Tech News Back Issues Issue: 020305

Multi-Purpose Reports

By David Swain
Polymath Business Systems

We ended the last article of this series having modified the value of a property of an object inside a report instance from within the $construct method of that report. In this article we will take this many steps further, reconfiguring a report and many of the objects held within it based upon one or more parameters passed to the $construct method. But this is more than an academic exercise - it has significant practical value!

There are occasions when we need different report layouts for the same set of data. This most often happens when we need to provide both detail and summary versions of reports that perform subtotaling at various levels. We'll consider the following problem for this article:

In a sales tracking application for a chain of retail stores, one of the reports we need to generate presents sales transactions for a specific range of dates. These transactions are subtotaled by store and by region. (For simplicity in this example, we will use only Sales and Store tables with region being a field within the store table. Such reports can become much more complex!) Various people within the company need this information, but some need the report to include all transaction details, while others need only the totals by store and certain upper management people want to see just a one-page overview summary by region. The same records need to be gathered for any of these reports (because we can only generate totals from detail record contents - that's where the information is), but their layouts are entirely different (at least, if we are concerned about the quality of presentation of the finished reports).

Here is visually what I mean. A page of the detail report might look like this:

Detail Report

Here a regional manager or store manager can see the details of transactions on a daily basis and accounting personnel can cross-check this information against other sources. We could also generate other statistics, like number of sales, average sale, minimum and maximum sale, etc. if we needed to do so.

A page of the store-region summary would have a layout that makes it appear the store totals are represented by individual records rather than being summaries of many records:

Store-Region Summary

And finally, the one-page region-only summary makes it look like the region totals are held as records in the database. Note that we make the font size larger on this one both because we have the room and so those upper level management people can read them more clearly:

Region Summary

In earlier days we might well be tempted to create three Report Classes and invoke the appropriate one from an external method that manipulates the data and triggers the processing of each Record Section. But we're using Omnis Studio now and we'd like to encapsulate these various layouts and the data gathering into a single Report Class for easier maintenance. These reports were generated from such a Report Class, which we will build in this article.

To simplify this example so we can focus on only the layout changes, we will continue to use native Omnis and allow Omnis Studio to perform the data gathering tasks for us (which could include the use of a Search Class for selecting a range of dates). But data gathering is not our focus here. In a future article we will examine how to include data gathering in our $construct method as well. As mentioned above, there are two Files involved in this report: a Sales File, which is connected to a Store File. The Store File contains the Region information as a Short integer field (0=Eastern, 1=Central, 2=Southern and 3=Western). With Sales as the Main File of the report, we can use any field from either File as a Sort Field. We will make storeFile.region be sort level number 1 and storeFile.code (store number) be sort level number 2. In the default (detail) version of the report we will trigger both subtotals and a page break for any change on either of these two variables.

But before we set about solving the rest of this problem, we need to understand a few more things about Report Class objects...

Important Facts About Report Objects

Unlike objects on a Window or Remote Form Class, all objects on a Report Class layout are equals in a sense. That is, they all belong to the same group: the $objs group of the class/instance. Omnis Studio makes no distinction between foreground and background objects in a report - at least as far as Omnis Studio Notation is concerned - even though they are selected from separate sections of the Component Store. Neither Report Classes nor Report Instances contain a $bobjs group. This has a few implications that we will explore in this and future articles.

For example, we can assign names of our own choosing to "background" objects in a report. The Property Manager does not allow this, but we can do it through Notation. Why would we want to do this? One reason might be that we need to modify one or more property values of a cluster of similar objects (see the section on "Naming and Configuring Report Background Objects" below) and it is easier to use a naming convention to address the entire group using $sendall() than it is to use the $ident values (which may not fall in a contiguous range). This gives us greater control over and flexibility with the process. When we perform such name assignments, it is best to do them to the objects in the Class so that the change is "permanent".

