A technical blog about my projects, challenges, and discoveries in the world of data warehousing using SQL Server, Power BI Desktop, DevExpress, and more.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bit and Sum() in Reporting Services

The bit data type is normally used to record Boolean true/false data, with a 0 for false and a 1 for true. It might also represent yes/no data, with a 0 for no and a 1 for yes. When it comes to reporting on this type of data, it is normally represented with a checkbox or a word. It is not normally an additive value.

But consider the circumstance of an attendance history table with a bit column for "attended" paired with a column for a "person_id" and a "date." In a report it would be logical to add up the "attended" column values to arrive at a "times attended" total. And that is exactly what I recently tried to do, only to discover what I am about to share.

In SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS), the bit data type is represented in the results display by a 0 or a 1. If you try to put a bit column into a SUM() aggregate function, you will receive an error message that lets you know that the bit type is invalid for the SUM() operator. But that is not a big problem because you can CAST the data type into tinyint, and then it adds up to yield a positive number that is the sum of all the 1s and 0s in the included set of rows.

By contrast, in Business Intelligence Development Studio (aka BIDS - Visual Studio optimized for Reporting Services), the bit data type is represented by the words True and False. Just like in SSMS, if you try to put a bit data type in a Sum() function, you will receive an error. Once again this seems like no big deal because you can use CInt() to convert the data type to an integer.

But here's the rub: BIDS considers a "true" bit to be a -1, not a 1. That means the Sum() of a converted bit data type will be a negative number that is the sum of -1s and 0s in the included set of rows.

I discovered this when my formula for "percent attended" was yielding negative values even though, when I checked the numbers in SSMS, all I saw were positive numbers. It took a little digging to figure out that SSMS and BIDS where interpreting "True" in equal but opposite ways (1 and -1 respectively).

So the conclusion is this: if you are going to use a bit data type as an additive value in BIDS and Reporting Services, convert it first in the SQL statement to a tinyint data type. That will keep everything positive.

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