gnuplot vs Matplotlib


I've started on a project graphing Tomcat logs using gnuplot-py, specifically correlating particular requests with memory allocation and garbage collection. What is the collective wisdom on gnuplot-py vs Matplotlib for Python graphing. Are there better graphing libraries out there I haven't heard of?

My general considerations are:

  • While gnuplot has large amounts of documentation, gnuplot-py doesn't. How good is documentation community for Matplotlib?
  • Are there things which gnuplot can do, but gnuplot-py can't?
  • Does Matplotlib have better Python support?
  • Are there are big show stopping bugs in either? Annoyances?
  • Currently gnuplot is graphing 100,000's of points, I'm planning on scaling this up to millions. Should I expect problems? How well does Matplotlib handle this?
  • Ease of use, turnaround time for gnuplot vs Matplotlib?
  • How easy would it be to port existing gnuplot-py code to Matplotlib?

How would you approach this task?

12/14/2010 10:06:33 PM

Accepted Answer

  • You can check matplotlib's documentation yourself. I find it quite comprehensive.
  • I have very little experience with gnuplot-py, so I can not say whether it can do all gnuplot can.
  • Matplotlib is written in and designed specifically for Python, so it fits very nicely with Python idioms and such.
  • Matplotlib is a mature project. NASA uses it for some stuff.
  • I've plotted tens of millions of points in Matplotlib, and it still looked beautiful and responded quickly.
  • Beyond the object-oriented way of using Matplotlib is the pylab interface, which makes plotting as easy as it is in MATLAB -- that is, very easy.
  • As for porting from gnuplot-py to matplotlib, I have no idea.
3/30/2017 9:03:55 AM

Matplotlib = ease of use, Gnuplot = (slightly better) performance

I know this post is old and answered but I was passing by and wanted to put my two cents. Here is my conclusion: if you have a not-so-big data set, you should use Matplotlib. It's easier and looks better. However, if you really need performance, you could use Gnuplot. I've added some code to test it out on your machine and see for yourself if it makes a real difference (this is not a real performance benchmark but should give a first idea).

The following graph represents the required time (in seconds) to:

  • Plot a random scatter graph
  • Save the graph to a png file

Gnuplot VS Matplotlib


  • gnuplot: 5.2.2
  • gnuplot-py: 1.8
  • matplotlib: 2.1.2

I remember the performance gap being much wider when running on an older computer with older versions of the libraries (~30 seconds difference for a large scatter plot).

Moreover, as mentionned in the comments, you can get equivalent quality of plots. But you will have to put more sweat into that to do it with Gnuplot.

Here's the code to generate the graph if you want to give it a try on your machine:

# -*- coding: utf-8 -*-

from timeit import default_timer as timer
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import Gnuplot, Gnuplot.funcutils
import numpy as np
import sys
import os

def mPlotAndSave(x, y):
    plt.scatter(x, y)

def gPlotAndSave(data, g):
    g("set output 'gtmp.png'")

def cleanup():
    except OSError:
    except OSError:

begin = 2
end = 500000
step = 10000
numberOfPoints = range(begin, end, step)
n = len(numberOfPoints)
gnuplotTime = []
matplotlibTime = []
progressBarWidth = 30

# Init Gnuplot
g = Gnuplot.Gnuplot()
g("set terminal png size 640,480")

# Init matplotlib to avoid a peak in the beginning

for idx, val in enumerate(numberOfPoints):
    # Print a nice progress bar (crucial)
    progress = (idx+1)*progressBarWidth/n
    bar = "▕" + "▇"*progress + "▁"*(progressBarWidth-progress) + "▏" + str(idx) + "/" + str(n-1)

    # Generate random data
    x = np.random.randint(sys.maxint, size=val)  
    y = np.random.randint(sys.maxint, size=val)
    gdata = zip(x,y)

    # Generate string call to a matplotlib plot and save, call it and save execution time
    start = timer()
    mPlotAndSave(x, y)
    end = timer()
    matplotlibTime.append(end - start)

    # Generate string call to a gnuplot plot and save, call it and save execution time
    start = timer()
    gPlotAndSave(gdata, g)
    end = timer()
    gnuplotTime.append(end - start)

    # Clean up the files

del g
plt.plot(numberOfPoints, gnuplotTime, label="gnuplot")
plt.plot(numberOfPoints, matplotlibTime, label="matplotlib")
plt.legend(loc='upper right')
plt.xlabel('Number of points in the scatter graph')
plt.ylabel('Execution time (s)')

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