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Questions Answered From Presentation (Part 2): Creating SSRS Reports Efficiently Through Best Practices

On Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking for Pragmatic Works. For the month of March, they are highlighting Women in Tech and have the whole month lined up with female speakers on each Tuesday and Thursday. I was the first in the line up for the month and it ended up being my largest audience to date. There were 419 people listening in. I even saw some comments about there being others who couldn’t make it. Wow

Thanks to everyone who came to listen to my session. While I couldn’t hear anyone, I enjoyed reading the questions and comments that were sent to me afterwards, and let me tell you there were quite a few. Below you can find the answers to SECOND HALF of the questions that were asked. The first half of the questions can be found here.

Questions Answered

1. How do you make the report to see test database or production db or development db?

This is done by changing the data source properties. Say I have a database server called Monkey. I would create a shared data source called Monkey that each of the reports would share. On the Development SSRS Server, I would have the Monkey data source point to the development database. On the QA server, I would have the Monkey data source point to the QA database. And on the Production server, I would have the Monkey data source point to the production database. Each time the report is loaded into the new environment, it would automatically point to the correct database server.

If you are in a situation, where environments have to share a SSRS report manager (and I’m sorry if you are in that situation), then I would create a separate parent folder for each environment. For instance a parent folder called Development and a parent folder called QA. In each of these parent folders, I would create a folder for all your shared data sources for that environment. Each parent folder would have its own copy of the report and its own shared data source called Monkey pointing to the correct database.

2. When copyrighting, does your company need to be registered with the copyright office?

The answer to this question should come from your legal department. Through my experience, the answer is no. Copyright laws are different than patent laws. When I was an artist, the fact I made the artwork first, meant I owned the copyright. Even in another country.

3. Query for getting reports that have not been run.






ReportServer.dbo.Catalog AS c

LEFT JOIN [ReportServer].[dbo].[ExecutionLog3] AS e ON c.[Path] = e.ItemPath


e.ItemPath IS NULL

AND Path NOT LIKE '/Decommisioned Reports%' --Ignore folders I don't care about.

AND c.Type NOT IN (1, 5, 8) -- Ignore Folders, Data Sources, and Data Sets




4. How did you add the template file in Visual studio?

For SSRS 2012, I put the RDL, RSD, and RDS files in the following directory: C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Visual Studio 10.0\Common7\IDE\PrivateAssemblies\ ProjectItems\ReportProject. The directory will be different for 2008 and 2014.

5. What if a company doesn’t have any procedure for gathering requirements and creating/keeping documentation?

This puts you in the driver position. I would suggest meeting with your manager to discuss the benefits of having requirements documentation and a standard way of maintaining the documentation. I would then outline a plan for starting on this new path. I would start with new reports, and slowly add in existing reports as they get modified.

Awesome quote from one of the attendees:
I ask “what the decision is going to be taken with the data from the report”

6. How do you know the width to fit on landscape and portrait nicely?

I like half inch margins. So I subtract the two half inch margins from the width of the landscape or portrait paper. That becomes the width of the base report. I also set the half inch margins in the Margin property of the Report.

7. Could you show an example of a Tracking Number?

Sure! If I were using an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of my reports, I would number all my reports starting with 1000. (Why 1000? I like starting with 4 digits. No other reason.) If I were using a product like Team Foundation Server (TFS), then I would have each report represented by a work item. In either case, say the report named National Sales Revenue was represented by the number 1500. 1500 would always represent the report National Sales Revenue.

The first time this report is successfully published to production, it would be given a “release number” of 00. So the tracking number would look like 01500.00. After modifications were made to the report and republished to production, it would get a new release number of 01. The new tracking number would look like 01500.01.

In the location where I store all my documents for my reports, the report National Sales Revenue, will be stored under the number 01500. I usually add the name of the report to the folder name so that it looks something like 01500 – National Sales Revenue. This allows for two things. One, you can create the folder before you have a permanent title. (The temporary folder name would just be 01500.) Two, if the title changes later for some reason, you don’t lose the documentation location. It’s still under 01500.

8. What methodology do you use to create the Tracking Number or is it automatically generated from TFS?

When I’m using TFS, it is automatically generated for me. TFS uses a single sequential string of numbers across all the work item types (task, bug, custom work item, etc.), so you may have a report with number 1500, and then the next report will be number 1583. I do put a leading zero or two in front of the number so that when it goes two 5 digits, my folders are still in the correct order.

