Review: ActiveReports

ActiveReports for .NET Standard Edition
Data Dynamics, Ltd.
Columbus, Ohio
(614) 895-3142

Recently I got involved in a project where I needed to generate a bunch of reports from ASP.NET and make them available in PDF format. After talking to a few people, reading some recommendations, and trying a few of the contenders, we settled on ActiveReports for .NET for the project. This has proven to be a very good choice, and I thought I'd share some of the details with you.

First, I ought to make it clear that ActiveReports is more than an ASP.NET product; it works as well (or better) in Windows Forms solutions. But I've been using it excusively in ASP.NET so far. Designing a report is easy, and very well integrated with Visual Studio .NET: create the new report object, specify the SQL statement that supplies its data, and start dragging and dropping controls. The report designer itself will feel perfectly familiar to anyone who's coming from a Microsoft Access background; there's a field list, and properties for everything, and a banded scheme that lets you group the data (in fact, you can even import Access reports to the product if you're converting an existing Access database).

Reports can be bound to SqlClient or OleDb data sources (though I was disappointed not to be able to drag and drop a stored procedure from Server Explorer to avoid the step of pasting in SQL statements), or to XML. One critical feature for us is the ability to change the data at runtime; this is easy too, since all of the necessary binding and formatting events are exposed. A few lines of code and you can set whatever data source you like.

You can export reports to HTML, TIF, Excel, RTF, or text files, as well as the PDFs that we needed. I initially had a problem getting the PDF reports to show in the browser without saving them to disk first, but the Data Dynamics support Web site quickly produced the few lines of code needed to convince IE that a stream was a valid PDF document. With that minor bit of programming, the functionality works perfectly, and we get to leverage users' familiarity with using and saving PDF in the browser.

The price is right, too. The $499 per developer standard edition lets you distribute all the reports you like, royalty-free. There's also a $1299 professional edition that adds a report designer for end users and report caching features for ASP.NET applications. If you've got the requirement to generate high-quality reports in a .NET application, this is definitely software worth checking out.

About the Author

Mike Gunderloy has been developing software for a quarter-century now, and writing about it for nearly as long. He walked away from a .NET development career in 2006 and has been a happy Rails user ever since. Mike blogs at A Fresh Cup.


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