Bokeh is a visualization library that provides a flexible and powerful declarative framework for creating web-based plots. Bokeh renders plots using HTML canvas and provides many mechanisms for interactivity. Bokeh has interfaces in Python, Scala, Julia, and now R.

The Bokeh library is written and maintained by the Bokeh Core Team consisting of several members of Continuum Analytics and other members of the open source community. The rbokeh package is written and maintained by Ryan Hafen (@hafenstats) with several contributions from others. Contributions are welcome.

If you find bugs or have issues, please file them on the github issue tracker or hop on the Bokeh mailing list and be sure tag your subject with [R].


The rbokeh package can be installed from CRAN:


Plots are constructed by initializing a figure() and then adding layers on top through various glyphs available in Bokeh, or abstractions of those glyphs that we have created for common use cases. The data input is typically x and y, and how they are specified is quite flexible (see examples below).


Before providing a tutorial, we first show several examples of plots created with rbokeh. This will both give a feel for what the syntax looks like and provide some motivation to go through the more procedural tutorial. We thought this would be a more enjoyable way to begin than looking at 50 different versions of a plot of the iris data with different parameter settings.

Speaking of the iris data, our first plot:

p <- figure() %>%
  ly_points(Sepal.Length, Sepal.Width, data = iris,
    color = Species, glyph = Species,
    hover = list(Sepal.Length, Sepal.Width))
lazy loading...

Here since we are specifying color and glyph by Species, a legend is automatically created and the points are colored according to the default color scheme. You can hover over points to see the tooltips we added with the hover argument. You can also play around with the other interactive components such as panning and zooming.

We can also specify legend entries manually:

z <- lm(dist ~ speed, data = cars)
p <- figure(width = 600, height = 600) %>%
  ly_points(cars, hover = cars) %>%
  ly_lines(lowess(cars), legend = "lowess") %>%
  ly_abline(z, type = 2, legend = "lm")
lazy loading...

Histogram of old faithful geyser data with density overplotted:

h <- figure(width = 600, height = 400) %>%
  ly_hist(eruptions, data = faithful, breaks = 40, freq = FALSE) %>%
  ly_density(eruptions, data = faithful)
lazy loading...

Periodic table of the elements with additional info on hover:

# prepare data
elements <- subset(elements, !
elements$group <- as.character(elements$group)
elements$period <- as.character(elements$period)

# add colors for groups
metals <- c("alkali metal", "alkaline earth metal", "halogen",
  "metal", "metalloid", "noble gas", "nonmetal", "transition metal")
colors <- c("#a6cee3", "#1f78b4", "#fdbf6f", "#b2df8a", "#33a02c",
  "#bbbb88", "#baa2a6", "#e08e79")
elements$color <- colors[match(elements$metal, metals)]
elements$type <- elements$metal

# make coordinates for labels
elements$symx <- paste(elements$group, ":0.1", sep = "")
elements$numbery <- paste(elements$period, ":0.8", sep = "")
elements$massy <- paste(elements$period, ":0.15", sep = "")
elements$namey <- paste(elements$period, ":0.3", sep = "")

# create figure
p <- figure(title = "Periodic Table", tools = c("resize", "hover"),
  ylim = as.character(c(7:1)), xlim = as.character(1:18),
  xgrid = FALSE, ygrid = FALSE, xlab = "", ylab = "",
  height = 445, width = 800) %>%

# plot rectangles
ly_crect(group, period, data = elements, 0.9, 0.9,
  fill_color = color, line_color = color, fill_alpha = 0.6,
  hover = list(name, atomic.number, type, atomic.mass,
    electronic.configuration)) %>%

# add symbol text
ly_text(symx, period, text = symbol, data = elements,
  font_style = "bold", font_size = "10pt",
  align = "left", baseline = "middle") %>%

# add atomic number text
ly_text(symx, numbery, text = atomic.number, data = elements,
  font_size = "6pt", align = "left", baseline = "middle") %>%

# add name text
ly_text(symx, namey, text = name, data = elements,
  font_size = "4pt", align = "left", baseline = "middle") %>%

# add atomic mass text
ly_text(symx, massy, text = atomic.mass, data = elements,
  font_size = "4pt", align = "left", baseline = "middle")

lazy loading...

Crude map of the world with capital cities:

caps <- subset(world.cities, capital == 1)
caps$population <- prettyNum(caps$pop, big.mark = ",")
figure(width = 800, height = 450, padding_factor = 0) %>%
  ly_map("world", col = "gray") %>%
  ly_points(long, lat, data = caps, size = 5,
    hover = c(name, country.etc, population))
lazy loading...