But something even more magical happens if we assign a name to a background object in the class. Once a Report Class object has a customized name, it appears in the field listing on the left side of the Method Editor for that Report Class. This allows us to assign methods to background report objects! We will not explore this intriguing facet of report background objects in this article, but expect to see a lengthy discussion on it here in the near future.

There are also some interesting facts regarding Sections of a report of which we must be aware. While we may think of Sections as "containers", Omnis Studio Notation does not treat them that way in design mode. A Section banner is just another object in the $objs group as far as the Notation is concerned, although its $objtype value is kSection and it also has a $sectiontype property. While Omnis Studio does lay out all the objects in a Virtual Section first and then places the entire contents of that Virtual Section onto the Virtual Page as a unit, the Section banner itself functions more like a Repeat loop than a container - programmatically speaking. Removing a Section banner from a report layout does not remove all the objects within the Section as would removing a tab pane from a window layout.

Every object, including every section banner, falls on a given line in the report layout and has a corresponding value in its $lineno property. We can change the location of an object within the report by changing the value of its $lineno property. Among other reasons, we would do this as part of a process to add or remove lines from the report layout (since we can't directly select a line using Notation and remove it or add another next to it). Removing an object, like a section banner, from a report layout does not remove the line on which that object once resided. We must instead decrement the $lineno value of each object on the report layout that has a $lineno value greater than the line we wish to remove.

Armed with these facts, let's begin work in the $construct method of our Report Class to allow it to be used for the multiple purposes demonstrated above.

Naming and Configuring Report Background Objects

There may be some property values of some objects in our Report Class that we need to change on construction of a report instance no matter how the rest of the report is configured. For example, I like to delineate the page header and footer in many of the reports I create with bold horizontal lines that extend from the left margin to the right margin. But if I draw such lines full size in the Report Class, they often get in the way of making multiple field selections - especially when I need to align fields in the body of the report with fields in the header or footer. Sure, we can deselect the line(s) from the group, but what a bother! I would rather that they just weren't in the way while I'm performing other layout tasks.

So what we can do is to make our lines originally very short and move them off to the side of the layout while we are in "design mode". We can then use the $construct method to resize and reposition all such lines when our report is instantiated. This is easier to do in a single step if our lines are given similar names.

To name these background objects, we can temporarily add some method lines to any method in our Report Class. We will manually execute these lines of code in a moment and can completely remove them when the job is done if we wish, so it doesn't matter where we put them for now. We will give all of our horizontal dividing lines names that begin with "ext", indicating that we want to "extend" them. If their $ident values are (from top to bottom) 1010, 1014 and 1022, then we would create the following method lines (Notice that we address these objects in the class):

Object Naming Code

If we double-click on the first of these lines in the Method Editor, a Go point indicator (triangle in the margin to the left of the selected method line) appears indicating that this method is currently in "execution mode". We can then step through each line, executing them one at a time until all have been processed. We then select the Clear Method Stack item from the Stack menu of the Method Editor window to exit execution mode. This technique causes the method lines to be executed in Design Space, but that is OK since we only need to affect design objects in a class. We can now either comment out or completely remove these lines since their job has been done. The list of report objects in the Method Editor will now look something like this (after closing and re-opening the Method Editor to force a redraw):

Method Editor Object Listing

In our $construct method, we can now add the following lines of code to extend these lines when the report is instantiated:

Line Extending Code

We add the local variable pgwidth (Number floating dp data type) and assign it a value so that the calculation only needs to be executed once. Notice that the $sendall() method is actually performing two operations for each object: setting the $left property value to 0 and setting the $width property value to the width of the page inside the margins. Also notice that this composite message only applies to objects whose $name property value begins with the string "ext".

But this is just the beginning of what we can (and must) do in this example. Let's move on to the more important items...

