I had some reporting to add to an application last year, and rather than code something from scratch, I decided to dig around for a package to give us something we could grow with—something to give us a framework, that we could use to make more sophisticated reports when the time came for them.

JasperReports looks good: you specify the data going into the report, you declaratively set up the report in XML, and at the last minute you decide the format you want for output: HTML, Excel, PDF. There’s even built-in support for it in WebWork. “Over 1 million” downloads can’t be wrong.

It works, but it hurts. In fairness, if you look at the gallery of reports, and you need to produce something just like that, I suspect JasperReports is worth looking at. Alas, I found it takes a huge amount of time to get up to speed with JasperReports just to find out if it can do what you want to do. If you want to dig into JasperReports: download the distribution and look in the demo/samples/ folder—there are more things the product can do than shown on the web site. If any of those samples match what you want, try to hack the .jrxml to your liking.

Then go and look at BIRT and compare.

In the end what we really needed was more emphasis on the graphical representation of the data, with more web-like reporting. JasperReports is all about “page oriented” output which is a tough problem to solve, without all my additional needs.

So we rolled our own code using JFreeCharts in a fraction of the time it took to learn to use JasperReports. JFreeCharts is excellent, but I’d recommend getting the commercial documentation.

For Excel output, try JExcelAPI:

WritableWorkbook book = Workbook.createWorkbook( outputStream );
WritableSheet sheet = book.createSheet(title, 0);

// Set up the column headers: note the params are (column, row)
sheet.addCell(new Label(0, 0, "Date")); // cell A1 
sheet.addCell(new Label(1, 0, "Count")); // cell A2

// Format to use for values:
WritableCellFormat intFormat = new WritableCellFormat(NumberFormats.INTEGER);
WritableCellFormat dateFormat = new WritableCellFormat(new DateFormat("yyyy/MM/dd"));

for (Data d : data)
{
 sheet.addCell(new DateTime(0, d.getRow(), d.getDate(), dateFormat));
 sheet.addCell(new Number(1, d.getRow(), d.getCount(), intFormat));
}

book.write();
book.close();

I should also add that the idea of writing one report and having it output in different formats isn’t really how things worked for us in practice. What we wanted was one set of details shown to the user, but for download we wanted a slightly different report (more detail, less graphics).