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Charting with pChart

J Armando Jeronymo

Created and maintained by Jean-Damien Pogolotti, a systems engineer based in Toulouse, France, pChart is a library that creates anti-aliased charts and graphs using PHP. It’s object-oriented code has been recently redesigned and makes it easy to add beautiful, eye-catching data. The library is free for non-profit use and for inclusion in GPL distributed software; licensing plans for other uses start at just 50€. In this article I’ll take you through installing pChart and using it to generate a basic chart, line chart and plot graph.


pChart likes PHP 5+ and requires the GD and FreeType extensions. These should be installed and enabled by default with version 5, but it’s a good idea to double check using the phpinfo() function. The function generates a full description of your PHP installation. If you see a “gd” section which reports both GD and Free Type support are enabled in its output, you should be able to use pChart.

If you are working on a local development system, don’t forget to check your hosting server before deploying your application. A shared hosting scheme shouldn’t pose any problems, but if you are using a VPS then you may have to ask the administrator to recompile PHP with GD and FreeType support if it’s lacking.

pChart can be download from www.pchart.net/download. As of this writing, the latest version of the library is 2.1.3. Download the library and make note of the MD5 checksum listed alongside it on the webpage; it’s a good idea to verify the checksum of the file you download to make sure they match. On unix systems you can verify the checksum like this:

jajeronymo@web1:~$ md5sum  pChart2.1.3.zip
7895f71126638cbfb73b69c987418107  pChart2.1.3.zip

Then unzip the package. In my case the contents are automatically put into a folder pChart2.1.3. Read the readme.txt file which explains what pChart is, what it’s requirements are, and perhaps most importantly what the various files in code base are. Then either move the folder or create a symbolic link to it (or both), depending on the needs of your application.

jajeronymo@web1:~$ unzip pChart2.1.3.zip
jajeronymo@web1:~$ sudo -i
[sudo] password for jajeronymo: ********
root@web1:~# mv /home/jajeronymo/pChart2.1.3 /srv/www/lib/
root@web1:~# cd /srv/www/lib
root@web1:/srv/www/lib# ln -s pChart2.1.3 pChart

Did you read the readme.txt file yet? No!? Do it now, please. It’s a healthy habit.

Now you can use require_once statements to make the various pChart classes available to your PHP scripts. The documentation offers a reminder that they should be included after the session has been started (if you’re using them) and before anything is sent to the browser, otherwise PHP may throw the infamous “headers already sent” error.

require_once "../lib/pChart/class/pDraw.class.php";
require_once "../lib/pChart/class/pImage.class.php";
require_once "../lib/pChart/class/pData.class.php";

Above I used full relative paths because PHP will look for included files only in a few select default directories, like the current working directory, /usr/share/php, and /usr/share/pear. You can use set_include_path() if you’d like to have PHP search other directories:

define("PCHART_PATH", /srv/www/lib/pChart");
set_include_path(get_include_path() . PATH_SEPARATOR . PCHART_PATH);
require_once "class/pDraw.class.php";

Create a Single Series Chart

No matter how complex the chart, a pChart chart is created by a three-step process: define the data, create the image file, and output the file. We start with data definition.

Data usually come from a database in real world applications, but in this tutorial it’ll be defined in the script itself as an array. Let’s use the first eight values of the Fibonacci numbers as the dataset:

$myDataset = array(0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13);

pChart is object-oriented. You simply create a data object which is an instance of the pData class and assign your dataset to it with addPoints():

$myData = new pData(); 

You’re done with step one. Now you need to define an image object to express $myData as a chart. This object is a 500×300 pixel instance of the class pImage:

$myImage = new pImage(500, 300, $myData);

Charts typically use text labels to identify the values. You can specify which font family and size to use with the image object’s setFontProperties() method:

    "FontName" => PCHART_PATH . "/fonts/GeosansLight.ttf",
    "FontSize" => 15));

It’s crucial to define the correct path to the font! Here I’ve used one of the fonts that come with pChart which is located in the pChart/fonts directory. Because my root script is outside pChart/, the latter had to be included in the path. If the path is incorrect, you will get a “Could not find/open font” warning and the chart will fail to display text.

