERROR ( Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Price], BLANK ( ) )

If we did not use IFERROR and if the Price column contained an invalid number, the result for the calculated column would be an error because if a single row generates a calculation error, the error propagates to the whole column. The use of IFERROR, however, intercepts the error and replaces it with a blank value.

Another interesting function in this category is SWITCH, which is useful when we have a column containing a low number of distinct values, and we want to get different behaviors depending on its value. For example, the column Size in the Product table contains S, M, L, XL, and we might want to decode this value in a more explicit column. We can obtain the result by using nested IF calls:

'Product'[SizeDesc] =
IF (
    'Product'[Size] = "S",
    "Small",
    IF (
        'Product'[Size] = "M",
        "Medium",
        IF (
            'Product'[Size] = "L",
            "Large",
            IF (
                'Product'[Size] = "XL",
                "Extra Large",
                "Other"
            )
        )
    )
)

A more convenient way to express the same formula, using SWITCH, is like this:

'Product'[SizeDesc] =
SWITCH (
    'Product'[Size],
    "S", "Small",
    "M", "Medium",
    "L", "Large",
    "XL", "Extra Large",
    "Other"
)

The code in this latter expression is more readable, though not faster, because internally DAX translates SWITCH statements into a set of nested IF functions.

Image Note

SWITCH is often used to check the value of a parameter and define the result of a measure. For example, one might create a parameter table containing YTD, MTD, QTD as three rows and let the user choose from the three available which aggregation to use in a measure. This was a common scenario before 2019. Now it is no longer needed thanks to the introduction of calculation groups, covered in Chapter 9, “Calculation groups.” Calculation groups are the preferred way of computing values that the user can parameterize.

Image Tip

Here is an interesting way to use the SWITCH function to check for multiple conditions in the same expression. Because SWITCH is converted into a set of nested IF functions, where the first one that matches wins, you can test multiple conditions using this pattern:

SWITCH (
   TRUE (),
   Product[Size] = "XL" && Product[Color] = "Red", "Red and XL",
   Product[Size] = "XL" && Product[Color] = "Blue", "Blue and XL",
   Product[Size] = "L" && Product[Color] = "Green", "Green and L"
)

Using TRUE as the first parameter means, “Return the first result where the condition evaluates to TRUE.”

Information functions

Whenever there is the need to analyze the type of an expression, you can use one of the information functions. All these functions return a Boolean value and can be used in any logical expression. They are ISBLANK, ISERROR, ISLOGICAL, ISNONTEXT, ISNUMBER, and ISTEXT.

It is important to note that when a column is passed as a parameter instead of an expression, the functions ISNUMBER, ISTEXT, and ISNONTEXT always return TRUE or FALSE depending on the data type of the column and on the empty condition of each cell. This makes these functions nearly useless in DAX; they have been inherited from Excel in the first DAX version.

You might be wondering whether you can use ISNUMBER with a text column just to check whether a conversion to a number is possible. Unfortunately, this approach is not possible. If you want to test whether a text value is convertible to a number, you must try the conversion and handle the error if it fails. For example, to test whether the column Price (which is of type string) contains a valid number, one must write

Sales[IsPriceCorrect] = NOT ISERROR ( VALUE ( Sales[Price] ) )

DAX tries to convert from a string value to a number. If it succeeds, it returns TRUE (because ISERROR returns FALSE); otherwise, it returns FALSE (because ISERROR returns TRUE). For example, the conversion fails if some of the rows have an “N/A” string value for price.

However, if we try to use ISNUMBER, as in the following expression, we always receive FALSE as a result:

Sales[IsPriceCorrect] = ISNUMBER ( Sales[Price] )

In this case, ISNUMBER always returns FALSE because, based on the definition in the model, the Price column is not a number but a string, regardless of the content of each row.

Mathematical functions

The set of mathematical functions available in DAX is similar to the set available in Excel, with the same syntax and behavior. The mathematical functions of common use are ABS, EXP, FACT, LN, LOG, LOG10, MOD, PI, POWER, QUOTIENT, SIGN, and SQRT. Random functions are RAND and RANDBETWEEN. By using EVEN and ODD, you can test numbers. GCD and LCM are useful to compute the greatest common denominator and least common multiple of two numbers. QUOTIENT returns the integer division of two numbers.

Finally, several rounding functions deserve an example; in fact, we might use several approaches to get the same result. Consider these calculated columns, along with their results in Figure 2-8:

FLOOR = FLOOR ( Tests[Value], 0.01 )
TRUNC = TRUNC ( Tests[Value], 2 )
ROUNDDOWN = ROUNDDOWN ( Tests[Value], 2 )
MROUND = MROUND ( Tests[Value], 0.01 )
ROUND = ROUND ( Tests[Value], 2 )
CEILING = CEILING ( Tests[Value], 0.01 )
ISO.CEILING = ISO.CEILING ( Tests[Value], 0.01 )
ROUNDUP = ROUNDUP ( Tests[Value], 2 )
INT = INT ( Tests[Value] )
FIXED = FIXED ( Tests[Value], 2, TRUE )
The figure shows the values for each calculated column, per test value.
Figure 2-8 This summary shows the results of using different rounding functions.

