Basic concepts for the Power BI service consumers


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This article assumes that you've already read the Power BI overview and have identified yourself as a Power BI consumer. Consumers receive Power BI content, like dashboards and reports, from colleagues. Consumers use the Power BI service, which is the website-based version of Power BI.

You'll undoubtedly hear the term "Power BI Desktop" or just "Desktop." It is the stand-alone tool used by designers who build and share dashboards and reports with you. It's important to know that there are other Power BI tools out there. As long as you're a consumer, you'll only work with the Power BI service. This article applies only to the Power BI service.

Terminology and concepts

This article isn't a visual tour of Power BI, nor is it a hands-on tutorial. Instead, it's an overview article that will get you comfortable with Power BI terminology and concepts. It will teach you the lingo and the lay of the land. For a tour of the Power BI service and its navigation, go to Quickstart - Getting around in the Power BI service.

Open the Power BI service for the first time

Most Power BI consumers get the Power BI service because 1) their company buys licenses and 2) an admin assigns the licenses to employees like you.

To get started, open a browser and enter The first time you open the Power BI service, you'll see something like the following:

A screenshot of the Welcome screen for the Power BI service.

As you use Power BI, you'll personalize what you see when you open the website each time. For example, some people like Power BI to open to the Home page while others have a favorite dashboard they want to see first. Don't worry, this article will teach you how to personalize your experience.

A screenshot that shows Home page view and dashboard view.

But before we get much further, let's back up and talk about the building blocks that make up the Power BI service.

Power BI content

Introduction to building blocks

For a Power BI consumer, the five building blocks are: visualizations, dashboards, reports, apps, and datasets. These are sometimes referred to as Power BI content. Content exists in workspaces. A typical workflow involves all of the building blocks: A Power BI designer (yellow in diagram below) collects data from datasets, brings it into Power BI for analysis, creates reports full of visualizations that highlight interesting facts and insights, pins visualizations from reports to a dashboard, and shares the reports and dashboards with consumers like you (black in diagram below). The designer shares them in the form of apps or other types of shared content.

A basic Power BI workflow chart.

At its most basic:

  • A screenshot of the visualization icon. a visualization (or visual), is a type of chart built by Power BI designers. The visuals display the data from reports and datasets. Typically, designers build the visuals in Power BI Desktop.

    For more info, see Interact with Visuals in reports, dashboards, and apps.

  • A screenshot of the database icon. A dataset is a container of data. For example, it might be an Excel file from the World Health Organization. It could also be a company-owned database of customers or it might be a Salesforce file.

  • A screenshot of the dashboard icon. A dashboard is a single screen with interactive visuals, text, and graphics. A dashboard collects your most important metrics, on one screen, to tell a story or answer a question. The dashboard content comes from one or more reports and one or more datasets.

    For more info, see Dashboards for the Power BI service consumers.

  • A screenshot of the report icon. A report is one or more pages of interactive visuals, text, and graphics that together make up a single report. Power BI bases a report on a single dataset. Often, the service organizes report pages to address a central area of interest or answer a single question.

    For more info, see Reports in Power BI.

  • A screenshot of the app icon. An app is a way for designers to bundle and share related dashboards and reports together. Consumers receive some apps automatically but can go search for other apps created by colleagues or by the community. For example, external services you may already use, like Google Analytics and Microsoft Dynamics CRM, offer Power BI apps.

To be clear, if you're a new user and you've logged in to Power BI for the first time, you won't see dashboards, apps, or reports yet.


A dataset is a collection of data that designers import or connect to and then use to build reports and dashboards. As a consumer, you won't interact directly with datasets, but it's still nice to learn how they fit into the bigger picture.

Each dataset represents a single source of data. For example, the source could be an Excel workbook on OneDrive, an on-premises SQL Server Analysis Services tabular dataset, or a Salesforce dataset. Power BI supports many different data sources.

When a designer shares an app with you, you can see which datasets the designer included with the app.

