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Calculated Columns in Power Pivot

A calculated column gives you the ability to add new data to a table in your Power Pivot Data Model. Instead of pasting or importing values into the column, you create a Data Analysis Expressions (DAX)formula that defines the column values.

If, for example, you need to add sales profit values to each row in a factSales table. By adding a new calculated column, and by using the formula =[SalesAmount]-[TotalCost]–[ReturnAmount], new values are calculated by subtracting values from each row in the TotalCost and ReturnAmount columns from values in each row of the SalesAmount column. The Profit column can then be used in a PivotTable, PivotChart, or Power View report—as you would any other column.

This figure exhibits a calculated column in a Power Pivot.

Calculated Column

Note: Though calculated columns and measures are similar because each relies on a formula, they are different. Measures are most often used in the Values area of a PivotTable or PivotChart. Use calculated columns when you want to place calculated results in a different area of a PivotTable—such as a column or row in a PivotTable, or on an axis in a PivotChart. For more information about measures, see Measures in Power Pivot.

Understanding Calculated Columns

The formulas in calculated columns are much like the formulas you create in Excel. However, you cannot create different formulas for different rows in a table. Rather, the DAX formula is automatically applied to the entire column.

When a column contains a formula, the value is computed for each row. The results are calculated for the column as soon as you enter the formula. Column values are then recalculated as necessary, such as when the underlying data is refreshed.

You can create calculated columns according to measures and other calculated columns. For example, you might create one calculated column to extract a number from a string of text, and then use that number in another calculated column.

Example

You can support a calculated column with data that you add into an existing table. For example, you might choose to concatenate values, perform addition, extract substrings, or compare the values in other fields. To add a calculated column, you should have already have at least one table in Power Pivot.

Have a look at this formula:

=EOMONTH([StartDate],0])

Using the Contoso sample data, this formula extracts the month from the StartDate column in the Promotion table. It then calculates the end of the month value for each row in the Promotion table. The second parameter specifies the number of months before or after the month in StartDate; in this case, 0 means the same month. For example, if the value in the StartDate column is 6/1/2001, the value in the calculated column will be 6/30/2001.

For more information about the Contoso sample data, see Get sample data for DAX and Data Model tutorials.

Naming Calculated Columns

By default, new calculated columns are added to the right of other columns, and the column is automatically assigned the default name of CalculatedColumn1, CalculatedColumn2, and so on. After creating columns, you can rearrange and rename columns as necessary.

There are some restrictions on changes to calculated columns:

  • Each column name should be unique within a table.

  • Avoid names that have already been used for measures within the same workbook. Although it is possible for a measure and a calculated column to have the same name, if names are not unique you can easily get calculation errors. To avoid accidentally invoking a measure, always use a fully qualified column reference when referring to a column.

  • When renaming a calculated column, you must also update any formulas that rely on the existing column. Unless you are in manual update mode, updating the results of formulas occurs automatically. However, this operation might take some time.

  • There are some characters that cannot be used within the names of columns, or in the names of other objects in Power Pivot. For more information, see "Naming Requirements" "in DAX Syntax Specification for Power Pivot.

To rename or edit an existing calculated column:

  1. In the Power Pivot window, right-click the heading of the calculated column that you want to rename, and click Rename Column.

  2. Type a new name, and then press ENTER to accept the new name.

Changing the Data Type

You can change the data type for a calculated column in the same way you can change the data type for other columns. You cannot make the following data-type changes: from text to decimal, from text to integer, from text to currency, and from text to date. You can make a change from text to Boolean.

Performance of Calculated Columns

The formula for a calculated column can be more resource-intensive than the formula used for a measure. One reason is that the result for a calculated column is always calculated for each row in a table, whereas a measure is only calculated for the cells that are used in the PivotTable or PivotChart.

For example, a table with a million rows will always have a calculated column with a million results, and a corresponding effect on performance. However, a PivotTable generally filters data by applying row and column headings. This means that the measure is calculated only for the subset of data in each cell of the PivotTable.

A formula has dependencies on the object references in the formula, such as other columns or expressions that evaluate values. For example, a calculated column that is based on another column—or a calculation that contains an expression with a column reference—cannot be evaluated until the other column is evaluated. By default, automatic refresh is enabled. So, keep in mind that formula dependencies can affect performance.

To avoid performance issues when you create calculated columns, follow these guidelines:

  • Rather than create a single formula that contains many complex dependencies, create the formulas in steps, with results saved to columns, so that you can validate the results and evaluate the changes in performance.

  • Modifications to data will often induce updates to calculated columns. You can prevent this by setting the recalculation mode to manual. Keep in mind, however, if any values in the calculated column are incorrect the column will be disabled until you refresh and recalculate the data.

  • If you change or delete relationships between tables, formulas that use columns in those tables will become invalid.

  • If you create a formula that contains a circular or self-referencing dependency, an error will occur.

Tasks

For more information about working with calculated columns, see Create a Calculated Column.

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