Tableau Workbook (twb) vs Tableau Packaged Workbook (twbx)

Tableau Workbooks. They come in two flavors.

One of the most important concepts that is often overlooked in training courses is having a clear understanding of the purpose of Tableau Workbooks (.twb) and Tableau Packaged Workbooks (.twbx).  Let’s find out when it’s appropriate to use each type and better understand the lowdown on a Tableau Workbook vs Tableau Packaged Workbook.

twbvstwbxFortunately, there is a quick and easy way to figuring out if your workbook should be packaged.  Do you need data, visualizations, and other content like pictures available to you within a single sharable file?  If you answered yes, you’re going to want to have your workbook packaged.  A twbx file will make your life much easier, rather than attempting to maintain a single file path pointing to all required files for a workbook.

The size of your data vs the size of your workbook.

If you’re building visualizations in Tableau using a data source that’s 100MB in size (very large XLS or CSV) there are two huge differences between a standard twb file and a twbx file.  The twb file will contain the connection parameters which point to the source file, allowing the twb file to stay quite lean and more than likely never exceed 1MB in file size.

The twbx file however, will absorb the entire source file into the Tableau Packaged Workbook format and the workbook file size will closely match the data file size of around 100MB.   Not so easy to share at that file size.  Keep in mind that this file will not automatically update as it only contains a snapshot in time of that data set.  If you wish to update the data being used in your packaged workbook, you must manually execute a refresh.

Which workbook type would you recommend we use day to day?

If you’re just connecting to a local database server live and really don’t care about creating a pretty workbook complete with custom images and shapes, by all means, stick with the default twb format.

If you plan on distributing your work to be shared across your team and with others in your organization, I’d recommend saving/exporting your twb as a twbx.  The twbx version can be shared and opened by your colleagues using Tableau Reader.  Reader is a free tool that requires no licensing to consume twbx files.

Importing Web Data Into Tableau

Let’s face it, the best data is hard to come by and rarely in a format Tableau can easily consume.  There is so much data at our fingertips, yet so hard to analyze.  At the 2014 Tableau Conference, one of the speakers mentioned an amazing tool that automagically consumes a webpage and spits out a tabular breakdown of the data available using algorithms way above my pay grade.  The tool is called is able to consume data from any webpage and translate it from human form to a highly structured file based format.  The tool makes the task of data cleansing (which normally takes hours within Microsoft Excel) ridiculously simple.  Often times you’re still going to need to do some light data clean up, but for the most part, let do all of the heavy lifting.

I’m hoping this post and video tutorial saves others from having to manually copy and paste lines of text and numbers into excel in order to restructure data when there is a much better alternative!

In this video demo I’ll walk you through how to use to quickly pull a ranked list of data that otherwise would require hours of manual effort to clean up and format. Then I’ll jump right into the data analysis portion using Tableau which gets right down into the weeds to answer the questions I had when browsing a particular website, BeerAdvocate.  Watch how easy it is to download and analyze data from the web and go from “I wonder which…or what….” to “That’s so cool, I had always wanted to know…” in a matter of seconds.

Tableau Product Line

Tableau Product Line

Tableau Desktop
Backbone of product offering. Use Tableau Desktop to create your workbooks.  As a Tableau developer you’re going to be spending 99% of your time using this tool.

Tableau Server
A secured intranet portal where users can easily publish and share their Tableau Workbooks by simply providing a link to a workbook. Does not require Tableau Desktop to consume the information, just a browser…and a Tableau Server user license of course (they can’t just give it away).

Tableau Online
Cloud based “Tableau Server” solution. Tableau will host your server, enabling you to easily scale and publish content right out the gate.  Tableau Online handles the “keep the lights on” tasks, handling all maintenance and upgrades.  You just focus on creating and sharing your Tableau Dashboards.  As your user base grows, having an in house Tableau Server becomes much more cost effective.

Tableau Reader
Tableau Reader is a free tool that allows you to open, but not edit Tableau Workbooks. You can only “read” what others have created.  This is a great option if you are just getting your feet wet in Tableau.  Think of it like emailing a colleague an excel workbook in read only mode. Exact same concept (save for the ability to make edits). The major flaw with reader is the static nature of the workbook once it’s exported as it’s not editable/updatable. Security is also a big concern as Tableau Reader files can be opened by anyone with Reader installed.