Screenshot of the Power BI user interface and arrow pointing to the Datasets section on canvas.

One dataset...

  • Can be used over and over by a report designer to create dashboards and reports

  • Can be used to create many different reports

  • Visuals from that one dataset can appear on many different dashboards

    A graphic showing a dataset with many to one relationships

On to the next building block -- visualizations.


Visualizations (also known as visuals) display insights that Power BI discovered in the data. Visualizations make it easier to interpret the insight, because your brain can comprehend a picture faster than a spreadsheet of numbers.

Just some of the visualizations you'll come across in Power BI are: waterfall, ribbon, treemap, pie, funnel, card, scatter, and gauge:

A screenshot of eight sample visuals.

See the full list of visualizations included with Power BI.

Visualizations called custom visuals are also available from the community. If you receive a report with a visual you don't recognize, likely it's a custom visual. If you need help with interpreting the custom visual, look up the name of the report or dashboard designer and contact them.

One visualization in a report...

  • Can appear multiple times in the same report

  • Can appear on many different dashboards


A Power BI report is one or more pages of visualizations, graphics, and text. All of the visualizations in a report come from a single dataset. Designers share reports with consumers who interact with the reports in Reading view.

Screenshot of a report with tabs.

One report...

  • Can be associated with multiple dashboards (tiles pinned from that one report can appear on multiple dashboards).

  • Can be created using data from only one dataset.

  • Can be part of multiple apps.

    A graphic showing the relationships for a report.


A dashboard represents a customized view of some subset of the underlying dataset(s). Designers build dashboards and share them with consumers; either individually or as part of an app. A dashboard is a single canvas that has tiles, graphics, and text.

Screenshot of a sample dashboard

A tile is a rendering of a visual that a designer pins, for example, from a report to a dashboard. Each pinned tile shows a visualization that a designer created from a dataset and pinned to that dashboard. A tile can also contain an entire report page and can contain live streaming data or a video. There are many ways that designers add tiles to dashboards. There are too many to cover in this overview article. To learn more, see Dashboard tiles in Power BI.

Consumers can't edit dashboards. You can however add comments, view related data, set it as favorite, subscribe, and more.

What are some purposes for dashboards? Here are just a few:

  • to see, in one glance, all the info needed to make decisions

  • to monitor the most-important info about your business

  • to ensure all colleagues are on the same page; viewing and using the same info

  • to monitor the health of a business or product or business unit or marketing campaign, and so on

  • to create a personalized view of a larger dashboard -- all the metrics that matter to you

ONE dashboard...

  • can display visualizations from many different datasets

  • can display visualizations from many different reports

  • can display visualizations pinned from other tools (for example, Excel)

    A graphic of relationships for a dashboard.


These collections of dashboards and reports organize related content together into a single package. Power BI designers build them and share them with individuals, groups, an entire organization, or the public. As a consumer, you can be confident you and your colleagues are working with the same data; a single trusted version of the truth.

Screenshot of Apps selected in the left pane of Power BI.

Apps are easy to find and install in the Power BI service and on your mobile device. After you install an app, you don't have to remember the names of a lot of different dashboards. They're all together in one app, in your browser, or on your mobile device.

This app has three related dashboards and three related reports that make up a single app.

Screenshot of related content for the selected app.

With apps, whenever the app author releases updates, you automatically see the changes. The author also controls the schedule for how often Power BI refreshes the data. You don't need to worry about keeping it up-to-date.

You can get apps in a few different ways:

  • The app designer can install the app automatically in your Power BI account.

  • The app designer can send you a direct link to an app.

  • You can search for it in Microsoft AppSource, where you see all the apps that you can use.

In Power BI on your mobile device, you can only install apps from a direct link, and not from AppSource. If the app designer installs the app automatically, you'll see it in your list of apps.

Once you've installed the app, just select it from your Apps list and select which dashboard or report to open and explore first.

I hope this article gave you an understanding of the building blocks that make up the Power BI service for consumers.

Next steps