Power BI Sharing Methods Comparison – All in One Review

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You have published your Power BI report, and want to share it with others. Now you see that you can share it through basic sharing, workspaces, Apps, publish to web, Power BI embedded, and SharePoint online. The wide range of this variety of methods for sharing makes it confusing to choose the right method. I have done some conference sessions so far explaining the difference between methods in details, and I feel this is an important need to know before sharing content with users. In this post, you will learn about all different methods of sharing, pros and cons of each, and scenarios that you can use each method for. At the end of this post, you will be able to choose the best sharing mechanism for sharing your Power BI reports. To learn more about Power BI, read Power BI book from Rookie to Rock Star.

What Sharing methods will be covered in this post

In this post you will only hear about sharing methods that are interactive and cloud based. We won’t talk about sharing the *.pbix file with others, that is a method of sharing obviously, but it is not what we consider as a proper sharing method. We won’t talk about exporting a Power BI report into Power Point slide and sharing with others, because it is not interactive. We won’t talk about taking an screenshot of Power BI report and sharing with others. Also we won’t talk about sharing through on-premises solutions with Power BI report server. That is a separate topic. In this post, we just focus on cloud-based, interactive methods of sharing Power BI reports. This post, only covers below methods of sharing:

Basic Sharing for Dashboards and Reports

This is the most common way of sharing the Power BI content. However, it is not always the best way of sharing. Basic Sharing is very simple and easy to use method. You can simply click on the Share button in the dashboard or report, and then share it with other users.

this method of Sharing gives users two levels of access: Read-only, or Read-only and re-share

by default when you share a Power BI dashboard with this method, then the report and the data set will be shared as well. However, you can go to Manage Permission, and set up permission specifically for every item if you want.

users can easily click on “Shared with me” section of their profile,, and they will see all reports and dashboards shared with them from there.

This method of sharing has some pros and cons;

Advantages of Dashboard Sharing

Dashboard sharing is the most basic way of sharing content in Power BI. This method is quick and easy to set up. You don’t need to have a lot of steps to set up sharing of the dashboard. The ability to share it very quickly makes this method the most common method of sharing for testing.

If you have created a Power BI content and want to share it with others easily just for Testing, one of your first options in Dashboard sharing.

Disadvantages of Dashboard Sharing

Dashboard sharing is simple; however, it has many drawbacks, which makes it hard to be used in production. I do not recommend using this method to share Power BI content with users in production environment because of reasons mentioned below;

No Edit Access

With Dashboard sharing, you cannot specify edit access. For end users, you never want to give edit access, however, if you are working with a team of developers, and you want to provide them with access to edit the content, you cannot do that with dashboard sharing. You have to use other methods of sharing, which will come in next few posts.

Share Objects one at a time

You can only share one dashboard at a time. What if you wanted to share hundreds of dashboards? You must go to each dashboard, and share items individually. Sharing every single dashboard would add a lot of maintenance overhead to your work. Best would be having all contents under a group and sharing it with others at once.

To read more in details about basic sharing, read this post.

Workspaces

Workspaces are created to cover the main two limitations of the basic sharing; Edit access, and sharing multiple objects. With a workspace, you can share as many as items you have in that workspace at once. You can also decide the access level of the workspace to be either Edit, or Read-Only. Workspaces because of these two features are heavily used as collaborative development environments.

You can have two levels of access; Edit, or Read-Only for a workspace

Workspaces also have advantages and disadvantages, let’s check these out:

Advantages of Workspaces

Sharing multiple Contents with Team

You may have shared a dashboard with a couple of your colleagues in your organization, after few weeks a need for new dashboard comes up, and you share that dashboard with them. A couple of months later another member of your team asks for access to a dataset in Power BI to be able to create a report and share with some others. Power BI workspaces enable you to share content (dashboard, report, and data set) with all members of a group. You don’t need to share each dashboard with each user; groups made it easy for you.

Multiple Work Spaces

It is hectic environment when you are part of multiple teams, and each team has their own set of dashboards, reports, and datasets. Your “shared with me” section in Power BI will be hundreds of items and find something there would be a problem. Power BI workspaces create a separate environment for all members of the group. You can easily switch between workspaces in Power BI.

Isolated User/Group Administration

When you share content with an individual in the organization, if that person leaves the company, or be replaced by someone else from another team, then you have to remove sharing from a previous user account and assign it to the new user account. Best practice is to share content with groups. And members of Groups then easily can be managed by an administrator. Power BI workspaces are fully synchronized with Office 365 groups. Once you used a group in Power BI, then it is only an admin’s task to add/remove members from it.

