Saturday, September 10, 2016

Hovering Over Shiny Plots

I'm following up on yesterday's post, "Formatting in a Shiny App". One of the features I added to my Shiny application was the ability to identify a point in a plot by hovering over it. Since I wanted to do this in several different plots, and did not want to reproduce the logic each time, I abstracted part of it out into a function. I thought I'd post the function here, in case it helps anyone else.

Without further ado, here's the function (including Roxygen documentation):

#' Use hover information reported by Shiny to select a caption suitable
#' for the observation closest to the mouse (or no caption if the mouse
#' is too far from the nearest observation). Proximity is measured using
#' the 1-norm, after scaling abscissa and ordinate by the bounds of
#' the plot region.
#' @param hover the hover information reported by Shiny
#' @param x the vector of x values of observations being plotted
#' @param y the vector of y values of observations being plotted
#' @param captions a vector of captions (e.g., row names), of the same
#' length as x and y
#' @param tolerance the maximum distance (in the weighted 1-norm) that
#' a point can be from the mouse and be selected
#' @return if a point is within tolerance of the mouse location, the
#' caption corresponding to the closest point is printed (suitable for
#' capture by renderPrint)

hoverValue <- function(hover, x, y, captions, tolerance = 0.05) {
  if (!is.null(hover)) {
    x0 <- hover$x # x coordinate in user space
    y0 <- hover$y # y coordinate in user space
    xrange <- hover$domain$right - hover$domain$left
    yrange <- hover$domain$top - hover$domain$bottom
    # find the index of the observation closest in scaled 1-norm to the mouse
    dist <- abs(x0 - x) / xrange + abs(y0 - y) / yrange
    i <- which.min(dist)
    # return the corresponding index if close enough, else NULL
    if (dist[i] < tolerance) {
    } else {
  } else {

Here's how we apply this. In what follows, anything in CAPS is a totally arbitrary name you pick for an object. Somewhere in the user interface file (ui.R), we display a plot with

renderPlot("XYZ", hover = hoverOpts(id = "XYZH", ...), ...)

where the ellipsis is any additional arguments you need. (See the help entry for shiny::hoverOpts for options it takes.) This tells Shiny to look in output$XYZ for the contents of the plot, and to return information about where the mouse is hovering in input$XYZH. The structure of input$XYZH is a list of lists, and I won't go into all the details here.

On the server side, you pass input$XYZH as the first argument to my hoverValue function. The second (x) and third (y) arguments are numeric vectors giving the abscissas and ordinates of the plotted points. The fourth argument (captions) is a text vector of the same length as x and y, giving the caption you want displayed for each point. If x and y are columns from some data frame df, then row.names(df) would be a logical candidate for the captions.

Bear in mind that plotting a graph involves a transformation from what I'll call "user coordinates" (the scales on which the original variables are measured) to "screen coordinates" (something like pixels or millimeters from the edges of the screen area devoted to the plot). The hover data input$XYZH contains, among other things, the location of the point where the mouse is hovering in both "user" and "screen" coordinates. In order to figure out which point is closest to the mouse, we compute the distance (in user coordinates) from the mouse to each of the plotted points. I elected to use the 1-norm, but you could just as easily use the 2-norm or any other norm you like.

Because the x and y variables will typically be measured in different units, we need to use a weighted norm. I scaled them by the width and height, respectively, of the plot area in "user" coordinates, obtained from input$XYZH$domain. (There is another sublist of input$XYZH that has the left, right, top and bottom limits in "screen" coordinates, in case you wondered.) The last argument of the function, for which I provided a (very arbitrary) default, is the minimum required proximity to a point. If none of the plot points are this close or closer to the mouse location, we assume that the mouse is hovering in empty space, and return a placeholder string. (I used "...", but feel free to insert your favorite phrase.) If any points do lie at least that close to the mouse, the index of the closest one is selected, and the corresponding caption is coughed up. If input$XYZH is null (which I think it might be if no hovering is going on), the placeholder is again returned.

As noted in the comments, the caption is returned by "printing" it (using the cat() function). If this were a script running in a console, the caption would print in the console. Instead, in the server script (server.R) we use

output$XYZT <- renderPrint({hoverValue(input$XYZH, ...)})

to capture the "printed" text and pass it to the user interface, and in the user interface (ui.R) we use either

textOutput("XYZT", ...)


htmlOutput("XYZT", ...)

(depending on whether you want to apply any CSS styling) to show the caption.

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