When I talk to most Tableau users about layout containers these are the questions I get.  What are layout containers?  Why do I need them? How do I use them? and Why are they so confusing?

What are layout containers?

In the most basic explaination layout containers are Tableau's way of organizing the sheets being shown on your dashboard.  Automatically whether you know it or not Tableau puts everything into a layout container or many depending on your dashboard layout.  In the dashboard below I have outlined the 3 layout containers.
1. Purple layout container - this is a tiled layout container that houses all of the sheet nicely into 4 window panes
2. Green layout container - this is a vertical layout container.  By default Tableau will put all of your filters and legends into a layout container like this one.
3. Dark blue layout container - this layout container encompasses the whole dashboard.  As you can see all of the containers go inside this one.

In order for me to figure out where the layout containers were there are a few options.  

  1. If you look at the left pane of the dashboard screen and go down to Layout I opened all of levels.  Note: Unfortunately you cannot re-size the left pane (v 8.2.4).  If you click on a section in the layout pane it will highlight the corresponding object in the dashboard.  For example when I clicked on the purple tiled layout container it highlighted the container on the dashboard.
  2. If you need to figure out what container an object is in click on it once so it's highlighted (gray box around it).  Go to the top right corner and click on the carrot (▼).  Click on "select layout container".  This will highlight (in blue) the layout container.
Additionally layout containers will automatically size or space sheets or objects to fit.  So what does that mean?  Take a look at the example below. Figure 1 does not use a layout container where as Figure 2 does.  In each figure the left side shows Region Sales and Product Category Sales without any filters.  The dashboard on the right shows the same sheets filtered for Alabama.  

Figure 1 you can see that when the dashboard is filtered the sheets always stay in the same place because they are "set" wherever you place them.  When you go down to Figure 2 (With layout container) you will see that when filtered to Alabama the Product Category Sales sheet moves up.  The layout container is automatically moving the sheets to make use of any empty space.  This is particularly useful in this example because using the layout container removed the need to have a scroll bar once filtered.
Figure 1 - No layout container
The Product Category Sales chart always starts at the mid-point of the dashboard.  Notice the scroll bar always shows.

Figure 2 - With layout container
The Product Category Sales sheet starts wherever the Region Sales sheet ends.  In this figure notice how the scroll bar goes away because it is no longer necessary due to the layout container.

Why do I need layout containers?
If you have been using Tableau for a while or even if you haven't you've probably run into a time where you were trying to add a sheet to the dashboard but it just wouldn't go where you wanted it to!  This is a perfect example of when to use a layout container.  The second reason why you would want to use a layout container would be to automatically size or space sheets in the way that I did from Figure 2.

How do I use layout containers?

On the left pane of the dashboard screen where the objects are you'll see horizontal and vertical layout containers.  

Horizontal layout containers will put your sheets or objects in line across your dashboard whereas vertical layout containers will stack your sheet or objects down your dashboard.

  1. Drag your layout container onto your dashboard.
  2. Drag your sheets into the layout container.  They are being placed into the layout container if you see a blue box highlighting the container.

Layout containers can be really particular about where you put your mouse.  If you can't get your sheet into the container stay calm and try using these helpful hints.
  1. Make the layout container bigger.
  2. When trying to put sheets at the top/bottom or ends you may need to put the sheet in the middle first then re-arrange the sheets.  Ex: If you're trying add a sheet that will be first add it to the container as the 2nd sheet, then move 1st/top sheet to be second.

Why are layout containers so confusing?
I said I was going to answer all your questions.  I'm not really sure that I can answer why they are so confusing!  But hopefully I was able to make them less confusing!


  1. Tableau's layout containers are one of the deeper mysteries one encounters. They are in many ways so weird in their behaviour as to be incomprehensible, and trying to figure out what they're doing, and why they're doing it, can be maddening.
    Chief among their problems is that there are three container types: tiled, vertical, and horizontal. Of these, tiled containers are the biggest contributor to the weirdness; among other things Tableau creates and removes them as one tries to place and arrange elements on the dashboard, and does so largely invisibly.
    Here's an experiment to illustrate the surface weirdness: 1) create a new dashboard; 2) show its title; 3) hide its title; 4) show the title again; 5: look at the cascade of containers Tableau has created - each of them has effects on whatever gets put into it, and has relationships with its siblings (when present) and parent that affect what you can do.
    One principle I've embraced from years of working with Dashboards that really helps is: exterminate tiled containers. Whenever Tableau creates a tiled container I remove it right away to prevent its invidious effects from causing problems further on. Use vertical and horizontal containers to organize your dashboard - without tiled containers around things will be much easier and more predictable.

    On the other hand, if all you want to do is double-click a few worksheets (up to 4) and have Tableau put them in the dashboard's quadrants, please do so. This is the fundamental use case dashboards were created to support, and they're actually quite good at it.

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