VTK/Charts/API

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Revision as of 11:29, 11 December 2009 by Marcus.hanwell (talk | contribs) (Page outdated - see updated pages with further discussion of the charts API and related 2D API.)
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Please see updated pages

This page is outdated, and outlines early discussions that took place about the form of the chart API. Please see VTK/Charts for updated details of the charts API and related 2D APIs.

Old Content

After looking at various other frameworks, tools and products out there here are some thoughts on the API. Employing a factory based interface seems like it would give us the most intuitive API. So a chart could be instantiated in the following way,

// Instantiate a new chart
vtkChart *chart = vtkChart::New();
// Add a bar plot
vtkPlot *barPlot = chart->AddPlot(Chart::BAR);
// Set the data source to table, column 0 is x, column 2 is y
barPlot->SetData(table, 0, 2);
// Set the width of the bars
barPlot->SetWidth(20);
// Add a line plot
vtkPlot *linePlot = chart->AddPlot(Chart::LINE);
// Set the data source to table, column 0 is x, column 2 is y
linePlot->SetData(table, 0, 2);
// Set the line width
linePlot->SetWidth(2);

I could also overload the New() function to accept an argument such as vtkChart::New(vtkChart::LINE) which would create a new chart object with a line chart contained. The chart can iterate over the plots and paint each one in turn, this allows an intuitive interface where multiple plot types can be plotted on the same axes.

The biggest problem I have with this is that many plot/chart settings will be specific to one particular subclass. For instance, a line plot might have line thickness but no glyph size while a scatterplot would have glyph size but no line thickness. If you only get a pointer to a vtkPlot you won't be able to call either unless every possible property is defined on the base class. This could get very ugly. So, rather than using the traditional SetXXX() calls, I would argue that charts should make heavy use of a Set() method that takes some property object or string along with the value.
Also, AddPlot() or the vtkChart::New() variant that takes an argument should take strings and not enums. That will allow run-time addition of new plot types. A few simple functions would make it easy to create new types of plots (or even just shortcuts for plots with some style defaults set differently).

There has been a lot of talk about API. Do we want a declarative API? This would make constructs such as,

vtkChart *chart = vtkChart::New();
chart->SetWidth(200)
  ->SetHeight(200);

chart->AddPlot(vtkChart::BAR)
  ->SetData(table, 1, 2)
  ->SetWidth(20)
  ->SetLabel("My Data");

This would require setter functions that returned a pointer to the object, i.e.

vtkChart * vtkChart::SetWidth(int width);
vtkPlot * vtkChart::AddPlot(enum);
vtkPlot * vtkPlot::SetLabel(const char *label);

One nice thing about this approach is that ignoring the pointer returned allows traditional VTK syntax to be used.

vtkPlot *plot = chart->AddPlot(vtkChart::BAR);
plot->SetData(table, 1, 2);
plot->SetWidth(20);
plot->SetLabel("My Data");

Admittedly it is not in keeping with the current pattern used in VTK, there are numerous examples of its use in other libraries and frameworks. It should possibly be more of a global change to the library API, rather than isolated to one or two components.

I am not sure declarative properties are that useful. However, I think there's no harm (other than a lot of work) in changing vtkSetMacro and other SetXXX() methods to return "this" instead of void. Note that
      find /path/to/ParaView -name "*.h" -exec grep "void Set[A-Z].*(" {} \; | grep -v "static " | wc -l
returned 5262 SetXXX() methods that were declared directly instead of using vtkSetMacro (many may involve pointers to vtkObject subclasses).