The ‚KeyColumns‘ #0 has NullProcessing set to ‚UnknownMember‘, but the dimension doesn’t have UnknownMember set to ‚Visible‘ or ‚Hidden‘

10.08.2014 Hilmar Buchta

SQL Server 2005-2014


By default, SSAS provides an automatically created member with the name ‘unknown’ for each dimension. This member is intended to be the home for all facts that don’t fit to a real member (provided from the data source). In the example above, fact data that does not match any of the listed product categories could be mapped to the unknown-element.


I’m saying ‘could’ and not ‘is’ because the rules for mapping fact data to the unknown-element can be configured in the dimension properties.

But using this mechanism has certain drawbacks:

  • Processing time increases a lot if one row is encountered which has to be mapped to unknown
  • Only one text (for example ‘unknown’, can be configured) for all attributes in the dimension
  • Cases are hard to find since you don’t see this mapping in the underlying data warehouse tables


In a good data warehouse design, ETL takes care of the correct mapping of fact data to its dimensions by using surrogate keys. Each join is then an inner join. In order to do so, dimension tables usually contain a row for the unknown element. Frequently, the surrogate key –1 is used for this row.

But following this best practice results in the SSAS dimension showing two elements for ‘unknown’: The dimension entry and the automatically created entry.


So, why does SSAS dimension have this build-in unknown element by default? If we build almost all SSAS cubes based on a good data warehouse design where the dimensions maintain their own unknown element, there is no need for an automatically created unknown element anymore. But since SSAS cube’s wizard is intended to work with most types of data structures, the unknown element is there by default. Without having ETL enforced surrogate keys you just cannot be sure, that every fact row maps to its dimensions.

So, as explained above, we want to remove this default unknown element in almost all SSAS cube development projects. This can be easily done in the properties dialog of the dimension:


There are four available options for the unknown member:

visible The unknown-member of the dimension exists and is visible
hidden The unknown-member of the dimension exists and is hidden
none The unknown-member of the dimension does not exist
automatic null The unknown-member of the dimension exists und is visible, if there are violations of the referential integrity (fact keys not found in in dimension).

Again, if we take care of the surrogate keys in the ETL process, there is no need for a dimension unknown element at all. So, the best option is, to disable it (UnknownMember set to none).

However, because of other default settings, you’re getting the following error when trying to deploy your SSAS model afterwards:

The ‚KeyColumns‘ #0 has NullProcessing set to ‚UnknownMember‘, but the dimension doesn’t have UnknownMember set to ‚Visible‘ or ‚Hidden‘

If you’re getting this error for the first time, it might not be clear, where to fix it, especially since there are two changes that need to be made:


1. Adjusting the dimension key attribute

If you look at the dimension, you’ll notice the red hash-line below the key attribute of your dimension.


In order to fix this, you’ll need to open the properties of that attribute. Now navigate to the key columns setting and expand the view for each of the columns (since you may have more than one column bindings for the attribute’s key) as shown in the following screenshot:


Here you can set the NullProcessing option to “Error”. The default is “UnkownMember” but since we just disabled this, this causes the error.

Remember to do this for each key column of this attribute.


2. Adjust null processing in the dimension usage.

The second place to modify is the dimension mapping. Therefore open the cube and go to the dimension usage tab. You’ll notice the red hash-line at the attribute (in my example, the Product ID):


In order to fix this, click the button near to the attribute (the one labeled with “-“) to open this dialog:


Click advanced to edit the properties of the mapping:


In the lower part of the dialog, you can set the “Null Processing” from “UnknownMember” to “Error”.

After this change you should be able to deploy the cube again.

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