Needs of the Project

Let us now consider the needs of the three configurations for our report. We need a detail report, a summary by store and region and a summary by region alone. The first thing we need is a parameter variable for the report's $construct method that indicates which configuration the current instance is to use. We will name this variable summaryLevel and give it a Short integer data type. A value of 0 will invoke the detail version, 1 will indicate the store-and-region summary and 2 will launch the region-only summary. We will set a default value of 0 for now and change this as we work on our code to force the different summary levels without having to pass the parameter value from an outside method. Once this report is deployed in our application, of course, any parameter passed to the report will override our default.

We will set up the detail view as the base report configuration. This allows us to test whether the proper records are being gathered and that the proper sorting is taking place, etc. Our two levels of subtotal are set up as shown here:

Sort Fields

The complete Report Class layout looks like this:

Basic Report Layout

The reportTitle field in the header is a calculated entry field with a text value of

con(pick(storeFile.region,'Eastern','Central','Southern','Western'),' Region Sales Summary')

The field named storeheadCityState also combines the city and state values using the con() function. The section just above the Record section is the Subtotal Heading 2 section. Note that we are not using a Subtotal heading 1 section because our Page Heading section serves that function.

The Record section contains fields to display the transaction code , sales date and amount values from the saleFile record. Other than date formatting, there is nothing special done in any of these fields. They are deliberately put over to the right a bit to simulate their positions in a more complex report that could have more detailed information. While the amount fields in the Subtotal and Totals sections must line up directly beneath their sister in the Record section, we may want to move them in the other configurations where the Record section does not appear.

In each of the aggregate sections there are two fields. The field on the left is a text (background) object that uses square bracket notation to display the proper store or region name in the Subtotal sections. For better layout in the detail view, these objects are right justified. The field on the right represents the saleFile.amount variable with a totalmode value of kTMTotal. Each of these fields is also right justified so that the decimal point in its contents is aligned with those of its sister fields in the sections above and/or below.

If we print this report as it is, we will get results like the first report we saw in the introduction above.

OK, what must change in this configuration to make a good-looking report at the summary levels? First, for either of them we need to set the repeat factor of the report instance to 0. This is the number of times the Record section contents are placed on the Virtual Page that is eventually sent to the printer. When the repeat factor is set to 0, the Record section is not printed - but it is still processed, which sets this apart from other techniques for suppressing the printing of that section. This means that our totals will be properly accumulated.

For the store-region summary, we no longer need or desire to trigger a new page each time the store code changes. We now want as many stores as possible to appear on the same page (as long as they belong to the same region). In fact, we also don't want the Subtotal heading 2 section to print (the Subtotal heading 2 section needs to be removed along with all objects inside of it) because the fields in the Subtotal level 2 section are sufficient to identify each store - and the subtotal we want to display is already there! But these fields still need to be reconfigured so that they are more centered on the page - and the label field on the left would look better if it were now left justified. The Subtotal level 1 and Totals section fields need to be moved in a corresponding way. Making these changes should result in the second report we saw in the introduction.

The region-only summary needs the same changes as the store-region summary, plus a few more. For this reason, we are nesting the region-only enhancements inside the store-region modifications. In addition to the modifications listed above, the region-only summary requires that we remove the inner subtotal level completely, rework Subtotal level 1 as we did with Subtotal level 2 above and rework the Page heading section content a bit to show a more generic page title.

By the way, I am using inches rather than centimeters for the measurements in this article. Just thought you should know...

All right, then. Let's get out our checklists and begin the notational surgery!

Basic Needs

We know that any summary report needs its $repeatfactor property value changed to 0. We also know that a parameter will be passed to indicate this. So a good place to begin our $construct method is to test for a non-zero value of summaryLevel and set the $repeatfactor value based on this (its default for $repeatfactor in the class is 1). We also know that the region-only summary incorporates all the changes from the store-region summary, so we can build this structure while we're at it:

Basic method Structure

Of course, we need to flesh this out quite a bit, but this is the conditional relationship for the rest of our code.