FLOOR, TRUNC, and ROUNDDOWN are similar except in the way we can specify the number of digits to round. In the opposite direction, CEILING and ROUNDUP are similar in their results. You can see a few differences in the way the rounding is done between MROUND and ROUND function.

Trigonometric functions

DAX offers a rich set of trigonometric functions that are useful for certain calculations: COS, COSH, COT, COTH, SIN, SINH, TAN, and TANH. Prefixing them with A computes the arc version (arcsine, arccosine, and so on). We do not go into the details of these functions because their use is straightforward.

DEGREES and RADIANS perform conversion to degrees and radians, respectively, and SQRTPI computes the square root of its parameter after multiplying it by pi.

Text functions

Most of the text functions available in DAX are similar to those available in Excel, with only a few exceptions. The text functions are CONCATENATE, CONCATENATEX, EXACT, FIND, FIXED, FORMAT, LEFT, LEN, LOWER, MID, REPLACE, REPT, RIGHT, SEARCH, SUBSTITUTE, TRIM, UPPER, and VALUE. These functions are useful for manipulating text and extracting data from strings that contain multiple values. For example, Figure 2-9 shows an example of the extraction of first and last names from a string that contains these values separated by commas, with the title in the middle that we want to remove.

This figure shows the first and last names extracted from a string.
Figure 2-9 This example shows first and last names extracted using text functions.

To achieve this result, you start calculating the position of the two commas. Then we use these numbers to extract the right part of the text. The SimpleConversion column implements a formula that might return inaccurate values if there are fewer than two commas in the string, and it raises an error if there are no commas at all. The FirstLastName column implements a more complex expression that does not fail in case of missing commas:

People[Comma1] = IFERROR ( FIND ( ",", People[Name] ), BLANK ( ) )
People[Comma2] = IFERROR ( FIND ( " ,", People[Name], People[Comma1] + 1 ), BLANK ( ) )
People[SimpleConversion] =
MID ( People[Name], People[Comma2] + 1, LEN ( People[Name] ) )
    & " "
    & LEFT ( People[Name], People[Comma1] - 1 )
People[FirstLastName] =
TRIM (
    MID (
        People[Name],
        IF ( ISNUMBER ( People[Comma2] ), People[Comma2], People[Comma1] ) + 1,
        LEN ( People[Name] )
    )
)
    & IF (
        ISNUMBER ( People[Comma1] ),
        " " & LEFT ( People[Name], People[Comma1] - 1 ),
        ""
    )

As you can see, the FirstLastName column is defined by a long DAX expression, but you must use it to avoid possible errors that would propagate to the whole column if even a single value generates an error.

Conversion functions

You learned previously that DAX performs automatic conversions of data types to adjust them to operator needs. Although the conversion happens automatically, a set of functions can still perform explicit data type conversions.

CURRENCY can transform an expression into a Currency type, whereas INT transforms an expression into an Integer. DATE and TIME take the date and time parts as parameters and return a correct DateTime. VALUE transforms a string into a numeric format, whereas FORMAT gets a numeric value as its first parameter and a string format as its second parameter, and it can transform numeric values into strings. FORMAT is commonly used with DateTime. For example, the following expression returns “2019 Jan 12”:

= FORMAT ( DATE ( 2019, 01, 12 ), "yyyy mmm dd" )

The opposite operation, that is, converting strings into DateTime values, is performed using the DATEVALUE function.

DATEVALUE ( "28/02/2018" ) -- This is February 28 in European format
DATEVALUE ( "02/28/2018" ) -- This is February 28 in American format
DATEVALUE ( "2018-02-28" ) -- This is February 28 (format is not ambiguous)

Date and time functions

In almost every type of data analysis, handling time and dates is an important part of the job. Many DAX functions operate on date and time. Some of them correspond to similar functions in Excel and make simple transformations to and from a DateTime data type. The date and time functions are DATE, DATEVALUE, DAY, EDATE, EOMONTH, HOUR, MINUTE, MONTH, NOW, SECOND, TIME, TIMEVALUE, TODAY, WEEKDAY, WEEKNUM, YEAR, and YEARFRAC.

These functions are useful to compute values on top of dates, but they are not used to perform typical time intelligence calculations such as comparing aggregated values year over year or calculating the year-to-date value of a measure. To perform time intelligence calculations, you use another set of functions called time intelligence functions, which we describe in Chapter 8, “Time intelligence calculations.”

