Matplotlib, Jupyter and updating multiple interactive plots

For experiments in Machine Learning [ML] it is quite useful to see the development of some characteristic quantities during optimization processes for algorithms – e.g. the behaviour of the cost function during the training of Artificial Neural Networks. Beginners in Python the look for an option to continuously update plots by interactively changing or extending data from a running Python code.

Does Matplotlib offer an option for interactively updating plots? In a Jupyter notebook? Yes, it does. It is even possible to update multiple plot areas simultanously. The magic (meta) commands are “%matplotlib notebook” and “matplotlib.pyplot.ion()”.

The following code for a Jupyter cell demonstrates the basic principles. I hope it is useful for other ML- and Python beginners as me.

# Tests for dynamic plot updates
%matplotlib notebook
import numpy as np
import matplotlib.pyplot as plt
import time

x = np.linspace(0, 10*np.pi, 100)
y = np.sin(x)

# The really important command for interactive plot updating

# sizing of the plots figure sizes 
fig_size = plt.rcParams["figure.figsize"]
fig_size[0] = 8
fig_size[1] = 3

# Two figures 
# -----------
fig1 = plt.figure(1)
fig2 = plt.figure(2)

# first figure with two plot-areas with axes 
# --------------------------------------------
ax1_1 = fig1.add_subplot(121)
ax1_2 = fig1.add_subplot(122)


# second figure with just one plot area with axes
# -------------------------------------------------
ax2 = fig2.add_subplot(121)
line1, = ax2.plot(x, y, 'b-')

z= 32
b = np.zeros([1])
c = np.zeros([1])
c[0] = 1000

for i in range(z):
    # update data 
    phase = np.pi / z * i 
    line1.set_ydata(np.sin(0.5 * x + phase))
    b = np.append(b, [i**2])
    c = np.append(c, [1000.0 - i**2])
    # re-plot area 1 of fig1  
    ax1_1.set_xlim (0, 100)
    ax1_1.set_ylim (0, 1000)
    # re-plot area 2 of fig1  
    ax1_2.set_xlim (0, 100)
    ax1_2.set_ylim (0, 1000)
    # redraw fig 1 

    # redraw fig 2 with updated data  

As you see clearly we defined two different “figures” to be plotted – fig1 and fig2. The first figure ist horizontally splitted into two plotting areas with axes “ax1_1” and “ax1_2”. Such a plotting area is created via the “fig1.add_subplot()” function and suitable parameters. The second figure contains only one plotting area “ax2”.

Then we update data for the plots within a loop witrh a timer of 0.1 secs. We clear the respective areas, redefine the axes and perform the plot for the updated data via the function “plt.figure.canvas.draw()”.

In our case we see two parabolas develop in the upper figure; the lower figure shows a sinus-wave moving slowly from the right to the left.

The following plots show screenshots of the output in a Jupyter notebook in th emiddle of the loop and at its end:

You see that we can deal with 3 plots at the same time. Try it yourself!

There is small problem with the plot sizing when you have used the zoom-functionality of Chrome, Chromium or Firefox. You should work with interactive plots with the browser-zoom set to 100%.

The moons dataset and decision surface graphics in a Jupyter environment – V – a class for plots and some experiments

We proceed with our exercises on the moons dataset. This series of articles is intended for readers which – as me – are relatively new both to Python and Machine Learning. By working with examples we try to extend our knowledge about the tools “Juypter notebooks” and “Eclipse/PyDev” for setting up experiments which require plots for an interpretation.

We have so far used a Jupyter notebook to perform some initial experiments for creating and displaying a decision surface between the moons dataset clusters with an algorithm called “LinearSVC”. If you followed everything I described in the last articles

The moons dataset and decision surface graphics in a Jupyter environment – I
The moons dataset and decision surface graphics in a Jupyter environment – II – contourplots
The moons dataset and decision surface graphics in a Jupyter environment – III – Scatter-plots and LinearSVC
The moons dataset and decision surface graphics in a Jupyter environment – IV – plotting the decision surface

you may now have gathered around 20 different cells with code. Part of the cells’ code was used to learn some basics about contour and scatter plots. This code is now irrelevant for further experiments. Time to consolidate our plotting knowledge.