9. How do you put in the watermark?

a. Click on the base report.

b. Go to the properties window.

c. Click and open the BackgroundImage property.

d. Set the BackgroundRepeat property to repeat.

e. Set the MIMEType property to the correct format.

f. If you are using an Embedded image, set the following properties.

i. Source = Embedded

ii. Value = iif(First(Fields!EnvironmentID.Value, “GetReportStandards”) <3,”DRAFT”,””)

g. If you are using an image from the database, set the following properties.

i. Source = Database

ii. Value =iif(First(Fields!EnvironmentID.Value, “GetReportStandards”) <3,First(Fields!Draft.Value, “GetReportStandards”),””)

h. If you are using an image from a server location, set the following properties.

i. Source = External

ii. Value =iif(First(Fields!EnvironmentID.Value, “GetReportStandards”) <3,”location of your image”,””)

10. If a report is setup as a subscription, how can I tell if the subscribers are actually using/accessing the report?

This is an excellent question. The ReportServer Database will tell us which reports were executed through a subscription, but it cannot tell us if they were used. I have some ideas on ways to still capture the information, but they would require research and extra layers of complexity. If you want to hear about these ideas, send me an email.

Awesome idea from one of the attendees:
Maybe we should add a “pixel tag” to the report so that hits a web server which can track access.

11. This is not the question you are looking for. Move along. Move along.

12. Is there any way to handle the row hight dynamically in Excel output where include the merged cells? (Can grow does work with merged cells)

I don’t know a definitive answer to this question, but my inclination is to say no. Dynamically changing row height/width outside of the auto grow properties, is usually not possible. I have found ways around this by providing multiple layouts of columns/rows and hiding the ones I don’t want.

13. How can you use a business glossary to develop your label and be consistent across reports?

This question is a big one. The simple answer, is you need buy in from the business to make it happen and discipline from the entire team to make it successful. I would suggest you look into the topics for Data Governance, Business Semantics glossary, and Conceptual Data Modeling. These areas are what would help create and drive the business glossary from the very beginning, so that by the time you are ready to create a report, the terms already exist.

If you can’t get buy in yet, or ever, then I would suggest creating your own business glossary. Excel would work and is easily searchable. Make sure it is stored where your whole team can update it and use it.

14. Any major changes to SSRS 2014?

No. You can see the changes from version to version here. Just select the version you want to look at from the “other versions” drop down at the top of the article.

15. Can you tell what format they placed it in? PDf Excel

The Format Field in the ExecutionLog3 view will give you that information. Here is an example looking at the rendered format of a subscription.












RequestType = 'subscription'

AND ItemAction = 'Render'

16. How long did it take you to build this framework?

It took me a couple of years. I started by tracking down all the reports and entering them in an Excel spreadsheet. My manager wanted a more permanent solution that could be shared with others, so I was given time to create a custom Report Work Item in TFS. I then moved the whole catalog there and decommissioned the Excel based catalog.

For the requirements and design document, I slowly saw a pattern of questions that I kept asking, so I designed a requirements document and tweaked it over time.

For my report templates, I looked at existing reports. I took the consistent layouts I found, filled in some things I felt were missing like showing the parameters, and created the templates. They stayed pretty consistent over the years.

17. Is there a way to find out the limit of data export to Excel? We used to have reports which we can view, but time out when exporting to Excel. The limit is per size of other Excel or number of rows?

The limit will be how long it takes to do the export. There is a time limit and it if the export is not accomplished in that time frame, then it will time out. This can be changed with settings in the Report Manager. As far as the amount of data Excel can take, I would Google that, since different versions have different limits.

18. What’s better to use stored procedure or embedded SQL query and how to determine that?

This is an excellent question. This is also a highly debatable discussion, so this is my stance on the topic.