Though the image is 500×300 pixels in size, the actual chart area must be less than that to accommodate the both the X and Y axis labels. The setGraphArea() method defines the top-left and bottom-right corners of the chart area as points X1,Y1 and X2,Y2:

$myImage->setGraphArea(25,25, 475,275);

Also, some charts need different horizontal and vertical scales for maximum legibility. pChart has dozens of parameters for scale customization, but for the sake of simplicity let’s just use the defaults:


Some charts require you to call the drawScale() method even if with no parameters.

Now it’s time to create the chart proper. pChart currently offers 14 different types of basic charts, each with lots of customizable options. I just want a simple bar chart with default parameters:


At this point $myImage is an image object with which you can create and output an image file. Calling the Render() method with null as an argument will send the image to the browser, but before you do this make sure you’ve sent an appropriate Content-Type header. Or, you can provide a file location as an argument and Render() will save the image file to that location on your server:

header("Content-Type: image/png");

When you run the PHP script, your browser should show you a chart similar to this:

Fibonacci numbers chart

Three-Series Chart

I’ll now show you a more advanced example with line and plot graphs to show three series: the square, cube and fourth-powers of integers from 0 to 4. Start by creating the series as programmatically populated arrays:

$squareSeries = array();
$cubeSeries = array();
$fourthSeries = array();
for ($i = 0; $i <= 4; $i++) {
    $squareSeries[$i] = pow($i, 2);
    $cubeSeries[$i] =  pow($i, 3);
    $fourthSeries[$i] = pow($i, 4);

Create a new data object and add the series to it with addPoints():

$myPowersData = new pData();

Using different colors for each series will help make the chart easier to read. You can set the colors for each series using the setPalette() method. It uses an array specifying the desired color in RGBa notation. Here I’ll set the color for the squares series dark red, cubed series green, and fourth series blue:

    array("R" => 240,"G" => 16, "B" =>16, "Alpha" => 100));
    array("R" => 16, "G" => 240, "B" => 16, "Alpha" => 100));
    array("R" => 16, "G" => 16, "B" => 240, "Alpha" => 100));

For the image object, I’ll use the same size as before but I’ll specify a different font family and font size:

$myPowersImage = new pImage(500,300, $myPowersData);
    "FontName" => PCHART_PATH . "/fonts/MankSans.ttf",
    "FontSize" => 12));

Then, increase the borders to accommodate the larger figures and use the default scaling:

$myPowersImage->setGraphArea(40,40, 460,260);

Finally, tell pChart to draw a line chart using the drawLineChart() method and output the image:

header("Content-Type: image/png");

series line chart

A plot chart is like a line chart with points to mark the exact coordinates. To draw a plot chart for the same datasets, all you have to do is to invoke drawPlotChart() instead. You do not have to redefine either the datasets or the image object:

header("Content-Type: image/png");

Again run the script and inspect the charts in your browser.

series plot chart

It’s a good idea to add descriptive labels and a legend to your charts to identify the series. The drawText() and drawLegend() methods let you do just this.

The method drawText() requires at least the text box’s upper-left corner position and the text to be displayed. Though there are a lot of customization parameters available, I’ll specify just the font color and size. Add this line before the the call to drawPlotChart().

$myPowersImage->drawText(150,50, "The First Three Powers",
    array("R" => 0, "G" => 64, "B" => 255, "FontSize" => 20));

Likewise, drawLegend() has a lot of customizable parameters, too. I’ll create one with colored circles (LEGEND_FAMILY_CIRCLE), a light background, and a darker border. The font is the same as used for text, and I’ll place the legend at 70,100 to stay clear of the plot lines. Add this line below the call to drawText() and reload:

    array("R" => 220, "G" => 220, "B" => 220,
          "FontR" => 0, "FontG" => 64, "FontB" => 255,
          "BorderR" => 80, "BorderG" => 80, "BorderB" => 80,
          "FontSize" => 12, "Family" => LEGEND_FAMILY_CIRCLE));

series plot chart with labels


Eh ben dis donc! pChart is a surprisingly simple library to use for professional graphs and charts. I only scratched the surface of what its capable of in the article; it has hundreds of customization options and tweaks. And even for non-free applications, pChart is fairly priced. Merci beaucoup, Jean-Damien!

If you’re interested in viewing the full source code that was used to generate the graphics in this article, you can find it on GitHub.

Image via ungureanu / Shutterstock