BIRT : the reporting tool chosen by Centreon BI

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BIRT is the open source business intelligence reporting tool that we chose to design Centreon BI reports.

Creating reports with BIRT can be made in 3 main steps:

  • Connect to data sources
  • Extract relevant data from the data sources to for the report
  • Layout and format the report

BIRT objective is to visualize your business data in tabular or graphical statistics. Even if BIRT allows you to connect different data sources in the same report, its use is not suitable for heavy calculations or aggregations that should be performed by an ETL (Extract Transform Load).

birt tool_centreonBI_1This article will only approach the report design (blue zone in the diagram above) and the main concepts of BIRT:

  • Data sources
  • Data sets
  • Data binding
  • Report parameters
  • Layout components (grids, tables and charts)
  • BIRT libraries
  • BIRT templates


In order to design a single report, you may need to connect to several data sources stored in different storage systems and accessible via different protocols:

  • Flat files (CSV)
  • JDBC data sources (MySQL, …)
  • XML documents
  • Web services

BIRT also allows you to script your own data source, accessing data via Java or Javascript objects.

However, it’s highly recommended to collect, consolidate and store reporting data in a single type data source (MySQL data source for example, with maybe multiple database connections). Multiplying your data sources in a report will generate performance and maintenance issues.
Use a maximum of 2 types of data sources in the same report project (for example : JDBC and CSV).

Configuration of a data source :

birt tool_data sources_centreonBI_2DATA SETS

You can extract a sample of data from an application database or a large CSV file. The BIRT “data set” allows to write queries or select specific data from simple or complex data sources.
The different data sets defined in a report will contain all the available data to report using tables, charts, etc.

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Once the data set is created, the selected data must be formatted in the report. To obtain a graph or a table populated with data, you will need to perform a “data binding” between a data set and a graphic component such as a table or a chart.
The data binding will copy the data set structure in the configuration of the graphical component. The complete structure (columns) of the data set doesn’t need to be copied to the layout component. Only the needed columns can be selected (best practice).
The data binding is set at the creation of a table or a chart:

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If the data set structure is modified and you need to apply this modification in your layout component (for example: retrieval of a new column in the data set that must be used in your previously created chart), you will need to use the property editor of your table or chart component to update the binding:

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The report parameters are global variables set before the report generation. The main usage of report parameters is to avoid static values defined in the report.

  • If the report must be generated for a specific period, this period could be defined with two parameters (which types would be “Date Time”) identifying the period start and the period end dates;
  • If the report is generated for a specific host group, this host group can be specified by a report parameter.

Using report parameter will also allow to use the same report design to display different statistics depending on the reporting parameters.
Example:  the same Centreon Availability report could be generated for different host groups and for different reporting periods.

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The grid component is mainly used to organize the report elements.
Best practice : Each component of a report (chart, table, label, text, etc) must be inserted in a grid cell.

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The table is used to display dynamic content in a row and column format. The values of a table vary depending on the data set used for the data binding

Structure of a table

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  • Header: displays the column title or a dynamic summary information calculate according to the listed values in the detail rows. The header row can be repeated at the beginning of each section if the table is displayed in several pages.
  • Detail row: a new detail row will be created to display each row from the linked data set.
  • Footer: Summary information such as total, average values from the detail rows can be displayed once in the last row of the table.

Grouping & aggregating data

A data set can return a large set of rows. These rows can be sorted and organized with the grouping functionality of a table. It is possible to create as many groups as columns available in a table. Each group created will add 2 rows in the table :

  • The group header: avoid the duplicated entries for the column used to create the group and allows the calculation of summary values by entry of the group ;
  • The group footer: avoid the duplicated entries for the column used to create the group and allows the calculation of summary values by entry of the group.

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The creation of a chart is made in 3 main steps:

The graph type selection

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The data binding

The data binding for a chart can be performed by inheritance when the chart is inserted in a cell of a table. Depending on the location of the chart, the chart will inherit from all or part of the data resulting from the table:

  • Chart inserted in the table header or footer : the chart will inherit all the data from the table
  • Chart inserted in a group header or footer : the chart will inherit only the filtered data from the group.

The data inheritance from the parent component is necessary when we need to reuse the group level aggregations in a chart.

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The chart formatting

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A report can contain a large number of components (data sources, data sets, charts, tables). Some components developed in a specific report can be needed in another report. In order to avoid the development of an existing component in a new report, the component can be stored in a library.
BIRT libraries (.rptlibrary files) are used to store components that will be shared between several reports.

  • Time saving in the development of a report;
  • Easy maintenance of the reports. The bug fix or the component modification in the library will be applied to every report using this component;
  • A component coming from a library can be overloaded in a report in order to modify the appearance or the parameters of the component.

Principle of operation:

  • Each report project has a specific resource folder that stores all the shared resources that can be accessed in the report via a relative path : images, BIRT rptlibrary files, CSS files, …;
  • The “resource explorer” panel in Eclipse BIRT navigates in the resource (rptlibrary) and select by drag-and-drop the component we need to import in the report;
  • Each component imported from a library is displayed with a specific icon (chain link) in the report.

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The report templates (.rpttemplate) is very different from the report libraries. The goal of a report template is to provide a starting point for a new report.
A report template can contain :

  • The layout for a new report
  • The master pages
  • data sources
  • data sets
  • graphical components
  • scripting

Every component that you re-use each time you start the development of a new report can be stored in a template. These components can also be imported from BIRT libraries.
A report created from a template doesn’t maintain any relation with the original template because the content of the template is duplicated in the new report. In consequence, any modification applied in a template is never propagated in the reports that used this template.

More about Centreon BI on the Centreon website.

Let’s discover the BIRT project and the BIRT community !

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