How to Refresh Data in Power BI

There’s more to keeping Power BI data fresh than just hitting refresh. From manual updates to scheduled refreshes, and even real-time connections, the options are plentiful—but each comes with its own quirks and limitations.
If you’ve ever been caught with stale data in your Power BI reports, don’t worry. Let’s dive into how to keep your reports up-to-date and accurate.

Why is Data Refresh Important in Power BI? #

Picture this: You’re in a big meeting, confidently presenting your latest sales figures, when suddenly someone points out that your data is as outdated as last year’s memes. Yikes! Don’t let this be you—let’s make sure your reports are always up-to-date.

How to Refresh Power BI Report #

Need to update your data right now? No problem! Here’s how to do it in both Desktop and online:

How to Refresh Data in Power BI Desktop #

  1. Open your report
  2. Click the “Refresh” button in the Home tab
  3. Watch the magic happen!

How to Refresh Data in Power BI Online #

In Power BI Service (that’s the online version, for those keeping score):

  1. Navigate to your dataset
  2. Click the “More options” (…) button
  3. Select “Refresh now”
  4. Sit back and let Power BI do its thing

How to Set Up Scheduled Refreshes in Power BI #

Why refresh manually when you can make Power BI do the work for you? Here’s how to set up scheduled refreshes:

  1. In Power BI Service, go to your dataset settings
  2. Click on the “Scheduled refresh” section
  3. Toggle that switch to “On”
  4. Choose how often you want to refresh (daily, weekly, hourly—you name it!)
  5. Pick your preferred times
  6. Hit “Apply” and you’re good to go!
Image property of Microsoft Learn

Pro tip: Think about how often your source data changes. No need to refresh hourly if your data only updates daily!

How to Refresh Data in Power BI Desktop Automatically #

While Power BI Desktop doesn’t have a built-in auto-refresh feature, you can set up a workaround using Power Automate (formerly known as Microsoft Flow). Here’s a quick overview:

  1. Create a Power Automate flow
  2. Use the “Refresh a dataset” action in Power Automate
  3. Set a schedule for your flow
  4. Connect it to your Power BI dataset

This method refreshes the dataset in the Power BI service, which then syncs with your Desktop file when you open it. It’s not quite “automatic,” but it’s pretty close!

Advanced Refresh Techniques #

Incremental Refresh: Perfect for big datasets. Only refresh what’s new or changed, saving time and resources. It’s like updating your wardrobe without throwing out all your clothes!

DirectQuery Mode: Want real-time data? DirectQuery mode lets you query your data source directly. It’s like having a hotline to your database!

Dedicated Refresh Server: For the serious data crunchers. Set up a server just for refreshing data. It’s like having a personal chef for your data—always ready to serve up the freshest information.

Refreshing Data from Different Sources #

Got data coming from all over the place? No worries! Power BI’s got you covered:

  1. Go to “Get Data” in Power BI Desktop
  2. Choose your new data source
  3. Connect and select your data
  4. Transform if needed (because who doesn’t love a good makeover?)
  5. Load it up!

What Are the Best Practices for Data Refresh in Power BI? #

Match Refresh Frequency to Data Updates #

Don’t refresh hourly if your data only changes daily. Analyze your data sources to understand their update patterns, whether hourly, daily, weekly, or at other intervals. Set your refresh frequency accordingly, avoiding unnecessary refreshes that consume resources without providing new data. For example, if your source data is updated daily, scheduling hourly refreshes would be inefficient. By aligning refresh schedules with actual data update frequencies, you optimize system performance, reduce unnecessary processing, and ensure that your Power BI reports consistently reflect the most current data available.

Use Incremental Refresh #

Incremental refresh is a powerful feature in Power BI that can significantly improve refresh times and efficiency for large datasets. This approach focuses on updating only new or modified data, rather than refreshing the entire dataset each time. To implement incremental refresh:

  • Set up date parameters in your queries to define the refresh range.
  • Enable incremental refresh in the dataset settings.
  • Configure the refresh window and update frequency based on your data needs.

Slim Down Your Data #

Utilize Power Query to refine your datasets before importing them into Power BI. Focus on filtering out unnecessary columns and rows, ensuring that only relevant data is loaded into your model. This targeted approach not only reduces refresh times but also enhances report responsiveness. By minimizing the volume of data processed, you’ll see significant improvements in both refresh speed and user experience.

Schedule Off-Peak Refreshes #

Strategic scheduling of data refreshes can significantly improve overall system performance and data availability. Plan your Power BI refreshes during off-peak hours when possible, typically during nighttime or weekends, depending on your organization’s usage patterns.

By scheduling refreshes during less busy periods, you can take advantage of available system resources, potentially reducing refresh duration and avoiding conflicts with other data-intensive operations.

Consider DirectQuery / Live Connections #

Want real-time data? DirectQuery mode lets you query your data source directly. It’s perfect when you need up-to-the-second insights. Just remember, it might be a bit slower than importing data. For massive datasets or real-time needs, these options can be game-changers. But watch out for row count limits and potential performance hits.