Best Developer Environment

For a team of developers, you need an environment to share multiple Power BI content. Everyone needs to have edit access to the content provided by the team. Power BI workspace is the perfect solution for the development environment. You can create a workspace as a development environment and then share it with other members of developer team with Edit access. Then you all have access to the same content in your development workspace.

Power BI workspace is the perfect solution for development environment

Disadvantages of workspace

Workspaces are useful because of reasons above. However, there are some drawbacks.

Not good for End Users

Workspaces are not good to share content with end users. You may wonder why is that? You can give users of the workspace read-only access to the content. However, this is half of the requirement. In an end-user sharing environment, one of the primary requirements is to have development and user environment separated from each other.

Assume that you have created a workspace and shared it with end users. If you suddenly make changes in the workspace while they are using it, then their view of the world breaks and changes.

With one workspace your development, and user environment are the same.

You cannot use one workspace to be shared between developers and users. Creating multiple workspaces also brings another challenge.

Overhead of Multiple workspaces

If you have multiple workspaces, then moving or copying content between workspaces is not possible (at the time of writing this blog post it is not possible, very soon it will be available). The limitation above means you must re-create your dashboards in every workspace. The overhead maintenance costs of such scenario are high.

To learn more about Workspaces, read this post.

Power BI App

workspaces are great way of sharing content with users, but when it comes to have a development and user environment, then managing workspaces are not easy. Power BI App is the solution for multiple environment approach. With Power BI App, your development environment (workspace), and user environment (App) are isolated from each other.

Creating an App for a workspace is very simple.

Users can easily access it through the “Apps” section of their Power BI account

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Apps are great sharing method for multiple environment, and best way of sharing for users in production environement. however, apps also have pros and cons as below.

Pros and Cons of Power BI Apps

Advantages of Power BI Apps

Separate Environments for Developer and End user

The most benefit of this method is to have two separate environments; an environment for developers to edit the Power BI content in a collaborative workspace, another environment for end users to consume the report. End users will be able only to view the reports, and developers will be able to make changes.

Power BI App is the best solution to have an Isolated developer and end user environment.

Controlling multiple Power BI content

Similar to the workspace, with Power BI app, you can share multiple dashboards, reports, and datasets at the same time. Controlling multiple contents means less maintenance overhead compared to dashboard sharing which is one dashboard at a time.

External Sharing

Another great benefit of Power BI app is the ability to integrate that with Azure B2B services and provide external sharing. If you want to share Power BI content with people outside of your company, you can do that with a combination of Azure B2B, and Power BI app. Here is the blog post from Microsoft Product team about it:

https://powerbi.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/power-bi-expands-access-to-intelligence-for-external-guest-users/

Cons of Power BI Apps

Power BI App is one of the newest ways of sharing in Power BI, and because of that, it comes with some limitations. This method is a replacement for Power BI Content Packs. However, it still has some flaws, which needs to be resolved.

Power BI Apps is not full replacement of Content Pack

Users cannot Make a Copy as they could in content pack. You might say; what is the benefit of copying? The answer is: Power BI is all about self-service. There are always some users who want to be able to create their version of the report. With Content Pack that was simply possible. They could make a copy, and change their copy without touching the original report. (read this blog post to learn how). With the new app; they cannot change anything. They cannot make a copy. Or if they are part of the group with edit access to the workspace, then they CAN CHANGE the original! It is either too much power for them or nothing.

Immediate need for the app workspace administrator

Users who are not the admin of the group, but only have Edit access, can publish app! Updating or publishing app is too much access. Consider a situation that users are using a published app, and suddenly someone by mistake updates the app! It is critical that the admin of app workspace be the only person who can publish the app. Or at least can give this permission to a specific group of people.

Changes in the Dataset Applies immediately

Power BI app is separating developer and end-user environments, and the changes in a report in a workspace don’t affect the end user until you update the app. However, this functionality doesn’t work with the dataset in that way. Power BI app and the workspace are sharing same datasets, so any changes on the schedule refresh or structural changes will apply on both.

If you want to learn more about Power BI Apps, read this post.

Publish to Web

Sometimes, you don’t need a secure way of sharing, you may search for an easy and free way of sharing, and your content is not confidential or sensitive. Publish to web is your friend in such situation. This is the only free way of sharing in Power BI, but be aware that this method is not secure.

Publish to web method, gives you an embed code, which you can use in any web pages to embed the Power BI report in it

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The embedded content through this way, would be available for anyone who has access to that page

Publish to web is the free way of sharing, and if you think about using this method, some security thoughts worth reading beforehand;

Security Thoughts of Publish to Web?

What You Share is for Everyone!

The first thing you might think is usually security. How can you manage security on this? The short answer is there is no security here. The report is shared through the web, or email, with EVERYONE. So everyone who has the link or embeds code can access the report. They cannot edit it. But the can view it with no restriction.