I prefer stored procedures for the following reasons:

  • Stored procedures are easier to modify when they need to be optimized. It is easier to track down a stored procedure in the cache plan than an inline SQL Statement in a report. You also only need to deploy the updated stored procedure back to production, not the report.
  • Dynamic queries are more likely to be classified as an “Adhoc query” by SQL Server. Depending how your SQL Server properties are set, the Execution Plan may never be kept in the cache, which means you will always have the overhead of creating the best Execution Plan.
  • On the reverse, if your SQL Server properties are set to handle Adhoc queries, then you can cause unnecessary bloating in your cache plan since every embedded query with different parameter values will be seen as a different query. That is not true of Stored Procedures….unless they have dynamic SQL inside them.

19. Would you recommend some sort of standards for Data Source Names?

I’m in favor of standards for everything. It satisfies my OCD needs. I keep all my data sources in one folder called either “Data Sources” or “DataSources”, depending if you like spaces in names. For the names, my data source names are the same name as the database they represent. If you have multiple databases with the same name in your production environment, then I would suggest adding the server name to the data source name. You want the Data Source names to represent what they are pointing to.

Name data sets the same way. I use the name of the stored procedure as the name of the data set. If you have the same stored procedure name in different Schemas, then I would include the Schema name in the data set name.

20. How to deploy the SSRS reports using TFS auto build?

I haven’t had the pleasure of using this feature. I unfortunately had to write a deployment document so that the report(s) could be deployed manually.

21. Can you mention the bug again with 2008 R2 with concatenated fields in excel prints?

Sure. In the footer of the report, I had a single textbox that had multiple fields in it. When the report was exported as an Excel document, the textbox was created in the footer of the Excel document, but the font size had been increased to 72 PT font. This bug did not occur on all of our servers.

22. All these best practices are good. I would like to see some more of practical on how to create hierarchies and links and other stuff, maybe in next webinar.

Please, please, please email me what you would like to see in sessions. I am always looking for ideas.

I have an example of a way to handle a hierarchy in my other Pragmatic Works session called: Scalable SSRS Reports Achieved Through the Powerful Tablix.

You can look at my recorded presentations page to see a list of presentations that have been recorded.

You can also look on my 2015 Speaking Engagements to see where I will be speaking or hope to be speaking this year.

23. No Russian Thank you? 🙁


Thanks for all the fish

Thanks go out to everyone who attended the presentation and for the patience of those who waited two weeks for me to answer the second half of the questions.

This is me sitting at a local café with my oldest daughter while I write, she studies, and we both drink flat white coffee. (This week she was working on an essay about Frankenstein and an exegetical essay for another class.  I’ll stick to SQL and SSRS.)
Mar 2015 Victoria and Me at Cafe

Questions Answered From Presentation (Part 1): Creating SSRS Reports Efficiently Through Best Practices

This past Tuesday, March 3rd, 2015, I had the privilege of speaking for Pragmatic Works. For the month of March, they are highlighting Women in Tech and have the whole month lined up with female speakers on each Tuesday and Thursday. I was the first in the line up for the month and it ended up being my largest audience to date. There were 419 people listening in. I even saw some comments about there being others who couldn’t make it. Wow

Thanks to everyone who came to listen to my session. While I couldn’t hear anyone, I enjoyed reading the questions and comments that were sent to me afterwards, and let me tell you there were quite a few. Below you can find the answers to HALF the questions that were asked. The other half of the questions will be answered next weekend.

Questions Answered

1. The number one question that was asked was: Will your documents, like your requirements document, be available?

Yes! You can find all the assets to the presentation under the Resources\Presentation menu on my website. I list all my presentation on this page, so just scroll to the correct presentation title.

I did get some comments about my SSRS templates missing. That has been fixed. Here are the three separate downloads:

If you missed the presentation, don’t worry. Pragmatic Works will be adding it to their catalog of past presentations here.

2. Hey, can you please share us that sample database?

I’m not sure which sample database this was pertaining to. Please email me.

3.  Would you give that mock up tool again?

It’s called Balsamiq. They are a wonderful company with a great user support forum. You can find tons of templates on their website and get your feet wet with a trial version.

4. Do you have any scripting that can be used to see what subscriptions are set up using all the various parameters?

I broke this question up into two questions because I wasn’t clear if you wanted existing subscriptions or executed subscriptions.


The ExecutionLog3 view in the report server database will have this information for you. You can filter the data on the RequestType field to show you only subscriptions. The Format field will tell you how it was rendered and the Parameters field will tell you what all the parameters were set too. The down side, is they use special escape characters, so you’ll have to decipher it.