In the last article I promised to put plot-related code into a Python class. The class itself can become a part of a Python module – which we in turn can import into the code of Jupyter notebook. By doing this we can reduce the number of cells in a notebook drastically. The importing of external classes is thus helpful for concentrating on “real” data analysis experiments with different learning and predicting algorithms and/or a variation of their parameters.

I assume that you have some basic knowledge on how classes are build in Python. If not please see an introductory book on Python 3.

A class for plotting simple decision surfaces in a 2-dimensional space

In the articles

Eclipse, PyDev, virtualenv and graphical output of matplotlib on KDE – I
Eclipse, PyDev, virtualenv and graphical output of matplotlib on KDE – II
Eclipse, PyDev, virtualenv and graphical output of matplotlib on KDE – III

I had shown how to set up Eclipse PyDev to be used in the context of a Python virtual environment. In our special environment “ml1” used by our Jupyter notebook “moons1.ipynb” we have the following directory structure:

“ml1” has a sub-directory “mynotebooks” which contains notebook files as our “moons1.ipynb”. To provide a place for other general code there we open up a directory “mycode“. In it we create a file “” for a module
myplots“, which shall comprise our own Python classes for plotting.

We distribute the code discussed in the last 2 articles of this series into methods of a class “MyDecisionPlot“; we put the following code into our file “” with the Pydev editor.

Created on 15.07.2019
Module to gather classes for plotting
@author: rmo
import numpy as np
import sys
from matplotlib import pyplot as plt
from matplotlib.colors import ListedColormap
import matplotlib.patches as mpat 
#from matplotlib import ticker, cm
#from mpl_toolkits import mplot3d

class MyDecisionPlot():
    This class allows for 
    1) decision surfaces in 2D (x1,x2) planes 
    2) plotting scatter data of datapoints 

    def __init__(self, X, y, predictor = None, ax_x_delta=1.0, ax_y_delta=1.0, 
                 mesh_res=0.01, alpha=0.4, bcontour=1, bscatter=1, 
                 figs_x1=12.0, figs_x2=8.0, 
                 x1_lbl='x1', x2_lbl='x2',   
                 legend_loc='upper right'
        Constructor of MyDecisionPlot
            X: Input array (2D) for learning- and predictor-algorithm as VSM 
            y: result data for learning- and predictor-algorithm
            ax_x_delta, ax_y_delta : delta for extension of both axis beyond the given X, y-data
            mesh_res: resolution of the mesh spanned in the (x1,x2)-plane (x_max-x_min) * mesh_res
            alpha:  transparency  of contours 
            bcontour: 0: Do not plot contour areas 1: plot contour areas 
            bscatter: 0: Do not plot scatter points of the input data sample 1: Plot scatter plot of the input data sample 
            figs_x1: plot size in x1 direction 
            figs_x2: plot size in x2 direction 
            x1_lbl, x2_lbl : axes lables 
            legend_loc : position of a legend
            Internal: self._mesh_points (mesh points created) 
            External: Plots - shoukd cone up automatically in Jupyter notebooks 
        # initiate some internal variables 
        self._x1_min = 0.0
        self._x1_max = 1.0
        self._x2_min = 0.0
        self._x2_max = 1.0
        # Alternatives to resize plots 
        # 1: just resize figure  2: resize plus create subplots() [figure + axes] 
        self._plot_resize_alternative = 2 
        # X (x1,x2)-Input array 
        self.__X = X
        self.__y = y 
        self._Z  = None
        # predictor = algorithm to create y-values for new (x1,x2)-data points 
        self._predictor = predictor 
        # meshdata
        self._resolution = mesh_res   # resolution of the mesh 
        self.__ax_x_delta = ax_x_delta 
        self.__ax_y_delta = ax_y_delta
        self._alpha = alpha
        self._bscatter = bscatter
        self._bcontour = bcontour 
        self._xm1 = None
        self._xm2 = None
        self._mesh_points = None 
        # set marker array and define colormap 
        self._markers = ('s', 'x', 'o', '^', 'v')
        self._colors = ('red', 'blue', 'lightgreen', 'gray', 'cyan')
        self._cmap = ListedColormap(self._colors[:len(np.unique(y))])
        self._x1_lbl = x1_lbl
        self._x2_lbl = x2_lbl
        self._legend_loc = legend_loc
        # Plot-sizing
        self._figs_x1 = figs_x1
        self._figs_x2 = figs_x2
        self._fig = None
        self._ax  = None 
                # alternative 2 does resizing and (!) subplots() 
        # create mesh in x1, x2 - direction with mesh_res resolution 
        # meshpoint-array will be creted with right dimension for plotting data 
        # Array meshpoints should exist now 
        if(self._bcontour == 1):
                if self._predictor == None:
                    raise ValueError
            except ValueError:
                print ("You must provide an algorithm = 'predictor' as parameter")
            if (self._bscatter == 1):

