In today?s world, people are struggling more and more with the problem of scattered attention. So it is becoming more and more important to present information in a structured, interesting and well-designed way, especially if you have a complex business application. Presenting huge chunks of data in a standard spreadsheet to analyze or to study is as inconvenient as it can get. Creating different charts is a big issue that we will consider.
Companies build strategies around the charts, numbers, and tables they?re presented with, and often use them to choose whether to pursue business opportunities. It is very important to choose the right tool to build a work around.
We will try to cover all these questions in this guide. First, we will talk on how to choose the right tool or library. Then we will define the criteria for evaluating the tools, and finally, compare the most popular solutions on the market.
How to choose the right library software for charting?
When you approach the choice of the charting tool, everything is highly individual and depends on many criteria. Therefore, in this section, we will consider things you should pay attention to while choosing the tools for drawing charts.
There are quite a few charting libraries around now, but which are the best to use? This can depend on many factors like business needs, types of data, the purpose of the chart itself and many more.
A nice interface and copy/paste code are all well and good if we need something generic to our needs. But frankly speaking, most of the time we actually need something tailored to our use case. Even more than that ? we need a reliable charting library we could build upon.
There are several factors to consider here:
- What kind of charts does the company want to build? Pie charts, maps, lines, bars?
- How large is the dataset?
- Is the app going to be used for Web, mobile, or both?
- SVG or Canvas base? Libraries based on SVG are usually better for smaller to medium datasets, as each element is a unique node and exists in the DOM tree. On the other side, Canvas is really fast.
- What is the browser support for a given library? Check your browser market share to figure this out.
- What kind of customization of the look and feel do you need?
Here is an example of a decision diagram that I have found on the internet.
Algorithm of choosing a tool for creating charts
Top libraries for creating charts
Github starts: 8871License: Free for non-commercial, paid for commercialPrice: Free to $7000Main dependencies: No dependenciesWeb-site: https://www.highcharts.com/
HighCharts a modern charting library based on SVG technology. It doesn?t require any plugin. The integration with all of the major web frameworks is very simple.
In all of its simplicity, Highcharts is also very much compatible with old browsers, so you can pick it if you don?t need to represent data using advanced charting styles.
- Optimized for both responsive design and touch devices;
- Capable of working with Big Data;
- On-hover tooltips rendering is super-quick;
- Ability to annotate graphs;
- Data can be loaded to charts directly from a CSV file.
Highcharts allows you to configure the theme separately from the data. This allows you to have a common theme for your brand to apply across all the charts on your website.
Highcharts is extensively documented and has most use cases covered.
HighCharts is used by some major companies across the world, including Facebook, IBM, MasterCard, and StackOverflow. It?s probably the most advanced library out there regarding types of charts available, but of course, comes at a cost for commercial use. If the pricing is not a stumble, Highcharts is an excellent choice.
Github starts: 11660License: Open-sourcePrice: FreeMain dependencies: No dependenciesWeb-site: http://gionkunz.github.io/chartist-js/
Chartist is a very modern, SVG based library. Its biggest feature is the SVG animations in the charts produced with this library.
It has a solid technology base and is very easy to implement. Within minutes you can make an incredibly impressive chart that interacts easily with any backend data source. Chartist is really easy to configure, as well as easy to customize with Sass.
This library has only 8 base chart types which can be used to improvise over a few more different types. Each is fully responsive but doesn?t have a great transitional effect as others.
- Filtering by labels; Click on a legend to show and hide data on the chart;
- Non-numeric Y-Axis, have labels instead;
- Easy customization with interpolation of line charts.
The Chart.js visualization library is completely open-sourced with the MIT License and available to modify, distribute and use. Source files are available to ?fork? on GitHub too.
Chart.js offers a vast documentation base including precise instructions on installing the library. The library can be quickly installed with Bower, NPM, jsDelivr and can even be linked up from CDNJS. Besides, you can download the source files directly from the GitHub Repo.
Chartist is a very powerful charting library, but it requires more work on the developer?s end to get things to look right.
Github starts: 8445License: Open-sourcePrice: FreeMain dependencies: D3.jsWeb-site: https://c3js.org/
C3 is a very efficient D3 based chart visualization library. C3 library is fast to render, has good compatibility across browsers and is very simple to integrate. If you?re looking for no-frills, C3 is a decent choice.
It also includes good documentation for what is an inherently simple library.
- Extensive tutorials and documentation;
- Responsive and mobile-ready;
- Stylish tooltips already integrated;
- Filterable data series.
C3 provides a getting started guide that instructs on how to get the basic library setup with your project.
Github starts: 44604License: Open-sourcePrice: FreeMain dependencies: Moment.jsWeb-site: https://www.chartjs.org/
The Chart.js API is fairly simple and well documented. Chart.js uses canvas instead of SVG. The library is actively maintained and has a few plugins to extend its functionality.
