What is the difference between Importing and Connecting?

Feb 15, 2024 | Power BI Hints and Tips

When you are working in Power BI there are a huge range of different sources that you can get your data from.  When you get your data from a source in Power BI there is sometimes only the option to connect but there is also often a choice to import instead.

In most cases connecting will be used but there are exceptions and the post below explain when each is used and why.

Connecting

Connecting means that when the data in the underlying file is changed the data used in Power BI can be updated with a quick click of the Refresh button.  This is normally going to be the best choice because it is easy and requires little, if any, knowledge of the structure of the Power BI data.

Some files only have the option to Connect such as CSV, Text and Excel files.  If these needed fixing then you can always take a copy of the file and only ever update the other version.  Not all places that can be connected to allow this flexibility.

Importing

Importing however means that you are bringing in a fixed copy of the data at that point in time. When the data changes these changes are not reflected in the Power BI data even if refresh is used.  To update the data in Power BI the import process needs to be completed again which is far more awkward and time consuming.

This import option is useful if you want to report on data as it is at a fixed point in time and do not want to see any changes beyond this for any reason.  Such as the figures at the start of the year on the 1st of January.  The other reason for using this option is if the size of the data is huge.  Refreshing may take a large amount of time and processing of anything else could also be slow.  By bringing an import into Power BI this will speed up.  If your data is not time critical then this could well be a viable option.  The decision could be to re-import the data once a month only or maybe even every quarter.

Some files such as SQL server database and Oracle Database have the options of Import or Direct Query when you go to get data.  Direct Query is the same as connecting.  For these files due to the nature of the way the data is stored there is not normally the option of being able to copy the file to fix it.  These files are often stored online.

SQL Server database image

How to Get Data in Power BI

Unless the initial front screen which appears when Power BI is first opened is available the following method should be used.

  1. On the Home tab select the Get Data button
  2. Choose where the data is stored.  More will provide the full list if the required location is not immediately available.
Get data Power BI image

NOTE:  Excel, Data Hub and SQL Server are available as direct icons on the Home tab and work the same way as the equivalent options from the Get Data icon.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about the difference between Importing and Connecting in Power BI, there are some other blogs below that you might find useful:

Want to learn more about Microsoft Power BI? Then email lara@laramellortraining.co.uk to discuss how I can help or have a look at the Microsoft Power BI Desktop Courses I run.