12 May 2016

A Quick Guide to Tableau File Types: Features and Use Cases

Timothy Wintle

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You can create a variety of file types when using Tableau. Do you know what they contain and when to use them best? This blog will provide a short and concise view of the range of tableau file types available, highlighting their use cases.

1. Tableau Workbook (.twb)

Where: A Tableau workbook is the default file type for Tableau users. The workbook is formatted as an xml and holds all the content on each worksheet and dashboard created within your original workbook. Additionally, the workbook contains information on the data source connection and all metadata created for the connection.

When: You would share this type of file with colleagues and clients who have access to the data source. This type of file relies on a live data source connection and doesn't contain the data within the workbook file. Consequently, it is not ideal for sharing workbooks with other users who don't have access to the data source.

How: When connected to the live data connection in the data source control, go to File on the toolbar, Save As, and on the Save As Type drop-down choose Tableau Workbook.

2. Tableau Packaged Workbook (.twbx)

Where: In contrast to a Tableau workbook, a Tableau Packaged Workbook contains both the Tableau workbooks and the underlying extracted data. Additionally, the packaged workbook also includes any picture actions or customised geocoding you may have added.

When: A typical use case for a packaged workbook would be when you need to share your work with colleagues and clients who require access to the workbook but don't have access to the data source. A packaged workbook extracts the data creating a .tde file and includes the worksheets and dashboards that have been created.

How: Click on the Data Source tab on the toolbar at the bottom left of the Tableau page. Select Extract under connection and click back to the dashboard or a worksheet tab if the extract did not start building upon clicking. Once the extract has been created, save the file in the normal process going to File > Save As, and select Tableau Packaged Workbook from the drop-down menu.

3. Tableau Data Source (.tds)

Where: A .tds file contains the information required to connect to the data source as well as other custom and calculated fields.

When: This is a useful file type as it saves any custom fields in Tableau, such as changing aggregations, creating bins and sets, as well as constructing calculated fields. As you go through the process of creating custom fields, you're changing the make-up of the metadata. Saving the file as a .tds means that Tableau will realise these metadata changes next time you open the file. Further, the .tds file contains only the file path and not the actual data. Therefore, a use case for a .tds would be if you have a data source connection that multiple people have access to or you have a dataset that you use regularly with custom fields and/or joined tables.

How: Select Data on the top toolbar and choose a data source from the drop-down menu. Select Add To Saved Data Sources and save the file as a Tableau Data Source. This will make a file and add it to the saved data sources on the Tableau home screen.

4. Tableau Packaged Data Source (.tdsx)

Where: Similar to the Tableau Data Source, the Packaged Data Source file contains the included custom fields, aggregations and database connection, but has the added bonus of including the data as a .tde within the .tdsx file.

When: In the case where your colleague or client has access to the data source and would like a version of the data that includes all metadata changes, sending the data as a packaged data source would be the best solution. The .tdsx doesn't contain any worksheets or dashboards but it does include all the extracted data. The recipient of the .tdsx can refresh the extract as the data source connection is included within the .tdsx file. Additionally, because the file has the data packaged within it, the recipient can use it offline. Lastly, a further benefit of a .tdsx is that you can unzip the data file and save it to your desktop if you wish to keep a hard copy of the data and open it in excel.

How: Select Data on the top toolbar and choose a data source from the drop-down menu. Choose Add To Saved Data Sources and save the file as a Tableau Packaged Data Source.

5. Tableau Data Extract Files (.tde)

Where: Data extract files are simply a local copy of a subset of an entire data source, and thus doesn't store the connection string to the data source and cannot be refreshed. The extract doesn't contain any dashboards or worksheets and only shares the underlying data. One benefit of using an extract in comparison to a live connection is that it helps to improve performance.

When: It can be used to share data between colleagues and clients as well as enable you to work offline on a data set.

How: Click on Data on the data toolbar at the top left of the screen. Choose the data source and select Extract Data. From there you can filter to choose only a select number of columns or you can simply click Extract at the bottom of the page, and that will create a .tde file.

6. Tableau Bookmark (.tbm)

Where: Saving your file as a Tableau bookmark allows you to save individual worksheets.

If you're working as a team to create one workbook, creating separate worksheets is a good method of combing worksheets into one workbook. As long as you don't change the metadata or create new calculated fields in your worksheet, then merging your worksheets using Tableau bookmark is a good option.

How: Select Window from the toolbar, then Bookmark > Create Bookmark.

7. Tableau Preferences (.tps) 

Where: If you wish to create your own custom colour palette on Tableau.

When: This is especially useful if you have a set theme you want to apply to your workbook, such as company brand colours.

How: Use the .tps file in "My Tableau Repository" located in your local documents folder. To create custom palettes you can follow the tutorial provided by Tableau here.

8. Tableau Map Source (.tms)

Where: If you want to create a custom map on Mapbox or use a pre-made WMS server map such as the cool WMS server maps provided by NASA that can be accessed here.

When: If you want to save custom maps from Mapbox or save the maps from the WMS server for future use. Further, another reason when you might save a map as a .tms is if you wish to share your custom maps with colleagues and clients.

How: Once you have made a custom map using Mapbox or a WMS server, you can import it by clicking on the toolbar Map > Background Maps > Map Services > Add > WMS Server or Mapbox Maps. Once the map is added onto Tableau, you can export it to your local desktop by clicking Map > Background Maps > Map Services > Select your Map > Export. The map is available to use at any point by importing it back in - or you can share it with others using the .tms file.

Those are the file types that are commonly used in Tableau. Next time you want to save and share your work, think through which one will fit your aim best.

Timothy Wintle

About the author

Timothy Wintle is a Graduate Data Analytics Consultant at Concentra. He studied Economics at Bachelors and Masters level at Hull University and The University of Nottingham, developing a keen interest in using data to discover useful insights on a range of topics. Specific areas he enjoys visualising include world development, current affairs, and sports. His blogs will aim to bring data to life through data visualisation.

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