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Excel crashes when enabling macros

I’ve had a problem with Excel 2013 crashing a number of times when opening/editing spreadsheets with macros. When I click ‘Enable Content’ to enable macros, the Excel window fades out, goes unresponsive and then crashes with a glorious “Microsoft Excel has stopped working, Windows is checking for a solution to the problem” message. Unfortunately Windows never seems to be able to find the elusive solution that we need.


I’ve found that the spreadsheets tend to stay working whilst you’re looking at them (if you don’t click ‘Enable Content’), however it crashes when you try and do anything useful such as copy/paste, etc. Sometimes Excel just crashes when opening the file, even without enabling macros. This is seemingly caused by a corrupt compile of the macros. Yes I know it’s VBA code which is interpreted and not compiled, but I’m over-simplifying here.

There a a couple of solutions to this:

1) Before enabling the macros try adding a new blank sheet, and then save the spreadsheet, reload, and sometimes it corrects itself. But not always.

2) Recompile the macro

  • Open the Excel spreadsheet (but don’t enable macros yet)
  • In the ‘Developer’ ribbon, click ‘Visual Basic’


  • On the ‘Tools’ menu, click ‘Options’
  • Then on the ‘General’ tab, untick ‘Compile On Demand’, then click OK


  • Then scroll down in the ‘Project’ window, right click on ‘Modules’, then Insert a new module



  • Then just close the Visual Basic window, save the spreadsheet and close Excel.
  • Hey presto, when you then load your spreadsheet you’ll be able to enable macros, and Excel won’t crash.

Thanks to Paulina from Microsoft for helping me find this solution – it’s saved my bacon a few times now!


Excel creates inefficient MDX

Whilst investigating a slow set of Excel pivot tables (connected to a multidimensional SSAS cube), I found some odd behaviour in how Excel generates its MDX, sometimes doing far more work than if required and causing significant performance reduction.

Take the following example, just querying Customer Count by Promotion, against the AdventureWorks cube.


The profile trace (just using “Query Begin”, “Query End” and “Query Subcube Verbose”) shows that the query runs two “Query Subcube Verbose” calls, which means two separate calls to the SSAS storage engine.

The first Query Subcube event requests “0” for Promotion, which is the [All] member, and so is used as the total in the pivot table. The second queries “*”, which returns every member in the Promotion attribute, which in this example returns values for each of the 4 different promotions.

This makes sense, as for a distinct count measure, you can’t simply add up the components, you do need to calculate the subtotal or grand total separately. The query just takes twice as long as a result.

So lets say that the total is irrelevant to the user, so they disable totals within Excel…

Then we refresh the pivot, we should only see a single storage engine call. Right? Wrong.

ExcelMDX04There are still two calls to the storage engine, and SSAS is still calculating the grand total for the query, which Excel is then just discarding.

In a small cube this may make very little noticeable difference to the pivot performance. But on a multi-terrabyte cube with billions of records, distinct count operations can take minutes to run. And calculating the non-required totals can make a significant difference.

This becomes even worse when multiple attributes are stacked on the rows and/or columns. Each new attribute requires its own totals calculating, resulting in more and more calls to the storage engine. In the following pivot I’ve added an extra two attributes to the rows, with no subtotals or grand totals.

ExcelMDX05The following trace shows that 8 Subcube queries were performed.

ExcelMDX06These correspond to detail and totals for each combination of attributes, which calculates as 2^n storage queries, where n is the number of attributes selected on the rows/columns of a pivot.

Now it’s common practice for users to want to create pivots with 4, 5, 6+ attributes on rows/columns, and the workload on the cube increases exponentially with each one they add. This is not good!

There are two workarounds to this:

1) Forcibly disable totals for relevant dimensions in the cube.

2) Use Excel 2013 (or above), and hard code the set of rows to exclude totals.


Let’s look at these in more detail…

1) Forcibly disable totals for relevant dimensions in the cube.

Let’s say that for a particular cube, customer counts were only ever calculated on the monthly level, and it didn’t make sense to aggregate customer counts up to a total across all months/years. We could just add some MDX into the Calculation script to disable date totals for the relevant measure(s).

SCOPE([Measures].[Customer Count], [Date].[Calendar].[All]);

Excel will still produce an MDX query asking for the date totals, but SSAS will just ignore it and return null. Note that this obviously only works where there is no business sense in asking for the total.


2) Use Excel 2013 (or above), and hard code the set of rows to exclude totals.

Excel 2013 introduced an ability to customise the MDX of a pivot. On the Analyze ribbon, click ‘Fields, Items & Sets’, and then ‘Create Set Based on Row Items…’ExcelMDX07You can then remove any totals or rows that you don’t want, including the subtotals and grand total.

ExcelMDX08Or if you’re an MDX guru, you can click on ‘Edit MDX’ and write your own sets for even more performance, and also to make it more dynamic.

