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Data is at the heart of Power BI. You can explore data by creating charts and dashboards, or by asking questions with Q&A. The visualizations and answers get their underlying data from a dataset, which comes from a data source.
This article covers the data source types you can connect to from the Power BI service. There are many other types of data sources. To use these other data sources in the Power BI service, you might need to use Power BI Desktop or Excel's advanced data query and modeling features first. For more information, see Other data sources.
To get data from Power BI data sources:
On your Power BI site, select Get data in the bottom-left corner of the page.
Under Discover content or Create new content, choose how you want to get data.
The Discover content section offers data and reports that are already prepared for you. Select My organization to discover apps published by other people in your organization, or select Services to choose apps from online services that you use.
Many services have template apps for Power BI. Most services require you to have an account. For more information, see Connect to services you use with Power BI.
Create new content
The Create new content section has options for you to create or import content. Power BI has two ways to create or import your own content, Files and Databases.
Excel workbooks, or .xlsx and .xlsm files, can include different data types. For example, workbooks can include data you enter into worksheets yourself, or data that you query and load from external data sources by using Power Query. Power Query is available through Get & Transform Data on the Data tab of Excel, or through Get External Data in Power Pivot. You can import data from tables in worksheets, or import data from a data model. For more information, see Get data from files for Power BI.
Power BI Desktop or .pbix report files query and load data from external data sources to create reports. In Power BI Desktop, you can extend your data model with measures and relationships, and publish the .pbix files to the Power BI service. Power BI Desktop is for advanced users who have a good understanding of their data sources, data query and transformation, and data modeling. For more information, see Connect to data in Power BI Desktop.
Comma-separated value or .csv files are simple text files with rows of data that contain values separated by commas. For example, a .csv file that contains name and address data might have many rows, each with values for first name, last name, street address, city, and state. You can't import data into a .csv file, but many applications, like Excel, can save simple table data as .csv files.
For other file types, like XML (.xml) or text (.txt), you can use Excel Get & Transform Data or Power BI Desktop Get data to query, transform, and load the data first. You can then import the Excel or Power BI Desktop file into the Power BI service.
Where you store your files makes a significant difference. OneDrive provides the greatest flexibility and integration with Power BI. You can also keep your files on your local drive, but if you need to refresh the data, there are a few extra steps. For more information, see Get data from files for Power BI.
From the Power BI service, you can connect live to the following databases in the cloud:
- Azure SQL Database
- Azure Synapse Analytics, formerly SQL Data Warehouse
- Spark on Azure HDInsight
Connections from Power BI to these databases are live. For example, you can connect to an Azure SQL Database and begin to explore its data by creating reports in Power BI. Whenever you slice data or add a field to a visualization, Power BI queries the database directly. For more information, see Azure and Power BI.
For other database types, you need to use Power BI Desktop or Excel to connect to, query, and load data into a data model. You can then import that file into Power BI where a dataset exists. If you configure scheduled refresh, Power BI uses the configuration and connection information from the file to connect directly to the data source. Power BI queries for updates and loads the updates into the dataset. For more information, see Connect to data in Power BI Desktop.
Other data sources
You can use hundreds of different data sources with Power BI. The data must be in a format consumable by the Power BI service. Power BI can then use the data to create reports and dashboards and answer questions with Q&A.
Some data sources already have data formatted for the Power BI service. These sources are similar to template apps from service providers like Google Analytics and Twilio. SQL Server Analysis Services tabular model databases are also ready to use.
In other cases, you might have to query and load the data you want into a file. For example, your organization might store logistics data in a data warehouse database on a server. But the Power BI service can connect to that database and explore its data only if it's a tabular model database. You can use Power BI Desktop or Excel to query and load the logistics data into a tabular data model that you then save as a file. You can import that file into Power BI where a dataset exists.
If the logistics data in the database changes every day, you can refresh the Power BI dataset. When you import the data into the dataset, you also import the connection information from Power BI Desktop or the Excel file.
