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MEP27: decouple pyplot from backends




This MEP refactors the backends to give a more structured and consistent API, removing generic code and consolidate existing code. To do this we propose splitting:

  1. FigureManagerBase and its derived classes into the core functionality class FigureManager and a backend specific class WindowBase and
  2. ShowBase and its derived classes into Gcf.show_all and MainLoopBase.

Detailed description

This MEP aims to consolidate the backends API into one single uniform API, removing generic code out of the backend (which includes _pylab_helpers and Gcf), and push code to a more appropriate level in matplotlib. With this we automatically remove inconsistencies that appear in the backends, such as FigureManagerBase.resize(w, h) which sometimes sets the canvas, and other times set the entire window to the dimensions given, depending on the backend.

Two main places for generic code appear in the classes derived from FigureManagerBase and ShowBase.

  1. FigureManagerBase has three jobs at the moment:

    1. The documentation describes it as a ``Helper class for pyplot mode, wraps everything up into a neat bundle’‘
    2. But it doesn’t just wrap the canvas and toolbar, it also does all of the windowing tasks itself. The conflation of these two tasks gets seen the best in the following line: `python self.set_window_title("Figure %d" % num) ` This combines backend specific code self.set_window_title(title) with matplotlib generic code title = "Figure %d" % num.
    3. Currently the backend specific subclass of FigureManager decides when to end the mainloop. This also seems very wrong as the figure should have no control over the other figures.
  2. ShowBase has two jobs:

    1. It has the job of going through all figure managers registered in _pylab_helpers.Gcf and telling them to show themselves.
    2. And secondly it has the job of performing the backend specific mainloop to block the main programme and thus keep the figures from dying.


The description of this MEP gives us most of the solution:

  1. To remove the windowing aspect out of FigureManagerBase letting it simply wrap this new class along with the other backend classes. Create a new WindowBase class that can handle this functionality, with pass-through methods (:arrow_right:) to WindowBase. Classes that subclass WindowBase should also subclass the GUI specific window class to ensure backward compatibility (manager.window == manager.window).
  2. Refactor the mainloop of ShowBase into MainLoopBase, which encapsulates the end of the loop as well. We give an instance of MainLoop to FigureManager as a key unlock the exit method (requiring all keys returned before the loop can die). Note this opens the possibility for multiple backends to run concurrently.
  3. Now that FigureManagerBase has no backend specifics in it, to rename it to FigureManager, and move to a new file noting that:
    1. This allows us to break up the conversion of backends into separate PRs as we can keep the existing FigureManagerBase class and its dependencies intact.
    2. and this also anticipates MEP22 where the new NavigationBase has morphed into a backend independent ToolManager.
FigureManagerBase(canvas, num) FigureManager(figure, num) WindowBase(title) Notes
show   show  
destroy calls destroy on all components destroy  
full_screen_toggle handles logic set_fullscreen  
resize   resize  
key_press key_press    
show_popup show_poup   Not used anywhere in mpl, and does nothing.
get_window_title   get_window_title  
set_window_title   set_window_title  
  _get_toolbar   A common method to all subclasses of FigureManagerBase
ShowBase MainLoopBase Notes
mainloop begin  
  end Gets called automagically when no more instances of the subclass exist
__call__   Method moved to Gcf.show_all

Future compatibility

As eluded to above when discussing MEP 22, this refactor makes it easy to add in new generic features. At the moment, MEP 22 has to make ugly hacks to each class extending from FigureManagerBase. With this code, this only needs to get made in the single FigureManager class. This also makes the later deprecation of NavigationToolbar2 very straightforward, only needing to touch the single FigureManager class

MEP 23 makes for another use case where this refactored code will come in very handy.

Backward compatibility

As we leave all backend code intact, only adding missing methods to existing classes, this should work seamlessly for all use cases. The only difference will lie for backends that used FigureManager.resize to resize the canvas and not the window, due to the standardisation of the API.

I would envision that the classes made obsolete by this refactor get deprecated and removed on the same timetable as NavigationToolbar2, also note that the change in call signature to the FigureCanvasWx constructor, while backward compatible, I think the old (imho ugly style) signature should get deprecated and removed in the same manner as everything else.

backend manager.resize(w,h) Extra
gtk3 window  
Tk canvas  
Qt window  
Wx canvas FigureManagerWx had frame as an alias to window, so this also breaks BC.


If there were any alternative solutions to solving the same problem, they should be discussed here, along with a justification for the chosen approach.


Mdehoon: Can you elaborate on how to run multiple backends concurrently?

OceanWolf: @mdehoon, as I say, not for this MEP, but I see this MEP opens it up as a future possibility. Basically the MainLoopBase class acts a per backend Gcf, in this MEP it tracks the number of figures open per backend, and manages the mainloops for those backends. It closes the backend specific mainloop when it detects that no figures remain open for that backend. Because of this I imagine that with only a small amount of tweaking that we can do full-multi-backend matplotlib. No idea yet why one would want to, but I leave the possibility there in MainLoopBase. With all the backend-code specifics refactored out of FigureManager also aids in this, one manager to rule them (the backends) all.

Mdehoon: @OceanWolf, OK, thanks for the explanation. Having a uniform API for the backends is very important for the maintainability of matplotlib. I think this MEP is a step in the right direction.