coxautomotivedatasolutions / vegalite4s

Vega-Lite4s is a small library over the comprehensive Vega-Lite Javascript visualisation library, allowing you to create beautiful Vega-Lite visualisations in Scala



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What is Vega-Lite4s?

Vega-Lite4s is a Scala library for creating simple visualisations from data. It is a small wrapper library over the comprehensive Vega-Lite Javascript visualisation library, allowing you to create beautiful Vega-Lite visualisations in Scala.

Vega-Lite4s is particularly useful when used in Notebook environments (e.g. Jupyter, Zeppelin etc.) to render visualisations within Notebooks, and also includes support for Apache Spark.

Notebook Plot

Why would I use Vega-Lite4s?

Vega-Lite4s aims to make producing Vega-Lite visualisations in Scala as easy as possible. Vega-Lite4s takes an alternative approach to Vegas and VL4S by not enforcing a typesafe DSL, and exposes the underlying Vega-Lite JSON spec. In this way, the approach is similar to that taken by Oz.

Vega-Lite4s has the following aims:

  • Make rendering Vega-Lite visualisations in Scala in a variety of environments as frictionless as possible

  • Not to enforce a typesafe DSL1, allowing visualisations to be created by several methods including raw JSON strings

  • Ensure Vega-Lite4s is not tied to a particular Vega-Lite version, allowing past and future versions of Vega-Lite to be used without changes to the Vega-Lite4s library

  • Allow the Vega-Lite Javascript libraries to be provided in a generic way, including linking to the Vega-Lite libraries (default approach) or embedding them from a local resource (to allow Vega-Lite4s to work in environments with no direct internet access)

1Whilst typesafety is very effective for ensuring correctness of code, Vega-Lite4s will most likely be used in Notebook environments where the exploratory nature of working will limit the necessity for typesafety. Also, a DSL would likely couple Vega-Lite4s to a particular Vega-Lite spec preventing the underlying Vega-Lite version to be changed. We would happily welcome a DSL, however it should compliment the existing approach and aim to be Vega-Lite spec generic if possible.

How do I get started?

Include the following JAR as a dependency in your SBT project:

libraryDependencies += "com.coxautodata" %% "vegalite4s" % vegalite4sversion

or Maven project:


To create a simple plot in a Notebook environment (taken from here):

import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.VegaLite
import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.renderers.ImplicitRenderers.AutoSelectionRenderer

  "$schema": "",
  "description": "A simple bar chart with embedded data.",
  "data": {
    "values": [
      {"a": "A","b": 28}, {"a": "B","b": 55}, {"a": "C","b": 43},
      {"a": "D","b": 91}, {"a": "E","b": 81}, {"a": "F","b": 53},
      {"a": "G","b": 19}, {"a": "H","b": 87}, {"a": "I","b": 52}
  "mark": "bar",
  "encoding": {
    "x": {"field": "a", "type": "ordinal"},
    "y": {"field": "b", "type": "quantitative"}

This would produce the following visualisation:

Simple Bar Visualisation

To create the plot, the withObject function was used to add fields to the Vega-Lite schema object by parsing a raw JSON string. You can use additional functions described in Plot Functions to add JSON to the schema in other way, and you can use the functions in Plot Helpers and Spark Plot Helpers to add fields to the spec without using raw JSON (e.g adding collections to the data field).

As seen in the example, to render a plot the show function is called. The show function is defined in the following way:

def show(implicit r: PlotRenderer)

An implicit PlotRenderer is passed to show to provide the implementation of how the plot is renderer. In the example, the AutoSelectionRenderer plot renderer was imported to provide an implementation that attempts to auto-select the correct rendering approach depending on which environment is currently being used. See the Plot Renderers section for a list of the available rendering options.

In the above example the specific version of Vega-Lite to use was not given. By default, Vega-Lite4s will use the latest available released version of Vega-Lite (currently 2.x). A different version of Vega-Lite can be given when creating the VegaLite object:

object VegaLite {
  def apply(provider: VegaLiteProvider = LatestCDNVersion): VegaLite

The VegaLiteProvider object is responsible for providing the underlying Vega-Lite Javascript dependency. See the Providers and Spark Providers sections for the available provider options.