@StartDate DATETIME = '03/1/2015'
,@EndDate DATETIME = '04/5/2015'

ItemPath NOT LIKE '/DataSets/%'
AND TimeStart >= @StartDate
AND TimeStart <= @EndDate
AND RequestType = 'Subscription'
AND ItemPath <> 'Unknown'


For existing subscriptions, you can look in the Subscriptions table in the ReportServer database. This lists the subscriptions that are set up, how they will be rendered, and the parameter values that will be used as well as other information.

5. Is there is way to bulk change the owner of a subscription? We have people leave and then when their account is deleted, the subscriptions stop working.

I’ve been asked this before. The information is stored in the ReportServer database, but I am always cautious about directly modifying this database. So , if you change it, then test it heavily  in development before applying the changes to production.

To help with this problem in the future, I would recommend a new standard. All subscriptions should be directed to Active Directory distribution lists. Even if the distribution list has only one person in it. I try to use existing distribution lists, but when I can’t, then I work with the Active Directory Admin (or whoever wears that hat). You could make a distribution list for a specific title, position, or category of people. I also made sure the description on the distribution list was filled out and included something like, “Do not delete this distribution list. It is used for subscriptions.”

6. What tool do you use for your report catalog?

There are several ways to create a report catalog. I started with an Excel document. After I outgrew that, I ended up creating a custom work item in TFS (Team Foundation Server). This allowed me to catalog the report, keep track of the workflow as the report went through its life cycle, and associate work items and bugs to the report.

Here is a blog post by Ted Gustaf on creating custom Workflows in TFS 2010.

7. Don’t you think that its better to get the Requirements and have them sign off on That ?? Prior to a Mock Up ?

Yes, it would save us some work too. Unfortunately, I found that the end users have a hard time verbalizing what they actually want. I find that the changes they request after seeing the mock-ups are not normally based on scope creep, but on the way they verbalized their needs when they initially gave them. This can be due to them not understanding what they really want, to them, assuming we know their data as well as they do. By creating the mockup, they have something tangible to look at. It’s analogous to telling a realtor that you want a three bedroom house, but the first one they show you is not what you were looking for. Now that you’ve seen the house, you can better articulate what you really want in a house.

8. Did you discuss the data quality requirements with your customers?

This is a very good question, and a delicate one. Some customers are very glad you bring this question up, and some customers assume all the data is accurate and will become concerned with past reports if they think the data is “dirty”.

Here are some scenarios and how I handled them. 

  • I was replacing an existing report that had bad data. This is an example of a delicate situation. My manager ended up coming with me to the meeting and backing me up. I showed samples of raw data under both reports and explained why the data was inaccurate before. Always save the explanation and data in an easy to locate place because they will be back asking again why a previous report is so different than a current report.
  • I had to aggregate data based on key phrases in a text field. This is an example where the customer is expecting to have a dialog about the quality of the data found. I spent some time looking at the raw data that did not match her phrases exactly and provided recommendations on additional phrases.
  • One of the requirements I was given for a report was based on ranges of numbers. For this report, I approached my client about the data I found that did not fall into the ranges he was expecting. In this case, it uncovered the need to validate the data when it was entered, so the client was grateful.

The bottom line is, be careful how and to whom you bring this question up to. It is a very important question and should always be addressed. It just may need to be addressed by your team instead of with the client, directly with the client, or in a very subtle manner with the client.

9. How do you place the Tablix color palette in the template form? And, could you provide, in your blog, info about Microsoft’s suggested methods of maintaining tracking info.

Below are the steps for creating a “color palette” on a new template. For your second question, I don’t know if there is an article from Microsoft for best practices on tracking info. In next weeks post, I have examples of how I did it.

Steps for adding your own color palette to a template

  • Add a table control (Tablix) to the body of a new report.
  • Remove the header row.
  • Make sure there is a column for each color in your color palate.
  • Make the width of each cell 0.2 in.
  • Change the background property of each cell to the name or hexadecimal value of your colors.

DeGraeve.com is a really cool website that can be used to create a color palette from an image.

Awesome quote from one of the attendees:
A formal report request process gives the requestor an opportunity to think closely about what is really wanted. Does not force it to happen, but increases the likelihood that a good and complete request will be done.