Hover for population info, etc.

Google map plot:

orstationc <- read.csv("")

gmap(lat = 44.1, lng = -120.767, zoom = 6, width = 700, height = 600) %>%
  ly_points(lon, lat, data = orstationc, alpha = 0.8, col = "red",
    hover = c(station, Name, elev, tann))
lazy loading...

Note: for this to work you need to get a Google Maps API key and either provide it as an argument to gmap() or set it as an option in your R session options(GMAP_API_KEY=xxx) or set it as a system environment variable, GMAP_API_KEY.

Time series plot of daily airline flights with hover and vertical line:

p <- figure(width = 800, height = 400) %>%
  ly_lines(date, Freq, data = flightfreq, alpha = 0.3) %>%
  ly_points(date, Freq, data = flightfreq,
    hover = list(date, Freq, dow), size = 5) %>%
  ly_abline(v = as.Date("2001-09-11"))
lazy loading...

Note that using your scroll wheel over the x or y axis activates a zoom in the dimension of the axis you are hovered over.

Scatterplot matrix of iris data with linked panning, zooming, and brushing (try the pan, zoom, and box_select tools in the figure below):

tools <- c("pan", "wheel_zoom", "box_zoom", "box_select", "reset")
nms <- expand.grid(names(iris)[1:4], rev(names(iris)[1:4]), stringsAsFactors = FALSE)
splom_list <- vector("list", 16)
for(ii in seq_len(nrow(nms))) {
  splom_list[[ii]] <- figure(width = 200, height = 200, tools = tools,
    xlab = nms$Var1[ii], ylab = nms$Var2[ii]) %>%
    ly_points(nms$Var1[ii], nms$Var2[ii], data = iris,
      color = Species, size = 5, legend = FALSE)
grid_plot(splom_list, ncol = 4, same_axes = TRUE, link_data = TRUE)
lazy loading...

A hexbin plot:

figure() %>% ly_hexbin(rnorm(10000), rnorm(10000))
lazy loading...

Hovering will show the counts in the hexagon bin.

Here’s a combination of many layers using hexbins to show the density of the fielding location of all doubles in the 2014 MLB season, inspired by this:

doubles <- read.csv("")

ly_baseball <- function(x) {
  base_x <- c(90 * cos(pi/4), 0, 90 * cos(3 * pi/4), 0)
  base_y <- c(90 * cos(pi/4), sqrt(90^2 + 90^2), 90 * sin(pi/4), 0)
  distarc_x <- lapply(c(2:4) * 100, function(a)
    seq(a * cos(3 * pi/4), a * cos(pi/4), length = 200))
  distarc_y <- lapply(distarc_x, function(x)
    sqrt((x[1]/cos(3 * pi/4))^2 - x^2))

  x %>%
    ## boundary
    ly_segments(c(0, 0), c(0, 0), c(-300, 300), c(300, 300), alpha = 0.4) %>%
    ## bases
    ly_crect(base_x, base_y, width = 10, height = 10,
      angle = 45*pi/180, color = "black", alpha = 0.4) %>%
    ## infield/outfield boundary
    ly_curve(60.5 + sqrt(95^2 - x^2),
      from = base_x[3] - 26, to = base_x[1] + 26, alpha = 0.4) %>%
    ## distance arcs (ly_arc should work here and would be much simpler but doesn't)
    ly_multi_line(distarc_x, distarc_y, alpha = 0.4)

figure(xgrid = FALSE, ygrid = FALSE, width = 630, height = 540,
  xlab = "Horizontal distance from home plate (ft.)",
  ylab = "Vertical distance from home plate (ft.)") %>%
  ly_baseball() %>%
  ly_hexbin(doubles, xbins = 50, shape = 0.77, alpha = 0.75, palette = "Spectral10")
lazy loading...

Image plot of Maunga Whau volcano topography with contour line:

p <- figure(title = "Volcano", padding_factor = 0) %>%
  ly_image(volcano) %>%
lazy loading...

Log axes:

# get data on number of CRAN packages over time (from Ecdat)
packages <- read.csv("",
  colClasses = c("numeric", "Date", "integer", "character"))

figure(data = packages) %>%
  ly_points(Date, Packages, hover = c(Version, Date, Packages)) %>%
  y_axis(log = TRUE)
lazy loading...

