TweetFollow Us on Twitter

An Introduction to Gnuplot

Volume Number: 26
Issue Number: 02
Column Tag: math

An Introduction to Gnuplot

what Gnuplot is and how to use it

by Mihalis Tsoukalos

Introduction

This article is going to present to you a very useful tool called Gnuplot. Gnuplot is copyrighted but freely distributed. There are versions of Gnuplot for UNIX, IBM OS/2, MS Windows, DOS, Macintosh, VMS, Atari and many other platforms.

There is also a Python module for using Gnuplot inside of Python code. The library is called py-gnuplot, and will be introduced in this article.

What is Gnuplot?

Gnuplot is a command line tool that was initially developed in order to allow scientists and students to visualize mathematical functions and data. It now supports web scripting and integration as a plotting engine for third-party applications like Octave.

Gnuplot can draw many types of plots in either 2D or 3D. It supports drawing using lines, points, vector fields, surfaces, boxes, and contours. You can also add text in its output.

It also supports output in many different file formats including eps, fig, jpeg, LaTeX, METAFONT (invented by Donald Knuth the creator of TeX), pdf, png, postscript, etc.

I will have to tell you that if you want to become an advanced Gnuplot user, you must start reading its official documentation. In my system, the gnuplot.pdf file (the official manual) is located inside the /opt/local/share/doc/gnuplot directory, but location will depend on your installation method.

Some simple examples

First of all, let me review the version of Gnuplot that I am using. You can find that info by running the following command from Terminal.app (or a similar application):

$ gnuplot -V
gnuplot 4.2 patchlevel 5

An analogous command will let you you find out the Python version that is installed into your Mac-Python will be used later on in this article. In my system, I had the following output:

$ python -version
Python 2.5.2

The first example that I will demonstrate you,will draw the sin(x)*cos(x) function. You can do this by running the following command in the gnuplot command line. This can be done after running gnuplot from a Terminal.app window:

gnuplot> plot sin(x)*cos(x)

After pressing the return key, an AquaTerm output window will appear (AquaTerm was likely installed by your port manager, like MacPorts. You can retrieve it manually from http://aquaterm.sourceforge.net/). You can see the generated output in Figure 1.


Figure 1: drawing the sin(x)*cos(x) function

Now, we will try to beautify the output-that is pretty basic and simplistic-and maybe add some text to it.

First, if you remember your Math classes, it doesn't make sense to use -10 and +10 as our graph boundaries when dealing with trigonometric functions-it would be better to use -2*pi and +2*pi instead. To do this, the following two commands must be given:

gnuplot> set xrange [-2*pi:2*pi]
gnuplot> replot

As you can see, the "set xrange" command defines the graph boundaries, but the "replot" command is needed for Gnuplot to sketch the new output.

Please note that the AquaTerm output is updated automatically, so please do not close the AquaTerm application-this will make your life a lot easier. Also note that the numerical value of pi is proximately 3.14. The new output can be seen in Figure 2.


Figure 2: using -2*pi and +2*pi as our x-axis boundaries

The next thing that we would like to do is add our own text to the output. Figure 3 shows the output that is produced by executing the following gnuplot commands:

gnuplot> set title "An example for MacTech"
gnuplot> set xlabel "x-axis: from -2*pi to +2*pi"
gnuplot> set ylabel "Setting the y-axis label"
gnuplot> replot


Figure 3: adding some text to the output

Now, grid lines are going to be added to our output (you can see the produced output in Figure 4). The following gnuplot commands must be given:

gnuplot> set xtics ("0" 0, "-180" -pi, "-90" -pi/2, "90" pi/2, "180" pi)
gnuplot> set ytics ("0" 0, "0.5" 0.5, "-0.5" -0.5) 
gnuplot> set grid
gnuplot> replot


Figure 4: adding gridlines to the gnuplot output

More advanced examples

This part of the article will present you with some more advanced ways of using gnuplot. After all, gnuplot is a scientific tool.

Plotting more than one function in the same output

Let's say that you want to see two functions in the same output in order to compare them. Gnuplot can help you do this. The following command explain how:

gnuplot> plot x*x, 1/(x*x)

As you see, all you have to do is separate the two functions with a comma. If you want to smarten the output, you can give the following command:

gnuplot> plot x*x, 1/(x*x) with filledcurves fs 0

You can see the final output in Figure 5 and you can easily understand that the "with filledcurves fs 0" does all the work for us-it fills the second function with gray color. Please note that gnuplot has a built-in help system. You can say, for example, help plot and get useful information about the plot command-just try it!


Figure 5: plotting two functions

Plotting many functions in multiplot mode

Sometimes it is preferred to show multiple graphs side-by-side. Gnuplot gives you the choice of plotting multiple graphs side-by-side on the same output screen. The key point for doing this is the "set multiplot" command. If you give this command the prompt will change from "gnuplot" to "multiplot".