When we run this, we get the same output in Excel, but the profile trace now shows:

ExcelMDX09Just a single call to the storage engine, instead of 16. 1/16 of the work for the same results.

Now beware that once you do this, you’re essentially hard coding that part of the pivot, so in this example any new promotions would not automatically show in the pivot unless they were added. That;s why learning some MDX and writing a more dynamic set is preferable.

But the obvious answer to this is, please, please Microsoft, fix the terrible MDX that Excel creates! If you agree, please upvote the Connect item requesting that it be improved.

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Excel doesn’t open CSV files correctly from sp_send_dbmail

A nice little nugget today for anyone who uses SQL dbmail to send data in csv attachments.

Sometimes, depending on your language settings, CSV files don’t open correctly in Excel. Excel ignores the ‘,’ and puts all data in column A. You then have to go through the hassle of closing the file and opening it throug the flat file wizard.



There’s a very nice solution to this that I found in this thread. It’s to insert a new row in the top of the file containing “sep=,”. This forces Excel to understand that it is a comma delimited file, and ensures that it will open correctly.

The only problem, how do you insert a header line when using dbmail?…

[Caution – ugly hack alert…]

You can alter the name of the first column to include this header text. We simply rename “Column1” to “sep=,{CR}{LF}Column1”. Then when dbmail prints out the column headers in the file, the Column1 name will be split on two lines, preceeded by “sep=,”.


Excel treats this first row as an instruction and does not display it, just uses it to make sure it formats the data correctly.

So how do we do this in SQL?

DECLARE @Column1Name VARCHAR(255)
SET @Column1Name = '[sep=,' + CHAR(13) + CHAR(10) + 'Column1]'
SET @Query = 'SELECT Column1 AS ' + @Column1Name + ', Column2, Column3 FROM myTable'

EXEC msdb.dbo.sp_send_dbmail
,[Other parameters as required]
,@query_result_separator=',' --enforce csv
,@query_result_no_padding=1 --trim
,@query_result_width=32767  --stop wordwrap

And there you go. It’s a bit of a hack, but works well.


Debug MDX queries using Drillthrough in SSMS

One of the great features of using Excel to browse an SSAS OLAP cube is the drillthrough ability. If you double click on any cell of an OLAP pivot table, Excel will create a new worksheet containing the top 1000 fact records that went to make up the figure in the selected cell.

N.B. The limit of 1000 rows can be altered, as per one of my previous blog posts here.

This feature is pretty well known, but not many folk realise how easy it is to reproduce this in SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS). All you need to do is prefix your query with DRILLTHROUGH.

i.e. Assuming an MDX query of

SELECT [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount] ON 0
FROM [Adventure Works]
WHERE [Date].[January 1, 2004]

Which returns the following results…

A query of

SELECT [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount] ON 0
FROM [Adventure Works]
WHERE [Date].[January 1, 2004]

Returns the records contributing to the total figure. Great for diagnosing problems with an MDX query.

By default, only the first 10,000 rows are returned, but you can override this using MAXROWS

SELECT [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount] ON 0
FROM [Adventure Works]
WHERE [Date].[January 1, 2004]

The columns that are returned are those defined in the Actions tab of the Cube Designer in BIDS (The Business Intelligence Development Studio).

If no action is defined, then the fact measures will be returned along with the keys that link to each relevant dimension, which tend not to be that helpful.

You can override the returned columns by using the RETURN clause

DRILLTHROUGH SELECT [Measures].[Internet Sales Amount] ON 0 FROM [Adventure Works] WHERE [Date].[January 1, 2004] RETURN [$Internet Sales Order Details].[Internet Sales Order] ,[$Sales Territory].[Sales Territory Region] ,NAME([$Product].[Product]) ,KEY([$Product].[Product]) ,UNIQUENAME([$Product].[Product]) ,[Internet Sales].[Internet Sales Amount] ,[Internet Sales].[Internet Order Quantity]

Note that there are some restrictions on what you can drill through

  • You can’t drill through an expression/calculation, only a raw measure
  • The MDX query needs to return a single cell (otherwise the cube does not know which one to drill through)
  • The data returned will be at the lowest granularity of the cube’s fact table

To explain the last point further, the cube does not return the raw data from the underlying data warehouse, but a summary of the facts grouped by unique combination of the relevant dimensions. i.e. if a warehouse table containing individual sales (by date, product, customer & store) is brought into a cube as a fact table that only has relationships with the date and product dimensions, then the cube drill through will return unique combinations of date and product, summarising sales for each combination. Extra granularity which the warehouse may contain (customer and store) will not be available.

Note that if you specify the RETURN columns, the rows are still returned at the lowest level of the fact table granularity, even if not all of the dimensions are brought out as columns. This may result in returning multiple identical records. Don’t worry, these will be distinct facts, just differentiated by a dimension/attribute that isn’t being returned.

