D3.js stands for Data Driven Documents, so what does it exactly means? It simply means your document(visualization elements, dom elements) are controlled and driven by Data, so in nutshell elements correspond to data, change in data should change element.

Mike Bostock has written a good blog, “Thinking with Joins” about understanding and developing this thought process. At start it may seem to be a bit difficult to understand, as it occured to me but then I understood its philoshophy, here I will try to put the Data Joins in simple words the way I understood it.

If you ever had worked on Relational Database the most common thing that you learn is Table Joins, so what we do in table join is, join the data from two or more table based on some common table column values and gives you combined result.

If we think in similar way, when we want to plot some chart visualization or render some dom element which correspond to data, then we have to join the dom elements with data and output should be the dom elements corresponding to data.

Lets say we have three divs in our document -


And a array, dataArray of size three

 var dataArray = ['one', 'two', 'three']

What we want is to render the data of array in div, one each. Will represent div and data in table format as

Dom Index Dom Element
1 <div> </div> (First div)
2 <div> </div> (Second div)
3 <div> </div> (Third div)

Array Index Array Element
1 ‘one’
2 ‘two’
3 ‘three’

Now suppose if I want to join these, I can join them based on Index column in both tables as -

Case 1

Index Dom Element Array Element
1 <div> </div> (First div) ‘one’
2 <div> </div> (Second div) ‘two’
3 <div> </div> (Third div) ‘three’

Here all data element joined with div elements.

Case 2

What if array had four elements as [‘one’, ‘two’, ‘three’, ‘four’]

Index Dom Element Array Element
1 <div> </div> (First div) ‘one’
2 <div> </div> (Second div) ‘two’
3 <div> </div> (Third div) ‘three’
4   ‘four’

If you observe here first three divs gets corresponding ‘Array Element’ & 4th array element has no corresponding Dom element.

Case 3

And if array had only first two elements, [‘one’, ‘two’] then there would be no corresponding data for third div as

Index Dom Element Array Element
1 <div> </div> (First div) ‘one’
2 <div> </div> (Second div) ‘two’
3 <div> </div> (Third div)  

We will use these cases later, now going back to our goal render the data of array in div, one each using d3. d3 provides us three method corresponding to data join -

Lets use them -

First we want to bind data in array to div, so we need to select divs first, using d3.selectAll as -


and then bind the data -

var updateDivSelection = d3.selectAll('div').data(dataArray);

This call to data does few things -

  • like we saw above, it joins the data with elements based on index

  • it returns the selection of element (divs) for which data has been joined, so in Case 1 we will get selection of 3 divs, in Case 2 we get selection of 3 divs & not 4, in Case 3 we get selection of 2 divs & not 3. These selections are called Update selection, and we captured it in variable updateDivSelection

  • if there are more number of elements in array passed compared to divs as in Case 2, it creates the placeholder div elements for these extra data elements, and you can access those using enter() call. This can be used to add new divs for the data element for which no div was available.

  • if there are less elements in array compared to divs as Case 3, then these extra div elements can be accessed using exit() call. And this can be used to remove the extra divs for which no data is available.

So you now see how elements in dom can be driven/controlled as per data using above functions.

Now lets try to put data from arrayData in divs for each case using above functions.

###Case 1 Implementation

var dataArray = ['one', 'two', 'three'];

var updateDivSelection = d3.selectAll('div').data(dataArray);

console.log(updateDivSelection[0].slice()); // [div, div, div]

updateDivSelection.html(function(d){return d;});

//enter should be empty
console.log(updateDivSelection.enter()[0].slice()); // []

//exit should be empty
console.log(updateDivSelection.exit()[0].slice()); // []

Above I logged update selection in console, you see all three divs there, then on next line I updated the inner html of these divs using html() function call.

In html() call we have to pass a function to which associated data ‘d’ will be passed and then you can perform any transformation on that data if you want and return value that need to be shown in inner html, here we simply retun data that came.

And what if I access enter() & exit() here, should be empty right ? Next lines does that and we get empty array. Working example -

You see the data in array has been put in div, the data passed can be used for any purpose of styling, position, size etc. using respective functions. Now you must have got a bit of idea how charts are rendered using data. Lets move to Case 2 -

Note- I have used slice() while logging array, I did that just to log array element and not object property along with it, else you may get confused whats in array and what are arrray object properties.

###Case 2 Implementation -

In this we should get 3 divs for update selection, 1 placeholder object in enter selection and none for exit selection. Working example -

But here we did not used the enter to create new element, we will do it now, see it in action -

updateDivSelection.enter().append('div').html(function(d){ return d;});

If you go through code you will see a small change I did while selecting divs, before d3.selectAll(‘div’), I selected ‘body’, this I did on purpose, so that newly appended div goes inside body and not in html element, you can read why we need to do this in this article

###Case 3 Implementation -

Moving on to Case 3 now, we will use dataArray of size two and then see how to remove extra div elements for which there is no corresponding (joined) data using exit()

Now suppose I initially put number 1, 2 & 3 in the divs as -


And then will simply update them with data that we pass in dataArray, code in action -

You see above that third div (with data ‘3’) remain as it is, but we want to remove it as it doesn’t have corresponding data in dataArray, lets do that using exit(), as -


So this explains how data, enter and exit works, we will see some further details about key function and how to use object as data in part 2 of this article, hope this cleared basics of Data joins in d3.js.