Ultimate Sharing Strategy: Power BI Apps

You’ve learned previously about some of the methods of sharing content in Power BI, such as Workspaces, and Dashboard Sharing, Publish To Web, and Content Pack. In this post, I’ll explain everything about new Power BI Apps; a mechanism to share the content in Power BI in a way that has security and governance together. If you want to learn more about Power BI; Read Power BI book from Rookie to Rock Star.

Power BI Sharing Methods

Till now there were about six methods of sharing content in Power BI, including:

I have written about some of these already (follow links above) and will write about the rest soon. Yesterday, Microsoft announced preview version of Power BI Apps, which is a new method of sharing. Power BI app is an enhancement version of two methods previously: Workspaces, and Content Packs together!

Power BI App

Power BI App is a way of sharing content with end users. You already know about the limitations of Dashboard Sharing and Workspace sharing. Power BI app method is providing an extensive approach to sharing content for end users. With Power BI apps, you can share content with end users, without the worry to change something in the development environment. Managing multiple environments is much easier with this approach. An app can be shared with a group of people or the entire organization.

App Workspace

To start creating an app, you’ll need a workspace. The reason that workspaces in Power BI are called App workspace is that you can create an app on top of a workspace. The content that you will have in this workspace can be selected for the App to be shared with users. In the previous post, you’ve learned how to create an manage workspaces.



App work pace is like a folder that is shared with a group of people. Set a name for the app workspace. You can specify if users have access to this workspace via edit or read-only. Please note that this way of access is only for people that you add them to the group directly, not for users of this App.


After creating the app workspace, you should see a new workspace (folder) which is blank at first


Publish Content to App

For publishing content to the app, just simply publish it to the app workspace. Open Power BI Desktop, go to Publish and select the app workspace created.


After publishing content into the new app workspace, you should be able to publish App from there.

Publish App

You can easily publish an app from the app workspace. Just click on the workspace, and then from the list of dashboards, and reports, select any item you wanted to be included in the app in the “included in app” column.

Then at the top right-hand side, select Publish App.

Set a description and color for the app. You can also see how many reports, dashboards, workbooks, and data sets are part of this app.


In the next tab, you will see the content. And you are also able to select the landing page for the Power BI App! Ability to set the landing page is a very good feature that we haven’t had before. Now with Power BI Apps, you can set a landing page for people in the group.


You can also set group of people that you want the app to be shared with (entire organization or specific groups) and then click on Finish.


After publishing the app, users will be able to access it immediately. However, you can share the link with them to make it easier for them to access;


Getting App

Users can go to their Power BI account page and click on Apps, and then Get Apps. They will be able to see all apps shared with them.


Users can simply Get the app, and use it right away.


by clicking on the app, users simply will be redirected to the landing page (if specified) and can explore the content in the app.


Changes in the App

You can apply any changes you want to the content in the app workspace. The changes on workspace will NOT affect users until you “update app”. With the new update, they will get the updated content. You can also “Unpublish” the app.


Isolated Environments for Developers and Users

One of the most useful advantages of using Power BI apps is the ability to have two separate environments; for Developers, and for Users. The concept works merely based on the fact that a Power BI app is always associated with a workspace. Workspace acts like a developer environment, and Power BI app serves as an end user environment.

Workspaces are developer environments, and Power BI Apps are end-user environments.

If you are a member of developer team, you would have Edit access to the workspace, and this can be done easily in the workspace configuration with adding members with Edit access:

All users who have edit access can change the content in the workspace. Their changes do not apply to the end user environment until they Update the app.

Changes in a workspace does not affect to end users environment until the app is Updated.

If as a developer, you make some changes in the workspace, for example, if you remove a chart from a report, and then save it.

The end user will not be affected by this change. End users will still see the full report.

To sync the Developer and End user environment, you need to update the app to get the changes applied to the end user side;

What About Data Refresh?

