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MEP9: Global interaction manager

Add a global manager for all user interactivity with artists; make any artist resizeable, moveable, highlightable, and selectable as desired by the user.




The goal is to be able to interact with matplotlib artists in a very similar way as drawing programs do. When appropriate, the user should be able to move, resize, or select an artist that is already on the canvas. Of course, the script writer is ultimately in control of whether an artist is able to be interacted with, or whether it is static.

This code to do this has already been privately implemented and tested, and would need to be migrated from its current “mixin” implementation, to a bona-fide part of matplotlib.

The end result would be to have four new keywords available to matplotlib.artist.Artist: _moveable_, _resizeable_, _selectable_, and _highlightable_. Setting any one of these keywords to True would activate interactivity for that artist.

In effect, this MEP is a logical extension of event handling in matplotlib; matplotlib already supports “low level” interactions like left mouse presses, a key press, or similar. The MEP extends the support to the logical level, where callbacks are performed on the artists when certain interactive gestures from the user are detected.

Detailed description

This new functionality would be used to allow the end-user to better interact with the graph. Many times, a graph is almost what the user wants, but a small repositioning and/or resizing of components is necessary. Rather than force the user to go back to the script to trial-and-error the location, and simple drag and drop would be appropriate.

Also, this would better support applications that use matplotlib; here, the end-user has no reasonable access or desire to edit the underlying source in order to fine-tune a plot. Here, if matplotlib offered the capability, one could move or resize artists on the canvas to suit their needs. Also, the user should be able to highlight (with a mouse over) an artist, and select it with a double-click, if the application supports that sort of thing. In this MEP, we also want to support the highlighting and selection natively; it is up to application to handle what happens when the artist is selected. A typical handling would be to display a dialog to edit the properties of the artist.

In the future, as well (this is not part of this MEP), matplotlib could offer backend-specific property dialogs for each artist, which are raised on artist selection. This MEP would be a necessary stepping stone for that sort of capability.

There are currently a few interactive capabilities in matplotlib (e.g. legend.draggable()), but they tend to be scattered and are not available for all artists. This MEP seeks to unify the interactive interface and make it work for all artists.

The current MEP also includes grab handles for resizing artists, and appropriate boxes drawn when artists are moved or resized.


  • Add appropriate methods to the “tree” of artists so that the interactivity manager has a consistent interface for the interactivity manager to deal with. The proposed methods to add to the artists, if they are to support interactivity, are:
    • get_pixel_position_ll(self): get the pixel position of the lower left corner of the artist’s bounding box
    • get_pixel_size(self): get the size of the artist’s bounding box, in pixels
    • set_pixel_position_and_size(self,x,y,dx,dy): set the new size of the artist, such that it fits within the specified bounding box.
  • add capability to the backends to 1) provide cursors, since these are needed for visual indication of moving/resizing, and 2) provide a function that gets the current mouse position
  • Implement the manager. This has already been done privately (by dhyams) as a mixin, and has been tested quite a bit. The goal would be to move the functionality of the manager into the artists so that it is in matplotlib properly, and not as a “monkey patch” as I currently have it coded.

Current summary of the mixin

(Note that this mixin is for now just private code, but can be added to a branch obviously)


Mixin class to make any generic object that is drawn on a matplotlib canvas moveable and possibly resizeable. The Powerpoint model is followed as closely as possible; not because I’m enamoured with Powerpoint, but because that’s what most people understand. An artist can also be selectable, which means that the artist will receive the on_activated() callback when double clicked. Finally, an artist can be highlightable, which means that a highlight is drawn on the artist whenever the mouse passes over. Typically, highlightable artists will also be selectable, but that is left up to the user. So, basically there are four attributes that can be set by the user on a per-artist basis:

  • highlightable
  • selectable
  • moveable
  • resizeable

To be moveable (draggable) or resizeable, the object that is the target of the mixin must support the following protocols:

  • get_pixel_position_ll(self)
  • get_pixel_size(self)
  • set_pixel_position_and_size(self,x,y,sx,sy)

Note that nonresizeable objects are free to ignore the sx and sy parameters. To be highlightable, the object that is the target of the mixin must also support the following protocol:

  • get_highlight(self)

Which returns a list of artists that will be used to draw the highlight.

If the object that is the target of the mixin is not an matplotlib artist, the following protocols must also be implemented. Doing so is usually fairly trivial, as there has to be an artist somewhere that is being drawn. Typically your object would just route these calls to that artist.

  • get_figure(self)
  • get_axes(self)
  • contains(self,event)
  • set_animated(self,flag)
  • draw(self,renderer)
  • get_visible(self)

The following notifications are called on the artist, and the artist can optionally implement these.

  • on_select_begin(self)
  • on_select_end(self)
  • on_drag_begin(self)
  • on_drag_end(self)
  • on_activated(self)
  • on_highlight(self)
  • on_right_click(self,event)
  • on_left_click(self,event)
  • on_middle_click(self,event)
  • on_context_click(self,event)
  • on_key_up(self,event)
  • on_key_down(self,event)

The following notifications are called on the canvas, if no interactive artist handles the event:

  • on_press(self,event)
  • on_left_click(self,event)
  • on_middle_click(self,event)
  • on_right_click(self,event)
  • on_context_click(self,event)
  • on_key_up(self,event)
  • on_key_down(self,event)

The following functions, if present, can be used to modify the behavior of the interactive object:

  • press_filter(self,event) # determines if the object wants to have the press event routed to it
  • handle_unpicked_cursor() # can be used by the object to set a cursor as the cursor passes over the object when it is unpicked.

Supports multiple canvases, maintaining a drag lock, motion notifier, and a global “enabled” flag per canvas. Supports fixed aspect ratio resizings by holding the shift key during the resize.

Known problems:

  • Zorder is not obeyed during the selection/drag operations. Because of the blit technique used, I do not believe this can be fixed. The only way I can think of is to search for all artists that have a zorder greater then me, set them all to animated, and then redraw them all on top during each drag refresh. This might be very slow; need to try.
  • the mixin only works for wx backends because of two things: 1) the cursors are hardcoded, and 2) there is a call to wx.GetMousePosition() Both of these shortcomings are reasonably fixed by having each backend supply these things.

Backward compatibility

No problems with backward compatibility, although once this is in place, it would be appropriate to obsolete some of the existing interactive functions (like legend.draggable())


None that I know of.