You can see the output of the following example in Figure 6:

gnuplot> set xrange [-1:1]
gnuplot> set size 1,1
gnuplot> set origin 0,0
gnuplot> set multiplot
multiplot> set size 0.5,0.5
multiplot> set origin 0,0.5
multiplot> plot (x*x)
multiplot> set size 0.5,0.5
multiplot> set origin 0.5,0.5
multiplot> plot sin(x)
multiplot> set size 0.5,0.5
multiplot> set origin 0,0    
multiplot> plot (1/x)
multiplot> set size 0.5,0.5
multiplot> set origin 0.5,0
multiplot> plot (x*x*x)
multiplot> unset multiplot
gnuplot> reset
gnuplot>


Figure 6: using multiplot mode

Now, lets talk about the commands that were typed in order to get the output of Figure 6. The plot and xrange commands were already shown earlier. Also, as we said before, the "set multiplot" command is needed in order to enter the multiplot mode. Similarly, the "unset multiplot" command is used for exiting multiplot mode. The reset command causes all graph-related options that can be set with the set command to take on their default values. The rest of the commands (size, origin) position each graph in its place and make it take just a quarter of the screen. Again, if you want more information about a command you should see the help pages.

Plotting data files

Imagine that you have a file that contains groups of data points that you want to plot. Well, gnuplot can help you again! The following commands illustrate what gnuplot shows when plotting a valid data file-nothing, it just plots it!- as well as when trying to parse an erroneous data file. For an erroneous data file, gnuplot prints an error message telling us the line that the first error occurred-this does not indicate that the rest of the file is fine, just that there is at least one error. The compatible data file gets plotted without problems and you can see its output in Figure 7.

gnuplot> plot 'dataBad'
              ^
         Bad data on line 325
gnuplot> plot 'data'


Figure 7: using external data files when drawing a graph

The format of the "data" file is as follows but many other formats are allowed:

$ head data
1024   38
1025   5
1026   18
1027   16
1028   20
1029   6
1038   5
1048   4
1049   16
1051   4

Using Gnuplot and Python

This part of the article will present py-gnuplot-the Python interface to the gnuplot plotting program.

The first thing you should do is to install py-gnuplot. I used MacPorts (there is also a fink version of the package) version of py-gnuplot-the simple installation process was as follows:

$ sudo port install py25-gnuplot
-->  Fetching python25
-->  Attempting to fetch Python-2.5.2.tgz from http://www.python.org//ftp/python/2.5.2/
-->  Verifying checksum(s) for python25
-->  Extracting python25
-->  Applying patches to python25
-->  Configuring python25
-->  Building python25 with target all libpython2.5.dylib
-->  Staging python25 into destroot
-->  Installing python25 2.5.2_5+darwin_9
-->  Activating python25 2.5.2_5+darwin_9
[output removed for brevity]
-->  Staging py25-gnuplot into destroot
-->  Installing py25-gnuplot 1.7_0
-->  Activating py25-gnuplot 1.7_0
-->  Cleaning py25-gnuplot

So, we now have both Python 2.5 and py-gnuplot 1.7 installed. It now is time to start using them.

I would first like to tell you that in this part of the article, the output of each Python script is going to be saved in a file and will not be displayed on screen. I found this the most practical usage for a script.

A simple example is shown in Listing 1:

Listing 1: gp-example.py

#! /usr/bin/env python
# Programmer: Mihalis Tsoukalos
# Date: Friday 10 July 2009
#
# Description: Example of using py-gnuplot
#
import Gnuplot
gp = Gnuplot.Gnuplot(persist=1)
gp('set term png')
gp('set output "mactech.png"')
g5 = Gnuplot.Func('sin(x)/x', title='Plotting a function with py-gnuplot')
gp.plot(g5)

The output, which is a file called mactech.png, is shown in Figure 8. The key points of the Python script are:

The "import Gnuplot" command that load the correct Python module

The "gp.plot(g5)" command that actually plots the graph

The "gp('set term png')" and "gp('set output "mactech.png"')" commands that define the output file format and filename.


Figure 8: plotting a function using Python and py-gnuplot

Please note that you should read the py-gnuplot documentation in order to better understand and utilize it.

