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How to get a random sample of data with Power Query



This Power Monday trick is about random sample with Power Query. This is based on my experience of working with large volumes of data.

The other day I have been building a hotel dashboard (more on this later). As part of the dashboard, I wanted to show a random sample of user reviews. Reviews database had quite a few rows, so I wanted to extract a randomized sample of 100 reviews and show them in the report. When you refresh the report (Data > Refresh), then a new set of reviews will be fetched and shown.

howto get random sample in power query

Let’s learn how to generate a random sample with Power Query in this article.

This tutorial works in Power Query for Excel or Power BI. In case of Excel, the output sample will be either loaded as table or to data model. In case of Power BI, output goes to your data model.

If you want to get random sample with Excel formulas, read this.

5 Steps to create random sample with Power Query

Step 1: Get your data to Power Query

Simple. Grab the data you want to sample and bring it to PQ. At this point, you will get something like this:

random sample with power query - data

Step 2: Add Random Numbers as a column

Go to “Add Column” > Custom Column and add this formula.


Remember: Power Query formulas are case-sensitive. So type exactly. Name this column “Random”

But Power Query gives same random number in all rows …

That is right. As Power Query is a parallel language, each row gets same random number (unlike Excel’s RAND() filled down a column).

Note: your experience with Number.Random() could be different, but as you build transformations, at some point PQ will replace all numbers with same value.

So how to get different numbers per row? Simple, we force PQ to evaluate something per row. A simple thing like index number column will do. This will force PQ to run random formula for all rows.

Hat tip to Gil Raviv for suggesting this technique in a forum post.     

Step 3: Add Index Number column & Sort the random numbers

Go to “Add column” > Index number. Now that we have index numbers in a column, this will force PQ to regenerate the random number per row.

add an index number column

Select the random number column and sort it.

Note: You may need to switch Steps 2 & 3 if the random numbers are same all the way thru.

Step 4: Keep top 100 rows

Go to Home > Keep Rows > Keep Top Rows. Enter the sample size you want (100) and Click OK. Your sample is ready.

keep top random rows

Step 5: Remove the Random & Index columns

Now that our sample is ready, let’s remove the random & index number columns. We do not need them in the final output (or model). Click on Save & Load (or Close & Apply).

Enjoy the sample.

How to get random sample with repetitions?

The above technique gives a sample without repetitions. What if you need a sample with repetitions (ie memory-less sampling). For example, a series of dice throws or coin tosses?

We can use Power Query to get such samples too. This is slightly complicated compared to first technique, but fun to try.

  1. Load your source to PQ
  2. Group the data so you can get row count (while still keeping the data). Like this:
    Advanced grouping in Power Query for random sampling with repetitions
  3. Add a custom column with a list of 100 numbers =List.Numbers(1,100)
  4. Expand the list to new rows
  5. Add a column with random number  between 0 & row count-1 =Number.RandomBetween(0,[Count]-1))
  6. Add index column
  7. Change random number to whole number
  8. Extract the random row number from [Data] to a new column =[Data]{[Random]}
  9. Remove all other columns except this new column in #8
  10. Expand the column
  11. Your sample with possible repetitions is ready.

Here is the full M code for you to customize.

    Source = Excel.CurrentWorkbook(){[Name="myData"]}[Content],
    #"Grouped Rows" = Table.Group(Source, {}, {{"Count", each Table.RowCount(_), type number}, 
{"Data", each _, type table}}),
    #"Added Custom" = Table.AddColumn(#"Grouped Rows", "List", each List.Numbers(1,100)),
    #"Expanded List" = Table.ExpandListColumn(#"Added Custom", "List"),
    #"Added Custom1" = Table.AddColumn(#"Expanded List", "Random", 
each Number.RandomBetween(0,[Count]-1)),
    #"Added Index" = Table.AddIndexColumn(#"Added Custom1", "Index", 0, 1),
    #"Changed Type" = Table.TransformColumnTypes(#"Added Index",{{"Random", Int64.Type}}),
    #"Added Custom2" = Table.AddColumn(#"Changed Type", "Custom", each [Data]{[Random]}),
    #"Removed Columns" = Table.RemoveColumns(#"Added Custom2",{"Data"}),
    #"Removed Columns1" = Table.RemoveColumns(#"Removed Columns",{"Count", "List", "Random", "Index"}),
    #"Expanded Custom" = Table.ExpandRecordColumn(#"Removed Columns1", "Custom", {"Review Text", "Rating"},
 {"Review Text", "Rating"})
    #"Expanded Custom" 

Answers to your questions about sampling…

How to get another sample?

Simple. Just refresh your Power Query connection. You will get another sample.

How to change the sample size?

In the M code, where it says 100 replace with another number or parameter.

Use Excel Cell to tell Power Query how big a sample you want…

You can even use an Excel named cell to tell PQ what sample size you want. Assuming named cell sample.size has the size, use this M code  =Excel.CurrentWorkbook(){[Name=”sample.size“]}[Content][Column1]{0} to get the value in your query. Use it as part of other steps and bingo, your sample size changes.

Other questions…?

Struggle sampling some sensible set? Post your sample problem in comments so I or one of our excellent readers can help you.

Download sample file and get your samples…

Excuse the pun, but here is a sample file with all the M code for making your own samples. Examine the queries to learn how this is done.

How do you sample?

Excel’s Rand() is my favorite way to sample. But now that I am spending more time with Power Query & Power BI, I needed another way to sample the data. This post outlines my preferred approach (unless I am dealing with very large volumes of data) For large volumes of data, I suggest sampling at server-side thru SQL.

What about you? How do you sample? Share your approach or troubles in the comments.

New to Power Query? Check out this introduction tutorial.


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9 Responses to “How to get a random sample of data with Power Query”

  1. Chihiro says:

    Neat method.

    If using PowerBI, you can use Python script to generate random numbers. And then left join original table (using 0 base index) to it.

    Sample code for generating 10 random # from 0 to 99.
    import pandas as pd
    import random
    df = pd.DataFrame(random.sample(range(100), 10), columns=list('A'))

    • Chihiro says:

      Ah, figured out something bit more efficient in PowerBI.

      In the query editor, go to Transform tab and Run Python Script (note that Preview feature must be turned on).
      Run following code.
      dataset = dataset.sample(len(dataset)//2)

      This will automatically take approx half of population as sample. Or you can use hard coded number which is smaller than population size. So there is no need for inner join on index.

  2. DragonPhantom says:

    When using an [Index] column and a custom "Number.Random()" column I was not able to sort the data, all it would do is recalculate a new random number. So when I was playing around, I found that if add a custom column and add "List.Random(1)" it will give a "List" column and upon expansion it gave me a perfect set of random numbers that don't change and are sort-able! 😀

    • Scott says:

      THIS was the correct answer. Thank you. The author's steps don't work.

    • Roman says:

      This worked for me - "add a custom column and add "List.Random(1)" it will give a "List" column and upon expansion it gave me a perfect set of random numbers". Thanks.

  3. jose says:

    Great tips guys! thansk for sharing.

    I have a follow up question on sampling. I have a table with large amount of data from diferent dates . is there a way to firlter the random selection to a timefrmae . for example, select a random sample of 100 entries chosen bettwen January 1st and january 31 of 2021.


  4. Federico says:

    Your first method with the index column already produces duplicates because it evaluates each row independently from all the others.

    Now is it possible to have a column of random numbers without repetitions?

  5. Banu Uday Kumar says:

    Random Sample based on Volume and product processed by each employees.

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