Giacomo Debidda

Visualize Earthquakes with Plotly Dash

August 31, 2017 | 9 min Read

Three years ago I followed a few data science courses offered by the Johns Hopkins University on Coursera. Today these courses should be available among the ones in the Data Science specialization. All programming assignments were – and still are – in R. At the end of one course we had to create a small web application with Shiny and deploy it on shinyapps. At the time I wasn’t that comfortable in writing Javascript and CSS, so having to worry only about R code was quite a relief. I still have the web app that I wrote.

Some time ago I had the idea of rewriting the entire thing in Python, so I started looking for a Python equivalent of Shiny. I stumbled upon Spyre, Pyxley and Superset). I immediately discarded Superset. It looked amazing, but I wanted something for a very small application, not an enterprise-ready business intelligence tool. Spyre didn’t convince me, and I tried but struggled with Pyxley.

I toyed with the idea of writing the application with a combination of Flask for the logic and routing, Vue.js for the front-end, Webpack for asset bundling and maybe a SASS framework (or toolkit, like Susy) for styling. I knew I would have to invest a considerable amount of time to put everything together, so I left the project on the side for a while.

A few months passed and I discovered a few more packages: Bowtie, Bokeh, Dash. I found out that you can also create an online dashboard with plotly.

According to the documentation, “Dash is simple enough that you can bind a user interface around your Python code in an afternoon”. In fact, for a simple dashboard with a dropdown menu as the input, and a time series as the output, you need less than 50 lines of code.

Dash allows you to create reactive web applications. This means that changes to input UI component/s trigger changes to an output UI component.

The UI components are created with D3.js and WebGL, so they look amazing. And you get all of this without having to write any HTML/JS/CSS. Under the hood Dash converts React components (written in JavaScript) into Python classes that are compatible with the Dash ecosystem.

The getting started is top-notch, so I suggest you to start from there if you want to try Dash out. Here I will briefly describe what I did for my app.

A GIF showing the Dash-Earthquakes Dash app


Here are my import statements. dash_html_components are pure HTML components, and dash_core_components are the reactive components. You need to use one or more Input to trigger changes to a single Output.

import os
import arrow
import requests
import functools
import pandas as pd
import dash_core_components as dcc
import dash_html_components as html
import plotly.graph_objs as go
import plotly.plotly as py
from flask import Flask, json
from dash import Dash
from dash.dependencies import Input, Output
from dotenv import load_dotenv

When the app is running on my computer I enable debug and load the environment variables from a .env file (not checked in). When the app is running on Heroku I disable debug and use an external Javascript snippet to include Google Analytics. I can’t remeber where I found the try/except to understand whether the app is on Heroku or not, but I find it very pythonic.

EAFP: easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

    # the app is on Heroku
    debug = False
    # google analytics with my tracking ID
except KeyError:
    debug = True
    dotenv_path = os.path.join(os.path.dirname(__file__), '.env')

The world map I am displaying requires a plotly API key and a Mapbox API access token.

py.sign_in(os.environ['PLOTLY_USERNAME'], os.environ['PLOTLY_API_KEY'])
mapbox_access_token = os.environ.get('MAPBOX_ACCESS_TOKEN', 'mapbox-token')

Here is how I initialize my Dash app. I create a Flask app first because I want to use a secret key. I don’t think you can set a secret key directly when you instantiate the Dash class.

app_name = 'Dash Earthquakes'
server = Flask(app_name)
server.secret_key = os.environ.get('SECRET_KEY', 'default-secret-key')
app = Dash(name=app_name, server=server)


I get the latest 4.5+ magnitude earthquakes from the USGS website with a basic, synchronous GET request. Next time I will try to make an asynchronous request with asyncio or one of the following libraries: grequests, asks, curio-http, requests-futures.

usgs = ''
geoJsonFeed = 'feed/v1.0/summary/4.5_month.geojson'
url = '{}{}'.format(usgs, geoJsonFeed)
req = requests.get(url)
data = json.loads(req.text)

Choosing the right colors for a visualization is surprisingly hard, so I use ColorBrewer.

colorscale_magnitude = [
    [0, '#ffffb2'],
    [0.25, '#fecc5c'],
    [0.5, '#fd8d3c'],
    [0.75, '#f03b20'],
    [1, '#bd0026'],

colorscale_depth = [
    [0, '#f0f0f0'],
    [0.5, '#bdbdbd'],
    [0.1, '#636363'],