It is important to note that Vega-Lite4s is only a wrapper around the Vega-Lite spec and you should consult the very instructive Vega-Lite documentation on how to construct Vega-Lite visualisations.

Plot Functions

Simply put, Vega-Lite4s really consists of a way to create and manipulate a VegaLite JSON spec and a way to render the spec into a visualisation. There are several functions to help with building up your VegaLite spec.


There are two withObject functions that are used to add a whole JSON object to the top-level spec.

The first takes a JSON object as a string and parses it before adding it to the spec:

def withObject(json: String): VegaLite

The second takes a Circe JsonObject and adds that to the spec:

def withObject(o: JsonObject): VegaLite

Note: existing fields will be overwritten if the same field is provided in the provided JSON object.

For example:

    .withObject("""{ "a": "a" }""")
    .withObject(JsonObject("a" -> Json.fromString("aa")))

would produce the spec:

  "a" : "aa"


There are also two withField functions that are used for adding individual fields to a spec. In both cases adding a field to a spec that already contains that field will overwrite the existing value.

The first function takes JSON as a string and parses that into a valid JSON object or array2:

def withField(field: String, value: String): VegaLite

The second function takes a Circe Json object and adds that as the field in the spec object:

def withField(field: String, value: => Json): VegaLite

1Only valid JSON structures can be parsed from strings, therefore JSON value types cannot be added using a string. Doing so will result in an exception such as: io.circe.ParsingFailure: exhausted input. To add a simple type such as a string to the field value you can do the following:

import io.circe.Json
plot.addField("k", Json.fromString("v"))

Plot Helpers

There is a small set of helper functions that can be added to a plot object with the following import:

import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.PlotHelpers._


The withTitle will simply add a title field to the Vega-Lite spec:

plot.withTitle("Plot Title")

withWidth and withHeight

The withWidth and withHeight will add a width and height field to the Vega-Lite spec:



The withData function adds any data collection into the data field of the Vega-Lite spec as an inline dataset.

The function is defined as:

def withData(values: => Seq[Map[String, Any]]): VegaLite

It takes a Seq of Map objects, that map from keys to Any values. Vega-Lite4s will attempt to convert the value of the Any to the appropriate JSON representation. If the value cannot be mapped to a JSON representation then the value of toString is used.

Plot Renderers

Plot renderer objects tell Vega-Lite4s how to render the plot when show is called. There are several pre-defined renders that cover most cases:

  • AutoSelectionRenderer: Useful in Notebook environments where the correct rendering approach is auto-detected
  • WindowRenderer: The visualisation is rendered in a JavaFX window
  • HTMLPagePrintlnRenderer: A full-page HTML document is printed to the console
  • HTMLRenderer: A generic HTML rendering case class that can be used to easily create a renderer that uses a custom approach


The AutoSelectionRenderer attempts to detect the correct rendering approach to use in a Notebook environment. Underneath it uses Scala macros to detect the current environment. It currently detects the following environments in order:

  1. Databricks Notebook
  2. Toree interpreter
  3. Almond interpreter
  4. Zeppelin Spark interpreter
  5. Livy interpreter
  6. HTMLPagePrintlnRenderer as fallback

The AutoSelectionRenderer can be imported in to the plot environment with:

import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.renderers.ImplicitRenderers.AutoSelectionRenderer


The HTMLRenderer can be used to quickly implement a custom rendering function. It is defined in the following way:

case class HTMLRenderer(render: String => Unit, fullHTMLPage: Boolean)
    extends PlotRenderer

It takes a rendering function that takes a HTML input as string, and a boolean value signifying whether the HTML output should be a full-page document including <head> and <body> tags or an embeddable HTML document including only <div> and <script> tags.

