JavaScript API

Tableau and Write-Back – Together At Last

Editor’s Note: Huge thanks to special contributor Gordon Rose for this blog post.

Tableau helps people see and understand their data – and guarantees that it in the process, it will never make any changes to that data. Tableau is a strictly read-only technology. However, many customers want the ability to modify the data that lies behind a Tableau visualization (Viz), and then, either see those changes immediately reflected in the Viz and/or make other applications aware of those changes. With a small amount of supporting technology, Tableau’s read-only behavior can easily be integrated into so-called “write-back” use cases.

In this blog article, we’ll explore a way to do exactly that – one in which the write-back components are external to the Viz. An alternative approach is one in which those components are more tightly integrated into the Viz itself – that’s for a later blog article to explore. Ideally you will find that you can use one of these two approaches as a launching point for the development of your own write-back use case.

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Using getData in Tableau 10 to create tables from any Viz

Tableau 10’s JavaScript API has a new getData interface which allows you to get summary and underlying data directly as JavaScript objects. I’ve already shown a use case to use these methods for simply grabbing values. But a wider use case is creating an HTML table from any Tableau visualization, particularly if 508 compliance requires that you make all data available via a screen reader. Even if you don’t need compliance, you may just want to control how Tableau displays its underlying data. The full working example is here on GitHub.

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Reverting to the Original View through the JavaScript API

An interesting use case came in from a customer today, asking about something that is hinted at in the documentation of the JavaScript API, but not fully spelled out. They wanted to know how to replicate the ‘Original View’ button in the toolbar. After a bit of testing, I found out something new and not particularly well documented.

The Workbook class of the JS API has the methods for working with the CustomViews, to know which exist, to choose one, or to save a new one. All good — but how to do you interact with the ‘Original View’?

You can do Workbook.getCustomViewsAsync() to an Array of CustomView objects, which have properties which you can use to load any particular one. But interestingly, the ‘Original View’ does not come through in this array; if there are no custom views, the array is empty, and the ‘Original View’ does not appear even after some custom views have been created.

The setCustomViewAsync() method takes a string Name parameter, which will make the workbook switch to the custom view with that name (You can get this name using the getName() method of any CustomView object). However, passing the string ‘Original View’ does not work; you will get an error.

After some testing, I found that if you use the setCustomViewAsync() method without passing any parameter for name, it reverts back to the Original View. I realize this is not clear at all from the documentation, but I’ve tested it out and it appears to work. So reverting back to the Original View is as simple as:


book = viz.getWorkbook();

book.setCustomViewAsync().then( function (e) { // do whatever...});

Embedding Multiple Tableau Views in a Single Page

The Tableau JavaScript API is flexible and lets you embed multiple views, each as its own Viz object, in a single page. You can use this for multiple purposes:

  • Having a “single page application” that just loads the correct Tableau Server view
  • Loading multiple Views at the same time, allowing you to build a “dashboard of dashboards”
  • Have a second workbook that stays hidden until called (possibly triggered by an action on the first that a JS API event listener listens for)
  • Do smooth constant refreshes, by having two Viz objects of the same view, and moving one behind the other until it is has fully refreshed, then swapping it out

What do you need to make any of these work? At minimum, some mechanism for identifying which Viz object is which. In most cases, you’ll also want to track what should be visible at any given time, and what should be on top.

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Holy Sheets: Understanding the Tableau Server JavaScript API

I love the JavaScript API tutorial on Tableau’s site, but even though this is my day job, the JavaScript API Reference still takes me in circles sometimes before I’ve figured out exactly how to solve a specific problem. I’m going to share what I’ve learned over the years, both explanations and some code for solving common problems.

How did I find these things out? There is the API Reference, as well as the Concepts page, which both provide different views and examples. I’ve paired that with a lot of testing using Firefox with Firebug and Chrome’s developer tools. Often the best way to understand what is happening is to do console.log(object); on a particular variable and compare against the API Reference to understand exactly what class you are dealing with at that moment.

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Setting Filter and Parameters Prior to Load using JavaScript API

Today I took a look at the updated Tableau JavaScript API documentation just for a quick reminder of some syntax, and noticed something I’d never seen before on this page.

“Academic Year” : “” … that seems to be a field name. I changed mine to see if I could set individual values:


options = {
hideTabs: true,
"Gender": "Men",
"College" : ["Arts & Sciences", "Communication"],
"YEAR([Date])" : [2009, 2010],
onFirstInteractive: function () {
console.log("Run this code when the viz has finished loading.");
}
};

and sure enough it worked. I’ve tested on 9.1, 9.2 and 9.3. Russell Christopher assures me this has always been possible, just never been documented. This means you can set the values for a filter prior to load, rather than loading the viz and then applying a FilterAsync action, which requires a reload. If you are setting the values of filters programmatically at load time, this could greatly improve your overall load times.

I’ve tested with Parameters as well — the same syntax works. I’m sure that as with URL parameters, you need your Tableau Parameter names to be distinct from any Field Names, otherwise Tableau will apply your value to filter the Field rather than changing the parameter. You can’t yet set continuous or relative date filters this way, but if you use parameters to make the date filter start and end dates, you can set the parameter values prior to load using this technique.

Note on Security: This mechanism is actually just a fast translation method to the existing URL parameters for filters and Tableau Parameters. It has all of the same limitations and definitely passes all the values across in the URL string of the GET request. So don’t ever use it to pass any values that should be secured or hidden.