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The Best Default Backend for Matplotlib

Ubuntu 8

Matplotlib is a powerful and versatile library in Python for creating static, animated, and interactive visualizations. One of the key components of Matplotlib is its backends, which are responsible for rendering plots. The backend you choose can significantly impact the way your plots are displayed and interacted with. In this article, we will discuss the best default backend for Matplotlib and how to use it.

Quick Answer

The best default backend for Matplotlib is Agg. It is a lightweight and robust option that does not require any additional packages beyond Python’s standard library. It is great for creating high-quality images. However, if you prefer interactive window-based plots, you can use TkAgg or Qt5Agg.

What is a Backend?

In Matplotlib, a backend is a module that does the actual rendering of the plots. There are two types of backends: user interface backends (for use in pygtk, wxpython, tkinter, qt4, or macosx; also referred to as “interactive backends”) and hardcopy backends to make image files (PNG, SVG, PDF, PS; also referred to as “non-interactive backends”).

The Agg Backend

The best default backend that does not require any additional packages is Agg. This backend is based on a library for raster graphics which is great for creating high-quality images. It doesn’t require any dependencies beyond Python’s standard library, which makes it a lightweight and robust option for rendering plots.

To use Agg, you can either add the following line to your ~/.config/matplotlib/matplotlibrc file:

backend: Agg

This will set Agg as the default backend for all your Matplotlib plots.

Alternatively, you can set the backend for a specific Python file. To do this, add the following lines at the beginning of your file:

import matplotlib
matplotlib.use('Agg')
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

The matplotlib.use() function sets the backend. The argument 'Agg' specifies which backend to use.

Interactive Backends

If you prefer interactive window-based plots, you might want to use TkAgg or Qt5Agg.

The TkAgg Backend

TkAgg uses the Tkinter library, which is included in standard Python distributions. Here’s how to use it:

import matplotlib
matplotlib.use('TkAgg')
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

However, TkAgg may have issues with multi-threading and it might not be the best choice if your application requires it.

The Qt5Agg Backend

Qt5Agg uses the PyQt5 library, which offers a wide range of functionalities. To use this backend, you need to install PyQt5 first. You can do this with pip:

pip install PyQt5

Then, you can set Qt5Agg as the backend:

import matplotlib
matplotlib.use('Qt5Agg')
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

Inline Plotting in IDEs

Some Integrated Development Environments (IDEs) offer inline plotting capabilities, which can be very convenient.

Spyder

Spyder, a Python IDE for scientists, has built-in support for Matplotlib. To enable inline plotting in Spyder, you need to install the necessary packages:

sudo apt install python3 python3-matplotlib spyder3 ipython3

Atom

If you’re using the Atom text editor with the Hydrogen package installed, you can also achieve inline plotting. However, the configuration process in Atom is more complex compared to Spyder.

Conclusion

In summary, the best default backend for Matplotlib without additional package dependencies is Agg. It’s a reliable choice for creating high-quality images. However, if you prefer interactive window-based plots, you can use TkAgg or Qt5Agg. And if you’re using an IDE like Spyder or Atom, you might have additional options for inline plotting.

Remember, the best backend for you depends on your specific needs and environment. It’s always a good idea to experiment with different backends to see which one works best for your project.

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