Basic concepts for designers in the Power BI service

The aim of this article is to familiarize you with the Power BI service: what the different elements are, how they work together, and how you can work with them. You might get more out of it if you've already signed up for the Power BI service and added some data. As a designer, your typical workflow is usually to start by creating reports in Power BI Desktop. Then you publish them to the Power BI service, where you can continue modifying them. You also use the Power BI service to create the dashboards based on your reports.

For this article, if you don't have your own reports yet, install one of the Power BI samples.

Screenshot of the Power BI service Home screen in a browser with numbered areas in the list that follows.

When you open the Power BI service in a browser, you start at your Home screen. Here are the elements you might see:

  1. Navigation pane
  2. Microsoft 365 app launcher
  3. Power BI home button
  4. Icon buttons, including settings, help, and feedback
  5. Search box
  6. Recommended content that you use the most or have marked as favorites
  7. Recent, Favorites, and My apps tabs

You and the end users for your reports and dashboards have the same start experience in the Power BI service in a browser.

We'll dig into these features later, but first let's review some Power BI concepts. Or you might want to watch this video first. In the video, Will reviews the basic concepts and gives a tour of the Power BI service.


This video might use earlier versions of Power BI Desktop or the Power BI service.

Power BI concepts

The major building blocks of Power BI are: dashboards, reports, workbooks, semantic models, dataflows, and apps. They're all organized into workspaces, and they're created on capacities. It's important to understand capacities and workspaces before we dig into the building blocks, so let's start there.


Capacities are a core Power BI concept representing a set of resources (storage, processor, and memory) used to host and deliver your Power BI content. Capacities are either shared or reserved. A shared capacity is shared with other Microsoft customers, while a reserved capacity is reserved for a single customer. Reserved capacities require a subscription, and are fully described in Managing Premium capacities.

By default, workspaces are created in a shared capacity. In shared capacity, workloads run on computational resources shared with other customers. As the capacity must share resources, limitations are imposed to ensure "fair play", such as the maximum model size (1 GB) and maximum daily refresh frequency (eight times per day).


Workspaces are created on capacities. Essentially, they're containers for dashboards, reports, apps, workbooks, semantic models, and dataflows in Power BI.

There are two types of workspaces: My workspace and workspaces.

  • My workspace is the personal workspace for any Power BI customer to work with your own content. Only you have access to your My workspace. You can share dashboards and reports from your My workspace. If you want to collaborate on dashboards and reports, or create an app, then you want to work in a workspace.

  • Workspaces are used to collaborate and share content with colleagues. You can add colleagues to your workspaces and collaborate on dashboards, reports, apps, workbooks, and semantic models. With one exception*, each workspace member needs a Power BI Pro or Premium Per User (PPU) license.

    Workspaces are also the places where you create, publish, and manage apps for your organization. Think of workspaces as staging areas and containers for the content that make up a Power BI app (see the following section).

For more information about sharing in general, see Ways to collaborate and share in Power BI.

Now, on to the Power BI building blocks.


An app is a collection of dashboards and reports built to deliver key metrics to the Power BI consumers in your organization. Apps are interactive, but consumers can't edit them. App consumers, the colleagues who have access to the apps, don't necessarily need Pro or Premium Per User (PPU) licenses. An app can have permissions that are different than the permissions set on a workspace. This capability makes it easier for designers to manage permissions on an app.

Apps are an easy way for designers to share many types of content at one time. App designers create dashboards and reports and then bundle them together into an app. The designers share or publish the app to a location where the business user can access it. It's easier to find and install content in the Power BI service or on a mobile device when it's organized together as an app. After installing an app, the business user doesn't have to remember the names of several dashboards or reports because they're all together in one app. They can easily access the app in a browser or on a mobile device.


A dataflow helps organizations to unify data from disparate sources. They're optional, and are often used in complex or larger projects. They represent data prepared and staged for use by semantic models. Dataflows are surfaced in Power BI Desktop with a dedicated connector to enable reporting. When you connect to a dataflow, your semantic model can use the previously prepared data and business logic, promoting a single source of the truth and data reusability. They use the extensive collection of Microsoft Purview Data Connectors, enabling the ingestion of data from on-premises and cloud-based data sources.

Dataflows are created and managed only in workspaces (but not My workspace), and they're stored as entities in the Common Data Model (CDM) in Azure Data Lake Storage Gen2. Typically, they're scheduled to refresh on a recurring basis to store up-to-date data. They're great for preparing data for use—and potential reuse—by your semantic models. For more information, see Introduction to dataflows and self-service data prep.

A dataflow can be consumed in the following three ways:

  • Create a linked table from the dataflow to allow another dataflow author to use the data.
  • Create a semantic model from the dataflow to allow a user to utilize the data to create reports.
  • Create a connection from external tools that can read from the CDM (Common Data Model) format.