You can find out more on TechNet here

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Excel Cube Pivot drillthrough limited to 1000 rows

When browsing a cube using Excel 2007, you can drillthrough the measures to display up to 1000 rows of the transaction level source data.

I often get asked whether this limit of 1000 rows is configurable – well the good news is yes it is.

There is an option in the actions tab of the BIDS cube designer which allows you to specify the maximum rows, but helpfully this is ignored by Excel. Instead, you have to set it in Excel when you create a pivot.

Just click “Options” on the “PivotTable Tools” ribon, then in the “Change Data Source” dropdown click on “Connection Properties“. In this screen, just change the “Maximum number of records to retrieve” property.

Excel 2007 Pivot Options

Excel 2007 and SSAS 2008 Error

I was working on a new SSAS 2008 cube today, and came across an error which Google was unable to help with. I thought I’d post the solution here to help anyone else who may encounter it.

The cube in question will be primarily be accessed using Excel 2007, so I’d been dutifully testing it along the way to ensure all was well. And then, after a number of changes the following error appeared when connecting to the cube from Excel to create a pivot table.

Excel was unable to get necessary information about this cube. The cube might have been reorganized or changed on the server.

Contact the OLAP cube administrator and, if necessary, set up a new data source to connect to the cube

Connecting and querying the cube via SSMS or BIDS worked without error (hense I didn’t spot the error sooner!).

A quick Google revealed a number of posts regarding this error, but they all related to attributes containing invalid characters when accessed from Excel 2000 Or problems with translations and locale settings in the .oqy file. Neither of these was the cause here, so I had to go back and recreate every change I had made step by step to track the problem.

Well, I’m please to report that in the end it was nothing more that a simple spelling mistake in a named set. One of the dynamic named sets in the cube calculations referred to a specific member of a dimension, which was spelled slightly incorrectly. (Simplified example..)

 AS {[Dimension].[Attribute].[Value1],

When querying calculated measures through MDX in SSMS, the MDX parser just ignored the problem and only uses the valid members, however it appears as though Excel 2007 is slightly more picky with its cubes.

Useful to know, and even more useful when used as a tool to double check for any errors in the MDX calculations.

Extract Datasource and Query from Excel Pivot

Have you ever tried to reverse engineer an Excel pivot table? It’s not as easy as you would think! Whether you just want to find out the datasource details, or identify the query that was used, there is just no simple way of getting Excel to tell you.

The macro below will loop through every sheet in a workbook, and will document the datasources, SQL or MDX queries as well as the page, row, column and data fields.

To use it, add it into your macros, then select a starting cell where you want te report to be placed and run the macro. It’s pretty raw, and may need some tweaks to suit your requirements but it should give you a good starting point. I use it on Excel 2003 MDX pivots from SQL Server Analysis Services 2005, but I presume it will work on other versions of Excel as well.

Public Sub PivotDetails()
   Dim ws As Worksheet
   Dim qt As QueryTable
   Dim pt As PivotTable
   Dim pc As PivotCache
   Dim pf As PivotField

   For Each ws In ActiveWorkbook.Sheets

      For Each qt In ws.QueryTables
        ActiveCell.Value = "Sheet"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = ws.Name

        ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
        ActiveCell.Value = "Data Source"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = qt.Connection

        ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
        ActiveCell.Value = "Query"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = qt.CommandText
      Next qt

      ActiveCell.Offset(2, 0).Select

      For Each pt In ws.PivotTables

        ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
        ActiveCell.Value = "Pivot Table"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pt.Name

        ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
        ActiveCell.Value = "Connection"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pt.PivotCache.Connection

        ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
        ActiveCell.Value = "SQL"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pt.PivotCache.CommandText

        ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
        ActiveCell.Value = "MDX"
        ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pt.MDX

        For Each pf In pt.PageFields
            ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
            ActiveCell.Value = "Page"
            ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pf.Name
            ActiveCell.Offset(0, 2).Value = pf.CurrentPageName
        Next pf

        For Each pf In pt.ColumnFields
            ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
            ActiveCell.Value = "Column"
            ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pf.Name
        Next pf

        For Each pf In pt.RowFields
            ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
            ActiveCell.Value = "Row"
            ActiveCell.Offset(0, 1).Value = pf.Name
        Next pf

        For Each pf In pt.DataFields
            ActiveCell.Offset(1, 0).Select
            ActiveCell.Value = "Data"
        Next pf

      Next pt
   Next ws
End Sub

Excel Addin for Analysis Services

For any users of Analysis Services, if you haven’t already downloaded the Excel (2002/2003) addin you’re missing out.

It’s a free download from Microsoft which significantly expands Excel’s cube querying ability. Well recommended!

Get it here…

The Frog Blog

I'm Alex Whittles.

I specialise in designing and implementing SQL Server business intelligence solutions, and this is my blog! Just a collection of thoughts, techniques and ramblings on SQL Server, Cubes, Data Warehouses, MDX, DAX and whatever else comes to mind.

Data Platform MVP

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