For example, to implement a custom renderer for Zeppelin you would do the following:

import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.renderers.HTMLRenderer
implicit val renderer = HTMLRenderer(h => s"%html\n$h", false)


Providers dictate how the underlying Vega-Lite library dependency is resolved and which version of Vega-Lite to use. A provider can be optionally passed to the Vega-Lite constructor when a plot is created:

object VegaLite {
  def apply(provider: VegaLiteProvider = LatestCDNVersion): VegaLite

By default, the object LatestCDNVersion is used which is a specific instance of the JsdelivrProvider pointing to the latest release of Vega-Lite:

object LatestCDNVersion extends JsdelivrProvider("3", "2", "3")


The JsdelivrProvider provider references to the Vega-Lite library resource on the jsDelivr CDN. The reference is either included in the src field of a <script> tag if a full-page HTML document is rendered or dynamically loaded in the document if an embeddable plot is rendered.

It is defined in the following way:

case class JsdelivrProvider(vegaVersion: String,
                            vegaLiteVersion: String,
                            vegaEmbedVersion: String)
    extends VegaLiteProvider

You can use any valid jsDeliver versioning to reference the resources. For example, to use the latest release candidate of Vega-Lite 3 you would do the following:

import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.providers.JsdelivrProvider
val provider = JsdelivrProvider("4.4.0", "3.0.0-rc12", "3.29.1")


The InputStreamProvider class provides the Vega libraries for rendering plots by reading the Javascript sources as InputStreams and creating a Base64 src string so they can be included in a HTML document directly without referencing an external Javascript library.

Using this class or one of the providers using this class (i.e. ClasspathJarResourceProvider or LocalFileProvider) allows VegaLite plots to be rendered in an environment without direct access to CDNs or the internet.


A VegaLite provider that find the Vega, Vega-Lite and Vega-Embed Javascript libraries by searching in the Jar dependencies on the classpath and embeds them in the rendered plot using the InputStreamProvider.

This allows all plot Javascript dependencies to be provided by JAR artifacts, i.e. by setting the following as a project dependency:

"org.webjars.npm" % "vega" % "3.3.1" % intransitive ()
"org.webjars.npm" % "vega-lite" % "2.6.0" % intransitive ()
"org.webjars.npm" % "vega-embed" % "3.29.1" % intransitive ()


A VegaLite dependency provider that takes the paths to the Javascript files on the local system and embeds them in the rendered plot using the InputStreamProvider.

It is defined in the following way:

object LocalFileProvider {
  def apply(vegaLiteSchemaVersion: String,
            vegaPath: String,
            vegaLitePath: String,
            vegaEmbedPath: String): VegaLiteProvider

How do I use Vega-Lite4s with Apache Spark?

Vega-Lite4s has support for Apache Spark, and allows for Dataset objects to be added to the data field in the Vega-Lite spec.

To enable Apache Spark support, include the following JAR as a dependency in your SBT project:

libraryDependencies += "com.coxautodata" %% "vegalite4s-spark2" % vegalite4sversion

or Maven project:


Spark Plot Helpers

Apache Spark helper functions can be added to VegaLite plots with the following import:

import com.coxautodata.vegalite4s.spark.PlotHelpers._

withData using Datasets

Spark Dataset objects can be added as data inputs to plots using the withData function:

def withData(ds: Dataset[_], limit: Int = 10000): VegaLite

The data is added to the spec in the same way as the earlier withData function by adding the data inline. The Dataset column names are used as VegaLite column names in the Map. Spark DAG execution will not be triggered until the plot is rendered, and the Dataset will be sampled if the record size is over the provided record limit.

Spark Providers


A VegaLite dependency provider that takes the paths to the Javascript files on a Hadoop Filesystem and embeds them in the rendered plot using the InputStreamProvider.

How can I contribute to Vega-Lite4s?

We welcome all users to contribute to the development of Vega-Lite4s by raising pull-requests. We kindly ask that you include suitable unit tests along with proposed changes.

What is Vega-Lite4s licensed under?

Licensed under the Apache License, Version 2.0 (the "License"); you may not use this file except in compliance with the License. You may obtain a copy of the License at

Unless required by applicable law or agreed to in writing, software distributed under the License is distributed on an "AS IS" BASIS, WITHOUT WARRANTIES OR CONDITIONS OF ANY KIND, either express or implied. See the License for the specific language governing permissions and limitations under the License.

Copyright 2019 Cox Automotive UK Limited