Consume from Power BI Desktop To consume a dataflow, open Power BI Desktop and select Power BI dataflows in the Get Data dropdown.


The Power BI dataflows connector uses a different set of credentials than the current logged in user. This is by design to support multi-tenant users.

Screenshot of Power BI Desktop highlighting the Power BI dataflows option in the Get data dropdown.

Select the dataflow and tables to which you want to connect.

You can't have dashboards or reports without data (well, you can have empty dashboards and empty reports, but they're not useful until they have data), so let's look at semantic models.

Dig deeper into dataflows

Semantic models

A semantic model is a collection of data that you import or connect to. Power BI lets you connect to and import all sorts of semantic models and bring all of it together in one place. Semantic models can also source data from dataflows.

Semantic models are associated with workspaces, and a single semantic model can be part of many workspaces. When you open a workspace, the associated semantic models are listed under the Semantic models tab. Each listed semantic model is a source of data available for one or more reports, and the semantic model can contain data that comes from one or more sources—for example, an Excel workbook on OneDrive, or an on-premises SSAS tabular dataset, or a Salesforce dataset. There are many different data sources supported, and we're adding new ones all the time. See the list of dataset types that you can use with Power BI.

In the following example, we selected My workspace and then selected the Semantic models + dataflows tab.

Screenshot of Power BI showing a sample workspace with Semantic models selected.

ONE semantic model...

  • Can be used over and over in one or in many workspaces.

  • Can be used in many different reports.

  • Visualizations from that one semantic model can display on many different dashboards.

    Diagram showing semantic model relationships to a report and a dashboard.

To connect to or import a semantic model, select Create in the nav pane. Follow the instructions to connect to or import the specific source and add the semantic model to the active workspace. New semantic models are marked with a yellow asterisk. The work you do in Power BI doesn't change the underlying semantic model.

Semantic models added by one workspace member are available to the other workspace members with an admin, member, or contributor role.

Semantic models can be refreshed, renamed, explored, and removed. Use a semantic model to create a report from scratch or by running quick insights. To see which reports and dashboards are already using a semantic model, select View related. To explore a semantic model, select it. What you're actually doing is opening the semantic model in the report editor, where you can really start exploring the data by creating visualizations.

Now, let's move on to the next section—reports.

Dig deeper into semantic models


A Power BI report is one or more pages of visualizations such as line charts, maps, and treemaps. Visualizations are also called visuals. All of the visualizations in a report come from a single semantic model. Reports can be created from scratch by you and your colleagues, and can be shared with you directly, in a workspace, or as part of an app. Sometimes Power BI creates them for you when you connect to datasets from Excel, Power BI Desktop, databases, and SaaS applications. For example, when you connect to an SaaS application, Power BI imports a pre-built report.

There are two modes to view and interact with reports: Reading view and Editing view. When you open a report, it opens in Reading view. If you have edit permissions, then you see Edit report in the upper-left corner, and you can view the report in Editing view. If a report is in a workspace, everyone with an admin, member, or contributor role can edit it. They have access to all the exploring, designing, building, and sharing capabilities of Editing view for that report. The people they share the report with can explore and interact with the report in Reading view.

When you open a workspace, the associated reports are listed under the Content tab. Each listed report represents one or more pages of visualizations based on only one of the underlying semantic models. To open a report, select it.

When you open an app, you're presented with a dashboard or a report. If the app opens a dashboard, to access the underlying report, select a dashboard tile (more on tiles later) that was pinned from a report. Keep in mind that not all tiles are pinned from reports, so you might have to select a few tiles to find a report.

Screenshot of an app that has opened to a dashboard.

If the app opens to a report, you see a list of report pages (and optionally a dashboard) along the left side.

Screenshot of an app that has opened to a report.

By default, the report opens in Reading view. Just select Edit report to open it in Editing view (if you have the necessary permissions).

In the following example, we selected My workspace and then chose the Content tab.

Screenshot of Power BI showing a sample workspace with Content selected.

ONE report...

  • Is contained in a single workspace.

  • Can be associated with multiple dashboards within that workspace. Tiles pinned from that one report can appear on multiple dashboards.

  • Can be created using data from one semantic model. Power BI Desktop can combine more than one data source into a single semantic model in a report, and that report can be imported into Power BI.

    Diagram showing Report relationships to a semantic model and a dashboard.

Dig deeper into reports


A dashboard is something you create in the Power BI service or something a colleague creates in the Power BI service and shares with you. It's a single canvas that contains zero or more tiles and widgets. Each tile pinned from a report or from Q&A displays a single visualization that was created from a semantic model and pinned to the dashboard. Entire report pages can also be pinned to a dashboard as a single tile. There are many ways to add tiles to your dashboard; too many to be covered in this overview article. For more information, see Intro to dashboard tiles for Power BI designers.

