Compound Charts: Layer, HConcat, VConcat, Repeat, Facet

Along with the basic Chart object, Altair provides a number of compound plot types that can be used to create stacked, layered, faceted, and repeated charts. They are summarized in the following tables:

class functional form operator form reference
LayerChart alt.layer(chart1, chart2) chart1 + chart2 Layered Charts
HConcatChart alt.hconcat(chart1, chart2) chart1 | chart2 Horizontal Concatenation
VConcatChart alt.vconcat(chart1, chart2) chart1 & chart2 Vertical Concatenation
class method form reference
RepeatChart chart.repeat(row, column) Repeated Charts
FacetChart chart.facet(row, column) Faceted Charts

Layered Charts

Layered charts allow you to overlay two different charts on the same set of axes. They can be useful, for example, when you wish to draw multiple marks for the same data; for example:

import altair as alt
from altair.expr import datum

from vega_datasets import data
stocks = data.stocks.url

base = alt.Chart(stocks).encode(
    x='date:T',
    y='price:Q',
    color='symbol:N'
).transform_filter(
    datum.symbol == 'GOOG'
)

base.mark_line() + base.mark_point()

Here we have used the + operator to create a layered chart; alternatively we could use the alt.layer function, which accepts as its arguments any number of charts:

alt.layer(
  base.mark_line(),
  base.mark_point(),
  base.mark_rule()
).interactive()

The output of both of these patterns is a LayerChart object, which can has properties and methods similar to the Chart object.

Horizontal Concatenation

Displaying two plots side-by-side is most generally accomplished with the HConcatChart object, which can be created using the hconcat function or the | operator.

For example, here is a scatter-plot concatenated with a histogram showing the distribution of its points:

import altair as alt
from vega_datasets import data

iris = data.iris.url

chart1 = alt.Chart(iris).mark_point().encode(
    x='petalLength:Q',
    y='petalWidth:Q',
    color='species:N'
).properties(
    height=300,
    width=300
)

chart2 = alt.Chart(iris).mark_bar().encode(
    x='count()',
    y=alt.Y('petalWidth:Q', bin=alt.Bin(maxbins=30)),
    color='species:N'
).properties(
    height=300,
    width=100
)

chart1 | chart2

This example uses the | operator, but could similarly have been created with the hconcat() function:

alt.hconcat(chart1, chart2)

The output of both of these is an HConcatChart object, which has many of the same top-level methods and attributes as the Chart object.

Finally, keep in mind that for certain types of horizontally-concatenated charts, where each panel modifies just one aspect of the visualization, repeated and faceted charts are more convenient (see Repeated Charts and Faceted Charts for more explanation).

Vertical Concatenation

Similarly to Horizontal Concatenation above, Altair offers vertical concatenation via the vconcat() function or the & operator.

For example, here we vertically-concatenate two views of the same data, with a brush selection to add interaction:

import altair as alt
from vega_datasets import data
sp500 = data.sp500.url

brush = alt.selection(type='interval', encodings=['x'])

upper = alt.Chart(sp500).mark_area().encode(
    x=alt.X('date:T', scale={'domain': brush.ref()}),
    y='price:Q'
).properties(
    width=600,
    height=200
)

lower = upper.properties(
    selection=brush,
    height=60
)

alt.vconcat(upper, lower)

Note that we could just as well have used upper & lower rather than the more verbose alt.vconcat(upper, lower).

As with horizontally-concatenated charts, keep in mind that for concatenations where only one data grouping or encoding is changing in each panel, using Repeated Charts or Faceted Charts can be more efficient.

Repeated Charts

The RepeatChart object provides a convenient interface for a particular type of horizontal or vertical concatenation, in which the only difference between the concatenated panels is modification of one or more encodings.

For example, suppose you would like to create a multi-panel scatter-plot to show different projections of a multi-dimensional dataset. Let’s first create sucha chart manually using hconcat and vconcat, before showing how repeat can be used to build the chart more efficiently:

import altair as alt
from vega_datasets import data

iris = data.iris.url

base = alt.Chart().mark_point().encode(
    color='species:N'
).properties(
    width=200,
    height=200
).interactive()

chart = alt.vconcat(data=iris)
for y_encoding in ['petalLength:Q', 'petalWidth:Q']:
    row = alt.hconcat()
    for x_encoding in ['sepalLength:Q', 'sepalWidth:Q']:
        row |= base.encode(x=x_encoding, y=y_encoding)
    chart &= row
chart

In this example, we explicitly loop over different x and y encodings to create a 2 x 2 grid of charts showing different views of the data. The code is straightforward, if a bit verbose.

The RepeatChart pattern, accessible via the Chart.repeat() method, makes this type of chart a bit easier to produce:

import altair as alt
from vega_datasets import data
iris = data.iris.url

alt.Chart(iris).mark_point().encode(
    alt.X(alt.repeat("column"), type='quantitative'),
    alt.Y(alt.repeat("row"), type='quantitative'),
    color='species:N'
).properties(
    width=200,
    height=200
).repeat(
    row=['petalLength', 'petalWidth'],
    column=['sepalLength', 'sepalWidth']
).interactive()

The Chart.repeat() method is the key here: it lets you specify a set of encodings for the row and/or column which can be referred to in the chart’s encoding specification using alt.repeat('row') or alt.repeat('column').

