Dani Arribas-Bel Digital Land

Tag: code


[Download] [Source] [Documentation]

It is pretty certain by now we live in a data world: institutions, companies, cell-phones… we are all constantly creating and storing data, even if we don’t know it. Things as they are, this’ come to a point where the problem is usually not to obtain the right data but to discard the wrong ones. Besides, apparently “people don’t read anymore“, less to talk about reading data… So the other day, I had another of this horrible moments where you think something kind of cool is going to take 5 minutes to accomplish. The idea seemed pretty simple, so I gave it try. Today, 5 minutes (and 3 more nights) afterwards I’ve finished movieR.

The idea is simple: you have a bunch of data that represent some phenomenon (say, income per capita), for some individuals (say a few countries) and for a few years; and you want to see whether the distribution of the variable has changed over time and, if so, how.

MovieR is a small set of functions written in R that draws a bunch of density kernels (for each period and to smooth the transition) and pastes them into a movie using the free/libre software package dvd-slideshow. It takes a csv looking like this:



And gives out something like this:

This allows you to get a good sense of the behaviour of the dataset and some of its main properties in a quick glance. For example, in the video above, which uses OECD data, the distribution of per capita income across a set of 59 cities all over the world from 2000 to 2007 is displayed; one can easily see the distribution has moved rightwards over the years, implying a move towards higher income per capita for more people over the years, as well as a flattening of the curve, that is an equalizing effect across the cities. And, to  please Mr. Jobs, all that without reading a single bit 🙂

[Download] [Source] [Documentation]

Choropleths in R

The other day I run into the need of creating choropleths, which are thematic maps where attribute data are displayed using a color scale and look like this:

Chotopleth example

It is a very simple task, provided you have the geo-referenced data, and many packages (such as qGIS) make it a click away. However, I had to create around 300 choropleths and computers were not made for us to click 300 times to perform the same task over and over…

R is a fantastic free software that provides a very powerful graphical support and also has a lot of  great packages other people have contributed, so first I assumed it’d be almost built in. I’m sure it is somewhere, but after 2mins. of googling I realized I’d enjoy more spending time coding it myself (something it looked like a 5-minutes thing) than looking it up on the web, and so I did. After many series of “5 minutes”, I did it (and it works). I wasn’t really thinking of posting it as it is a very simple function but after some of the pain (and fun) I went trhough to code it, I figured if it saved somebody else time, it’d have been a better invested time.

Big thanks to David Folch for initial idea and support as well as the original source cited below.

Feel free to post any comments or feedback if you’ve used the function. Thanks in advance.



It is a very simple function that assumes you have a shapefile and the attribute data you want to plot are appended to the .dbf that comes with the shapefile. If that is the case, simply pass in the arguments like this:

map <- choropleth(shp, field, png=FALSE, bins=FALSE, bgLayer=FALSE, colPal="Blues", style="hclust", lwd=0.5, title='', sub='', xlab='', ylab='', legend=TRUE)

Simply copy the source code posted below to a file and source it to be able to use the function:



  • shp: shapefile path.
  • field: field in the dbf you want to plot (string as it is in the dbf, case sensitive).
  • png: if FALSE causes to plot the map on R’s graphical device; otherwise, specify a path to the png file where the map is printed to. Set to FALSE by default.
  • bins: number of different colours you want in your plot. If FALSE, it assigns one per each different value (handy for categorical data). Set to FALSE by default.
  • bgLayer: path to the shapefile to be put as a background in the map (say border lines). Set to FALSE by default.
  • colPal: colour palette, use it as in R’s RColorBrewer.
  • style: function to be used for binning. Use it as in ‘classIntervals’ of classInt package. Defaults to ‘hclust’.
  • lwd: line width. Defaults to 0.5.
  • title: optional string with title.
  • sub: optional string with subtitle.
  • xlab: optional string with X axis.
  • ylab: optional string with Y axis
  • legend: boolean, if TRUE (default) sets the legend.


  • maptools
  • spatial
  • RColoBrewer
  • classInt
  • Source Code

    # Choropleth: thematic maps in R #
    # Author: Daniel Arribas-Bel <daniel.arribas.bel@gmail.com>
    # Copyright 2010 by Daniel Arribas-Bel
    #    This program is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify
    #    it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by
    #    the Free Software Foundation, either version 3 of the License, or
    #    (at your option) any later version.
    #    This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful,
    #    but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of
    #    GNU General Public License for more details.
    #    See: <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/GPL/2.0/> or <http://www.gnu.org/licenses/>
    choropleth <- function(shp, field, png=FALSE, bins=FALSE, bgLayer=FALSE,
            colPal="Blues", style="hclust", lwd=0.5, title='', sub='', xlab='',
            ylab='', legend=TRUE){
                # If not 'bins' -> categorical data
                poly <- readShapeSpatial(shp)
                attach(poly@data, warn.conflicts=FALSE)
                data <- get(field)
                    bins <- length(unique(get(field)))
                    colCode <- colCoder(poly, field, colPal)
                    leyenda <- colCode$legend
                    fill <- colCode$paleta
                    colCode <- colCode$colVec
                    } else {
                    colors <- brewer.pal(bins, colPal)
                    class = classIntervals(data, bins, style)
                    colCode = findColours(class, colors, digits=4)
                    leyenda = names(attr(colCode, "table"))
                    fill = attr(colCode, "palette")
                    png(png, width=960, height=960, bg="transparent")
                    polyBg <- readShapeSpatial(bgLayer)
                    plot(polyBg, lwd=lwd)
                    plot(poly, add=TRUE, col=colCode, lwd=lwd)
                    } else {
                    plot(poly, col=colCode, lwd=lwd)
                title(main=title, sub=sub, xlab=xlab, ylab=ylab)
                if(legend==TRUE){legend("topleft", legend=leyenda, fill=fill, cex=0.75, bty="n")}
                #"Map created"
    colCoder <- function(poly, var, colPal){
                attach(poly@data, warn.conflicts=FALSE)
                uniques <- unique(get(var))
                paleta <- brewer.pal(length(uniques), colPal)
                colVec <- mat.or.vec(length(get(var)), 1)
                for(row in seq(length(get(var)))){
                    ind <- which(uniques == get(var)[row])
                    colVec[row] <- paleta[ind]
                res <- list(colVec=colVec, legend=uniques, paleta=paleta)


    This software is licensed under the CC-GNU GPL version 2.0 or later.