Pros and Cons of Tableau


Completely Interactive. Tell a story with your data. Filter and step from summary to detail level data in real time.

Self Service. Minimal IT involvement throughout the entire development process.

Agile. Easily iterate on your development with no impact to existing business operations.

Short Learning Curve. Tableau makes it relatively easy to build a beautiful dashboard.

High Performance. Tableau’s proprietary datasource (Tableau Data Extract) enables you to take the load off the database and store data in a column based, high performance TDE file.

Real Time. Live Connections between Tableau and your data are possible. Keep in mind that an already slow database will not be faster in Tableau when reading data.

Easy to share. Send your Tableau Workbook along with all the data you are using in one simple packaged file


Not a Data Warehouse replacement. Tableau is not an ETL tool. Garbage in, garbage out.

Not meant for operational reporting. If it looks like excel in Tableau, you’re doing it wrong.

Output Limitation. By default Tableau limits the number of columns (dimensions) displayed in a table to 6.

No version management. Manually save different versions of your workbook incase you need to rollback.

Highly Formatted Reports. Tableau is not able to create reports that resemble something like a Utility Bill.

Introduction to Tableau

Let’s dive right into the first part of our Tableau Training Series!  In the video and text below, I’ll walk you through a quick and concise end to end Tableau Introduction.  I’ll start off by explaining the Pros and Cons of Tableau. Although I’d like to think Tableau is capable of solving world hunger, truth is, it does lack some basic functionality by design.

Next, I’ll go into detail on the Tableau Product Line.  You’re going to fully understand the purpose and functionality of Tableau Desktop, Tableau Server, Tableau Online,  and finally Tableau Reader.

By this time you’ll be ready to dig into and get familiar with the key terminology that makes up the world of Tableau.  I’m talking workbooks, worksheets, stories, data connections, tableau data extracts, and much more.

Lastly, I’ll cover how to download and install various versions of Tableau on your machine…and how to download/install database drivers.  Ready to get started! Let’s go!

Welcome to our Tableau Introduction  

In this first lesson, we’re going to be going over the pros and cons of Tableau, the overall Tableau product line, some key terminology and a brief overview of Tableau desktop. One of the most important things to remember through all this training is Tableau desktop is great for visualizing data and telling a story with data, not just displaying raw data.  

What Makes Tableau So Great?

  • Completely Interactive
    • You’re telling a story and giving end users the ability to filter and step through their analysis from the highest possible level all the way down to the lowest level, in real time
  • Self Service with Short Learning Curve
    • Minimal IT involvement throughout the entire development process.  The IT team’s responsibility transitions off of report creation and focuses on maintaining the back end of the system.  No more time consuming tickets with IT for report modifications.   Tableau also has an extremely short learning curve.  Tableau was designed with the end user in mind, enabling them to quickly build beautiful dashboards. Over time your skills will grow and you’ll be able to make better, more informative dashboards compared to other reporting tools
  • Agile Development
    • Easily iterate on Tableau dashboards with little to no operational impact.  Agile is a popular buzzword nowadays.  Simply put, it means you’re able to deliver results throughout your entire dashboard development and see immediate value and results based on the changes you’re making.
  • High-Performance
    • Tableau’s proprietary data extracts greatly improve read performance.   Tableau Data Extracts allows you to take all of the load off of the database systems and store that data in a file (.TDE) which is a highly compressed column based datastore.  10x compression ratios are very common
  • Real Time
    • Live connections with your data ensure you’re always viewing the latest and greatest. If something changes in the underlying source, it’s immediately reflected in your Tableau dashboard but do keep in mind that if your database is slow, it’s going to just as slow in Tableau
  • Easily Share Tableau Dashboards
    • Package your Workbook along with its data to easily share your analysis.  allow me to package your data inside of your workbook and then share that with other users some of the

What Makes Tableau NOT So Great?

