Altair Plot Recipes

Altair is a powerfully expressive system, but some standard plot types are expressed more verbosely than in other graphics systems. This section contains a few recipes for creating such plot types.


A classic histogram involves a binning in one dimension, with the relevant count in the other. Binning and aggregation are covered in detail in Binning and Aggregation; here is a simple recipe function to create a standard one-dimensional histogram:

from altair import Chart, Bin, X, Axis
import pandas as pd

def histogram(data, **bin_kwds):
    Create a Histogram of a 1-dimensional array or series of data
    All parameters are passed to the altair's ``Bin`` class
    data = pd.DataFrame({'x': data})

    return Chart(data).mark_bar().encode(
               x=X('x', bin=Bin(**bin_kwds)),

Usage of this function is straightforward:

histogram(data, maxbins=20)

Of course, you might want to be able to further adjust the result. You could do this by creating the chart from scratch. However, because the function does not return an image, but rather a fully-functioning Chart object, you can modify the output of the function directly. For example:

hist = histogram(data, maxbins=20)

# modify traits directly
hist.encoding.x.axis = Axis(title='Values')
hist.encoding.y.axis = Axis(title='Number of Values')

# modify traits via methods


A Heat Map is a two-dimensional gridded visualization, where the colors within the grid cells are related to some aggregate of the data within them. Altair provides the ability to create heatmaps using the Row and Column encodings, with the colors controlled (somewhat confusingly) by a specially-configured text mark with a Color encoding. Note that there is a proposal within Vega-Lite to replace this with a more intuitive heatmap specification, but for the time being they can be created as follows:

from altair import Row, Column, Chart, Text

def heatmap(data, row, column, color, cellsize=(30, 15)):
    """Create an Altair Heat-Map

    row, column, color : str
        Altair trait shorthands
    cellsize : tuple
        specify (width, height) of cells in pixels
    return Chart(data).mark_text(
               text=Text(value=' '),

With this function defined, we can use it to plot a heat-map for a dataset. Here let’s look at the total US population by age and year:

from altair import load_dataset
data = load_dataset('population')

heatmap(data, row='age', column='year', color='sum(people)')

Apparent in the data is the post-World-War-II “Baby Boom”, seen in the diagonal stripe at the top-right.

Grouped Regression Plots

Altair doesn’t include any built-in statistical modeling functionality, but it’s fairly straightforward to create an Altair-style syntax that adds this. Here we will extend the Chart object and add a method which will produce a grouped regression plot using Altair’s syntax:

from copy import deepcopy
import numpy as np
import pandas as pd
import altair

def linear_regression(x, y):
    """Return the linear regression of x & y evaluated at x"""
    p = np.polyfit(x, y, 1)
    return np.polyval(p, x)

class RegressionChart(altair.Chart):
    def _add_regression_column(group, regression_func, x, y, yfit):
        group[yfit] = regression_func(group[x], group[y])
        return group

    def regression_plot(self, func=linear_regression):
        if not isinstance(, pd.DataFrame):
            raise ValueError("data must be a DataFrame")

        # we need a points layer and a lines layer
        points = self.mark_point()
        lines = deepcopy(self).mark_line()

        # confirm that none of the encodings are binned
        encoding = points.encoding.to_dict()
        if any(enc.get('bin', False) for enc in encoding.values()):
            raise ValueError("regress() cannot handle binned variables")

        # find variables that define groups
        group_cols = [enc['field'] for key, enc in encoding.items()
                      if key not in ['x', 'y']]
        x = encoding['x']['field']
        y = encoding['y']['field']
        yfit = y + '_fit'

        # perform the regression within each group
        if group_cols:
            groups =
            data = groups.apply(self._add_regression_column,
                                x=x, y=y, yfit=yfit)
            data = self._add_regression_column(,
                                               x='x', y='y', yfit='y_fit')

        return altair.LayeredChart(data).set_layers(points, lines)

Now let’s create some data: we’ll create three groups of data, each drawn from a different model:

def make_data(N, rseed=42):
    rng = np.random.RandomState(rseed)
    x = 100 * rng.rand(N)
    group = rng.randint(0, 3, N)
    y = (group - 2) * x + (10 + 0.2 * x) * rng.randn(N)
    return pd.DataFrame({'x': x, 'y': y, 'group': group})

data = make_data(100)

If we do a regression plot over only x and y, a single line is shown for the entire dataset:


If we specify another encoding, multiple regressions are added:


In a similar manner, Altair’s API could be easily extended to easily create a wide variety of domain-specific visualizations.