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Lesson

Exploring data with Metabase's data browser

Discover the tools Metabase provides for learning about your data. These tools include a customizable data dictionary, as well as editing tools for curating your metadata.

In this article, we’ll show how you can use Metabase’s Data Browser and other reference tools to learn about your datasets, as well as how administrators can curate information in Metabase about their data.

All the examples in this article use the Sample Database that’s automatically installed with your Metabase instance.

Users can browse data in these two areas of the application:

Admins also have access to these areas within the Metabase Admin section:

Browse Data

To display all databases connected to your Metabase, click on Browse Data from the navigation sidebar. Click on a database to view its schemas and/or tables.

When you hover over tables, icons appear:

  • The yellow lightning icon will create an X-ray.
  • The gray book icon will take you to the you to the table’s Data Reference page.

To view the rows in the table, click on the table’s name.

<em>Fig. 1</em>. Navigating through the browse data screen to easily access information.
Fig. 1. Navigating through the browse data screen to easily access information.

Lightning bolts create X-rays

X-rays are a way to autogenerate questions and explorations of your data. At Metabase, we’ve seen quite a few dashboards, so we have a good idea of the kinds of things that people often want to see, and we’ve designed X-rays to give people quick insights into their tables. Figure 2 is an X-ray that was automatically created for the People table.

<em>Fig. 2</em>. Example of an X-ray based on the people table.
Fig. 2. Example of an X-ray based on the people table.

To create an X-ray in Browse Data, hover over a table and click on the yellow lightning bolt (figure 3).

<em>Fig. 3</em>. Hovering over a table in the <strong>Browse Data</strong> section, revealing a <strong>lightning icon</strong> and a <strong>book icon</strong> with the text 'X-ray this table'.
Fig. 3. Hovering over a table in the Browse Data section, revealing a lightning icon and a book icon with the text 'X-ray this table'.

Data Reference pages

To visit the data reference section, click on the book icon on any of the pages in the Browse Data section. The data reference section is essentially a data dictionary.

Reference pages include database names and descriptions, as well as information about segments and metrics. Segments are filters that you can easily reference in the query builder. Metrics are an easy way to refer to a computed number (for example, revenue).

<em>Fig. 4</em>. Landing page for the data reference section. Three tabs on the left that say Segments, Metrics, and Our Data.
Fig. 4. Landing page for the data reference section. Three tabs on the left that say Segments, Metrics, and Our Data.

Let’s dive into a database. Once we click into our Sample Database, two tabs appear on the left side of the screen (figure 5).

The Details tab contains metadata about this database. As you can see in figure 5, the tab features three sections that you can use to provide information about this dataset to your users:

  • General description
  • Why this database is interesting
  • Things to be aware of about this database
<em>Fig. 5</em>. Data reference screen for the Sample Database. Not only can you see the database's description, you can also see why the dataset might be useful or edit the page's information.
Fig. 5. Data reference screen for the Sample Database. Not only can you see the database's description, you can also see why the dataset might be useful or edit the page's information.

Admins have the option to click on the Edit button in the upper right hand corner to update this information (which they should).

The Tables tab displays the table names and descriptions. You can click on a table to view a Details tab, as well as view the Fields in this table tab. You can view a list of Questions about this table (provided you have permission to view those questions), and have the option to create an X-ray of the table.

The Details tab suggests useful questions to ask the table at the bottom of the page (figure 6).

<em>Fig. 6</em>. The details tab of the Orders table.
Fig. 6. The details tab of the Orders table.

Admins can edit field names and types in the Fields in this table tab (figure 7).

<em>Fig. 7</em>. The fields tab of the Orders table from an admin's perspective (with the Edit button in the upper right).
Fig. 7. The fields tab of the Orders table from an admin's perspective (with the Edit button in the upper right).

Access Metabase Admin

To access Metabase Admin, go to the navigation sidebar, click on the gears icon at the bottom, and select Admin settings.

In the Admin panel you can add, update, and remove databases, as well as edit metadata about your data.

The Databases page

The Databases page in the Admin Panel displays connection information about your databases:

  • The database type
  • How Metabase is connected to your Metabase instance
  • Sync settings

Metabase does a lightweight sync every hour to keep your in-app data current, but you can use this page to manually sync your database, manage sync frequency, and with some databases, determine which schemas to sync.

Editing metadata in Data Model

Picking clear names and adding useful descriptions for context will help users improve their analysis. Metabase can automatically try to create human-readable names of your tables and columns for you, but if we miss the mark, you can always disable the Friendly Table and Field Names feature.

To make changes to your metadata in Metabase, visit the Data Model tab in the Admin panel. The Data Model tab displays options to edit metadata for the database, tables, and columns. For example, you can edit a column’s name, visibility, type, and description. You can also remap foreign keys to give human readable names to foreign key columns!

Some tips for making life easier for people:

  • When column names are confusing, you can change their names or add a description.
  • If you have address columns, you can hide them from your users to protect privacy.
  • You can pick your preferred filter interface from three options (search box, list of values, or plain input box).

Perhaps the most important piece of metadata you can change is the field type. As depicted in figure 10 below, there is a long list of field types to choose from. Selecting the correct type for a column can connect information across multiple tables, and give context to Metabase so it can choose visualizations appropriate for your field types. For example, once you’ve accurately identified latitude and longitude columns in your table, you will be able to use map visualizations.

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