    # method to create a dense mesh in the (x1,x2)-plane 
    def create_mesh(self):
        Method to create a dense mesh in an (x1,x2) plane 
        Input: x1, x2-data are constructed from array self.__X
        Output: A suitable array of meshpoints is written to self._mesh_points()
            self._x1_min = self.__X[:, 0].min()
            self._x1_max = self.__X[:, 0].max()
        except ValueError: # as e: 
            print ("cannot determine x1_min = X[:,0].min() or x1_max = X[:,0].max()")
            self._x2_min = self.__X[:, 1].min()
            self._x2_max = self.__X[:, 1].max()
        except ValueError: # as e: 
            print ("cannot determine x2_min =X[:,1].min()) or x2_max = X[:,1].max()")
        self._x1_min, self._x1_max = self._x1_min - self.__ax_x_delta, self._x1_max + self.__ax_x_delta
        self._x2_min, self._x2_max = self._x2_min - self.__ax_x_delta, self._x2_max + self.__ax_x_delta
        #create mesh data (x1, x2) 
        self._xm1, self._xm2 = np.meshgrid( np.arange(self._x1_min, self._x1_max, self._resolution), 
                                            np.arange(self._x2_min, self._x2_max, self._resolution))
        #print (self._xm1)
        # for hasattr the variable cannot be provate ! 
        #print ("xm1 is there: ", hasattr(self,'_xm1' ) )
        # ordering and transposing of the mesh-matrix   
        # for understanding the structure and transpose requirements see linux-blog.anracom.con          
        self._mesh_points = np.array([self._xm1.ravel(), self._xm2.ravel()]).T
            if( hasattr(self, '_mesh_points') == False ):
                raise ValueError
        except ValueError:
            print("The required array mesh_points has not been created!")

    # -------------
    # Some helper functions to change valus on the fly if necessary 
    def set_mesh_res(self, new_mesh_res): 
        self._resolution = new_mesh_res
    def change_predictor(self, new_predictor):
        self._predictor = new_predictor
    def change_alpha(self, new_alpha):    
        self._alpha = new_alpha
    def change_figs(self, new_figs_x1, new_figs_x2):    
        self._figs_x1 = new_figs_x1
        self._figs_x2 = new_figs_x2
    # -------------
    # method to get subplots and resize the figure       
    # -------------
    def initiate_and_resize_plot(self, alternative=2 ):
        # Alternative 1 to resize plots - works afte rimports to Jupyter notebooks, too
        if alternative == 1:
            self._fig_size = plt.rcParams["figure.figsize"]
            self._fig_size[0] = self._figs_x1
            self._fig_size[1] = self._figs_x2
            plt.rcParams["figure.figsize"] = self._fig_size
        # Not working for sizing if plain subplots() is used 
        #plt.figure(figsize=(self._figs_x1 , self._figs_x2))
        #self._fig, self._ax = plt.subplots()
        # instead you have to 
put the figsize-parameter into the subplots() function 
        # Alternative 2 for resizing plots and using subplots()
        # we use this alternative as we may need the axes later for 3D plots 
        if alternative == 2:
            self._fig, self._ax = plt.subplots(figsize=(self._figs_x1 , self._figs_x2))
    # ***********************************************
    # -------------
    # method to create contour plots      
    # -------------
    def make_contourplot(self):
        Method to create a contourplot based on a dense mesh of points in an (x1,x2) plane 
        and a predictor algorithm which allows for value calculations
            if( not hasattr(self, '_mesh_points') ):
                raise ValueError
        except ValueError:
            print("The required array mesh_points has not been created!")
        # Predict values for all meshpoints 
            self._Z = self._predictor.predict(self._mesh_points)
        except AttributeError: 
            print("method predictor.predict() does not exist") 
        self._Z = self._Z.reshape(self._xm1.shape)
        #print (self._Z)
        # make the plot
        plt.contourf(self._xm1, self._xm2, self._Z, alpha=self._alpha, cmap=self._cmap)     
        # create a scatter-plot of data sample as well 
        if (self._bscatter == 1):
    # -------------
    # method to create a scatter plot of the data sample 
    # -------------
    def make_scatter_plot(self):
        alpha2 = self._alpha + 0.4 
        if (alpha2 > 1.0 ):
            alpha2 = 1.0
        for idx, yv in enumerate(np.unique(self.__y)): 
            plt.scatter(x=self.__X[self.__y==yv, 0], y=self.__X[self.__y==yv, 1], 
                        alpha=alpha2, c=[self._cmap(idx)], marker=self._markers[idx], label=yv)
        if self._bscatter == 0:
            self._bscatter = 1
    # -------------
    # method to add a legend  
    # -------------
    def make_plot_legend(self):
        plt.xlim(self._x1_min, self._x1_max)
        plt.ylim(self._x2_min, self._x2_max)
        # we have two cases 
        #     a) for a scatter plot we have array values where the legend is taken from automatically
        #     b) For apure contourplot we need to prepare a legend with "patches" (kind og labels) used by pyplot.legend() 
        if (self._bscatter == 1):
            red_patch  = mpat.Patch(color='red',  label='0', alpha=0.4)
            blue_patch = mpat.Patch(color='blue', label='1', alpha=0.4)
            plt.legend(handles=[red_patch, blue_patch], loc=self._legend_loc)