Finally, some Dash code. Every Dash app requires a layout. The python code you write here will be converted in HTML components. I use a few functions to create portions of the dashboard. This way the layout is a bit cleaner and easier to modify.

app.layout = html.Div(
                html.Div(create_dropdowns(), className='row'),
                html.Div(create_content(), className='row'),
                html.Div(create_description(), className='row'),
                html.Div(create_table(dataframe), className='row'),
        # html.Hr(),
    style={'font-family': theme['font-family']}

Here are a couple of functions that are responsible for a portion of the UI. If you want you can check the complete code on GitHub.

create_dropdown creates two dash core components. They have to be dash core components, and not simple HTML elements, because each dropdown is an Input for the Graph object (also a dash core component).

def create_dropdowns():
    drop1 = dcc.Dropdown(
            {'label': 'Light', 'value': 'light'},
            {'label': 'Dark', 'value': 'dark'},
            {'label': 'Satellite', 'value': 'satellite'},
                'label': 'Custom',
                'value': 'mapbox://styles/jackdbd/cj6nva4oi14542rqr3djx1liz'
        className='three columns offset-by-one'
    drop2 = dcc.Dropdown(
            {'label': 'World', 'value': 'world'},
            {'label': 'Europe', 'value': 'europe'},
            {'label': 'North America', 'value': 'north_america'},
            {'label': 'South America', 'value': 'south_america'},
            {'label': 'Africa', 'value': 'africa'},
            {'label': 'Asia', 'value': 'asia'},
            {'label': 'Oceania', 'value': 'oceania'},
        className='three columns offset-by-four'
    return [drop1, drop2]

create_content creates a DIV with an empty figure inside and return it. The figure will be updated when _update_graph is triggered (see below).

def create_content():
    graph = dcc.Graph(id='graph-geo')
    content = html.Div(graph, id='content')
    return content

Now that you have inputs – the two dropdowns – and an output – the Graph – you can define the reactive callback _update_graph.

The way an Input object and an Output object are created is with the dash core component id attribute. I really like the way the relationship between inputs and output must be declared. It’s very explicit: the value attribute of a Dropdown component triggers a change in the figure attribute of the Graph component.

_update_graph is rather long because every Figure needs a layout and some data. I have to define a bunch of parameters for the layout and two overlaid Scattermapbox for the data.

I use the underscore in front of this function to suggest that it should not be called. In fact, only changes to the dropdown values should trigger its execution.

    output=Output('graph-geo', 'figure'),
    inputs=[Input('dropdown-map-style', 'value'),
            Input('dropdown-region', 'value')])
def _update_graph(map_style, region):
    dff = dataframe
    radius_multiplier = {'inner': 1.5, 'outer': 3}

    layout = go.Layout(
        margin=go.Margin(l=0, r=0, t=45, b=10),

    data = go.Data([
        # outer circles represent magnitude
                size=dff['Magnitude'] * radius_multiplier['outer'],
            # hoverinfo='text',
        # inner circles represent depth
                size=dff['Magnitude'] * radius_multiplier['inner'],
            # hovering behavior is already handled by outer circles

    figure = go.Figure(data=data, layout=layout)
    return figure

As I said at the beginning, you can create Dash apps without having to write any Javascript or CSS. The problem is that even for a very small app like this one, you will probably want to change the styling, add a small script, or maybe just include Google Analytics.

For example, in this app I have to display roughly 300-500 earthquakes in a table, and I use a jQuery plugin to have a nice-looking table with pagination and search functionality. I also added Font Awesome, some styling from the Dash Team and a Google font.

external_js = [
    # jQuery, DataTables, script to initialize DataTables
    # small hack for DataTables

external_css = [
    # dash stylesheet

for js in external_js:
    app.scripts.append_script({'external_url': js})

for css in external_css:
    app.css.append_css({'external_url': css})


I had a lot of fun in creating this app, and I’m sure there are many use-cases where a quick (reactive) web app is useful. I will keep using Dash for future projects. I also want to write my own component to practice React.js a bit.

I’m still a bit skeptic about the idea of creating complex layouts in Python though. Even for a small app like this, the layout seems a bit too cumbersome. Applications with a lot of styling might not be ideal as well.

That being said, if you want to build something relatively simple in a day or two, I think Dash is great!

You can find the code for the entire application on GitHub

Giacomo DebiddaWritten by Giacomo Debidda, Pythonista & JS lover (D3, React). You can find me on Twitter & Github