  • Not built for operation reporting
    • If your tableau visualizations closely resemble an excel spreadsheet, you’re in trouble.  Tableau will struggle to display this data as it was never optimized to output tablular data in dashboards.
  • Output Limitations
  • Not a robust ETL tool
    • Tableau’s strong suit is data visualization, not transformation and joining
  • Highly Formatted Reports
    • Tableau is not able to create reports that resemble something like a cellular or utility bill
  • Frequent Software Updates
    • Tableau wants your dashboards built on the latest and greatest. That means if your colleague is running version 10 and you’re still on 9, you won’t be able to open his workbook until you update your software. Compatibility issues also arise in organizations running Tableau Server.  Dashboard developers may be installing the latest version of Tableau for their development and won’t be able to publish onto their enterprise server as it’s outdated and cannot received dashboards from the newest Tableau Desktop version.
  • Not as easy as advertised
    • Easy to get lost, light SQL knowledge recommended, a lot of “how did I build this last week” moments

Key Terminology

  • Tableau Workbook (.TWB)
    • Created when you save your workbook in Tableau Desktop
    • Contains data connection information (DB info, data location) but no actual data stored
  • Worksheets – Used as canvas for your data visualization
    • Dimension – What you’re looking to calculate and report on (Year, State, Product)
    • Measure – The actual metric you seek to analyze (Quantity Sold, Net Sales)
    • Shelves, Pills, Marks – Used to tell your story with data
  • Dashboards – Canvas used to display one or more worksheets within the same view
  • Stories – Enable you to snapshot visualizations. Walk through your analysis. Slideshow.
  • Tableau Packaged Workbook (.TWBX) – Contains all of your visualizations, connection info & data!
  • Tableau Data Extract (.TDE) – Stores a highly compressed, performance optimized snapshot of data to serve as a datasource

Live Connections vs Tableau Data Extracts

  • Live Connections
    • If the connection is interrupted, your data will be inaccessible
    • Constantly being re-queried every time you interact with your dashboards
    • Only as fast as source. An already slow DB won’t see read improvements in Tableau
  • Tableau Data Extracts (TDE)
    • Snapshot in time of entire dataset. Much faster performance as DB is no longer queried
    • Stored locally so performance is as fast as the machine viewing the workbook
    • Best suited for aggregated datasets. Don’t try to extract 2+ billion record finance table
    • Schedulable to refresh on a recurring basis

Data prep is not exactly Tableau’s strong suit

Tableau is not meant to be an ETL replacement. Get your data right in the source before even considering bringing it into Tableau.  Incomplete datasets will look terrible.


  • Create joins between tables
  • Blend data sources
  • Create calculated fields on the fly based on existing fields


  • Have a database view created that contains all of the logic you plan to use in Tableau
  • Better for performance
  • Better for your mental health

Getting Started

How to display more than 6 columns in Tableau


Notice how Customer Name and Segment merged into one output


Much better!

We’ve all been there.  Banging our heads against the wall wondering that the heck is going on with our Tableau report. Why is Tableau merging fields together instead of keeping them separate? All we really want is to output a simple table that reports out on some detail level data.  How hard could this possibly be? Tableau however has other plans.  You see, Tableau is a data visualization tool, not excel 2.0 and they make that very clear to users through limiting certain features. 

Tableau has masterfully hidden the Table Layout section within the Analysis menu item. Please keep in mind that this change must be made on each individual Tableau worksheet as there is currently no way to setting this feature at a global level within Tableau.

The screenshots below will walk you through the process. I’ve also linked a video I put together demoing this process. Watch video.

Select the Advanced Table Layout menu item from the the Analysis drop down
These values will need updating from the default 6 to 16 (max)

Please try to keep table usage to a minimum as using large tables in Tableau will drastically impact your report performance. The reason for the performance hit is due to the large number of text marks that Tableau has to output prior to enabling the end user to interact with the report.

E.g. If you are displaying a shorter table with 500 rows, only a subset will be visible on your screen. You’d need to scroll down like a webpage to view the rest of the content. Each and every row, although not immediately visible, is required to be queried on and viewable, even if you can’t see it. That’s why having a table with thousands of records will absolutely tank your performance. 99% of the time when users are experiencing poor performance it’s because tables are involved. Please try to visualize your data in chart form and keep tables behind the scenes or in reporting tools that specialize in displaying tabular data.