Published Nov 12, 2023Updated Nov 20, 2023
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Selection is the assignment and manipulation of elements in the construction of a chart. In D3 there are a range of methods that are used to add and filter elements in order to allocate specific data and apply modifications. The most widely used among these are the .select(), .selectAll() and .append() methods.

The following sections are a brief introduction to the role and implementation of selections in D3. Entries that cover these methods in more depth are linked at the bottom.


svg.selectAll("element")     // A selection method is called on an object
   .data("source")           // additional methods are chained to the declaration
     .attr("x", d => d[0])   // The element "selected" is now defined via attributes
     .attr("y", d => d[1])

The pseudo code above represents a pattern commonly found in D3 for binding data and graphic elements, it is the selectAll()/data()/join()/attr() pattern. A selection begins with an initialization, .selectAll("element"), and then the elements that will populate this structure/allocation are defined in turn through the chained methods that follow.


A scatterplot is one of the simplest charts, it is a representation of data in 2-D space where each element is located based on an associated x-y coordinate value. Generally, each element is marked with a point, circle, or some other shape.

For this example, the data will consist of 50 points generated with the aid of the JavaScript Math.random() method. The set is constructed as follows:

let dataset = [];
let totalPoints = 50;
let rangeX = Math.random() * 500;
let rangeY = Math.random() * 500;
for (let i = 0; i < totalPoints; i++) {
let newX = Math.floor(Math.random() * rangeX);
let newY = Math.floor(Math.random() * rangeY);
dataset.push([newX, newY]);

The dataset constructed above is incorporated into the D3 chart definition using the pattern highlighted above:

svg.selectAll("circle") // Declaring the circles that will represent each pt
.data(dataset) // Calling the dataset
.join("circle") . // The circle that will match with each data pt
.attr("cx", d => x(d[0])) // is added and defined
.attr("cy", d => y(d[1]))
.attr("r", d => Math.random(1,10) * 30)
.attr("fill", "#f5b042")
.attr("opacity", .5);

Note: Select statements can serve two functions: the declaration of a new container, as well an assignment to an existing object (e.g., referencing an entity by calling it’s ID or Class).

In this selection the .selectAll() method is chained to the svg container, and the argument "circle" is given. Then:

  • The data previously generated is introduced via the .data() method.
  • The element that matches with each of the data points provided is initialized with .join().
  • Attributes that define the element are chained together to compose the definition of "circle".
  • There are five characteristics defined that articulate each point. A location is provided through arrow functions that return either the x or y value translated by the associated scale. The math.Random() method is used again to generate radius values. And finally the color and opacity of the elements is set.

The entire chart definition is described by the following code:

const marginTop = 20;
const marginRight = 20;
const marginBottom = 30;
const marginLeft = 40;
const width = 900;
const height = 400;
const svg = d3
.attr('viewBox', [0, 0, width, height])
.attr('width', width)
.attr('height', height)
.attr('style', 'max-width: 100%; height: auto;');
const x = d3
.domain([0, 500])
.range([marginLeft, width - marginRight]);
const y = d3
.domain([0, 500])
.range([height - marginBottom, marginTop]);
.attr('cx', (d) => x(d[0]))
.attr('cy', (d) => y(d[1]))
.attr('r', (d) => Math.random(1, 10) * 30)
.attr('fill', '#f5b042')
.attr('opacity', 0.5);
.attr('transform', `translate(0,${height - marginBottom})`)
.attr('transform', `translate(${marginLeft},0)`)

Note: For details on how to implement a D3 chart see Observable.

The resulting chart will look similar to: d3 scatterplot image


Creates and append new elements to the selected elements.
Used to load a .csv file or data and returns the data as an array of objects.
Binds data to DOM elements.
Adds missing elements as necessary to correspond with the linked data.
Retrieves the first element that matches a given selector by specifying the selector string.

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