Engine Works

Under the hood of Alteryx: tips, tricks and how-tos.
13 - Pulsar
13 - Pulsar



Working with Alteryx, little features have popped up along the way that I wish I had known about from the get-go. All the tips and tricks make working with new tools so much easier (it wasn’t until 4-5 years into my Alteryx journey that someone showed me how to remove duplicate fields in a Join. Great feature to look up). As I have continued on my path and learned more about automation, macros, apps, and even creating my own tools, one feature is a must-know for this – XML VIEW OF WORKFLOWS!


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W3Schools defines it this way: XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language and is designed to store and transport data. Another great definition and more information on XML can be found here. In the link you will find XML contains structured information about content and how to use that content to be both human and machine readable. From personal experience, it can take a bit of time to get used to, but thanks to Weekly Challenges (like #37), you can start to get used to using them as datasets.


Here is a sample from the input of Challenge 37:



XML has structure, but from one source to another may not follow any type of similarities in levels or naming conventions. XML is also a part of my favorite tool: ALTERYX!!! I did not know this until about three years into my Alteryx journey, that the underlying aspect of every workflow is XML language.


Here is a sample of what a workflow looks like in XML:




In this example, you can see all settings of every tool as well as settings of the overall workflow. You can see that the first tool in this canvas is a Text Input tool and it connects to a Download tool. The ability to see how your workflow interacts with data and how it flows through each tool is so valuable! It not only helps in debugging workflows, but is immensely valuable in understanding how selections flow through tools, macros, apps, and even your own tools (YES THIS IS POSSIBLE WITH ALTERYX SDKs!).


Now the question is: “How do we leverage such a great feature?” To enable the XML view not only in the configuration but within each tool, follow these steps:

1)  In Alteryx Designer, go to Options


2)  Then go to User Settings -> Edit User Settings


3)  Go to the Advanced tab in the settings and select the checkbox to “Display XML in Properties Window”




Once you do that, you will be able to see two things:

1)  The XML View for your workflow overall




2)  The XML view when you click on a single tool



This is great and all, but how does this benefit while working in Alteryx, you may ask?


While working with Alteryx for many years, I cannot tell you the number of times I have gone through trial and error building macros because of how certain values pass or how different settings treat things differently. If I would have known about the XML feature so I can see how values pass and how settings are altered by different tools, it would have simplified a lot of macro and workflow builds. By far though, the biggest benefit by looking at the XML for workflows and tools is:


WHEN BUILDING YOUR OWN TOOLS! (Thanks to @RithiS for the class at Inspire Nashville!)


I have now built a total of three tools in the last 6 months (updating them numerous times) and it was one of the best adventures as it taught me so much and flipped macro building on its head! The same reasons XML helps a macro is also why it helps when you are building your own tool. As you build the interface, you can click on a tool you built and see how your selections will pass to your underlying macro or code. Here is an example of how changing a radio button within the interface changes the value that is passed into your macro for a tool (built using HTML SDK).


Selection 1:






Selection 2:






This made the formula within the macro for this tool so much easier. I spent weeks trying to figure out what was wrong with the tool and you can see my struggles here. It was not until someone pointed out this feature to me that everything became clear! I then adjusted my macro, slightly modified my user interface, and boom a working tool that is now being used by numerous people in my company. Without XML view within a workflow, I am not sure how much longer it would have taken me to figure out why my tool and macro was not working as I wanted it to. There was a lot more trial and error and a lot more struggling for sure.


Alteryx community, what are some of the things you have seen in your Alteryx journey that has changed your life?