Python with ggplot

Jupyter Notebooks combining Python and R

Cristian Cardellino
4 min readDec 4, 2018

Disclaimer: This post assumes you have some familiarity with ggplot2 (and, of course, Python, R, and Jupyter). If you need a quick catch up with the ggplot2 library I recommend ZevRoss cheatsheet.

A little back story (feel free to skip ahead)

I love Python, it’s my language of choice when I am working in different data science projects.

That said, in the last few weeks I have been trying to introduce myself into the world of R. Not because I think is better for data science, nor I think it can replace Python in any way, but mostly because I usually get bored when I am working too much in the same programming language, and I like to explore my options to keep it fresh, so to speak. For that I have started to use more and more RStudio and try to develop reports on RMarkdown for work.

However, this is not my first introduction to R, during my PhD. I had the opportunity to use it, specially in the first couple of years, but I never developed a real reason to use it, except for ggplot.

You see, though I did almost all the experiments of my thesis in Python, I didn’t use matplotlib or even seaborn, cause I learned how to plot in R before how to do so in Python. First it was the native R plotting functions but then I gradually moved to ggplot and never looked back.

However, until last year, I was kind of struggling since I needed to switch between my Jupyter notebooks (both in Python and R) while I experimented, calculated the metrics and finally plotting them. I know there is a Python implementation of ggplot by yhat, still I prefer the R implementation (feels more natural to me).

Last year, at the ESSLLI 2017, there was a course on “Unsupervised methods for linguistic data” give by Aaron Steven White. Sadly, the material of the course was taken out from GitHub (Aaron’s website as well), and I wasn’t able to download all of it. But if there is something that I learned there and didn’t lose was how to make Python and R (specially ggplot) co-exist on the same notebook, which is what I want to show in this post.

Setting up the environment

First we will setup the environment. For this we need Python 3 and conda (you can either go with miniconda or Anaconda). We need to install a couple of libraries, we will create a conda environment for that:

$ conda create --name python-r python=3 anaconda tzlocal
$ conda activate python-r
$ conda install -c r r-tidyverse rpy2

So, line by line:

  • The first line creates the Python 3 environment for conda and installs the anaconda packages and the tzlocal library as well (needed by rpy2).
  • The second loads the recently created environment.
  • The third line installs the necessary packages for R: r-tidyverse installs the tidyverse packages and rpy2 installs the library that is in charge of all the magic to work.

Lock and load (or how to use R and Python in the same notebook)

Note: The notebook that accompanies this article is available on GitHub. Feel free to browse it.

The examples I use are based on the titanic dataset (which is available in the same repository of the code). The first part of the notebooks import the needed libraries:

import pandas as pd
import rpy2
# the base of rpy2 plotting is matplotlib, thus we need to declare
# it inline in order to see the plots in the notebook
%matplotlib inline
# we need to activate the automatic conversion for pandas
from rpy2.robjects import pandas2ri
# load the needed extension for the %%R cell magic
%load_ext rpy2.ipython

There’s nothing too difficult in these lines. We import pandas and rpy2. Then we activate matplotlib to see the plots inline (since rpy2 uses it under the hood for plotting). Third, we need to activate the automatic conversion for pandas (this has been recently added to rpy2), and finally we load the extension that gives us the %%R cell magic.

The next cell is also pretty self explanatory, just loading the ggplot library to R:

%%R# load the ggplot2 library

Here the %%R cell magic needs to be the first line of the cell so Jupyter knows how to interpret the code that follows. The %%R cell magic has some optional arguments:

  • -i <variable> is the variable from Python that will be imported to R. In the case of the 4th cell is the titanic pandas data frame that is imported into R as a dataframe.
  • -o <variable> is the output varible that goes from R into Python. That variable is a Vector, and even if it is one value only (like the case of the 4th cell) needs to be accessed through indexation (like in the 5th cell).
  • -w <num> is used by Jupyter to set the width of the plot drawn by the R cell.
  • -h <num> like the previous option, this is used to set the height of the plot.
  • -u <unit> this option sets the unit for width and height (of the two previous options), e.g. in for inches, cm for centimeters, mm for millimeters, and px for pixels.

And that’s it. The notebook has a couple of examples of how to use the cell magic and how it works with different ggplot graphics. Feel free to explore and work your own examples. Thanks for reading!



Cristian Cardellino

Computer Science PhD. NLP & ML Researcher @ Mercado Libre. Professor @ Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Argentina. I love outrun, cyberpunk and retro flicks.