How to switch backends in matplotlib / Python


I am struggling with the following issue. I need to generate reports that consists of a collection of charts. All these charts, except one, are made using Matplotlib default backend (TkAgg). One chart needs to be made using the Cairo backend, the reason is that I am plotting an igraph graph and that can only be plotted using Cairo.

The issue is that I cannot change backends on the fly, for example the following does not work:
matplotlib.pyplot.switch_backend('cairo.png') (I know that the switch_backend functionality is experimental)

and I have also tried matplotlib.use("cairo.png") but this leads to import problems as the matplotlib.use("cairo.png") statement should come before importing matplotlib.pyplot. but I need two different backends over the course of the life of the script.

So my question is does someone have a code snippet that shows how to switch the backend in Matplotlib?

Thanks so much!

UPDATE: I have written a snippet that loads matplotlib, shows the default backend, unloads matplotlib, reloads it and changes the backend:

import matplotlib
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import sys
print matplotlib.pyplot.get_backend()

modules = []
for module in sys.modules:
    if module.startswith('matplotlib'):

for module in modules:

import matplotlib
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt

print matplotlib.pyplot.get_backend()

but is this really the way to do it?

UPDATE 2: I had some serious brain freeze yesterday... The simple and most obvious solution is to use the Cairo backend for all charts and not to switch the backend at all :)

UPDATE 3: Actually, it's still an issue so anybody who knows how to dynamically switch matplotlib backends....please post your answer.

2/11/2018 12:42:08 AM

Six years later and I came across a similar issue, when trying to decide which backend was available to use.
This code snippet works well for me:

import matplotlib
gui_env = ['TKAgg','GTKAgg','Qt4Agg','WXAgg']
for gui in gui_env:
        print "testing", gui
        matplotlib.use(gui,warn=False, force=True)
        from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
print "Using:",matplotlib.get_backend()

Using: GTKAgg

As you can deduce, swapping the backend is as simple as re-importing matplotlib.pyplot after forcing the new backend

matplotlib.use('WXAgg',warn=False, force=True)
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
print "Switched to:",matplotlib.get_backend()

Switched to: WXAgg

For those still having trouble, this code will print out the:
list of Non Gui backends;
the list of Gui backends;
and then attempt to use each Gui backend to see if it is present and functioning.

import matplotlib
gui_env = [i for i in matplotlib.rcsetup.interactive_bk]
non_gui_backends = matplotlib.rcsetup.non_interactive_bk
print ("Non Gui backends are:", non_gui_backends)
print ("Gui backends I will test for", gui_env)
for gui in gui_env:
    print ("testing", gui)
        matplotlib.use(gui,warn=False, force=True)
        from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
        print ("    ",gui, "Is Available")
        fig = plt.gcf()
        print ("Using ..... ",matplotlib.get_backend())
        print ("    ",gui, "Not found")
6/10/2017 7:26:20 AM

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