This is the project we use at Our World in Data to create embeddable visualizations like this one (click for interactive):
This project is currently not well designed for immediate reuse as a visualization library, or for reproducing the full production environment we have at Our World in Data.
The Grapher relies heavily on the current database structure, and there are some hard-to-reproduce dependencies in order to create a full production environment that supports publishing embeddable charts.
We're gradually making steps towards making our work more reusable, however we still prioritize needs specific to our project that can be at odds with making our tools reusable.
You are still very welcome to reuse and adapt any of our code for your own purposes, and we welcome contributions!
Overview of this repository
The Grapher is the client-side visualization library that displays data interactively (almost every interactive chart on Our World in Data uses this). It consumes a JSON file to configure it, and an additional JSON file that encodes the data.
- provides a user interface for configuring interactive charts ("graphers"), managing and uploading data
- manages the MySQL database that stores the data for all grapher instances.
Wordpress is used by authors to write the content published on Our World in Data. It is a relatively stock setup including a custom plugin to provide additional blocks for the Gutenberg editor. The Wordpress content and configuration is stored in a MySQL database, which currently isn't shared publicly.
Explorers are a relatively new addition. For readers, they provide a user interface around graphers. Under the hood, they use the Grapher as a visualization library. There is an admin to configure explorers. The config files end up in a git repo (not MySQL as most of the other content).
Initial development setup
To contribute to the Grapher you do not need to set up everything described in the previous section (e.g. you don't need to run Wordpress unless you want to test the integration and baking locally).
This section describes the steps necessary to run Grapher Admin locally, which allows you to create, modify and preview (but not publish) interactive charts in your local environment. For this you need a MySQL database and the admin server running.
Instructions for macOS
Install Homebrew first, follow the instructions here: https://brew.sh/
Install Homebrew services:
brew tap homebrew/services
Install MySQL 5.7:
brew install [email protected]
Start the MySQL service:
brew services start [email protected]
brew update brew install nvm source $(brew --prefix nvm)/nvm.sh
Clone this project if you haven't already, and switch to the project directory
(this will pick up the right version from
npm install -g yarn
Clone the "owid-content" folder as a sibling to the owid-grapher:
git clone https://github.com/owid/owid-content
Inside the repo folder, install all dependencies by running:
Remove the password
Remove the password for root by opening the MySQL shell with
mysql and running:
ALTER USER 'root'@'localhost' IDENTIFIED WITH mysql_native_password BY '';
We do this for convenience so we can run
mysql commands without providing a password each time. You can also set a password, just make sure you include it in your
.env file later.
Import the latest data extract
Daily exports from the live OWID database are published here and can be used for testing:
|owid_metadata.sql.gz||Table structure and metadata, everything except
|owid_chartdata.sql.gz||All data values used by published visualizations||>200MB|
This script will create a database, then download and import all OWID charts and their data (might take a while!):
Note that the
data_values table will be incomplete – it will only contain data used in charts. In production, this table is >20GB (uncompressed) and contains unreviewed and undocumented data, so we currently don't offer a full export of it.
Inspecting the database
On macOS, we recommend using Sequel Pro (it's free).
We also have a rough sketch of the schema as it was on November 2019 (there may be slight changes).
Set up your
.env file by copying the example:
cp .env.example .env
Then run the three development processes:
yarn startTscServer yarn startAdminServer yarn startWebpackServer
Or alternatively, you can also start all 3 processes in one terminal window with tmux:
Then head to
localhost:3030/admin. If everything is going to plan, you should see a login screen! The default user account is
[email protected] with a password of
This development server will rebuild the site when changes are made, so you only need to reload the browser when making changes.
Our implementation is based around reactive programming using React and Mobx, allowing it to do client-side data processing efficiently. New code should be written in TypeScript. Visual Studio Code is recommended for the autocompletion and other awesome editor analysis features enabled by static typing.
package.json style guide
We follow some conventions:
- camelCase the command names. This ensures that these command names are also valid identifiers and consistent with our TypeScript code.
- Use longer unique names like
style. We have to rely on global string matches for finding uses in code, making them unique helps.
- Identify what "kind" of command your script is and choose an existing decorator, unless it's of a new kind. Think of the "build" and "start" prefixes as function decorators and choose an appropriate one. For example, if your script starts a long lived process, it should be named something like
startXXXServer; if it generates output to disk, something like
Why did we start this project?
The following is an excerpt explaining the origin of this repo and what the alternatives tried were (source: Max Roser's Reddit AMA on Oct 17, 2017)
We built the Grapher because there is no similar external tool available. Datawrapper, Tableau, Plotly, various libraries based on d3 are out there but nothing is similar to what the Grapher does for our project.
The owid-grapher solves this problem by using a single visualization codebase and crucially a single database into which all of our data is placed. Once the data has been imported, the process of creating a visualization is reduced to simply choosing what kind of visualization is needed and then selecting the relevant variables in the Grapher user interface. The result may then be customized, and is published to the web with the press of a button.
Using our own system has very important advantages:
Integration with our global development database: Our database of global development metrics is integrated into our visualization tool so that when we add and update empirical data the visualizations are all updated. (In contrast to this, a pre-existing tool would make the exploration of a database impossible and would require the preparation of each dataset separately for each visualisation.)
Flexibility: We can use automation to change our entire system all at once. For example, if we decide we want to use a different source referencing style, we could easily update this across hundreds of charts. This makes it possible to scale our publication and to sustainably improve our work without starting from scratch at each round.
Risk mitigation: We hope(!) that Our World in Data is a long-term project and we want the visualizations we produce to continue to be useful and available years from now. An external web service may be shut down or change for reasons we cannot control. We have had this experience in the past and learned our lesson from it.
Keeping everything up-to-date: Because we want to be a useful resource for some time we make sure that we have a technology in place that allows us to keep all of our work up-to-date without starting from scratch each time. We have our global development database directly integrated in the Grapher and as soon as new data becomes available (for example from a UN agency) we can run a script that pulls in that data and updates all the visualizations that present that data.
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