Prefuse: A Visualization Toolkit for Java

Small-World Networks by Stephen Frowe Ingram

There seems to be a growing number of graphing toolkits for Java, each with its own particular flavor or niche.

Rather like the animal/plant kingdoms, graphing toolkits are divided into those that allow you to create histograms, pie charts etc; and those that allow you to create interactive, “lines-and-boxes”-style diagrams.

At least, that was the case: but then, along came Prefuse, a BSD-licensed toolkit that covers both “kingdoms” extremely well.

The BSD license means that you can use Prefuse in both commercial and non-commercial projects.

Rather than calling it a graphing or histogram toolkit, Prefuse is described as a “visualization toolkit”, indicating that its product brief aims somewhat higher than the usual open-source graphical toolkit. Anyone who’s read Edward Tufte’s The Visual Display of Quantitative Information will appreciate that proper visualization is about more than just fancy graphics; it’s about conveying the semantics of large bodies of data in meaningful ways.

I’ve only just begun looking at Prefuse, but I’ll report back once I’ve had some time to form an opinion of it. (Early impressions suggest that it’s going to be a very high opinion, though!)

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.