The last example of this article is going to be a 3D graph. The Python code for creating Figure 9 is the following:

#! /usr/bin/env python
# Programmer: Mihalis Tsoukalos
# Date: Friday 10 July 2009
#
# Description: Example of using py-gnuplot
#
# This script is a modified version of existing Python code
# from the demo.py file that can be found inside
# the /opt/local/lib/python2.5/site-packages/Gnuplot directory
#
from Numeric import *
import Gnuplot, Gnuplot.funcutils
gp = Gnuplot.Gnuplot(persist=1)
gp('set term png')
gp('set output "3Dplot.png"')
# set up x and y values at which the function will be tabulated:
x = arange(50)/2.0
y = arange(25)/10.0 - 1.5
xm = x[:,NewAxis]
ym = y[NewAxis,:]
m = (cos(xm) + 0.1*xm) - ym**2
gp('set parametric')
gp('set data style lines')
gp.title('An example of a 3D plot!')
gp.xlabel('x')
gp.splot(Gnuplot.GridData(m,x,y, binary=0))

You may find it difficult but, after reading it more carefully, you will understand how simple and elegant this is.


Figure 9: doing 3D plots with py-gnuplot

Summary

Gnuplot is a very handy and highly customizable tool. This article is just the beginning of learning it. The excellent on-line help of gnuplot can assist you go further.

By combining it with Python-or your favorite scripting language-you will get the benefits of a scripting language in conjunction with a great tool!

As always, the key to success is practicing, more practicing and even more practicing!

Web Links and Bibliography

Gnuplot homepage: http://www.gnuplot.info/

Gnuplot development: http://sourceforge.net/projects/gnuplot/

Gnuplot Python package: http://gnuplot-py.sourceforge.net/


Mihalis Tsoukalos lives in Greece with his wife Eugenia and enjoys digital photography and writing articles. He is the author of the “Programming Dashboard Widgets” eBook. You can reach him at tsoukalos@sch.gr.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

