Extensions in Tableau and “Extension” across the ocean

Nowadays, we are big on extensions. Starschema opened its new office across the Pond in D.C. Settling into our office in a usual American highrise building, many people wanted to know what our company is doing, and how they can relate to our business. People are naturally curious.

The second day, our neighboring office workers stopped by, and got very excited when they saw we are working with Tableau. They are also using the system for their own business.

My newfound D.C. work friends wanted to know more about Tableau, and how they can create more custom analysis that are artsy and impressive at the same time.


They looked at me, and wondered: What are extensions?

Extensions are small html applications hosted on external web servers, which can interact with the Tableau Dashboard Data in a bidirectional way. It can get and update data, watch for changes, and custom your visualization.

As Francois Ajenstat, Chief Product Officer at Tableau said: “The Extensions API in Tableau 2018.2 unleashes the innovation of our community. For the first time, customers, partners, and developers can add new functionality right into the Tableau platform. From custom visualizations and write-back, to advanced and predictive analytics, the possibilities are endless and only limited by a developer’s creativity.”

Extensions are opening a new window for customization. Developers and partners will be able to create new functionalities leveraging on the Extensions API, and extending and customizing the power of Tableau like never before.

Few of the top use cases of these extensions include, image filter, visual date filter (Brush filter), tracking user actions, writing back data to backend databases, etc. Extensions show analysis of your visualization, and still keep your dashboard looking beautiful and eye-catching.

How to use them?

Let’s see a basic example. All of us have some experience with date range filters and they are working very well in Tableau. However, they are just not that pretty, and in some cases cumbersome to use due to their small sizes. There is a nice extension built by my colleague at Starschema that can give an alternate way to select dates using brush filters. I will use the basic superstore sales dashboard that you can find in your desktop too, and replace its date filter with this new, improved extension based one.

But how to actually use it? — my office neighbors asked.

All you need to do is to open your Tableau Desktop. Adding an Extension to your dashboard could not be easier. Just choose one from your Tableau Desktop 2018.2 version, or from your Tableau Server in web authoring and drag the Extension object from the Objects anywhere on your Dashboard. Then, Tableau will ask, if you want to use it from your own extensions, or one from your extension gallery. TABLEAU EXTENSION GALLERY is Tableau’s First Stop Shop to get new extensions, that can be used immediately. All of these extensions were carefully selected by Tableau Software, so you can trust them. You can choose from many.

You can download the extension of your choice to your own desktop, to “My extensions.” Now, that extension is always loaded into the Tableau Desktop. In the future, you will be able to insert your choice of extension from the Tableau Extension Gallery directly into your Dashboard, but this function is not available in the beta store yet.

Here is something important. Never trust something that you don’t know where it is coming from. It is just as valid for Tableau Extensions as for any mobile or desktop application. You can trust any extension downloaded from the Tableau Gallery, but it is always highly recommended to check the trustworthiness of any extension coming from outside the Tableau Gallery with an IT security expert before actually downloading it.

Every extension can access the aggregated or full data. These extensions are programs written in JavaScript running inside your Desktop or web browser in case Server. These programs are able to post any data outside your internal network. Thus, you should NEVER, ever trust an extension coming from outside of the Tableau Gallery or Untrusted Developers. Only allow those extensions that are unharmful for your environment.

The first thing you have to do when using brush filter is configuring your extension. You should specify a selected sheet where your data is located, and set a date dimension and a measure to display.

My new office neighbors found this really cool, but they were afraid that now this Tableau Extension would mess up their beautifully created dashboard, and it would stand out too much from their visualization.

I assured them, they do not need to worry about it.

You can make the extensions look like as it was part of your dashboard, using the same color, the same style.

Now you are done, and you can just filter your data visually in a very nice, interactive way. Please note, if you make changes in your dashboard, your extension will change accordingly as well, and vice versa. It is a bidirectional interaction.

The great news is that you can use this not only in the Tableau Dashboard, but also on your Tableau Server or Online. One interesting thing is, that the published dashboard’s Tableau extensions are not running on your Server, but in your browser. They are interacting with the server, and they mostly consume capacity and resources from your browser.

Brush filter, pictured below.

You can also choose extensions that can bring 3D visualization into your dashboard.

Pretty cool, yeah?

If you are in the need some custom extension development expertise, reach out to us anytime.

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