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Troubleshooting Web Service Refresh Problems In Power BI With The Power Query Diagnostics Feature

Back in 2018 I wrote a blog post about how to troubleshoot web service refresh issues using a third party tool called Fiddler. It’s still relevant but Fiddler is a complex tool and installing it and giving it the right permissions to see everything it needs to see isn’t easy. Luckily, the new Power Query Diagnostics feature in Power BI (released in October 2019) means you don’t need to use Fiddler for this kind of work any more. Full details on how to use this feature are given here, but I thought it would be useful to focus on one particular use case for it.

Let’s take one of the Power Query queries from my previous post as an example:

[sourcecode language='html'  padlinenumbers='true']
    Source = OData.Feed("https://api.parliament.uk/odata"),
    GovernmentOrganisation_table =
    #"Filtered Rows" =
        each ([GroupName] = "Cabinet Office")
    #"Filtered Rows"

[Note that this is a public web service which requires no authentication, so you will be able to run this query yourself]

This query connects to the UK Houses of Parliament OData API and returns the table of government organisations filtered down to the row where the GroupName column equals the text “Cabinet Office”. What requests are made to the web service when this query runs?

The first thing to point out is that different things will happen depending on whether you refresh the preview window in the Power Query Editor or refresh the dataset inside the main Power BI window. If you’re doing performance tuning you should ignore what happens when you refresh the preview in the Power Query Editor and always refresh from the main Power BI window.

The second is that, when you refresh a dataset (or a table within a dataset) from the main Power BI window, you might find that more work is being done than you expect as a result of “background refresh” taking place. This is something I blogged about here and you should always turn it off before doing any performance tests, because it’s not something that will happen in the service and it can also slow things down – potentially a lot if there are lots of queries and steps. You can turn it off from the Options dialog in the Data Load tab by deselecting “Allow data preview to download in the background”.


The third is that the Query Diagnostics feature I’m going to use is, at the time of writing, in Preview, so you may need to enable it in the Preview features pane of the Options dialog:

With that done, here are the steps to find out what requests are made to the web service when the above query is run.

  1. First, let the query load data into the dataset as usual without doing anything else. You’ll see the table that the query has loaded data into in the Fields pane of the main Power BI window:
  2. Next, reopen the Power Query Editor window, go to the Tools tab and click on the Start Diagnostics button.
  3. Do not do anything else in the Power Query Editor window, instead minimise (do not close) it and then go back to the main Power BI window. There, right-click on the table that holds the output of the query in the Fields pane, right-click and select “Refresh data”:
  4. Once the refresh has taken place, go back to the Power Query Editor window and click the Stop Diagnostics button:
  5. When you have done that, you’ll see two new queries created in a group called Diagnostics:

    These queries contain the diagnostics information for the refresh you’ve just done. The query with “Detailed” in its name has all the detailed information; the other query contains summarised data.
  6. Looking at the “Detailed” query, each row represents a single operation that takes place within the Power Query engine when the refresh took place and while I don’t know what all this means (I’m working on it!), if you go to the Data Source Query column you’ll see a list of all the HTTP requests made to the web service:
  7. Clicking on an individual cell in this column allows you to see the full text of the request and response made in the preview pane underneath the results pane:

While Fiddler may still be necessary for some more advanced scenarios, this is a much easier way of troubleshooting web service data sources in the Power Query Editor, for example when you need to check the exact request made to see if query folding is taking place on an OData data source.

4 thoughts on “Troubleshooting Web Service Refresh Problems In Power BI With The Power Query Diagnostics Feature

  1. How to import data into power bi from azure analysis services cube. If I use the Web connector option in Power BI, many columns have Lists.

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