Data refresh and access to up-to-date data, is always a big question that comes through my presentations; Would I need to update the app, so end users get the updated data? How would they access the data refreshed or up-to-date? The answer is that data will be updated, if it is scheduled to refresh with a scheduling process determined at the dataset level, or if it is LiveQuery or DirectQuery. Regardless of users or developers, the dataset refresh is a different process.

If you have set up your dataset to be refreshed, then users will always have access to up-to-date data. You don’t need to update the app for data changes. You just need to update the app for structural changes (adding, modifying or removing tables, fields, relationships, calculations), or visualization changes (adding, modifying or removing visuals on the report).

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:


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.

My Thoughts on Power BI Apps

Power BI Apps comes to replace content pack and workspaces with one better solution, and it is very promising. With this new combination, you will have the power of both; You can use workspaces to group the content and give edit access to your power users. And you can also use the content pack to share the content with the end users.

Power BI App is a very new feature, and many updates will come for this shortly, including;

  • Disassociating from Office 365 groups.
  • Push app to uses without the need for them to install (get) it.
  • Copying content between workspaces.

Above list is based on what Power BI team’s blog post mentioned as the roadmap for Power BI apps. These are critical needs for Power BI Apps in my opinion. And I believe Microsoft Power BI Team will consider them and implement them quickly (as they’ve done already with many other suggestions of the community). What is your opinion about it? Do you think Apps would have been much better with some other features? name it in the comments area.

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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 nine 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.

27 thoughts on “Ultimate Sharing Strategy: Power BI Apps

  • Hi Reza, awesome review!
    For me apps are great but the inability to do adhoc reporting is a big downsize. Really hope Msft gives some kind of alternative here…

    • Hi Rui,

      Thanks for your comment 🙂 Apps are very new already, so like yourself, I’m looking forward to see many great upcoming features in this side.

  • I especially love that they will be moving away from the Office 365 groups. No more useless group spaces created in SharePoint Online behind the scenes (including mail boxes, calendars, website …).

  • Nice review Reza. I had missed this change, and you’re post made it really easy for me to come up to speed. When you say Apps include content packs, I assume you mean the way the Apps are distributed (like content packs), is that right?

    Also the name change from workspace to Apps makes more sense to me now (although I still don’t know if I like it)

    • Hi Matt,
      The pace of changes and updates in Power BI is so fast, that is hard to keep track of all changes 🙂
      Yes, When I say Apps includes Apps; I mean the way it is distributed to users, and the way that users will use it (They can use it as read only view, and it is all controlled through a central place, that is the place the App work space created from. If App get updated, users get updated set, if gets deleted, users will no longer have access to that content. That’s what I mean by It includes all features of content pack).

  • Hi Reza, thanks for sharing your detailed analysis so quickly.

    The inadequate admin security is still a showstopper for me, as it was with Content Packs. I;m continually surprised to see so much effort go into Power BI features, yet they ignore obvious fundamental issues like this. Hopefully that gets sorted soon.

    I’ll still be creating Office 365 Groups. Most of the teams that I work with desperately need nimble collaboration and document management tools – Office 365 does that job reasonably well. I think it also positions Power BI content as part of a project/team’s regular work flow, not an isolated tool for specialists.


    • Thanks Mike for your feedback.
      Knowing this type of requirement is really good. Because in the new workspace app the synchronization with O365 no longer exists. However, It might be required for some groups (like for document management and collaboration as you mentioned). I believe it would be better if there be an admin option for Power BI that we can choose if our workspace apps can create O365 groups or not. rather than turning it off totally.
      I will definitely give this feedback to the team. Thanks for sharing your scenario.

  • Great post, I hadn’t had time to look into the difference between apps and work spaces so this has explained it perfectly. Your thoughts at the end were awesome too, saves me having to discover that app members can publish the app themselves!

