When I was learning D3, although there are a lot of great resources to learn from, I can rarely find detailed code explanations for me to fully understand how everything works, making it difficult to recreate a chart on my own without additional searches. So I want to fill this whitespace with a series of D3 (v4) line-by-line code explanations for each chart I create, sharing with you what I’ve figured out.


I’ve started to venture into D3 animations. It’s mind-blowing to see how a couple of lines of code can create these magical transitions. Thank you, Mike Bostock!

In this post, I will go through a simple text transition. I hope this post can make it easier for you if you are looking for similar solutions.

Viz goal: Show the top-5 most commonly used words in Amazon’s letter to shareholders from 1997–2017 while highlighting the two most used words “customer(s)” and “Amazon”.

Data: HBR article

Visualization Strategy

It’s always helpful to do a simple sketch before you start the coding part.

d3.js text transitions

Identify elements that are static and non-static.

  • The non-static elements are transitioned by looping the same algorithm through the years.

Out of the loop

  • Create static elements like title, subtitle, source, and scale
  • Create the first frame of the non-static part to avoid the lag between page load and loop start.

Within the loop

  • Start from the second frame of the non-static elements and loop through years

Set up the Canvas

To set up the canvas for D3 graphs, in your HTML file, between <html></html> tags:

  • Line 4: Load D3 directly from d3js.org — so you don’t need to install locally and you can use this HTML code in your webpages.
  • Line 7–50: Style section to style different elements. Note code like .source is to call and style the ‘source’ class we will define later.
  • Line 54: onload= “animated()” means we are telling the system to load the animted() function immediately to show D3 graphs after the page has been loaded.
  • Line 58–59: Create a SVG in the size of 1000px by 600px for us to put graphic elements in later.

The following code is put between <script></script>tags after body in HTML or in a separate .js file.

Create Static and First-frame Elements

  • Line 4–8: Input data. The complete data is hidden for a shorter code view.
  • Line 10: You don’t necessarily need to use an axis for this type of visualization — I chose it for easier alignment. d3.scaleBrand() is used for scales of ordinal/categorical variables. By default, the range is divided equally among the elements of the domain. I want the axis to be drawn from top-down from 20px to 200px, the rank labels will be positioned equally in between.
  • Line 13–14: Set up the yAxis function we will call next. d3.axisLeft() is a function that will create a vertical axis, ticks will be drawn from the axis towards the left, labels will be on the left side of the axis as well.
  • Line 16: Assign d3.select(“svg”) to svg so we don’t need to keep retyping the same command later.
  • Line 18–22: Draw y-axis. Append “g” to group all elements (ticks/path) so we can move them together .attr(“transform”,“translate(100,20)”) — 100px along x-axis and 20 along y-axis (origin (0,0) of the SVG Canvas is at the top-left corner). Assign class “axis” to it and call yAxis. Note in the style section we make the path (axis line) color transparent to make it look like a list instead of an axis.
  • Line 24–44: Put in title, subtitle, and source, which are all static. Assign classes to style them in the style section
  • Line 47–54: Create the first frame of “Year 1997”. Filter data data.filter(d=>d.year=1997) to only include 1997’s data. Then append the dynamic d.year to the static “Year” using .html() .
  • Line 56–65: Use a similar approach to create the first frame of the main chart element, the list of words. We want the words to be aligned with the y-axis labels, the ranks, so the y attribute of the word is relative to the y position of labels.attr(“y”, d => (yScale(d.rank)) + 40) .
  • Line 65: We want to highlight customer(s) and Amazon with different colors. The line means if the word is “customer” or (||) “customers”, give it the color #f6ae2d , otherwise, the color is #5c6b73 . And (&&) if the word is “Amazon”, give it the color #f6ae2d , otherwise, the color is #5c6b73 .
Output so far

Create Transitions

The transitions are created following the logic below:

  • we first remove the existing elements (if any) from the DOM using exit()
  • then enter the elements that don’t exist on the DOM yet using enter().
  • we will update the data from year to year to make the transition happen.
  • Line 1: create a transitiontext(data) function
  • Line 4: Start by creating an update selection for years. Select all text under the “year” class. The second argument of .data(data, d=>d.year) is to specify a key that uniquely identifies the data points (more on this here), in this case, our key is year.
  • Line 7–8: Remove existing elements under the selection, this will first remove the first frame we created before.
  • Line 11–15: Enter the “year” class elements that don’t exist on the DOM yet, same to how we created the first frame.
  • Line 18:We then move on to create an update selection for the words, similar to what we did in Line 4.
  • Line 21–25: Remove existing words with a fade-out effect by adding duration to the transition of the text color to white (background color) .transition().duration(1000).style(“fill”, “white”)before removing the words completely.
  • Line 28–33: Enter the text that doesn’t exist on the DOM yet, same to how we created the first frame.
  • Line 40–47: Finally, we use the setInterval() function to call the transitionText(data) function by filtering the data with each year from 1998 to 2017 every 2000 ms. Stop using clearInterval() when the year hits 2017.

A little preview — I am going to go through how to create a flourish-type bar chart with D3 next. It’s going to be free but member-only. Yes - membership program coming soon!


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