By Anand Narayanaswamy
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Reporting is a key part of software development, as no real-world application is complete without reports. When choosing a reporting product, a developer needs to consider two important factors. The first is that reports developed using the product should be easy to use and visually appealing to the end user. Additionally, the product should enable a developer to easily and quickly build reports for applications. Fast Reports' FastReport.Net satisfies these criteria and also ships with many features, including a lightweight report designer, which simplify development and let developers create reports very easily. The FastReport.Net designer doesn't use Visual Studio to create reports, although you do need to use the development environment to connect the report from the application being developed.
FastReport.Net enables developers to add dialog forms in runtime that request application users to provide parameters, so that the report will be generated based on the provided data. The product includes 13 bands, among them Report Title, Report Summary, Page Header, Page Footer, Column Header, Column Footer, and Data Header. However, the report designer displays only the first four bands, which are commonly used during report creation and let developers configure reports based on list, master-detail, group, and multi-column band types. You can also add text, pictures, lines, and tables by using the relevant report objects, which can be accessed from within the designer.
The FastReport.Net designer includes a wizard with visual query builder to connect to databases and populate data from them into the report, as Figure 1 shows.
Figure 1: FastReport.Net report designer with data wizard
Click image to see a larger view.
An interesting feature of FastReport.Net is that you can create paged reports by including front and back cover. As many as 30 chart types, including those oriented for 3D support, can be integrated into the report from the designer itself. The product includes built-in support for GDI+ rendering, and you can also use smooth fonts and graphics, semi-transparent fills, and gradients, all of which can enhance the appearance of the final report.
The product enables you to add common elements into a base report and call all other reports from it with the help of report inheritance. FastReport.Net supports Microsoft SQL Server and Access and, through a separate plug-in available from the vendor's website, other databases including Firebird, MySQL, Postgres, VistaDB, Oracle, and SQLite. Developers can use the IEnumerable type to collect data from business objects within reports.
FastReport.Net also includes a smart Microsoft Word style preview mechanism that developers can use to preview reports and make needed fixes before final delivery. The report previewer has several key features, such as the ability to search text and modify the report pages. It also enables you to print several small pages in a single large page, print an A3 report on an A4 printer, and add watermarks to your report, as Figure 2 shows.
Figure 2: Watermark-enabled report
Click image to see a larger view.
You can also format a report horizontally or vertically and in forward/backward diagonal positions. A generated report can be tabulated using various criteria and also can be exported to several formats, such as PDF, XLS, XML, and HTML and delivered via email.
Using the Product
I found it very easy to work with the FastReport.Net designer and populate data from a database. You can integrate the product into Visual Studio projects; if you do so, you'll need to distribute the designer along with the application being developed. Fast Reports provides dedicated email support for customers, and customers can also interact with the product team through the discussion forum and relevant newsgroups. I posted few queries on the Fast Reports forum and received responses directly from the support team within one business day. However, I would prefer to contact one of their representatives to clarify my presale queries.
FastReport.Net includes comprehensive documentation along with relevant source codes and screenshots. It also ships with a fully functional application that developers can use to test and analyze the product's various features with the help of sample data. I also found that the demo provides useful information about the steps required to complete each task and instructions on how to directly open the designer. Fast Reports has created several Flash videos that illustrate several key features of the product. I'd like to see the vendor provide a detailed step-by-step tutorial for each feature so that beginners will be able to complete the tasks by simply going through the content.
Creating Rich Reports Easily
FastReport.Net includes several advanced features for report generation. The product should be highly useful for .NET developers because it lets them create rich and compelling data presentation applications without depending upon the development environment. FastReport.Net is a highly useful tool for developers, especially beginners, since the various tasks associated with report creation can be completed without spending too much time on coding.
Anand Narayanaswamy ([email protected]) is a Microsoft MVP who works as an independent consultant based in Trivandrum, India. He is the author of Community Server Quickly (Packt Publishing) and runs www.learnxpress.com and www.dotnetalbum.com.