Embedding images in a figure:

url <- c("",

ss <- seq(0, 2*pi, length = 13)[-1]
ws <- runif(12, 2.5, 5) * rep(c(1, 0.8), 6)

imgdat <- data.frame(
  x = sin(ss) * 10, y = cos(ss) * 10,
  w = ws, h = ws * rep(c(1, 0.76), 6),
  url = rep(url, 6)

p <- figure(xlab = "x", ylab = "y", height = 450) %>%
  ly_image_url(x, y, w = w, h = h, image_url = url, data = imgdat,
    anchor = "center") %>%
  ly_lines(sin(c(ss, ss[1])) * 10, cos(c(ss, ss[1])) * 10,
    width = 15, alpha = 0.1)
lazy loading...

Boxplot of voice data:

figure(ylab = "Height (inches)", width = 600) %>%
  ly_boxplot(voice.part, height, data = lattice::singer)
lazy loading...

Quantile plot with iris data:

figure(legend_location = "top_left") %>%
  ly_quantile(Sepal.Length, group = Species, data = iris)
lazy loading...

Washington cancer rates:

wa_cancer <- droplevels(subset(latticeExtra::USCancerRates, state == "Washington"))
## y axis sorted by male rate
ylim <- levels(with(wa_cancer, reorder(county, rate.male)))

figure(ylim = ylim, width = 700, height = 600, tools = "") %>%
  ly_segments(LCL95.male, county, UCL95.male,
    county, data = wa_cancer, color = NULL, width = 2) %>%
  ly_points(rate.male, county, glyph = 16, data = wa_cancer)
lazy loading...


Building with layers

Plots in rbokeh are build by layering plot elements, called glyphs, to create the desired visualization. This is a familiar notion to those who have experience with ggplot2 geoms, ggvis layers, or even base R graphics functions points(), lines(), etc.

To initialize a Bokeh figure, we call

There are several arguments to figure() which control things like the width, height, and axes of the figure. We now have a figure object, p, which we are ready to add layers to.

We can add a layer to the figure by calling a number of layer functions. All layer functions conveniently start with the ly_ prefix, and a full list can be found in the function reference. The first argument of a layer function is always the figure to be modified. Following this, most layer functions take as next arguments x and y to specify the x and y location of the placement of the glyphs, followed by several arguments for specifying attributes of the glyphs. All layer functions return a figure object, which can be passed to further layer functions.

For example, suppose we would like to plot the distance to stop vs. speed from the cars data. We can build on the object p that we initialized above:

p <- ly_points(p, cars$speed, cars$dist)

We can now view the figure by simply typing p:

lazy loading...

Note that since we didn’t specify x and y axis labels (which can be done with xlab and ylab in figure()), they were chosen for us based on the inputs.

Also note that when we print the figure it tells us that we did not specify the xlim and ylim arguments and that it is computing limits for us. By default, the limits are chosen so that all glyphs can be seen in the plot.

Since layer functions return figure objects, we can make use of pipes from the magrittr package to string function calls together:

p <- figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars$speed, cars$dist)

To illustrate adding another layer to the figure, suppose we would like to add a line to the figure with an intercept of -17.6 and slope of 3.9. We can do this with the ly_abline() layer function. We can modify the existing figure with the following:

p <- p %>% ly_abline(-17.6, 3.9)

Or if we were to have built it up in one step, it would look like this:

p <- figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars$speed, cars$dist) %>%
  ly_abline(-17.6, 3.9)
lazy loading...

We can continue to add layers as we wish.

Specifying data

In the previous examples, we passed vectors of data to x and y. As an alternative, we can pass a data frame to layer functions through the data argument and then reference names of the data frame to pass to x, y, and other plot attributes, using non-standard evaluation.

For example

p <- figure() %>%
  ly_points(speed, dist, data = cars)


p <- figure() %>%
  ly_points(speed, dist^2, data = cars)

For those familiar with ggplot2, unlike ggplot2, we do not attach a default data set when we call figure(), but data is explicitly specified for each layer.

We will see in the following sections how we can also reference variables in the data argument for other attributes as well.