If you configure a scheduled refresh or do a manual refresh on the dataset, Power BI uses the connection information with other settings to connect directly to the database. Power BI then queries for updates and loads those updates into the dataset. You probably need a Power BI gateway to secure any data transfer between an on-premises server and Power BI. When the transfer is complete, visualizations in reports and dashboards refresh automatically.
So even if you can't connect to your data source directly from the Power BI service, you can still get your data into Power BI. It just takes a few more steps and maybe some help from your IT department. For more information, see Data sources in Power BI Desktop.
Datasets and data sources
Power BI frequently uses the terms dataset and data source, and often uses them synonymously. But datasets and data sources are two different things, although they're related.
Power BI creates a dataset automatically when you use Get data to connect to and import data from a template app, file, or live data source. A dataset contains information about the data source and data source credentials. The dataset also often includes a subset of data copied from the data source. When you create visualizations in reports and dashboards, you often look at data from the dataset.
The data in a dataset comes from a data source. For example, data could come from the following data sources:
- An online service like Google Analytics or QuickBooks
- A database in the cloud like Azure SQL Database
- A database or file on a local computer or a server in your organization
If you save your file on a local drive or a drive in your organization, you might need a Power BI gateway to be able to refresh the dataset in Power BI. The computer that stores the file must be running at refresh time. You can also reimport your file, or use Publish from Excel or Power BI Desktop, but those options aren't automated processes.
If you save your files on OneDrive for work or school or SharePoint - Team Sites, your dataset, reports, and dashboard are always up-to-date. Because both OneDrive and Power BI are in the cloud, Power BI can connect directly to your files or import the files into Power BI. Power BI connects about once every hour and checks for updates. The dataset and any visualizations refresh automatically if there are any updates.
Template apps from services also automatically update, once a day in most cases. You can manually refresh, but whether you see updated data depends on the service provider. Updates to template apps from people in your organization depend on the data sources they use, and how the app creator configured the refresh.
Azure SQL Database, Azure Synapse Analytics (formerly SQL Data Warehouse), and Spark on Azure HDInsight are cloud data sources. The Power BI service is also in the cloud, so Power BI can connect to those data sources live by using DirectQuery. With DirectQuery, Power BI is always in sync, and you don't need to set up a scheduled refresh.
SQL Server Analysis Services is a live connection to Power BI just like an Azure cloud database. The difference is that the database is on a server in your organization. This type of connection requires a Power BI gateway, which an IT department can configure.
Data refresh is an important part of Power BI. For a thorough understanding of data refresh, see Data refresh in Power BI.
Considerations and limitations
Data sources for the Power BI service have the following limitations. Other limitations apply to specific features, but the following list applies to the full Power BI service:
Dataset size limit. Datasets stored in shared capacities in the Power BI service have a 1-GB size limit. For larger datasets, use Power BI Premium.
Distinct values in a column. When a Power BI dataset caches data in Import mode, it can store a limit of 1,999,999,997 distinct values in a column.
Row limit. When you use DirectQuery, Power BI imposes a limit on the query results that it sends to your underlying data source. If the query sent to the data source returns more than one million rows, you see an error and the query fails. The underlying data can still contain more than one million rows. You're unlikely to reach this limit, because most reports aggregate the data into smaller sets of results.
Column limit. The maximum number of columns allowed across all tables in a dataset is 16,000 columns. This limit applies to the Power BI service and to datasets Power BI Desktop uses. Power BI uses this limit to track the number of both columns and tables in the dataset, which means the maximum number of columns is 16,000 minus one for each table in the dataset.
Data source user limit. The maximum number of data sources allowed per user is 1000. This limit applies to the Power BI service only.
- Connect to services you use with Power BI
- Get data from files for Power BI
- Data refresh in Power BI
- DirectQuery in Power BI
- What is an on-premises data gateway?
- Data sources in Power BI Desktop