Pentaho Reporting extensions points

Pentaho Reporting provides several extension points for developers to add new capabilities to the reporting engine. When you look at the code of both the reporting engine and the report-designer, you can easily see many of the existing modules.

Each extension point comes with a meta-data structures and is initialized during the boot-up process. The engine provides the following extension points:

  • Formula Functions
  • Named Function and Expressions
  • Data-Sources
  • Report Pre-Processors
  • Elements
    • Attributes
    • Styles

Formula functions are part of LibFormula. LibFormula is Pentaho’s adaption of the OpenFormula standard. OpenFormula is a vendor independent specification for spreadsheet calculations. Formula functions provide a very easy way to extend the formula language with new elements without having to worry about the details of the evaluation process. It is perfect if you want to encapuslate an calculation and still be flexible to use it in a general purpose calculation.

Named functions and expressions are the bread-and-butter system to calculate values in a report. Expressions can be chained together by referencing the name of an other expression or database field. Named functions are the only way to calculate values over multiple rows. Adding functions is relatively easy, as named functions only need the implementation as well as the necessary metadata.

Data-Sources are responsible for querying external systems and to provide the report with tabular massdata. Pentaho reporting already ships with data-sources for relational data, OLAP, a PDI data-source that executes ETL-Transformations to compute the data for the report and various scripting options. Adding a data-source is more complex, as an implementor needs to write the datasource, the meta-data and the xml-parsing and writing capabilities. In addition to that, the author needs to provide a UI to configure their new data-source.

With Pentaho Reporting 4.0 we add two additional data-source options, which make it easier to create new data-sources.

The first option uses our ETL tool as backend to parametrize template-transformations. Therefore a data-source developer only has to provide the transformation template, and the system will automatically provide the persistence as well as all dialogs needed to configure the data-source.

The second option uses a small parametrized Java-Class, similar to formula expressions. These calculations, called sequences, are managed by the Seqence-Data-Source, which takes care of all persistence and all UI needs.

Report-Pre-Processors are specialized handlers that are called just before the report is executed the first time. They allow you to alter the structure of the report based on parameter values or query results. These implementations are ‘heavy stuff’ for the advanced user or system integrator.

Last but not least, you can create new element types. Elements hold all data and style information to produce a renderable data-object. The reporting engine expects elements to return either text (with additional hooks to return raw objects for export-types who can handle them), graphics or other elements. An element that produces other elements for printing acts as a macro-processor and can return any valid content object, including bands and subreports.

Element metadata is split into 3 parts. The element itself is a union of the element’s type, attributes and style information. Implementing new basic elements requires you to write a new ElementType implementation (the code that computes the printable content) and to declare all styles and attributes the element uses.

The available style-options are largely defined by the capabilities of the underlying layout engine and thus relatively static in their composition.

An element’s attributes is a more free-form collection of data. Elements can contain any object as attributes. The build-in xml-parser and writer handles all common primitive types (string, numbers, dates and arrays thereof). If you want to use more complex data structures, you may have to write the necessary xml-parser and writer handlers yourself.

This entry was posted in Architecture, Development, Report Designer & Engine on by .

About Thomas

After working as all-hands guy and lead developer on Pentaho Reporting for over an decade, I have learned a thing or two about report generation, layouting and general BI practices. I have witnessed the remarkable growth of Pentaho Reporting from a small niche product to a enterprise class Business Intelligence product. This blog documents my own perspective on Pentaho Reporting's development process and our our steps towards upcoming releases.