Visualization with D3.js -- Caroline Cypranowska and Luc Guillemot

February 28, 2017 at 5-6:30pm in BIDS, 190 Doe Library


D3 tutorial for building an animated line graph (with real FRET data) for The Hacker Within at UC Berkeley on February 28, 2017.

Intro to D3

Luc’s slides on the fundamentals of D3 (with code examples) are posted here.

How to prepare for this tutorial

  1. Download and install Brackets
    • (This is Caroline’s preferred tool for building visualizations with D3, but isn’t strictly necessary. It has a nice live preview feature that is handy if you’re building these visualizations to go on a webpage.)
  2. Fork (or download) Caroline’s d3_fretgraph repository
    • It has a template in the main directory that we’ll use to write our code, our raw data in a .csv file in the /data directory, a minified version of D3 in the /d3 directory, and a finished version of the visualization in the /finished_version directory
  3. For Luc’s code example–navigate to this webpage and open developer tools. Click on the ‘sources’ tab to grab the contents of the ‘d3-hackerwithin’ directory.

What is D3?

D3 stands for data-driven documents, and is a JavaScript library for building interactive data visualizations to display on the web. It was developed primarily by Mike Bostock, his PhD adviser, Jeffrey Heer, and Vadim Ogievetsky (Bostock, Ogievetsky & Heer, IEEE Trans. Visualization & Comp. Grapics, 2011).

D3 is notoriously challenging because it requires knowing a bit about JavaScript, a bit about HTML/CSS, and a bit about SVG. The goal with this workshop is to help you get a good enough sense of how D3 works to explore on your own.

D3 visualizations are built around binding data to HTML or SVG elements

What the heck does binding even mean? The idea here is that if you have a bunch of data and you want to use those data to manipulate elements on your webpage, then you need a way to select those elements and associate (or ‘bind’) your data to them.

Here’s an example of how to do this:

var  sample = [1,2,3,4];'body').selectAll('p')  // this selects all paragraph elements within the body of your HTML file, if you don't have                                      any <p> elements on your page then this is a virtual selection
  .data(sample)                   // this binds your data variable to your selection
  .enter()                        // THIS is the magic of D3! This method allows you to create NEW elements on the webpage                                          based on your data
  .append('p')                    // for each datum in your variable, D3 will append a new <p> element to your page
  .text("I'm a paragraph!");      // the text in each newly created <p> element

If you were to put this code between <script> tags on an HTML document and then view on a browser, you would see a page with 4 <p> elements with ‘I’m a paragraph!’ in them. But if you were to open your web inspector and run console.log(d3.selectAll("p")) you will see that each element has a __data__ parameter, and that value will correspond to the value in sample.

The way you then manipulate elements on your HTML document is by writing functions that take those data as arguments and change some kind of attribute of the selected element.

Showing things to scale

One of the other important D3 concepts is scale. For example, if you wanted to draw a circle on your document representing the US GDP ($18.56 trillion), you wouldn’t want a circle that has a diameter of 18.56 trillion pixels. D3’s .scale method helps you scale your data to the size of the graphic that you want to create. We’ll discuss this more when we build our example.

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel

There are tons of resources for learning D3 and perusing through code blocks created by other people.

Online learning resources

Example galleries

Fancy examples