What is Chaco?

Chaco is a 2D plotting library that is part of and integrates with the Enthought Tools Suite.

The strong points of Chaco are

  1. it can be embedded in any wx, Qt, or TraitsUI application
  2. it is designed for building interactive plotting applications, rather than static 2D plots
  3. Chaco classes can be easily extended to create new plot types, interactive tools, and plot containers

At the lowest level, Chaco is a hierarchy of classes that defines 2D plotting elements: plots, containers, interactive tools, color bars, etc. In principle, applications can create instances of these elements and lay them out in a container to define components that can be embedded in one of several of graphical back ends. Working at this level allows the maximum flexibility, but requires understanding Chaco’s basic elements.

Chaco defines two abstraction layers that allow a more high-level (albeit less flexible) plotting experience. First, Chaco contains a Plot class that defines several methods that create a complete plot given one or more data sets. In other words, Plot knows how to package data for the most common kinds of plots. Second, Chaco has a shell module that defines high-level plotting functions. This module allows using Chaco as an interactive plotting tool that will be familiar to users of matplotlib.

Basic elements

To venture deeper in Chaco’s architecture it is useful to understand a few basic ideas on which Chaco is based:

  • Plots are compositions of visual components

    Each plot is composed by a number of graphical widgets: the plot graphics, axes, labels, legend, colorbar, etc. Everything you see in a plot is an individual component with position, shape, and appearance attributes, and with an opportunity to respond to events.

  • Data and screen space are separated

    Although everything in a plot eventually ends up rendering into a common visual area, there are aspects of the plot which are intrinsically screen-space, and some which are fundamentally data-space. For example, data about the height of college students lives in data space (meters), but needs to be rendered in screen space (pixels). Chaco uses the concept of mapper to translate one into the other. Preserving the distinction between these two domains allows us to think about visualizations in a structured way.

  • Layers

    Plot components are split into several layers, which are usually plotted in sequence. For example, axes and labels are usually plotted on the “underlay” layer, plot data on the “plot” layer, and legends and other plot annotations on the “overlay” layer. In this way one can define interactive tools that add graphical elements to a plot without having to modify the drawing logic.

These pages describe in detail the basic building blocks of Chaco plots, and the classes that implement them:

TODO: find out how the selection features are organized

TODO: to see how these elements collaborate to build an interactive plot, give complete low-level example of line plot with simple tool and describe the exchange of information


before axes (axes are overlays) tools, overlays

Plotting with Chaco

The Plot class

Plot and PlotData

Low-level Chaco plotting

  1. create instances of PlotRenderer and add them to a Container. There are factory functions in plot_factory that make it simpler
  2. Create a Plot instance, use methods to create new plots of different kinds. This automatizes 1) with an OverlayPlotContainer, i.e., it plots multiple curves on the same element

Plots can be rendered in a traitsui, wx, or qt window

Embedding Chaco plots

Traits UI