10. What do you use for Version Control?

I have used both Team Foundation Server (TFS) by Microsoft and Subversion, which is an open source product. There are a few versions of Subversion out there. I used the Tortoise version.

For maintaining my SQL source code easily, I also use Redgate’s SQL Source Control product. It’s like a bridge between your repository (TFS, Subversion, etc.) and SSMS. I am happy to talk to anyone on Redgate’s products. Just send me an email. (No, I don’t work for them. I’m just addicted to their products.)

11. Is it better to use Visual Studios of Report Builder?

Better is not the word I would use. More Powerful is the adjective I would use. Report Builder only has a subset of features that you have in Visual Studio. It was designed to empower “power users” and to provide “self service BI solutions”. If you are designing reports all the time, I would highly recommend using Visual Studio. To see the power of what you can do in Visual Studio, take a look at my Scalable SSRS Reports Achieved Through the Powerful Tablix. It’s recorded on Pragmatic Works website.

Here’s some additional terminology for you with regards to the different versions of Visual Studio. The version that comes with SQL Server is all that you need to design reports. For SQL Server 2012 and 2014 it’s called SQL Server Data Tools and commonly referred to as SSDT. For SQL Server 2008 and 2008R2 it was called Business Intelligence Development Studio and commonly referred to as BIDS.

12. What’s the major difference of standalone SSRS and the SSRS on SharePoint server?

I have never worked with the SharePoint version of SSRS. From what I know, the major difference is how the metadata for the management of the reports is stored in SQL Server. The SharePoint tables are used instead of the ReportServer database. I don’t think the creation of the reports is any different.

13. Can excel templates be imported or easily developed so that if I export to excel it looks like the data came from excel?

I’m not aware of the ability to bring in an Excel templates as an SSRS template. If the user exports the report using the Excel render type instead of the CSV render type, then the report should look like it came from Excel. You might need to email me an image of what you are trying to accomplish for me to answer this question better.

Next weekend I will answer the rest of the questions from this presentation.

Thanks for all the fish

Thanks go out to Liz Hamilton at Pragmatic Works for moderating my presentation. She is wonderful to work with and I loved the movie trivia that she did prior to the presentation.

This is me sitting at a local café with my oldest daughter sorting, compiling, and answering questions. (I think she’s doing Latin homework. I’ll stick to SQL andSSRS.)Cafe201503

Questions and Answers for Pragmatic Work’s Presentation on the Tablix Control

ChalkBoardThursday, January 23rd I had the opportunity to present for Pragmatic Works as part of their “Training on the T’s” where they provide free one-hour training every week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I gave my presentation entitled, Scalable SSRS Reports Achieved Through the Powerful Tablix. Below are the questions (and answers) that the attendees asked during my presentation.

View Presentation
Slide deck and demos downloads

Questions and Answers for Demo 1

Q: In the first presentation, the 1st tablix, do territory group and country region has the same datasets, meaning does country region have territory?

A: A tablix or a set of nested tablix can only use 1 dataset. My dataset joined several tables, two of which were Sales.SalesTerritory and PersonCountryRegion. (I’m using the Adventureworks2008R2 database.)
Here is how they are related:
cr.Name AS CountryRegion
,st.Name AS Territory
sales.SalesTerritory AS st
JOIN Person.CountryRegion AS cr ON st.CountryRegionCode = cr.CountryRegionCode

Q: When you add a Row Group with that new column that doesn’t let you merge with the other cells to the right… what you can do is split that column, and then you’ll be able to merge.

A: Yes. This is true, but you still can’t merge across the dotted lines that are introduced into the Matrix.

Q: I always supposed that group levels had to be to the left of the dashed line. But you showed that you can delete those columns/rows but keep the grouping. Does this have any effect on the data in the columns on the left or the right of the dashed line?

A: No, it does not. If the GUI asks If you want to delete only the row/column or the row/column and the group, make sure to indicate that you only want to delete the row/column. This will keep the group, which is what we were after.

Q: Did you have to create the row groups (lower left corner), or were they available dimensions?

A: I’m not sure about this question, please email me some more information so that I can answer the question better.


Questions and Answers for Demo 2

Q: Could you have added the expression on the image itself and not add the extra row?