Chart.js offers 8 different chart types for data visualization with out of the box animations. It is compatible with all modern browsers. Also, responsive chart behavior of the charts can be enabled by some configuration.
Github starts: 10520License: Open-sourcePrice: Free, paid for enterpriseMain dependencies: D3.js, Stack.glWeb-site: https://plot.ly/
Plotly is one of the most common libraries around. Plotly is a very rich library and has outstanding documentation, including a tutorial for each of the chart types.
It has been open-source since 2015, meaning anyone can use it for free. Plotly.js supports 20 chart types, including SVG maps, 3D charts, and statistical graphs. It?s built on top of D3.js and stack.gl.
The charts and graph types available have a professional look and feel. Creating a chart is just a matter of loading in your information and customizing the layout, axes, notes, and legend.
Github starts: 6910License: Open-sourcePrice: Free, paid for enterpriseMain dependencies: D3.jsWeb-site: http://nvd3.org/
NVD3 is also on the list of the most popular libraries. Built upon D3.js like the others above, it does have a solid technical base.
The performance is relatively good, and it does have basic animations to inject some visual stimulation in an otherwise fairly plain interface. Data can be pumped in directly from .json files, meaning NVD3 is very easy to integrate with existing data API solutions.
When compared to other libraries on this list, it looks rather small with many charts not available, but most of the general graph-types are present.
This visualization library is completely open-sourced with the Apache 2.0 License.
Github starts: ?License: PaidPrice: From $497 to $9947Main dependencies: No dependenciesWeb-site: https://www.fusioncharts.com/
FusionCharts probably has the most complete collection of charts and maps. With over 90+ chart types and 965 maps, you?ll find everything that you need right out of the box.
FusionCharts supports both JSON and XML data formats, and you can export charts in PNG, JPEG, SVG or PDF. They have a nice collection of business dashboards and live demos for inspiration.
Their charts and maps work across all devices and platforms, are highly customizable and have beautiful interactions. But with all of that, FusionCharts is slightly expensive.
Github starts: 2646License: Open-sourcePrice: Free for all usersMain dependencies: ?Web-site: http://dygraphs.com/
- Linear regression;
- Synchronization across multiple graphs;
- Zoom capability;
- Highlighted regions.
DyGraphs is well suited for large and complex data sets.
Github starts: 86330License: Open-sourcePrice: Free for all usersMain dependencies: ?Web-site: https://d3js.org/
The website provides comprehensive documentation. There are examples provided to help with getting started and using the library.
D3 support all modern browsers. It has been tested on browsers including Firefox, Google Chrome, Safari, Opera, IE9+, Android and iOS.
There are two major concerns with D3.js: it has a steep learning curve and it is compatible only with modern browsers (IE 9+). Pick it up only if you have enough time to learn and adopt it.
Github starts: 86330License: Open-sourcePrice: Free for all usersMain dependencies: No dependenciesWeb-site: http://sigmajs.org
Sigma.js is built on Canvas and WebGL and has a public API, embracing a wide range of plugins contributed by the GitHub community. Sigma is fully responsive and touch interactive. It allows developers to directly add their own functions to the scripts and render nodes and edges exactly to spec.
Sigma provides a lot of different settings to make it easy to customize drawing and interaction with networks. Sigma is a rendering engine, and it?s up to you to add all the interactivity you want. The public API makes it possible to modify the data, move the camera, refresh the rendering, listen to events, etc.
It suits best for developers who need a powerful, dedicated graph drawing tool.
Github starts: 6930License: Open-sourcePrice: Free for all usersMain dependencies: jQueryWeb-site: http://morrisjs.github.io/morris.js/
Morris.js charting library is quite popular as well. It is used in many admin templates ? both free and premium. The charts used in Morris focus on simplicity and effectiveness.
There are 4 types of charts in the library ? line, area, bar, and donut charts.
Morris charts provide a free license. The license details are provided on the website. There is also detailed documentation for the charts.
Github starts: 5857License: Open-sourcePrice: Free for all usersMain dependencies: No dependenciesWeb-site: http://js.cytoscape.org/
Cytoscape.js is an open-source graph theory library written in JS. You can use Cytoscape.js for graph analysis and visualization.
Cytoscape.js allows you to easily display and manipulate rich, interactive graphs. Cytoscape.js includes all the gestures out-of-the-box, including pinch-to-zoom, box selection, panning, et cetera.
Cytoscape.js also has a graph analysis. The library contains many useful functions in graph theory. You can use Cytoscape.js headlessly on Node.js to do graph analysis in the terminal or on a web server.
Rickshaw by Shutterstock
Github starts: 6360License: Open-sourcePrice: Free for all usersMain dependencies: D3.js, jQuery, jsdomWeb-site: https://tech.shutterstock.com/rickshaw/
Rickshaw by Shutterstock
It?s based on d3 underneath, so graphs are drawn with standard SVG and styled with CSS. Customize everything you like with the techniques you already know.
