Fabric Direct Lake with Tabular Editor – Part 2: Creation

If you read our previous blog post about Fabric Direct Lake, you know that we promised to show you some examples of how Tabular Editor 3 can help you work with Direct Lake datasets. In this post, we will demonstrate how you can use Tabular Editor 3 to create a new Direct Lake dataset from scratch and configure it in a few simple steps.

Recapping Fabric Direct Lake

Direct Lake datasets are a special type of tabular datasets that are directly linked to the Fabric Lakehouse. This means that whenever the data in the Fabric Lakehouse changes, the Direct Lake dataset reflects those changes automatically, without any additional processing or refresh.

This means that the consumers of reports based on a Direct Lake dataset can see the latest data as soon as the Lakehouse changes. Thus, also eliminating the final step in a potential lengthy ETL process.

Figure: Tabular Editor connects to the Direct Lake dataset


Fabric is currently in preview and there are therefore several limitations to the changes that can be made to a Direct Lake dataset: Direct Lake Known Issues and Limitations | Microsoft Learn
To enable XMLA Write in your Fabric trial please refer to: Enable XMLA Read Write | Microsoft Learn

Creating a Direct Lake dataset with Tabular Editor

Tabular Editor supports creating Direct Lake datasets as of version 3.11.0, and thereby allows you to create and edit your datasets locally, store them in source control, and deploy them to your Fabric workspace with your DevOps tooling of choice.


Creating or editing a Direct Lake dataset through the XMLA endpoint will block your ability to change the Direct Lake dataset inside the Fabric Portal. This is one of the current limitations of this feature.


To follow along with this tutorial, you will need:

  • A Fabric workspace with a Lakehouse or Warehouse
  • Access rights on the workspace to deploy datasets.
  • XMLA Read/Write enabled on your Fabric trial or tenant.
  • Tabular Editor 3.11.0 or higher installed on your machine.


The newly created dataset must not have other tables or explicit data sources defined. Direct Lake dataset cannot be used in conjunction with other types of dataset tables (Import or Direct Query). The Direct Lake dataset must only contain Direct Lake tables and partitions.

Step 1: Finding connection strings

The first step in creating a Direct Lake dataset is to find and copy the Lakehouse SQL endpoint connection string in the Fabric portal workspace, as well as your workspace XMLA Connection String and put them aside for use later in the tutorial.

Figure 2: Finding the SQL and XMLA endpoints
  1. Hover over the Lakehouse SQL endpoint and click on the three dots.
  2. Choose ‘Copy SQL Connection string’.
  3. Copy the connection string and save for later.
  4. Open Workspace settings and click on the Premium tab.
  5. Scroll to the bottom of the page and copy the workspace connection (XMLA endpoint) and save for later.

Video: Creating a Direct Lake dataset in Tabular Editor

The following steps 2-5 can also be seen in this video demonstrating the creation of a Direct Lake dataset in Tabular Editor 3

Step 2: Creating the Direct Lake dataset

After having collected connection string we can move on to creating the Direct Lake dataset using Tabular Editor 3.

Creating a new dataset is as easy as going to File > New > Model or using the shortcut Crtl+N. This will bring up the ‘New Model’ dialog to name the dataset and when having ensured that the dataset’s compatibility level is set to 1604 (Power BI Dataset)[1] the model can be created. You can create the dataset without a workspace database if you wish, but then you will not be able to preview data until your dataset has been deployed to the Fabric workspace.

Figure 3: Create a new data model in Tabular Editor 3


The newly created dataset must not have other tables or explicit data sources defined. Direct Lake cannot currently be used in combination with other types of dataset tables (Import or Direct Query). In other words, a Direct Lake dataset must only contain Direct Lake tables and partitions.

[1] The minimum required level for Direct Lake datasets.

Step 3: Creating tables in the Direct Lake dataset.

An empty model is a fine thing and is pure potential, but it does not help business users much in gaining insights into the data. Naturally the next step is to create some tables so that we can start building out the data model.

Figure 4: Importing new tables into the dataset
  1. Right click on the data model in the TOM Explorer and choose ‘Import tables…’ which will bring up the Import Table Wizard.
  2. Choose ‘Use implicit data source’ to set up a Power BI dataset.
  3. Choose ‘Fabric OneLake (DirectLake)’ as the new data source.
  4. Input the Lakehouse SQL Endpoint connection string into server name and authenticate.
  5. Select the tables to add to the dataset.
  6. Save the dataset to the Power BI service and a local folder in your format of choice.

Step 4: Preview the data

Assuming you set up the new dataset with a workspace database in Step 2 above, you can immediately test the Direct Lake connection, by using Tabular Editor 3’s “Preview data” feature. If not, you will not be able to preview data at this stage, but will need to deploy the model to a Fabric workspace first.

When previewing data, keep in mind the only thing we did so far, was importing a few tables and saving the dataset back to the Fabric workspace. No refresh has been run to import the data into the dataset, as would be required by a regular Import dataset. Also, as can be seen by collecting VertiPaq Analyzer statistics, data is actually loaded into memory as required, unlike a DirectQuery dataset, where data remains in the source.

Figure 5: Previewing the data without a refresh shows the advantage of Direct Lake datasets

Step 5: Adding tables with Tabular Editor

The process for adding more tables to a Direct Lake dataset is straightforward as the Import Table Wizard connects to the existing Lakehouse data source and all there is left is to select the desired tables.

Similarly, when a table changes schema in the Lakehouse, you can use Tabular Editor’s “Update table schema” feature as usual.

Figure 6: Easily add new tables using the existing dataset

In conclusion

This was just the first few steps in creating a Direct Lake dataset. The real fun of data modeling in Tabular Editor is still ahead; creating measures, organizing the dataset, creating calculation groups, applying best practices rules are all still ahead.

Bonus: Creating a Lakehouse Import or DQ-mode dataset

It is also possible to use one of the regular Azure DB or Azure Synaps connectors to connect to the Lakehouse SQL Endpoint. It is just a SQL Endpoint and seems to work no different. This will allow for developers to still built import- or DirectQuery-mode datasets on a Fabric Lakehouse (and presumably Fabric Warehouse)

One reason to choose an import dataset over Direct Lake is to have all the functionality of an import dataset while still being connected to the Lakehouse stored in the Fabric portal. Features that are used by many dataset developers today such as calculate columns and tables, DateTime relationships, composite models etc.

However, there is currently no known migration path from an Import dataset to a Direct Lake dataset so the benefits of each should be considered carefully when deciding which to implement.

For DirectQuery-mode datasets, it seems that there are not a lot of advantages over Direct Lake mode, if we ignore the current limitations. In fact, Direct Lake mode datasets will automatically fallback to DirectQuery in some circumstances. Once the Direct Lake limitations are remedied (hopefully before Fabric goes GA), Direct Lake should be the preferred option over DirectQuery in all cases where the source data resides in a Fabric Lakehouse.

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