A: Not for this technique. If I would have added the expression to the image to show/hide it, then it would have left “white space” where the image would normally go when the image was hidden. By repeating the row with a different layout, we can reclaim the ‘white space” for the comment field to use.

Questions and Answers for Demo 3

Q: For creating the Emp Phone list, is there a reason why you used a table and created the group as opposed to using a matrix? Thanks!

A: This is a great question. You can use either controls and end up with the same result. I had been demonstrating the matrix control in the other demos, so I wanted my viewers to see how you could start with a table. This becomes handy if they requirements of the layout change. It’s important that you know that you don’t have to start all over, but you can change one control into the other because all three controls (table, matrix, and list) are all based on the Tablix template.

Q: For you last demo where you had dynamic columns for phone numbers, what did you have to change in the detail row?

A: In the detail row, I had to change the detail row to a group. I did this by going into the Detail group properties and adding a group on BusinessEntityID. I then added Last Name, First Name, and BusinessEntitty ID as the fields to sort by. This step is needed because the employee names are repeated once for each address type and each phone number type.


General Questions and Answers

Q: How did you make your color palette?

A: This is a great question. Here are the steps.

    1. Add a table to a blank report that will become your template report
    2. Create a cell for each color in your color pallet.
    3. Change the dimensions of each cell to have a height of 0.15 and a width of 0.15.
    4. Change the background property of each cell to a different color in your color pallet.

Now you can make the other changes to the report to create a template report and save it in the template folder for BIDS/SSDT.

Q: How to avoid the columns getting merged on exporting to an excel

A: This is one of those questions that is helpful to also explain to all your end users since they ask the same question. The answer is not the best answer, but it is better than what we had 10 years ago. If you save your report as a CSV file, Excel will still automatically open it and the columns will not be merged. The downside is you lose charts and any formatting. The upside is the columns are no longer merged and the end user can use more functionality of Excel. They do need to be reminded that they will have to save it as an Excel file after opening it in order to save any formatting features that they have added to the file.

Q: Is there a way to fix the tablix to a set number of rows, and an exact amount of vertical space for the tablix? It seems that the tablix ‘reserves’ some additional space below the tablix which interferes when placing report items below the tablix.

A: This can be a challenging problem and it requires a lot of testing if different results set sizes to get the layout to work out the way you want. I will be creating a blog post soon on how to mimic a “fixed row” layout. You can contact me to get the the blog post early if you want.

I haven’t noticed the tablix control “reserving” space. To best figure out what is causing this extra white space do the following. Show the lines on the outside of the tablix and the control that you want to “butt up” against the tablix control You may find that the extra space is on the inside of the control instead of the outside of the control. A couple of properties to look at as are padding and Borderwidth. By changing them, you will reduce white space.

I have noticed that it can be difficult to drag and drop another control right up against another control. In those cases I do some math. By adding the Top and Height properties of the tablix you get the location of the end of the control. Then add 1 or 2 more to that value to have the Top value for the next control.

Q: Is there a way to link one tablix to multiple Datasets?

A: Unfortunately no, but there are some workarounds. There are a couple of functions that were introduced in 2008 R2 that will allow you to reference a value in another dataset, but it won’t allow you to show multiple values. A second way is to use a subreport within the tablix. I try to minimize this, since it can add ALOT of overhead. The third way, would be to create a larger dataset with repeating data that can be grouped. This is what I did in my third demo in order to create multiple addresses and multiple phone numbers for each employee. Again, you have to weigh the benefit of the technique against how much data will be used in the report.

Q: This is a great presentation. How can I get a copy of the RDLs, and the datasets?

A: You can go to my resource page to download the presentation and the demos. Pragmatics has the recording so that you can watch the presentation again. I’ve also provided the links at the top of this post.

Q: Will a transcript or summary of this demo be available for review?

A: You can go to my resource page to download the presentation and the demos. Pragmatics has the recording so that you can watch the presentation again. I’ve also provided the links at the top of this post.

Q: Will you be sharing your ‘Knowledge Based Document’ with us?

A: Unfortunately I can’t, because I don’t have references in it for code I found on the internet or in books. I will however be spending time writing short posts with tips this year, so keep an eye on my blog and on mssqltips.com for posts.

 Q: Thanks – this was a great presentation.

A: Thank you. I’m glad everyone enjoyed it and that everyone had so many questions. 🙂

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