There are a few other conveniences for specifying data with plots that are similar to other R plotting systems. For example, if we only pass one vector of data, the x-axis will become an index and the y-axis will be vector.

p <- figure() %>%
  ly_points(speed, data = cars)

Or if we only pass one vector and it is a list or data frame, the second element will be plotted against the first element.

p <- figure() %>%


Now is a good time to introduce hover capabilities in rbokeh. Most layer functions (those that render shapes and not lines), have a hover argument. This argument can be a data frame with the same number of rows as the length of x and y, or a vector of names in the data argument. When specified, the hover tool will be activated and when a point is hovered over in the plot, a list of the specified variable values for that point will be shown. For example, with the cars data, suppose we would like to see the actual data point values:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(speed, dist, data = cars, hover = c(speed, dist))
lazy loading...
figure() %>%
  ly_points(speed, dist, data = cars, hover = "This car was going @speed mph!")
lazy loading...

Plot attributes

Now that we can get data in and add layers, we want to control the aesthetic attributes of the glyphs being plotted. By default, attributes are chosen based on the currently selected theme. We will cover more on themes later, and for now use the default color theme.

We can also explicitly specify attributes such as size, color, etc. for each layer. For example, suppose we want to color the glyphs in our cars plot red and have them 20 pixels in size:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars, color = "red", size = 20)
lazy loading...

We can pass vectors of attributes as well:

n <- nrow(cars)
ramp <- colorRampPalette(c("red", "blue"))(n)
figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars, color = ramp, size = seq_len(n))
lazy loading...

In the following section, “Mapped attributes”, we will see how we can specify attributes to be applied automatically based on different variables in our data.

Line and fill attributes

Every layer function has either line attributes or line and fill attributes (except for ly_text(), which has text attributes). Which of these categories a glyph falls into is usually evident from the name of the layer function and is spelled out in the function reference.

In the example above, the points in our plot have both line attributes (the outline of the circles) and fill attributes (the area inside the circles). But we specified color with a single argument color. color convenience argument, which we will provide more detail about below, but we can have finer control over line and fill attributes. The following are the available line and fill attributes we can specify:

attribute description
fill_color color to use to fill the glyph with - a hex code (with no alpha) or any of the 147 named CSS colors, e.g ‘green’, ‘indigo’
fill_alpha transparency value between 0 (transparent) and 1 (opaque)
line_color color to use to stroke lines with - a hex code (with no alpha) or any of the 147 named CSS colors, e.g ‘green’, ‘indigo’
line_width stroke width in units of pixels
line_alpha transparency value between 0 (transparent) and 1 (opaque)
line_join how path segments should be joined together ‘miter’ ‘round’ ‘bevel’
line_cap how path segments should be terminated ‘butt’ ‘round’ ‘square’
line_dash array of integer pixel distances that describe the on-off pattern of dashing to use

For example, suppose we want the fill to be blue and the line to be black:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars, fill_color = "blue", line_color = "black")
lazy loading...

Convenience line and fill attributes

We provide convenience arguments color and alpha to deal with both line and/or fill attributes. How they behave differs depending on what attributes the glyph has.

Glyphs with line and fill attributes

When dealing with glyphs that have both line and color attributes (like the plots we have created so far), when color is specified, this will be the color of both the line and the fill, with the alpha level of the fill reduced by 50%. When alpha is specified, this will be the alpha of the line, with the alpha of the fill being set to 50% of this value.

Glyphs with only line attributes

When using a glyph that only has line properties, color maps directly to line_color and is simply a convenience as the line_ prefix is redundant, and similarly alpha maps directly to line_alphaAny attribute that starts with line_ or fill_ always overrides color and alpha.

figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars) %>%
  ly_lines(lowess(cars), color = "red", width = 2)
lazy loading...

The glyph attribute in ly_points()

Most of the attributes for different layer functions are self-explanatory from looking at the function reference, but there are a few that are worth spending some more time on. One is the glyph attribute in ly_points(). This is similar to the pch argument to base R’s points().

To see the avaialable possible values for glyph:

lazy loading...

The named glyphs on rows 4 and 5 are called “markers” in Bokeh and are shown with their default rendering when color is “blue”. The numbered glyphs map closely to the possible values for pch in R’s points() function. When a numbered glyph is specified, fill and line attributes will be handled accordingly to get the desired effect.

For example, let’s plot the cars data with glyph = 12:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(cars, glyph = 12)
lazy loading...

The type attribute in ly_lines() and friends

Similar to the glyph argument in ly_points(), there is a type argument in ly_lines() that maps to the lty argument in base R’s lines() function.

For example:

figure() %>%
  ly_lines(lowess(cars), type = 2)
lazy loading...

We encourage you to explore all the different layer functions and the available attributes. They are well-documented in the function reference and most have examples.

Mapped attributes

Often we want to control the behavior of glyph attributes based on other properties of the data. The rbokeh package borrows from the ideas of ggplot2’s qplot() to allow easy specification of variables to map to different attributes.