All Report Pages Are Visible

If you have a report with 10+ pages, all of them would be visible to browsers. You can not limit which pages you want to show and which you don’t. as an example the report you see above has more than one page, and you can view all of them. I recommend creating different reports if you want to restrict some pages, and share them separately.

Users can share it with others!

A report that is published to the web has a share section at the right-bottom hand-side. Everyone can share this report with anyone else through all social media channels; Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, sharing the link directly! This method of sharing is not secure. I do only recommend using this method of sharing the data that you want to publish a public report on your company or organization website.

To learn more about Publish to Web, read this post.

Embed in SharePoint Online

If you are using SharePoint online as a portal for document management and some other reasons already, then consider using Embed in SharePoint Online feature of Power BI reports. This method is secure and you can share the report only with Power BI users you want.

Power BI content can be easily embedded into a SharePoint online page:

Managing security and sharing for this content needs to be done in two different places then: SharePoint Site, and Power BI

This method also has pros and cons as mentioned below;

Advantages and disadvantages of Embedding in SharePoint Online

Like all other methods, this method also has pros and cons.

Advantages of Embed in SharePoint Online

One portal for all content

With SharePoint online, you can share other documents as well. Why not using it for all other documents, and also the Power BI report. You can have one portal that is the central sharing portal for your Office 265 tenant. Users usually love the integrity.

Embedding is simple

Unlike Power BI Embedded, embedding in SharePoint online is easy. You just get the URL and embed it into a Power BI object in the SharePoint online. You don’t need to write a single line of code for that purpose, but with Power BI Embedded you do need a developer.

Disadvantages of Embed in SharePoint Online

Power BI Service Golden Plate is missed

One of the great aspects of Power BI components is the service. If you use embedding in the SharePoint, then users will use that as the portal for reports. Power BI Service has many exciting features, which may not be well used in this scenario, such as Alerts, feature dashboards, the dashboard itself, Q&A, and many other items. Users can still log in to Power BI service and see the report, but the experience that you create for them with SharePoint online would not be there.

Two places for managing permissions

At the time of writing this post, you need to manage permission in Power BI Service, and also in SharePoint online. This would take some time for maintenance, and also some reconciliation to check on those people who have access to the page are always permitted to read the report or not. Hopefully, this issue resolves quickly in next few version upgrades of Power BI Service.

To learn more about Embed in SharePoint online, read this post.

Power BI Embedded

Sometimes you want to embed the Power BI content into your custom application, and you want the content to be secured. In most of the cases you want to leverage the custom user management of your current application than Power BI accounts. Power BI embedded gives you all of these features. The only side effect of that is the need for a web developer.

Power BI Embedded uses an API which we call it Power BI REST API, and it has many great features for interacting with a Power BI content

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Users can easily access reports just through your application

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Pros and Cons of Power BI Embedded

With Power BI Embedded you get a fully customizable solution. You can do whatever you want inside your application with Power BI content. You can embed reports, dashboard, tiles, and even Q&A. You can interact with those elements from the web page.

Power BI Embedded can work without the need for Power BI accounts. If you have a set of users without accounts or your users are not part of a single company, then Embedded can be a really big advantage.

Power BI Embedded implementation needs a web developer. It is not just about one-off embedding your first content, every change after that, or every new functionality you add to your application, needs a web developer’s touch.

To learn more about Power BI Embedded, read this post.

Secure Embed

Recently a new sharing method is released called as Secure Embed. This method is a combination of good things from two methods; Publish to Web, and Power BI Embedded. However, Secure Embed is neither Publish to Web Nor Power BI Embedded. It is getting good things from both worlds! Using the Secure Embed, you can share your reports through a web portal with just a few clicks. However, unlike Publish to Web, the Secure Embed is a secure method of sharing, that only authorized users will have access to the data. As a result, this method also supports row-level security enabled reports.

Advantages and disadvantages of Secure Embed

Like all other methods, this method also has pros and cons.

Advantages of Secure Embed

Sharing with Only a Few Clicks. No Developer Needed

You can use this method of sharing and you don’t have to write a single line of code, it is just working with using the Secure Embed option easily. All you need to do is to use the URL output of the Secure Embed or embed the HTML code somewhere on a webpage you want. This method, unlike Power BI Embedded (which needs a developer touch), is very simple to implement.

Secure Sharing

Looking at the title of this method of sharing, “Secure Embed”, you probably guessed it. You have also seen in this post, through an example, how the content is secured for only those users who are authorized to see the content. This method, unlike Publish to Web, is a secure method of sharing.