Currently repeat can only be specified for rows and column (not, e.g., for layers) and the target can only be encodings (not, e.g., data transforms) but there is discussion within the Vega-Lite community about making this pattern more general in the future.

Faceted Charts

Like repeated charts, Faceted charts provide a more convenient API for creating multiple views of a dataset for a specific type of chart: one where each panel contains a different subset of data.

We could do this manually using a filter transform along with a horizontal concatenation:

import altair as alt
from altair.expr import datum
from vega_datasets import data
iris = data.iris.url

base = alt.Chart(iris).mark_point().encode(
    x='petalLength:Q',
    y='petalWidth:Q',
    color='species:N'
).properties(
    width=160,
    height=160
)

chart = alt.hconcat()
for species in ['setosa', 'versicolor', 'virginica']:
    chart |= base.transform_filter(datum.species == species)
chart

As with the manual approach to Repeated Charts, this is straightforward, if a bit verbose.

Using alt.facet it becomes a bit cleaner:

chart = alt.Chart(iris).mark_point().encode(
    x='petalLength:Q',
    y='petalWidth:Q',
    color='species:N'
).properties(
    width=180,
    height=180
).facet(
    column='species:N'
)

For simple charts like this, there is also a column encoding channel that can give the same results:

alt.Chart(iris).mark_point().encode(
    x='petalLength:Q',
    y='petalWidth:Q',
    color='species:N',
    column='species:N'
).properties(
    width=180,
    height=180
)

The advantage of using alt.facet is that it can create faceted views of more complicated compound charts. For example, here is a faceted view of a layered chart with a hover selection:

hover = alt.selection_single(on='mouseover', nearest=True, empty='none')

base = alt.Chart().encode(
    x='petalLength:Q',
    y='petalWidth:Q',
    color=alt.condition(hover, 'species:N', alt.value('lightgray'))
).properties(
    width=180,
    height=180,
)

chart = base.mark_point().properties(
    selection=hover
)

chart += base.mark_text(dy=-5).encode(
    text = 'species:N',
    opacity = alt.condition(hover, alt.value(1), alt.value(0))
)

chart.facet(
    column='species:N',
    data=iris
)

Notice that we specify the data within the facet here; this is important, because the top-level facet needs access to this data in order to know how to encode the column.

Though each of the above examples have faceted the data across columns, faceting across rows (or across rows and columns) is supported as well.

Advanced: Compound Charts and Data Specification

When using compound charts, it is possible to specify data in multiple places, and if you are using large datasets it can be pertinent to think about where you specify data.

For example, suppose you are creating a layered plot with a dataset marked by both points and lines:

import altair as alt
import pandas as pd

data = pd.DataFrame({'x': [0, 1, 2], 'y': [0, 1, 0]})

base = alt.Chart(data).encode(x='x', y='y')

chart = base.mark_point() + base.mark_line()

The visualization turns out as expected, but if you examine the JSON specification generated by this chart, you see that the data is specified twice – one time for each layer:

>>> import pprint
>>> pprint.pprint(chart.to_dict())
{'$schema': 'https://vega.github.io/schema/vega-lite/v2.json',
 'config': {'view': {'height': 300, 'width': 400}},
 'layer': [{'data': {'values': [{'x': 0, 'y': 0},
                                {'x': 1, 'y': 1},
                                {'x': 2, 'y': 0}]},
            'encoding': {'x': {'field': 'x', 'type': 'quantitative'},
                         'y': {'field': 'y', 'type': 'quantitative'}},
            'mark': 'point'},
           {'data': {'values': [{'x': 0, 'y': 0},
                                {'x': 1, 'y': 1},
                                {'x': 2, 'y': 0}]},
            'encoding': {'x': {'field': 'x', 'type': 'quantitative'},
                         'y': {'field': 'y', 'type': 'quantitative'}},
            'mark': 'line'}]}

This happens because our top chart contains two layers, each with its own data explicitly specified.

In the compound charts created by methods in this section, sub-charts are aware of the data defined in their parents, and so you can make certain the data is defined only once by leaving it out of the individual layers, and instead defining it once the compound chart is created:

base = alt.Chart().encode(x='x', y='y')

chart = alt.layer(
    base.mark_point(),
    base.mark_line(),
    data=data
)

When the cart is created this way, the spec contains only one copy of the data, at the top level:

>>> pprint.pprint(chart.to_dict())
{'$schema': 'https://vega.github.io/schema/vega-lite/v2.json',
 'config': {'view': {'height': 300, 'width': 400}},
 'data': {'values': [{'x': 0, 'y': 0}, {'x': 1, 'y': 1}, {'x': 2, 'y': 0}]},
 'layer': [{'encoding': {'x': {'field': 'x', 'type': 'quantitative'},
                         'y': {'field': 'y', 'type': 'quantitative'}},
            'mark': 'point'},
           {'encoding': {'x': {'field': 'x', 'type': 'quantitative'},
                         'y': {'field': 'y', 'type': 'quantitative'}},
            'mark': 'line'}]}

For small datasets, this kind of consideration is not particularly important. But as datasets grow larger, thinking about how your data is defined can lead to much more efficient plot specifications.