This certainly is no masterpiece of superior code design; so you may change it. However, the code is good enough for our present purposes.

Note that we have to import basic Python modules into the namespace of this module. This is conventionally done at the top of the file.

Note also the 2 alternatives offered for resizing a plot! Both work also for “inline” plotting in a Jupyter environment; see the text below.

Using the module “myplots” in a Jupyter notebook

In a terminal we move to our example directory “/projekte/GIT/ai/ml1” and start our virtual Python environment:

myself@mytux: /projekte/GIT/ai/ml1> source bin/activate    
(ml1) myself@mytux:/projekte/GIT/ai/ml1> 
jupyter notebook
[I 11:46:14.687 NotebookApp] Writing notebook server cookie secret to /run/user/1999/jupyter/notebook_cookie_secret
[I 11:46:15.942 NotebookApp] Serving notebooks from local directory: /projekte/GIT/ai/ml1
[I 11:46:15.942 NotebookApp] The Jupyter Notebook is running at:

We then open our old notebook “moons1” and save it under the name “moons2”:

We delete all old cells. Then we change the first cell of our new notebook to the following contents:

import imp
%matplotlib inline
from mycode import myplots

from sklearn.datasets import make_moons
from sklearn.pipeline import Pipeline
from sklearn.preprocessing import StandardScaler
from sklearn.preprocessing import PolynomialFeatures
from sklearn.svm import LinearSVC
from sklearn.svm import SVC

You see that we imported the “myplots” module from the “package” directory “mycode”. The Jupyter notebook will find the path to “mycode” as long as we have opened the notebook on a higher directory level. Which we did … see above.

Note the statement with a so called “magic command” for our notebook:

%matplotlib inline

There are many other “magic commands” and parameters which you can study at
Ipython magic commands

The command “%matplotlib inline” informs the notebook to show plots created by any imported modules “inline”, i.e. in the visual context of the affected cell. This specific magic directive should be issued before matplotlib/pyplot is imported into any of the external python modules which we in turn import into the cell code.

A call of in our class’s method “make_contourplot()” is no longer necessary afterwards.

If we, however, want to resize the plots in comparison to Jupyter standard values we have to control this by parameters of our plot class. Such parameters are offered already in the interface of the class; but they can be changed by a method “change_figs(new_figs_x1, new_figs_x2)), too.

