Dimensions and Measures

More on Blue & Green pills


Tableau automatically classifies your data based on whether it contains categorical data (dimensions) or quantitative data (measures). In general, dimensions create headers when placed in the view while measures create axes.

  • Blue fields = discrete (create headers)
  • Green fields = continuous (create axes)
  • Bold fields = sorted
  • Fields with no () are Discrete (often a dimension, not necessarily)
  • Fields with AGG() or something else are aggregated
  • ATTR() runs something like “if MIN(var) = MAX(var) then return var”, so it’s often the maximum value.

Discrete field always add headers to the view while continuous fields add axes to the view. This distinction exists so you can use continuous dimensions or discrete measures in the view.

Aggregate calculations are always measures

Notes from webex with Joe Mako, October 2011

I don’t want to misrepresent Joe’s encyclopedic knowledge of Tableau here, if there are any mistakes in these notes from our conversation they are almost certainly mine.

Tableau is a SQL generator & displayer of results. Has a built-in pipeline of how it works – this is Joe’s best guess as of Oct 2011:

  1. Context Filter – creates a temp table in data source, can be global or local. Only use when we want to filter out a whole bunch of stuff, e.g. testing (maybe on admissions in readmission analysis?)
  2. Conditional or Top N filters
  3. All other filters go into WHERE clause
  4. Then aggregations are applied:
    1. Filters on aggregated fields are applied, this is returned to Tableau
    2. Table calcs are performed
    3. Final layer – filtering on table calcs
  5. Calculate reference lines
  6. Then Hide, and not displaying Null marks



Null marks can be Hidden using Format pane
Values in Dimensions can be Hidden by right-click
Others get Excluded

Level of Detail Shelf:

Set to Attribute if I don’t want the Dimension to do a group by (and multiply mark results). Also useful to use aggregations to speed up processing

Reference & Averages

Reference line calculated on results is different from average calculated on table.  TOTAL() function goes to underlying data, so changing a reference line from AVG() to TOTAL() will make different results

Reference lines are calculated after table calculation filters are applied

Notes from Mar 2012 WebEx w/Joe Mako

I don’t want to misrepresent Joe’s awesome knowledge here, if there are any mistakes in these notes from our conversation they are almost certainly mine.

Dimensions are available to Tableau for partitioning and addressing

Aggregates return fewer marks, dimensions more. Whether aggregate or dimension affects table calcs. Discrete vs. continuous doesn’t change marks.

Aggregations will not cause partitioning, so using ATTR(Dimension) can be used to make a dimension be ignored in table calcs.

#1 Key principle in table calcs is are we working with a dimension or an aggregate.

Subtotals are based on dimension pills

What pills can be used for filtering and sorting


Current as of Tableau 7.0, calculated fields that are strings made from aggregated calcs can’t be on Filter shelf. Solution is to use a # instead of a string

describing ATTR() in more detail - Added October 20, 2014

Nice post by yours truly on ATTR()

Related posts:

  • The Letdown and the Pivot
  • Please add your thoughts and perspectives