As we mentioned earlier in this chapter, a DateTime data type internally uses a floating-point number wherein the integer part corresponds to the number of days after December 30, 1899, and the decimal part indicates the fraction of the day in time. Hours, minutes, and seconds are converted into decimal fractions of the day. Thus, adding an integer number to a DateTime value increments the value by a corresponding number of days. However, you will probably find it more convenient to use the conversion functions to extract the day, month, and year from a date. The following expressions used in Figure 2-10 show how to extract this information from a table containing a list of dates:

'Date'[Day] = DAY ( Calendar[Date] )
'Date'[Month] = FORMAT ( Calendar[Date], "mmmm" )
'Date'[MonthNumber] = MONTH ( Calendar[Date] )
'Date'[Year] = YEAR ( Calendar[Date] )
The figure shows a few rows of the Calendar table with Date, Day, Month, and Year.
Figure 2-10 This example shows how to extract date information using date and time functions.

Relational functions

Two useful functions that you can use to navigate through relationships inside a DAX formula are RELATED and RELATEDTABLE.

You already know that a calculated column can reference column values of the table in which it is defined. Thus, a calculated column defined in Sales can reference any column of Sales. However, what if one must refer to a column in another table? In general, one cannot use columns in other tables unless a relationship is defined in the model between the two tables. If the two tables share a relationship, you can use the RELATED function to access columns in the related table.

For example, one might want to compute a calculated column in the Sales table that checks whether the product that has been sold is in the “Cell phones” category and, in that case, apply a reduction factor to the standard cost. To compute such a column, one must use a condition that checks the value of the product category, which is not in the Sales table. Nevertheless, a chain of relationships starts from Sales, reaching Product Category through Product and Product Subcategory, as shown in Figure 2-11.

The figure shows a simple data model with Sales, Product, Product Subcategory, and Product Category. Product has a relationship with Product Subcategory, which in turn has a relationship with Product Category.
Figure 2-11 Sales has a chained relationship with Product Category.

Regardless of how many steps are necessary to travel from the original table to the related table, DAX follows the complete chain of relationships, and it returns the related column value. Thus, the formula for the AdjustedCost column can look like this:

Sales[AdjustedCost] =
IF (
    RELATED ( 'Product Category'[Category] ) = "Cell Phone",
    Sales[Unit Cost] * 0.95,
    Sales[Unit Cost]
)

In a one-to-many relationship, RELATED can access the one-side from the many-side because in that case, only one row in the related table exists, if any. If no such row exists, RELATED returns BLANK.

If an expression is on the one-side of the relationship and needs to access the many-side, RELATED is not helpful because many rows from the other side might be available for a single row. In that case, we can use RELATEDTABLE. RELATEDTABLE returns a table containing all the rows related to the current row. For example, if we want to know how many products are in each category, we can create a column in Product Category with this formula:

'Product Category'[NumOfProducts] = COUNTROWS ( RELATEDTABLE ( Product ) )

For each product category, this calculated column shows the number of products related, as shown in Figure 2-12.

The figure shows the Category table with the NumOfProducts column that computes the number of products of each category.
Figure 2-12 You can count the number of products by using RELATEDTABLE.

As is the case for RELATED, RELATEDTABLE can follow a chain of relationships always starting from the one-side and going toward the many-side. RELATEDTABLE is often used in conjunction with iterators. For example, if we want to compute the sum of quantity multiplied by net price for each category, we can write a new calculated column as follows:

'Product Category'[CategorySales] =
SUMX (
    RELATEDTABLE ( Sales ),
    Sales[Quantity] * Sales[Net Price]
)

The result of this calculated column is shown in Figure 2-13.

The figure shows the Category table with the CategorySales column that computes the sales amount of each category.
Figure 2-13 Using RELATEDTABLE and iterators, we can compute the amount of sales per category.

Because the column is calculated, this result is consolidated in the table, and it does not change according to the user selection in the report, as it would if it were written in a measure.

Conclusions

In this chapter, you learned many new functions and started looking at some DAX code. You may not remember all the functions right away, but the more you use them, the more familiar they will become.

The more crucial topics you learned in this chapter are

  • Calculated columns are columns in a table that are computed with a DAX expression. Calculated columns are computed at data refresh time and do not change their value depending on user selection.

  • Measures are calculations expressed in DAX. Instead of being computed at refresh time like calculated columns are, measures are computed at query time. Consequently, the value of a measure depends on the user selection in the report.

  • Errors might happen at any time in a DAX expression; it is preferable to detect the error condition beforehand rather than letting the error happen and intercepting it after the fact.

  • Aggregators like SUM are useful to aggregate columns, whereas to aggregate expressions, you need to use iterators. Iterators work by scanning a table and evaluating an expression row by row. At the end of the iteration, iterators aggregate a result according to their semantics.

In the next chapter, you will continue on your learning path by studying the most important table functions available in DAX.

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