Consider a Dedicated Data Refresh Server #

For the serious data crunchers, set up a server just for refreshing data. This specialized server focuses solely on handling data refresh tasks, ensuring that these resource-intensive processes don’t compete with other operations. By allocating dedicated resources to data refreshes, you can achieve faster update times, reduce strain on your primary systems, and maintain consistent performance for end-users accessing reports and dashboards.

Optimize Your Data Model #

Keep it lean and mean! Start by embracing the star schema – it’s not just for stargazers, but a powerful way to organize your data for maximum performance. While you’re at it, keep those relationships simple. Bi-directional and many-to-many relationships on high cardinality columns might seem cool, but they’re like kryptonite to your refresh speed. A streamlined model refreshes faster and performs better.

Monitor and Alert #

Enable refresh history to track all refresh attempts, allowing you to identify patterns and recurring issues quickly. This proactive approach helps you spot potential problems before they impact your reports. Additionally, set up refresh alerts to receive immediate notifications when a scheduled refresh fails. These alerts enable you to address issues promptly, minimizing downtime and ensuring your data remains up-to-date.

Troubleshooting and Common Data Refresh Errors in Power BI #

Even the smoothest data operations hit bumps sometimes. Let’s dive into the most common refresh errors in Power BI and how to tackle them like a pro!

Credential Issues #

This is like showing up to a party and forgetting the secret knock. Expired passwords or cached credentials can leave you locked out of your data source. Here’s how to fix it:

  • Clear your browser cache (it’s like giving your browser a fresh start)
  • Use this magic link: (it’s like asking the bouncer to double-check your ID)
  • Re-enter your credentials and watch those refresh errors disappear!

Gateway Timeout Error #

When your data gets stuck in transit, try these traffic-busting moves:

  • Check your internet connection
  • Review your gateway configuration
  • Increase the gateway timeout setting
  • Consider splitting large datasets into smaller chunks

Pro tip: Sometimes, less is more. Streamlining your dataset can work wonders for refresh speed!

Outdated Gateway Issues #

On-premises data gateways can be finicky if they’re not up-to-date. The solution:

  • Check your gateway version
  • Update to the latest version or at least one of the last six supported versions
  • Restart your gateway and watch those refresh errors vanish!

Data Source Connection Error #

Can’t access your data source? Here’s how to pick the lock:

  • Double-check your credentials
  • Review firewall settings
  • Ensure your data source is accessible
  • Verify you have the right permissions

Keeping your access details up-to-date is key to smooth refreshes.

Data Source Schema Changes #

Imagine if someone rearranged all the furniture in your house without telling you. That’s what schema changes feel like to your Power BI reports. If columns get renamed or tables vanish, your refresh will throw a fit. The fix:

  • Head back to Power BI Desktop
  • Update your Power Query to match the new structure
  • Republish your model (it’s like redecorating to match the new layout)

Adaptation is key: Regular check-ins with your data sources can help you stay ahead of these changes.

Data Load Failure #

When your data doesn’t fit quite right, try these puzzle-solving techniques:

  • Review your data model
  • Check your transformation steps
  • Look for changes in your source data structure
  • Optimize your queries

Hint: Sometimes, the simplest model is the most effective. Don’t overcomplicate things!

Data Refresh Failure #

This catch-all error requires some detective work:

  • Check the error message for specific details
  • Verify your connection and gateway settings
  • Look for any changes in your data source
  • Try a manual refresh to see if you can replicate the issue

Detective tip: Document each step of your investigation. It might come in handy for future troubleshooting!

Resource Throttling #

Hitting the limits in Power BI Premium? Try these strategies:

  • Review your refresh schedule
  • Check Microsoft’s documentation for capacity limits based on your SKU
  • Consider upgrading your capacity if you’re consistently hitting limits

Plan ahead: Anticipating your capacity needs can save you from last-minute crunches.

FAQs #

How often can I refresh my Power BI report? #

It depends on your Power BI license and data source. With a Pro or Premium license, you can refresh up to 8 times a day for most data sources. Some sources, like DirectQuery, update in real-time. Keep in mind that more frequent refreshes can impact performance, so find the sweet spot that balances freshness with efficiency. Just because you can refresh every hour doesn't mean you should though!

Do I need a Pro license for scheduled refresh? #

For the full refresh experience, yes, you'll want a Pro license. It's like upgrading from a flip phone to a smartphone—suddenly, you've got all these cool features! With a Pro license, you can set up scheduled refreshes, use a gateway for on-premises data sources, and refresh more frequently. The free license still lets you refresh manually, but for that "set it and forget it" magic, Pro is the way to go. Check our How to Schedule Refresh in Power BI section in the article above.

Can I refresh my report while others are viewing it? #

Yes, you can! Power BI is smart enough to handle this without kicking your users out. It's like changing the tires on a moving car (but way less dangerous). When you refresh, Power BI updates the underlying dataset. Users might see a brief loading message, but they can keep interacting with the report. Once the refresh is complete, they'll automatically see the updated data. Just be mindful that refreshing during peak usage times might slow things down a bit.