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Introduction to glyphs

Learn about glyphs

Download your Jupyter Notebook

Before moving on, download your accompanying Jupyter Notebook containing explanations and codes in cells that you can run to receive outputs.

The Notebook contains only the code snippets that you can run to get an immersive and interactive experience as well as instant results of the codes alongside the explanations.

Download: Basic-plotting-with-Bokeh.ipynb

Using Bokeh to output figures

Ahead of going into detail on what glyphs are, we first need to know about how Bokeh outputs the figures we draw.

Bokeh can output data to an HTML file, or, if it’s being used with Jupyter Notebook, can output its interactive plots directly into the notebook. This is done with the ‘output_file’ and ‘output_notebook’ functions, respectively.

In the upcoming step, after an introduction to glyphs, we’ll show how to output a figure using both these functions; but then, going forward through this activity, we’ll only be working within a Jupyter Notebook unless otherwise specified.


Glyphs are the ‘basic visual building blocks of Bokeh plots’ [1] and refer to vectorised graphical shapes or markers that are used to represent your data. This includes simple objects that can be categorised into the following:

  • Marker: This refers to shapes like circles, diamonds, triangles, and squares and can be effective for bubble and scatter charts.

For example, the following image shows a series of Bokeh markers:

Glyphs-marker-example.pnClick to enlarge

  • Line: This refers to single, step, and multi-line shapes and can be useful for building line charts.

For example, the following image shows a plot with multiple lines at once:

Screenshot from Jupyter Notebook that shows multiple lines: a red line and blue line. On the top right of the chart there is an edit section where there is a four-way arrow that is highlighted. X-axis from left to right reads: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Y-axis from bottom to top reads: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.Click to enlarge

  • Bar / rectangle: This refers to traditional or stacked bar, column charts, waterfall, or Gantt charts.

In some instances, it could be useful to stack bars on top one another. Here is an example of successive columns being stacked:

Graphic shows an example of a stacked bars chart. Title of the chart is "Fruit counts by year". X-axis from left to right reads: Apples, Pears, Nectarines, Plums, Grapes, Strwaberries. Y-axis from bottom to top reads: 0, 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12. There's a legend on top. Blue represents 2015. Pink represenst 2016. Green represents 2017. All bars are vertical with the color blue on the bottom. The color pink on the middle. The color green on top.Click to enlarge

Using a basic glyph

Let’s start with a really basic glyph: a square drawn in the middle of a plot. Follow the instructions below to get started.

Step 1

Import the functions we need for plotting the glyph:


from bokeh.plotting import figure, output_notebook, show

These functions are:

  • figure: This allows you to create a figure of a given size. A figure is a type of Matplotlib axes. Here, the name of the figure is p.
  • output_notebook: This function is called to instruct Bokeh to output its figures inside the Jupyter Notebook.
  • show: After setting up the figure(s), the show function is called to display them.

Step 2

Let’s see all three of these together:


p = figure(plot_width=400, plot_height=400)
p. square (0, 0, size=20)

We can call output_notebook() once at the start of our Jupyter Notebook and all further show calls will be displayed inline.

Then, we create a figure. We’ll use some other arguments later on, but for now we just pass in the plot_width and plot_height in pixels.

Step 3

Next, let’s draw a square with the Figure.square method. We pass in the x- and y-coordinates of the square as the first two positional arguments, and set its size as a keyword argument. Notice this is analogous to Matplotlib’s axes plotting methods, like Axes.scatter or

Finally, we can show the plot like this:



Screenshot from Jupyter Notebook that shows a blue square in the middle of the plot. On the top right of the chart there is an edit section where there is a four-way arrow that is highlighted. X-axis from left to right reads: -1, -0.5, 0, 0.5, 1. Y-axis from bottom to top reads: -1, -0.5, 0.5, 1. There is one blue square on the cross section of 0(y) and 0(x).Click to enlarge

Take a moment to see how you’re following along in the Jupyter Notebook. On your Jupyter Notebook, try panning around the plot by dragging it.

Notice that the toolbar on the right of the plot also allows you to zoom, reset the plot, and even download it as a static image to your computer!

The output file function

Before moving on, let’s review the output_file function. This is what you would use to output the plot and data into a self-contained HTML file (i.e. when you’re using Bokeh without a Jupyter Notebook).

Step 1

To use HTML output, just import the output_file function:


from bokeh.plotting import output_file

Step 2

Then, at the start of your file, call output_file(filename); for example:



When you call the ‘show()’ function, the file will be generated and populated with the HTML, CSS, and Javascript necessary to view and interact with your plot.

Now that you’ve been introduced to glyphs, let’s see how we can use them to plot data.

Did you get it?

So, after you entered the show function, did the command generate an HTML view of your plot?

If yes, how was your experience of interacting with the plot?

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Data Visualisation with Python: Bokeh and Advanced Layouts

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