I recently wrote an article on SQLBI about the semi-additive measures in DAX. I included the formulas common calculations and there is an interesting point that worth a longer digression: the difference between LASTDATE and MAX (which is similar to FIRSTDATE and MIN – I just describe the former, for the latter just replace the correspondent names).
LASTDATE is a dax function that receives an argument that has to be a date column and returns the last date active in the current filter context. Apparently, it is the same value returned by MAX, which returns the maximum value of the argument in the current filter context. Of course, MAX can receive any numeric type (including date), whereas LASTDATE only accepts a column of type date. But overall, they seems identical in the result. However, the difference is a semantic one. In fact, this expression:
LASTDATE ( 'Date'[Date] )
could be also rewritten as:
FILTER ( VALUES ( 'Date'[Date] ), 'Date'[Date] = MAX ( 'Date'[Date] ) )
LASTDATE is a function that returns a table with a single column and one row, whereas MAX returns a scalar value. In DAX, any expression with one row and one column can be automatically converted into the corresponding scalar value of the single cell returned. The opposite is not true. So you can use LASTDATE in any expression where a table or a scalar is required, but MAX can be used only where a scalar expression is expected.
Since LASTDATE returns a table, you can use it in any expression that expects a table as an argument, such as COUNTROWS. In fact, you can write this expression:
COUNTROWS ( LASTDATE ( 'Date'[Date] ) )
which will always return 1 or BLANK (if there are no dates active in the current filter context). You cannot pass MAX as an argument of COUNTROWS.
You can pass to LASTDATE a reference to a column or any table expression that returns a column. The following two syntaxes are semantically identical:
LASTDATE ( 'Date'[Date] )
LASTDATE ( VALUES ( 'Date'[Date] ) )
The result is the same and the use of VALUES is not required because it is implicit in the first syntax, unless you have a row context active. In that case, be careful that using in a row context the LASTDATE function with a direct column reference will produce a context transition (the row context is transformed into a filter context) that hides the external filter context, whereas using VALUES in the argument preserve the existing filter context without applying the context transition of the row context (see the columns LastDate and Values in the following query and result).
You can use any other table expressions (including a FILTER) as LASTDATE argument. For example, the following expression will always return the last date available in the Date table, regardless of the current filter context:
LASTDATE ( ALL ( 'Date'[Date] ) )
The following query recap the result produced by the different syntaxes described.
VALUES ('Date'[Date] ),
"LastDate", LASTDATE( 'Date'[Date] ),
"Values", LASTDATE( VALUES ( 'Date'[Date] ) ),
"Filter", LASTDATE( FILTER ( VALUES ( 'Date'[Date] ), 'Date'[Date] = MAX ( 'Date'[Date] ) ) ),
"All", LASTDATE( ALL ( 'Date'[Date] ) ),
"Max", MAX( 'Date'[Date] )
'Date'[Calendar Year] = 2008
ORDER BY 'Date'[Date]
The LastDate columns repeat the current date, because the context transition happens within the ADDCOLUMNS. The Values column preserve the existing filter context from being replaced by the context transition, so the result corresponds to the last day in year 2008 (which is filtered in the external CALCULATETABLE). The Filter column works like the Values one, even if we use the FILTER instead of the LASTDATE approach. The All column shows the result of LASTDATE ( ALL ( ‘Date’[Date] ) ) that ignores the filter on Calendar Year (in fact the date returned is in year 2010). Finally, the Max column shows the result of the MAX formula, which is the easiest to use and only don’t return a table if you need it (like in a filter argument of CALCULATE or CALCULATETABLE, where using LASTDATE is shorter).
I know that using LASTDATE in complex expressions might create some issue. In my experience, the fact that a context transition happens automatically in presence of a row context is the main reason of confusion and unexpected results in DAX formulas using this function. For a reference of DAX formulas using MAX and LASTDATE, read my article about semi-additive measures in DAX.