    I wish PBI would allow external sharing (via Public link) with password required access to the report, was hoping apps may be going somewhere down this path but it doesn’t appear so. Regardless, they will replace my reliance on workspaces (and creating a ton of groups) so am happy with yet another great move by Microsoft.

    • Hi Casey,

      Thanks for your feedback.
      The ability to share an APP with external users is in the road map, and it will be available in next few months I believe. it will work somehow with Azure B2B I believe, but I’m not still sure about it before it comes out.
      As you mentioned Power BI App is definitely is a great move, it just needs some tailoring around it to be a perfect strategy for sharing.

  • Hi Reza,
    Excellent post!!! Will Power BI apps carry the Row Level Security to the Apps?
    If not, how can we implement the same type of security (RLS) in Apps?
    Thanks, Sam

    • Hi Sam
      RLS will go through app for readers perfectly. but users who have EDIT access int the app work space will see everything regardless of RLS


  • Reza,
    If I am manually updating data from a power bi desktop file, do I have to refresh my data in desktop and first publish to the app, and then go into the app and publish the app? ( making all data updates a 2 step process even if there are no changes in the design of the desktop file?) I do not currently use a gateway.

    • Hi Pete,
      Data will be refreshed through data set scheduled refresh. and you need a gateway if your data source is on-premises. this is the right way of refreshing your data set.

    • Hi, Vanessa,
      you would need Power BI Pro account to set up an app, and users either need Pro account, or a free account which is part of a Power BI premium capacity to use it. so only paid subscription plans can use this way of sharing

  • Hi Reza,
    Do we have to update the App even if we update the role in the RLS setup.
    Say i have a single dataset on which i built 4 different types of reports.
    I published the Reports and Dataset seperately.
    Now, there is a change in the RLS Setup which requires me to add / update a new the role.
    I updated the role and published the dataset. Should i still update the App? or will the RLS changes be applied automatically at the app level.

    • Hi Nishanth.
      Short answer: Yes
      Long answer: Any changes that you make in the Dataset (row-level security is applied in the dataset level) would decouple the app report from the workspace, and as a result, you would need to update the app. If the change is only at the report level, you can still work with that without updating the app, but if you want users to get the updated content, you would need to update app anyways.

  • When we unpublish an app, we lose all the emails/users the report was shared with previously. Is this a bug, normal functionality, or a group policy setting?

  • Do you know if there has been any update to being able to publish/ refresh to multiple workspaces at the same time? I work for a very large company and we have multiple workspaces based on a person’s title. So an associate might only be able to see the Utilization dashboard while a Project Manager may need to see Utilization and the Project Management Dashboard…. This means two apps, one with both and one with only one.. so the utilization dashboard gets refreshed twice which is a real waste on capacity. In an ideal world, we would be able to refresh both utilization only once to both dashboards… Row level security doesn’t really make sense for us because of the massive drain on speed. People want their data to load immediately or they’ll stop using the dashboard.

  • Hi Reza,

    Is there any possibility to embed the Power BI App for example within a SharePoint WebPart or through the power BI embedded for custom solutions?

    • Power BI Apps are recently added to Teams as Teams app, but not sure about SharePoint. maybe coming later. You can certainly build your own custom navigation in SharePoint and connect it to your Power BI reports/Dashboards as a custom method for now.

  • Hi Reza,

    Thanks for your sharing! I’m struggling with access control at report-level using Azure AD group.

    I found that Power BI Apps would include all the reports and dashboards in the workspace. However, my workspace is organizational level. How to create such App at report-level, like I need to share different reports to different groups of users.

    Also with the Workspace roles(admin/member/contributor/viewer). Can these be controlled as security roles for a single report?

    • Hi Gabiii
      If you want to share different objects with a different group of people, then I suggest creating different workspaces and different apps too.
      If you have one set of reports for HR department, then create a workspace and app for HR
      If you have one set of reports for Sales department, then create a workspace and app for Sales
      Apps are a single unit of sharing. Ideally, you want to share the content of the app with the same group of people.


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