We will also find it useful to name the text objects that act as labels in the subtotal and totals sections as well as the fields used to report the various levels of subtotal for saleFile.amount. We will name the items in Subtotal level 2 with a string that begins with "sub2", use "sub1" as a prefix for object names in Subtotal level 1 and "tot" for the objects in the Totals section. For consistency, we will use "label" and "amount" to complete the names of the appropriate objects. In the same way, we will use the string "storehead" as a prefix for the names of the fields in the Subtotal heading 2 section.

Since the text objects must have their names assigned using Notation, here are the lines of code I used in my example. You may need to change the $ident values for your own version:

Uncommented Labeling Code

Now for the next item...

Modifying Sort Field Property Values

The next thing we must do is to eliminate the automatic page break on a change of storeFile.code value when we are printing a summary report. We do this with a simple calculation to set the value of the $newpage property of the second sort field:

Reset Level 2 Newpage Value

Since we know that we want to perform this same operation on the level 1 sort field for our region-only summary, we may as well do that now too by simply copying and pasting and then changing the 2 to a 1. But we need to perform another sort field modification for the grand summary: we need to switch off subtotaling for sort level 2. This means changing the $subtotals property value to kFalse for that level. Once we do so, our code will now look like this:

Sort Field Modifications Complete

The order in which we perform this change relative to other modifications we make doesn't matter. It is only important that these changes be made before any records are processed.

But we are still subtotaling on level 2 in the store-region summary. Printing both the Subtotal heading 2 and the Subtotal level 2 sections won't look very good, though, so let's remove the Subtotal heading 2 section...

Removing Report Objects

This gets a bit tricky in the case of removing sections because the objects that were included in that section now float up to the section above. In our case, the fields that were in the Subtotal heading 2 section will become part of the Page heading section. This is not what we want, so we must remove each of those items as well. And the $sendall() method does not seem to allow the $remove() method for the group on which it operates to work inside itself, so we must remove these items individually. (I would be happy to be corrected - with working examples - on this point!)

It is far easier to have all the objects required for the most complex form of our report included in the class and "fully loaded" with property values and methods and then to remove those that are not needed for a specific configuration than it is to build a number of fields and populate them with the necessary items dynamically. For this reason, we will only discuss removal of items in this article.

To remove an item from a group, we use the $remove() method. In a report layout, the only group involved is the $objs group for that report instance. The $remove() method requires as its single parameter a notational reference to the exact item to be removed. So to remove the Subtotal heading 2 section we would execute:

Remove Subtotal Heading 2 Code

We remove the objects that were in this section in the same way, just substituting their names for the name of the subtotal heading section and using one line of code for each object. But this leaves a big group of empty lines. What do we do with those?

Removing Report Layout Lines

Removing a line in a report layout is easy. We just reduce by 1 the $lineno value for each object that has a line number greater than the line we wish to remove. Doing this using $sendall() performs the operation in object number order (order within the $objs group is by line and position on a line, not by $ident), so the End of report section is moved up last. If the objects on this line have not been removed, they are simply joined by the objects from the line below. But since we only want to move lines up that were below the section we removed, we need to do a bit more work...

Before we remove the section banner, it is a good idea to remember what line number in the report layout this section banner resides on. That way we can remove the empty line(s) that remain after the section banner and objects have been eliminated. So let's create a local variable named linenumber of Short integer data type (assuming we will have fewer than 255 lines in the report layout) and use it to capture the $lineno value for the subtotal heading before we remove it. We can then use that variable to determine which objects in the report need to be scooted up a notch (in this case, 4 lines) after removing all the now-unnecessary objects in this section. After doing all of this, our code will look like:

Code to Remove Entire Section

This block of code then removes the entire section, lines and all!

Adding a line is a different matter. In this case, we need to make room for the line first by incrementing the $lineno value of the End of report section by 1 and then doing the same for all items with line number values greater than or equal to the one we want to insert - except for the End of report section, which has already been moved down. Fortunately, we don't need to add lines to the report in this example.

