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Starting out in data visualization can be a difficult thing to do. Here’s what you need to know.

The Five Best Libraries For Building Data Visualizations

data visualization best

An explosion in the number of available data sources and data-processing tools means that more people than ever are jumping into the world of data visualization. But with so much to learn, it can be intimidating to know just where to start. So which library is best, and what advice do the pros have? Read on and find out.


Like telling the history of personal computers without mentioning Steve Jobs, it’s impossible to talk about data visualization without talking about D3. Arguably the most dominant and important programming library in the field, D3 (short for Data Driven Documents) is an open source JavaScript library usually used to generate SVG graphics. SVG is a vector image format long supported by web browsers, but also historically underutilized


Although D3 is a powerful tool for custom visuals, if you want to make a standard chart without thinking too much about the visual design aspect, a tool like Vega could be for you. As a framework built on top of D3, Vega provides an alternate syntax for defining chart elements. With Vega you can describe data visualizations in a JSON format instead of writing D3/JavaScript code, and then generate interactive views using either HTML5 Canvas or SVG. This greatly simplifies the code involved, so your “time-to-chart” is much shorter--if that’s an issue that concerns you. It also makes visualizations far more reusable and shareable, while greatly improving platform flexibility.


Processing has been around for a few years already. It’s easy to get started with--since it can be simply downloaded and installed on any platform. The language itself is also very easy to learn, so that with only one line of code you’ll already have something visible on-screen. “Processing is a programming language, development environment, and online community which makes it a wonderful environment for writing generative, interactive, animated applications,” says Benjamin Wiederkehr, partner at design and technology studio Interactive Things, and editor

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If both D3 and Processing are general tools that can be applied to a range of different types of data visualization, then Gephi has a more specific purpose. Its the number one free and open source tool for network visualization. Within this, however, is a world of possibilities. Whether you’re looking to model the relationship between individuals within a company, or passes during a football game, Gephi can help visualize how two different nodes are connected together.


A fast and flexible open source JavaScript charting library,Dygraphs lets you explore and interpret incredibly dense data sets. Unlike Vega, it’s highly customizable--but it also has the plus of working in all major browsers. Finally, it’s interactive out of the box. What this means is that features like zoom, pan, and mouseover are on by default, while the ability to pinch-to-zoom on mobile devices is simply icing on the cake.

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