FontExplorer X Pro 7.1.3 - Font manageme...
FontExplorer X Pro is optimized for professional use; it's the solution that gives you the power you need to manage all your fonts. Now you can more easily manage, activate and organize your... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 8.2.5 - Catalog your di...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast Finder-like intuitive look and feel Super-fast search algorithm Can compress catalog data for... Read more
Skim 1.5.12 - PDF reader and note-taker...
Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file. Skim includes many features and has a... Read more
rekordbox 6.1.0.0030 - Professional DJ m...
rekordbox is the best way of preparing and managing your tracks, be it at home, in the studio, or even on the plane! It allows you to import music from other music-management software using the... Read more
iExplorer 4.4.0 - View and transfer file...
iExplorer is an iPhone browser for Mac lets you view the files on your iOS device. By using a drag and drop interface, you can quickly copy files and folders between your Mac and your iPhone or... Read more
OmniGraffle 7.17.5 - Create diagrams, fl...
OmniGraffle helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use Graffle to... Read more
Apple Configurator 2.13.1 - Configure an...
Apple Configurator makes it easy to deploy iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, and Apple TV devices in your school or business. Use Apple Configurator to quickly configure large numbers of devices connected to... Read more
OmniGraffle Pro 7.17.5 - Create diagrams...
OmniGraffle Pro helps you draw beautiful diagrams, family trees, flow charts, org charts, layouts, and (mathematically speaking) any other directed or non-directed graphs. We've had people use... Read more
FoldersSynchronizer 5.1.6 - Synchronize...
FoldersSynchronizer is a popular and useful utility that synchronizes and backs-up files, folders, disks and boot disks. On each session you can apply special options like Timers, Multiple Folders,... Read more
Adobe After Effects 17.1.4 - Create prof...
After Effects is available as part of Adobe Creative Cloud for $52.99/month (or $20.99/month for a single app license). The new, more connected After Effects can make the impossible possible. Get... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Infinity Mechs is an upcoming idle game...
Indie developer SkullStar studio has announced an upcoming idle mech game called Infinity Mechs. It draws inspiration from the mobile game Iron Saga and has been officially licensed by Game Duchy. It's set to launch for both iOS and Android on... | Read more »
PUBG Mobile Lite's latest update se...
PUBG Mobile Lite, the streamlined version of the popular battle royale that's designed to work on less powerful devices, sees the return of a popular game variant today, Survive Till Dawn mode. It arrives as part of the 0.19.0 content update. [... | Read more »
Matchy Catch, Jyamma Games’ new hyper-ca...
Matchy Catch is a new hyper-casual puzzler from Jyamma Games, the Italian studio behind the Pong-inspired puzzle-adventure Hi-Ball Rush. It’s only the developer’s second game for iOS and Android devices, but it promises to be every bit as fun and... | Read more »
Among Us! Imposter Guide - How to be a s...
Among Us! continues to be getting a lot of play in these parts, and since our first guide we've learned a thing or two about the game. This is especially true regarding the imposter role, as its a relatively rare opportunity that we've now put... | Read more »
Paladin's Story is an upcoming fant...
Paladin's Story is an upcoming fantasy RPG with an off-kilter sense of humour that's heading for iOS and Android. It will officially launch for both on September 16th though the game is already available on Google Play in Early Access. [Read more... | Read more »
Among Us! Guide - Tips for the uninitiat...
| Read more »
A Pretty Odd Bunny is a stealth-platform...
A Pretty Odd Bunny is a stealth-platformer from two-man team AJ Ordaz and René Rivera. It follows the story of a red-eyed rabbit who is allergic to carrots and instead has a penchant for devouring pigs. It's available now for Android devices. [... | Read more »
Apple Arcade: Ranked - Top 25 [Updated 9...
In case you missed it, I am on a quest to rank every Apple Arcade game there is. [Read more] | Read more »
The 5 Best Mobile Games Like Tony Hawk...
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 dropped last week, meaning you can get remastered versions of two of the most iconic “sports” games ever made and experience some of the highest watermarks set in games of generations’ past. [Read more] | Read more »
Bouncing Box is a challenging platformer...
In platformers, we often spend a large amount of time mindless destroying boxes by jumping onto or into them, whatever makes them splinter apart. Bouncing Box from developer The K Brothers aims to give those poor destructible cubes a chance to be... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Price drop! Get a 44mm Apple Watch Series 5 G...
Amazon has dropped their price on the 44mm Apple Watch Series 5 GPS + Cellular by $100 to $429 shipped. That’s $100 off Apple’s original MSRP for this model. For the latest prices and sales, see our... Read more
Verizon offers $200 discount on new Apple Wat...
Verizon will take up to $200 off the purchase of a new GPS + Cellular Apple Watch Series 6 or Apple Watch SE with select trade-in and the purchase of a new iPhone with service. The fine print: “Get... Read more
Verizon offers $250 discount on new 8th gener...
Verizon will take up to $250 off the price of an 8th generation 2020 Apple Cellular iPad with select trade-ins and a new iPhone purchase. Plus get Apple News+ free for 6 months. The fine print: “Save... Read more
Apple’s Implementation Of COVID-19 Exposure...
NEWS: 09.18.20 – The latest effort by Apple to embed exposure notifications for COVID-19 contact tracing right into its mobile operating system has some iPhone users weary of being exposed to... Read more
Here’s how to get a 16″ MacBook Pro for $300...
B&H Photo has new 16″ MacBook Pros on sale today for $250-$300 off Apple’s MSRP, starting at $2099. Expedited shipping is free to many addresses in the US: – 2019 16″ 2.6GHz 6-Core MacBook Pro... Read more
Apple has Certified Refurbished 16″ MacBook P...
Apple has Certified Refurbished 2019 16″ MacBook Pros available for up to $420 off the cost of new models, starting at $2039. Each model features a new outer case, shipping is free, and an Apple 1-... Read more
Price drops! Apple reseller B&H drops App...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on Apple Watch Series 5 models by $50-$70 off Apple’s original MSRP. Shipping is free. These are the same Apple Watch models sold by Apple in their retail and online... Read more
Apple extends their 2020 Back-to-School promo...
As part of their Back to School promotion for 2020, Apple will include one free pair Apple AirPods (with charging case) with the purchase of a MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro (Mac Pro and... Read more
Apple 7.9″ iPad minis are on sale today for $...
Amazon has new 7.9″ 64GB WiFi iPad minis on sale today for $50 off Apple’s MSRP, each including free shipping. Prices start at $349. These are the same iPad minis sold by Apple in their retail and... Read more
Lowest price anywhere! New 16″ 6-core MacBook...
Expercom has the Silver 16″ 6-core MacBook Pro back on sale for a limited time for $2079 shipped. Their price is $320 off Apple’s MSRP for this model, and it’s the cheapest price currently available... Read more

Jobs Board

Security Officer ($23.00/Hourly) - *Apple*...
**Security Officer \($23\.00/Hourly\) \- Apple Store** **Description** About NMS Built on a culture of safety and integrity, NMSdelivers award\-winning, integrated Read more
Platform - Workplace Eng - *Apple* Enterpri...
MORE ABOUT THIS JOB We are looking for an Apple Platform Engineer who will bring a unique engineering skill set, support, clarity, organization and above all else, Read more
*Apple* Certified Repair Technician - Utah S...
…selected candidate will work in the USU Campus Store Tech Department as an Apple Certified Repair Technician and floor associate. This position is for both summer Read more
Senior Data Engineer - *Apple* - Theorem, L...
Job Summary Apple is seeking an experienced, detail-minded data engineeringconsultant to join our worldwide business development and strategy team. If you are Read more
Desktop Support Technician - A+, *Apple* -...
Desktop Support Technician - A+, Apple **Ref No.:** 20-01604 **Location:** Miami, Florida **e** at http://www.excell.com/ **X** at http://www.excell.com/ **cell** at Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.