We can add or remove more than one line at a time too as was shown in this example. We just increment or decrement those $lineno values by some integer value other than 1. The main thing we need to be careful of is not trying to set a negative or 0 $lineno value or one that is greater than or equal to the $lineno value of the End of report section.

Cosmetic Surgery

Now we just need to clean up the layout a bit. First for the store-region summary report: In the Subtotal level 2 section, we now need the contents of each iteration to line up nicely with with those of the other subtotal sections at the same level - as if they were Record sections. To this end, we want to left justify the label and pull both fields to the left to better center the contents on the page. This can be done with either careful measuring and arithmetic or a bit of experimentation (whichever works best for you). We also want to change the contents of the label itself, because line after line of "Total for <store name>" looks pretty bad. If these are to look like record images, then the store name should stand alone. So we need to modify the $text property value and set it to "[]" (note the square brackets in this case).

We should also tighten up the spacing a little (a nip here, a tuck there). When this was a subtotal section that followed a bunch of record sections, we needed some space to set the subtotal off from those record images. Now that this section is acting like a record section, the extra spacing looks bad and wastes space on the page. So we should move the fields whose names begin with "sub2" (remember our naming convention) up one line and we should move all the objects lower down the page up two lines. To know which fields those are, we need to use our linenumber variable again, this time capturing the $lineno value of the sub2amount (or sub2label) object after it has been moved up.

Finally, we should bring the contents of the other aggregation sections into line horizontally with Subtotal level 2 objects. The "amount" field should be directly beneath the one in our primary section and the corresponding "label" field should be just to the left of that. We don't want those labels directly below the one in Subtotal level 2 because they would "blend in" with those pseudo-record lines and make the report less readable.

The code for this store-region summary cosmetic surgery is as follows:

Cosmetic Surgery 1

Anything Special for the Region-Only Summary?

I'm glad you asked! We have already dealt with the changes to the Sort Field properties, but these have certain implications that we must still accommodate. Then again, there are some pleasant surprises...

The main (and most pleasant) surprise is that since subtotaling is no longer triggered for this report on sort level 2, the subtotal level 2 section will not print. This simply means we don't have to remove it to keep it off the printed page! Every so often we get a break...

But there are other considerations. First, the string displayed in the reportTitle field in the Page header section is no longer appropriate. Showing the name of the current region worked for both the detail report and the store-region summary since a change in region triggered a new page. Now all our regions are on one page! Since this is a calculated entry field, we must change the $text property value to something more appropriate. Let's change it to "Regional Sales Summary". But since the $text property value is treated as an expression, we must remember to include quotes in the value placed there. So our calculation must use two nested sets of quotes - one single and one double (the order does not matter here). We could also use the con() function and either kSq or kDq to add single or double quotes to the string value.

Next, we need to modify the sub1label object in a similar way to how we modified the sub2label object for the store-region summary. We need to move it further to the left, make it left justified and remove the "Total for " string from its contents.

Finally (yes, really this time), we wanted to make the font size a bit larger to ease eye strain on the upper management people who will receive this report. To prepare for this, we should also move the totlabel field a little to the left as well (to accommodate the larger space required by the totamount field). We can then use $sendall() to set the point size of all fields in the Subtotal level 1 and Totals sections to 14. The final code for the region-only enhancements is then:

Region Only Enhancements

Was it Worth It?

I leave the answer to this up to you. I personally find this much more worthwhile than making multiple Report Classes for the same data. It isn't really that much code (33 lines for this one - with comment lines removed), it executes quickly and is easy to maintain (especially if well commented in-line). It just requires a little planning and analytical thought.

For those who would like to explore this code further, I will post a demo library on my web site at

Next time we will consider including data gathering methods in the $construct method of a report. This could get interesting!

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