For example, turning to the famous iris data set, suppose we want to plot sepal width vs. sepal length and color the points by species:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(Sepal.Length, Sepal.Width, data = iris, color = Species)
lazy loading...

We see that points get colored according to species (based on the current theme, which is Tableau10) and a legend is added.

We can map other attributes, and more than one attribute at once. For example, to vary both color and glyph type by species:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(Sepal.Length, Sepal.Width, data = iris,
    color = Species, glyph = Species)
lazy loading...

rbokeh knows to map a variable when the variable it is given does not conform to what is expected for that attribute. For example, the species values of “setosa”, etc., are not hex codes or color names. In the future we could allow this specification to be more explicit through using I().

We can also map continuous variables, and in this case it it sliced up and values are mapped across a scale for the attribute. For example, coloring by petal width:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(Sepal.Length, Sepal.Width, data = iris,
    color = Petal.Width)
lazy loading...

We can do this with other glyphs as well. Some glyphs have a group parameter where we would like to split the data up by a grouping variable but not vary an aesthetic attribute. For example, with ly_lines(), we may want to break the data up by a variable and get a different line for each, all of the same color:

co2dat <- data.frame(
  y = co2,
  x = floor(time(co2)),
  m = rep(, 39))

figure() %>%
  ly_lines(x, y, group = m, data = co2dat)
lazy loading...

We can of course vary the color as well:

figure(xlim = c(1958, 2010)) %>%
  ly_lines(x, y, color = m, data = co2dat)
lazy loading...


We saw that when mapping attributes to variables in our data, we get legends for free. But we may want to have more control over legends. Each layer we add to a plot can have a legend entry. Most layer functions have a legend argument that allows you to specify the legend entry for that layer. This only works if you are not mapping attributes or grouping. The value for the legend argument is simply the text you would like to have displayed next to the glyph in the legend. The glyph that appears in the legend is automatically created based on the attributes specified for the layer.

An example we saw before made use of explicit specification of legend entries:

z <- lm(dist ~ speed, data = cars)
figure(width = 600, height = 600) %>%
  ly_points(cars, hover = cars, legend = "data") %>%
  ly_lines(lowess(cars), legend = "lowess") %>%
  ly_abline(z, type = 2, legend = "lm")
lazy loading...

Bokeh provides finer control of parameters for legend appearance (such as where to put it) and we will expose these soon in rbokeh.


Bokeh allows you to specify numeric, categorical, and date/time axes. In the case of numeric axes, you can also specify a log scale. Examples for this are in the function reference under x_axis and y_axis.

Axis labels formats can be controlled by specifying various tick format parameters in the axis layers.

For example, the default Date axis monthly format of ‘%b%y’ can instead be specified as ‘%b’ using

figure() %>%
    as.Date("2012-12-31"), by="days"), rnorm(366)) %>%
  x_axis(label = "Date", format = list(months = "%b"))
lazy loading...

or commas could be added to long numeric labels using

figure() %>%
  ly_points(rnorm(10), rnorm(10) * 10000) %>%
  y_axis(number_formatter = "numeral", format = "0,000")
lazy loading...

A complete list of supported axis tick parameters can be found in the function reference under x_axis and y_axis.


Bokeh has many tools available for different types of interaction. Tools can be easily added to a plot either through the tools argument to figure(), in which case a vector of tool names is provided, or through any of the various tool_ functions. In the latter case, some tools have additional parameters that give us finer control over the behavior of the tool.

For example, suppose I want to add the box_select and lasso_select tools to my figure:

figure() %>%
  ly_points(Sepal.Length, Sepal.Width, data = iris, color = Species) %>%
  tool_box_select() %>%
lazy loading...

Now in the plot in the toolbar at the top I can choose the one of these tools and select points in the figure. This is particularly useful for linked brushing described in the next section.

For more examples, see the examples in the tool_ functions in the function reference.


Bokeh allows us to construct grids of plots that can interact with each other through linked pan/zoom and brushing. There are several examples in the function reference for grid_plot


Theme support in rbokeh is pretty minimal right now but the groundwork is there. More to come on this.

Statistical layers

There are several layer functions that add statistically-derived glyphs to a plot, such as ly_boxplot, ly_hist, ly_density, etc. A major focus in the near future of this package will be the ability to add as many of these as we can and make them robust to different use cases.

Design / Dev

Notes on the design of rbokeh, roadmap, etc. to come.