The plotdata program

The PDFgetX3 software includes a simple stand-alone utility plotdata for plotting text data files. In most cases this program can be invoked from a command-shell as

plotdata file1.dat file2.dat

which plots the numerical data from the text files file1.dat, file2.dat together in a single graph. By default the first column is used as an x variable and the second column is used for the y values. After displaying the plot the program starts an IPython interactive session allowing the user to modify or save plots. The IPython session is initialized with the filenames variable containing a list of plotted files. It also pre-loads the plotdata() and findfiles() functions just as in PDFgetX3 interactive session. The plotdata() function works in a similar way as the plotdata program, just its arguments need to be passed as Python function arguments instead of command-line options. Thus an equivalent call of the plotdata() function would be:

In [1]: plotdata(['file1.dat', 'file2.dat'])

Selecting files

The plotdata program includes a file searching feature that is useful for selecting a set of files in large directories. It is also convenient for Windows operating systems, where the command prompt cannot do filename expansion for patterns such as *.dat. The file search feature is controlled by the following options:

-f, --find

Use command line arguments as filename patterns and plot all matching files. This option works in the same way as for pdfgetx3, for full details see the pdfgetx3 --find documentation. Note that within command line the special patterns ^$<> need to be quoted in double quotes (\”) so they are not processed by command shell.

-l, --list

List the input files and exit. This is useful in conjunction with the -f, --find option to check if data files are selected as intended.

Assuming the current directory contains 20 files named file1.dat, file2.dat, …, file20.dat, the plotting of files 9 to 13 could be done (with a check listing) as follows

$ plotdata -fl "<9-13>.dat"
$ plotdata -f "<9-13>.dat"

Within an interactive IPython session the equivalent plot could be produced by combining the plotdata() and findfiles() functions as

In [1]: plotdata(findfiles("<9-13>.dat"))

Selecting x and y data

The plotdata program provides several ways of selecting columns for x or y data and for specifying plot markers or line formats. The columns can be specified using their integer index, but one needs to keep in mind the index of the first column is “0” as per Python indexing conventions. Here is a list of options supported by the plotdata program (and function):

-x X

index or name of the x-column to plot. See the -y option for the supported syntax, but note that X may select only one column. When set to “.” use the data-row index for x.

-y Y

index or name of the y-column or columns to plot. The Y column specification can be a comma separated list of indices, column names or Python-like ranges, for example “1,2”, “G”, “1:4” (START:STOP, same as “1,2,3”), “1:4:2” (START:STOP:STEP, same as “1,3”), or “-2:” (same as “-2,-1”, i.e, the last 2 columns). Because column indexing starts at “0” the second column must be specified as “1”.

The column names work if the data section in the file is preceded by a headline of unique column names, for example:

x     square      cube
1     1           1
2     4           8
3     9           27
4     16          64

For such data file the plotdata program will recognize column names “x”, “square” and “cube” and an implicit “.” for row index.

-s STYLE, --style=STYLE

optional plot format specification. See the matplotlib.pyplot.plot() function for a list of available formats.

-L LOG, --log=LOG

axes to be plotted with logarithmic scaling, for example, “x”, “y” or “xy”. Axes not listed in LOG will use linear scaling.

-h, --help

display a brief usage info and exit.

-V, --version

show program version and exit.


Open this manual page in a Web browser and exit.


The examples directory plotdata contains a sincos.dat file that has 3-columns of values labeled as “x”, “sin” and “cos”. Here are several examples of the plotdata capabilities when used from command line - the user is encouraged to try them out:

plotdata sincos.dat
plotdata -y 1,2 sincos.dat
plotdata -x . -y 0:3 sincos.dat
plotdata -y cos sincos.dat
plotdata -x sin -y cos -sr-- sincos.dat

An equivalent usage from a general IPython session would be:

ipython --matplotlib=auto
In [1]: from diffpy.pdfgetx.plotdata import plotdata
In [2]: plotdata('sincos.dat')
In [3]: plotdata('sincos.dat', y=[1,2])
In [4]: plotdata('sincos.dat', x='.', y=':3')
In [5]: plotdata('sincos.dat', y='cos')
In [6]: plotdata('sincos.dat', x='sin', y='cos', style='r--')