In a second cell of our new notebook we now prepare the moon data set

X, y = make_moons(noise=0.1, random_state=5)

Further cells will be used for quick individual experiments with the moons dataset. E.g.:

X, y = make_moons(noise=0.1, random_state=5)

# contour plot of the moons data - with scatter plot / training with LinearSVC 
polynomial_degree = 3
max_iterations = 6000
polynomial_svm_clf = Pipeline([
  ("poly_features", PolynomialFeatures(degree=polynomial_degree)),
  ("scaler", StandardScaler()),
  ("svm_clf", LinearSVC(C=18, loss="hinge", max_iter=max_iterations))
#training, y)

MyPlt = myplots.MyDecisionPlot(X, y, polynomial_svm_clf, bcontour = 1, bscatter=1 )

The last type of cell just handles the setup and training of our specific algorithm “LinearSVC” and delegates plotting to our class.

Testing the new notebook

A test of the 3 cells in their order gives

All well! This is exactly what we hoped to achieve.

Three experiments with a varying polynomial degree

As we now have a simple and compact cell template for experiments we add three
further cells where we vary the degree of the polynomials for LinearSVC. Below we show the results for degree 6, 7 and for comparison also for a degree of 2.

On a modern computer it should take almost no time to produce the results. (We shall learn how to measure CPU-time in the next article).

We understand that we at least need a polynomial of degree 3 to separate the data reasonably. However, polynomials with an even degree (>= 4) separate the 2 data regions very differently compared to polynomials with an uneven degree (>=3) in outer areas of the (x1,x2)-plane (where no training data were placed):

Depending on the polynomial degree our Linear SVC algorithm obviously extrapolates in different ways to regions without such data. And we have no clue which of the polynomials is the better choice …

This poses a warning for the use of AI in general:

We should be extremely careful to trust predictions of any AI algorithm in parameter regions for which the algorithm must extrapolate – as long as we have no real data points available there to discriminate between multiple solutions that all work equally well in regions with given training data.

Would general modules be imported twice in a Jupyter cell – via the import of an external module, which itself includes import statements, and a direct import statement in a Jupyter cell?

The question posed in the headline is an interesting one for me as a Python beginner. Coming from other programming languages I get a bit nervous when I see the possibility for import statements referring to a specific module both in another already imported module and by a direct import statement afterwards in a Jupyter cell. E.g. we import numpy indirectly via our “myplots” module, but we could and sometimes must import it in addition directly in our Jupyter cell.

Note that we must make the general modules as numpy, matplotlib, etc. available in the namespace environment of our private module “myplots”. Otherwise the functions cannot be used there. The Jupyter cell, however, corresponds to an independent namespace environment. So, an import may indeed be required there, too, if we plan to handle numpy arrays via code in such a cell.

Reading a bit about the Python import logic on the Internet reveals that a double import or overwriting should not take place; instead an already imported piece of code only gets multiple references in the various specific namespaces of different code environments.

We can test this with the following code in a Jupyter cell:

Note that numpy is also imported by our “myplots”. However, the length of the list produced by sys.modules.keys(), which enumerates all possible module reference points (including imports) does not change.

Reloading modules in Jupyter cells

What if we in the
course of or experiments need to change the code of our imported module? Then we need to reload the module in a Jupyter cell before we run it again. In our case (Python 3!) this can be done by the command


As the code of our first cell reveals, the general package “imp” must have been imported before we can use its reload-function.


We saw that it is easy to use our own modules with Python class code, which we created in an Eclipse/PyDev environment, in a Jupyter notebook. We just use Python’s standard import mechanism in Jupyter cells to get access to our classes. We applied this to a module with a simple class for preparing decision surface plots based on contour and scatter plot routines of matplotlib. We imported the module in a new Jupyter notebook.

Plots created by our imported class-methods were displayed correctly within the cell environment as soon as we used the magic directive “%matplotlib inline” within our notebook.

In addition we used our new notebook with its compact cell structure for some quick experiments: We set different values for the polynomial degree parameter of our LinearSVC algorithm. We saw that the results of algorithms should be interpreted with caution if the predictions refer to data points in regions of the representation or feature space which were not at all covered by the data sets for training.

The prediction results (= extrapolations) of even one and the same algorithm with different parameters may deviate strongly in such regions – and we may not have any reliable indications to decide which of the predictions and their basic parameter setting are better.

In the next article of this series

The moons dataset and decision surface graphics in a Jupyter environment – VI – Kernel-based SVC algorithms

we shall have a look at what kind of decision surface some other SVM algorithms than LinearSVC create for the moons dataset. In addition shall briefly discuss kernel based algorithms.