Apache Superset™ As A Looker Alternative

Srini Kadamati

Open Source as in Freedom

In June 2019, the Looker team announced that they were being acquired by Google .

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Given how mature and dynamic the BI market is, consolidation has been accelerating over the past few years:

While consolidation is likely to continue, these concerns don’t arise when your BI platform is open source. Whether you're using a commercial vendor or self-hosting, you have immense flexibility with open source.

Superset vs Looker

Apache Superset is the most popular and mature open-source business intelligence platform out there. This BI tool offers in-depth data exploration and data analysis functionality for non technical users who are looking to uncover actionable insights for their business. In this post, I’ll make the case for why Superset is the most compelling alternative to Looker. In this post, I'll make the case for why Superset is the most compelling alternative to Looker.

No-code Query Builder

Support common SQL operations (Select, Filter, GroupBy, etc)
Preview visualization during iteration
Preview generated SQL query during iteration
View data transformation results as a table
Use virtual datasets to build charts
Ability to join tables➕ In Development

Both Looker and Superset have no-code interfaces for crafting SQL queries.

Rich Set of Visualizations

Common charts (pie, line, bar, etc)
Funnel visualizations
Sankey diagrams✅ ( for $10,000 )
Network visualization
Ability to add custom charts / visualizations
Number of default charts2040 (and growing 📈)
Number of geospatial visualizations710

Looker has a limited set of chart types (approximately 20). Superset ships with more than 60 charts and this list is quickly growing). More importantly, Superset lets you develop and add new custom visualizations.

Advanced SQL Editor

Export query results as CSV
Database metadata explorer
Linting and auto-complete
Multi-tab workflow
Save query for re-use
Semantic layer: save queries as virtual datasets
Semantic layer: define custom metrics
Semantic layer: calculated columns

Both Looker and Superset ship with a powerful SQL editor and a powerful semantic layer.

  1. Aggregate values across multiple columns and publish as Metrics.
  2. Metrics can be certified as authoritative by a specific user.
  3. Transform specific columns and publish as Calculated Columns.
  4. Write arbitrary SQL queries and publish as a Virtual Dataset.

In the no-code chart builder (Explore), metrics, columns, and virtual datasets all inherit the power that physical database tables have in Superset.

Basic datetime, value, and range filters
Dashboard templating
Custom theming
Dashboard can contain charts from multiple data sources

Superset is widely known for the beautiful charts and dashboards you can create quickly. Here's an example that's a community favorite:

Apache Superset slack dashboard

Enterprise Features

SSO (single sign-on)
Usage and audit logs
Admin API
Row level security
Chart or dashboard level permissioning
Workspace level RBAC (role-based access control)
Viewer-only mode
SaaS Cloud option
Self-hosted / On-prem deployment

Superset was developed with the following constraints in mind, which enable the features above:

  • modern languages (Python, TypeScript, & ReactJS) and modern UX (web-based)
  • scalable (incubated at Airbnb, designed to scale with cloud-native best practices )
  • API should support and mirror what can be done in the UI
  • highly customizable (open source!)

We are proud that Superset is competitive with Looker on the key fronts that enterprises require!

Preset Cloud vs Superset

At Preset, we're proud to be a vendor offering Apache Superset as a cloud hosted service. In addition to all of the features that Superset has out of the box, we add the following:

  • Preset Manager: our admin layer that lets you create multiple Superset workspaces and manage permissions using role-based access control (RBAC)
  • Documentation & Training: we maintain high quality end-user focused documentation and also offer training
  • Compliance & Security: Preset is SOC2 Type 1 & Type 2 compliant and we offer single sign-on (SSO) for paid teams
  • World-class Support: teams on a paid tier get access to our dedicated email and chat support

The following graphic helps visualize the differences:

Preset Crust


Preset Cloud is now generally available for anyone to use and we're excited to launch with a free-forever tier. Unlike Looker, we're highly transparent about our pricing.

If you're currently a Looker user that wants to try out Preset Cloud, you can get started for free!

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