Why do people create dashboards? Here are just some of the reasons:

  • To see, in one glance, all the information needed to make decisions.
  • To monitor the most-important information about your business.
  • To ensure all colleagues are on the same page, viewing and using the same information.
  • To monitor the health of a business or product or business unit or marketing campaign, and more.
  • To create a personalized view of a larger dashboard—all the metrics that matter to you.

When you open a workspace, the associated dashboards are listed under the Content tab.

Screenshot of a workspace that includes dashboards.

To open a dashboard, select it. When you open an app, you're presented with a dashboard or a report. Each dashboard represents a customized view of some subset of the underlying semantic models. If you own the dashboard, you also have edit access to the underlying semantic models and reports. If the dashboard was shared with you, the actions you can take depend on the permissions assigned by the owner.

There are many different ways that you, or a colleague, can share a dashboard. Power BI Pro is required for sharing a dashboard and might be required for viewing a shared dashboard.

ONE dashboard...

  • Is associated with a single workspace.

  • Can display visualizations from many different semantic models.

  • Can display visualizations from many different reports.

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

    Diagram showing Dashboard relationships to a semantic model and a report.

Dig deeper into dashboards


Workbooks are a special type of semantic model. If you've read the previous Semantic models section, you know almost all you need to know about workbooks. But you might be wondering why sometimes Power BI classifies an Excel workbook as a semantic model and other times as a workbook.

When you use data from Excel files, you can choose to either Import or Connect to the file. When you choose Connect, your workbook appears in Power BI just like it would in Excel Online. But, unlike Excel Online, you have some great features to help you pin elements from your worksheets right to your dashboards.

You can't edit your workbook in Power BI. If you need to make some changes, you can select Edit, and then choose to edit your workbook in Excel Online or open it in Excel on your computer. Any changes you make are saved to the workbook on OneDrive.

Dig deeper into workbooks

A dashboard in My workspace

We've covered workspaces, apps, and building blocks. Let's bring it together and review the pieces that make up the dashboard experience in the Power BI service.

Screenshot of the Power BI service in a browser showing numbered features in the list that follows.

1. Navigation pane

Use the nav pane to locate and move between your workspaces and the Power BI building blocks: dashboards, reports, apps, workbooks, and semantic models.

Screenshot of Power BI service navigation pane.

  • Add data or data sources by selecting Create.
  • Open or manage favorite content, recent content, or content shared with you by selecting Browse.
  • Explore the semantic models in your org to find the data that suits your needs by selecting OneLake data hub.
  • Track key business metrics by selecting Metrics.
  • View, open, or delete an app by selecting Apps.
  • Access your hub for all Power BI training and samples by selecting Learn.
  • Display and open your collaborative workspaces by selecting Workspaces.
  • Display and open your personal workspace by selecting My workspaces.

2. Canvas

Because we've opened a dashboard, the canvas area displays visualization tiles. If for example, we had opened the report editor, the canvas area would display a report page.

Dashboards are composed of tiles. Tiles are created in report Editing view, Q&A, other dashboards, and can be pinned from Excel, SSRS, and more. A special type of tile called a widget is added directly onto the dashboard. The tiles that appear on a dashboard were specifically put there by a report creator or owner. The act of adding a tile to a dashboard is called pinning.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing the dashboard canvas.

For more information, see the previous Dashboards section.

3. Q&A question box

One way to explore your data is to ask a question and let Power BI Q&A give you an answer, in the form of a visualization. Q&A can be used to add content to a dashboard or report.

Q&A looks for an answer in the semantic models connected to the dashboard. A connected semantic model is one that has at least one tile pinned to that dashboard.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing the Q and A question box.

As soon as you start to type your question, Q&A takes you to the Q&A page. As you type, Q&A helps you ask the right question and find the best answer with rephrasings, autofill, suggestions, and more. When you have a visualization (answer) you like, pin it to your dashboard. For more information, see Q&A for Power BI business users.

4. Icons in the black header bar

The icons in the upper right corner are your resource for settings, notifications, downloads, getting help, and providing feedback to the Power BI team.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing the icon buttons.

5. Dashboard title

It's not always easy to figure out which workspace and dashboard are active, so Power BI shows you the workspace and the dashboard title. In this example, we see the workspace (My workspace) and the dashboard title (Sales and Marketing Sample). If we opened a report, the name of the report would appear.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing the dashboard title.

6. Microsoft 365 app launcher

With the app launcher, your Microsoft 365 apps are easily available with one click. From here, you can quickly launch your email, documents, calendar, and more.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing the Microsoft 365 app launcher.

7. Power BI home

Selecting Power BI brings you back to your Power BI home.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing icon to return to Power BI home.

8. Labeled icons in the gray menu bar

This area of the screen contains more options for interacting with the content (in this case, with the dashboard). Besides the labeled icons you can see, selecting the More options (…) icon reveals options for seeing related content, opening lineage view, opening usage metrics, and more.

Screenshot of Power BI service showing labeled icon buttons.

Next steps