Row-Level Security is Supported

Publish to Web method doesn’t support row-level security because there is no concept of the user logged in, because no login required. However, using Secure Embed only authorized users will have access to the report, and as a result, row-level security is possible.

Disadvantages and Limitations of Secure Embed

Some Limitations of Power BI Embedded about the content to be shared applies. For example, ArcGIS Maps is not currently supported.

Secure Embed, at the moment, doesn’t support dashboards or paginated reports.

To learn more about Secure Embed, read this post.

Comparing all methods of Sharing

So far you’ve learned in summary what every method does, now let’s see their difference all in one place:

Cheatsheet of Which Method to Choose?

Basic Sharing A fast and quick method of sharing for testing reports and dashboards
Work Space great option for collaborative development environments between Power BI Developer teams
Power BI App best option to share reports with end users in a user environment which is isolated from the developer environment
Publish to the web The free method of sharing, best for public data sets where the nature of data is not confidential
SharePoint Online good choice when SharePoint online is the current portal for users in the organization
Power BI Embedded an option to bring Power BI content into your application, when the user management can be done in the application specifically
Secure Embed Sharing simply and securely in SharePoint on-premises or a custom web application without the need for a web developer

To read more in details about each method, click on links below;

Hope this post, helped you to choose the right sharing method for your Power BI solution. If you have any doubts or questions, please ask in the comments below.

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Reza Rad
Trainer, Consultant, Mentor
Reza Rad is a Microsoft Regional Director, an Author, Trainer, Speaker and Consultant. He has a BSc in Computer engineering; he has more than 20 years’ experience in data analysis, BI, databases, programming, and development mostly on Microsoft technologies. He is a Microsoft Data Platform MVP for eight continuous years (from 2011 till now) for his dedication in Microsoft BI. Reza is an active blogger and co-founder of RADACAD. Reza is also co-founder and co-organizer of Difinity conference in New Zealand.
His articles on different aspects of technologies, especially on MS BI, can be found on his blog: https://radacad.com/blog.
He wrote some books on MS SQL BI and also is writing some others, He was also an active member on online technical forums such as MSDN and Experts-Exchange, and was a moderator of MSDN SQL Server forums, and is an MCP, MCSE, and MCITP of BI. He is the leader of the New Zealand Business Intelligence users group. He is also the author of very popular book Power BI from Rookie to Rock Star, which is free with more than 1700 pages of content and the Power BI Pro Architecture published by Apress.
He is an International Speaker in Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft Business Applications Summit, Data Insight Summit, PASS Summit, SQL Saturday and SQL user groups. And He is a Microsoft Certified Trainer.
Reza’s passion is to help you find the best data solution, he is Data enthusiast.

17 thoughts on “Power BI Sharing Methods Comparison – All in One Review

  • Hi Reza,

    great summary!

    There is one drawback of Apps that we perceive, and it is the inability to favorite individual objects within the App. You can only favorite the entire App, but not a particular report or dashboard from it, which is quite limiting, given that some Apps can have a substantial amount of reports within them.

    Thanks

  • Thanks Reza – one thing that isn’t mentioned is what type of licenses are required for each. Can you elaborate more on that?

    • Hi Tad,
      you do need Pro, or premium licensing for all of these methods except Publish to web (which is free), and power bi embedded (which is different licensing plan)
      Cheers
      Reza

  • Very much like the summary, especially the power BI app vs content pack part.
    Just wondering when product team can add in the “self-service” thing…

  • Great article, Reza! A slightly different solution, but have you tried PowerBI Robots? We’re currently using it at our company to schedule and automatically send PDFs with reports to several degrees of management. It lacks Power BI’s native interactivity but gets the job done.

    • Hi Jack.
      Correct. This article talks only about ONLINE and INTERACTIVE methods of sharing. So sharing through PDFs or PowerPoints or sending *.pbix files are not listed 🙂

  • Great compilation of information. One thing missing is an assessment of the “new” app workspace experience currently in preview. There are significant changes to that workspace model, particularly regarding security (i.e. there is no “read only” option). For now, users can choose which workspace type they want, but may the “new” workspace may be the only option in the future.

  • Hi,
    I am starting to roll out Power BI at my place of work and have found that as a pro user i can create a new workspace in the workspace preview then upload a report to this space and add non pro users access to view this report and have no issue with those free users accessing the report. When i have tried this with the old workspace set up they are told they need a pro license.

    Does anyone know if this is a bug or if the new workspace’s allow ‘free users’ not pro users access to reports they have been granted permission to view.

    Thanks

    • Hi Jordan
      You can add free accounts to WS, but when they try to access the workspace, they will be asked to either upgrade their account or try pro for free to get the 60 days trial access. alternatively, you can have a premium capacity, and then share with free users

      Cheers
      Reza

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