Rickshaw is free and open-source, available under the MIT license. Developed by Shutterstock company.
Github starts: ?License: Paid. Free licenses to students and for Non-Commercial use.Price: from $149 to $4999Main dependencies: ?Web-site: https://canvasjs.com/
CanvasJS is a responsive HTML5 charting library with high performance and a simple API. It supports 30 different chart types (including line, column, bar, area, spline, pie, doughnut, stacked charts, etc.), which are all well documented. All charts include interactive features like tooltips, zooming, panning, animation, etc. CanvasJS can be integrated with popular frameworks (Angular, React, and jQuery) and server-side technologies (PHP, Ruby, Python, ASP.Net, Node.JS, Java).
Github starts: ?License: Paid for all usersPrice: from $350 to $1280Main dependencies: ?Web-site: https://www.koolchart.com/
The API is well documented with example charts for each type. A two month trial period is available for evaluation. Licensing is required after the trial period expires.
Github starts: 6124License: Apache 2.0Price: FreeMain dependencies: d3.jsWeb-site: https://rawgraphs.io/
RAWGraphs is an open web tool to create custom vector-based visualizations on top of the d3.js library. It has been developed by DensityDesign Research Lab (Politecnico di Milano) and Calibro and sustained through corporate stewardship by ContactLab.
It works with tabular data (spreadsheets and comma-separated values) as well as with copied-and-pasted texts from other applications. Based on the SVG format, visualizations can be edited with vector graphics applications for further refinements, or directly embedded into web pages. Here?s an example gallery to explore before diving in.
Github starts: 1799License: Apache 2.0Price: FreeMain dependencies: d3.jsWeb-site: https://taucharts.com/
Talking about flexibility, TauCharts gives you easy access to their API, thus giving users the opportunity to seamlessly map and visualize data to get more amazing insights.
Github starts: ?License: Paid for commercial usePrice: From $49 to $799 to custom price. Free for non-commercial useMain dependencies: ?Web-site: https://www.anychart.com/
AnyChart is a robust, lightweight, and feature-rich JS chart library with rendering in SVG/VML. It actually gives web developers a great opportunity to create different charts that will help them conduct data analysis and make data-driven decisions.
- More than 80 JS chart types, including basic charts, stock charts, maps, as well as Gantt and PERT charts.
- Many ways to set data: XML, JSON, CSV, JS API, Google Sheets, and HTML Table.
- Drill down into chart data.
- Stock technical analysis indicators and drawing tools (annotations) out-of-the-box.
- Can be integrated with Angular, Qlik, Oracle APEX, React, Elasticsearch, Vue.js, Android, iOS, etc.
The watermarked version is free. To get rid of the branding, as well as to use AnyChart for any commercial purpose, it?s necessary to buy a license (starts from $49).
Github starts: 12230License: MITPrice: FreeMain dependencies: d3.jsWeb-site: http://recharts.org/en-US/
Recharts provides a set of modular charting components and does a great job by letting you mix those components together to easily build things like a composed line and bar chart.
It is the most popular library to date. It has more than 11k stars on Github, but there is a huge number (600 to date) of open issues as well.
The documentation is quite extensive but lacks details in some parts. You can find a bunch of examples at Recharts website, which could be a good starting point for building your own charts.
What?s a bit troubling is the high number of unsolved issues on GitHub. These issues may not be critical, but creators don?t seem to drop by to answer them too often. So if you get stuck, be prepared to dig deep into the library.
With charting being something we all need to implement so often now, it?s no great surprise that there are many open-source charting libraries available for us to choose from.
All of the libraries we mentioned above have very good browser compatibility and fallbacks available for people using legacy browsers. The libraries built upon D3 have a solid base, but personally, I find them a little bit underwhelming from an aesthetic aspect.
Libraries like FusionCharts, GoogleCharts, Dygraphs or one of the D3 derivatives may work best for corporations with large data sets, or small businesses that rely heavily on data analysis. Both commercial offerings, Highcharts, and FusionCharts are mature libraries that can fit most use cases very well. Both of them have varying degrees of support for large datasets (>100k data points) and support a large variety of charts. If there is a specific type of chart you need to render, the choice might narrow down to only one of them.
If you just need something small and quick, Morris.js or Chart.js might work better for you. For graphs and networks, Cytoscape or Sigma.js is probably the way to go.
If you want to stick to a free and open-source library, use Chart.js. It is extremely simple to use for common use cases. If you need a little more control over rendering, then you could look into Chartist.
To select the best JS chart solution for your unique needs, I recommend testing your own data against a couple of the libraries listed above to ensure a perfect fit for your current and future projects.
P.S. We have prepared a table to show the popularity of libraries by downloading them through npm. We see that the most popular are d3, chart.js, and Highcharts.
The popularity of tools for creating charts
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Text source: https://flatlogic.com/blog/19-online-tools-for-creating-charts/